Saturday was my second start at Way Too Cool and my 3rd attempt at the 50k distance. Running 31.2 miles as slowly as I do gave me a lot of time to think about and, at least part of, it consisted of things some runners might find beneficial. So, I have a lot to report. For those of you who just want to get the general idea, I finished. I was able to improve my time on my last 50k and that is the first time I have improved over any distance since last July. Scroll to the end if you just have to know my time… full race report follows.
Training, or lack thereof:
Recovering (or not) from plantar fasciitis greatly affected my training since the Sly 50k in August. Since CIM in December my training consisted of doing nearly nothing during the week and running a long (ish) run on the weekends. On race day I was feeling pretty good, but I knew the lack of training was going to have an impact on my endurance. My last couple of training runs have been in the 15 min/mile range, whereas last summer I was pretty consistently around 12. None the less, thinking of the 50 miler (maybe two – AR50 and MeOw Marathons) that I have coming up, I decided to press on and test my limits. I think I found them.
I arrived later than I had hoped and parked more than a mile from the Ultra Village. I saw my FTR family at the start, but I had missed the traditional group photo op and still had to get my bib and check in, and, of course, the obligatory pre-race porta potty stop. The race is run in two waves (8am and 8:10 start times) and slow folk, like me, are scheduled for the second, but the porta potty line put me to the start line at 8:17. Thankful for chip timing, I started my Garmin with two others in our own “3rd Wave” and pursued the others already several minutes ahead. I caught the back of the second wave pack before I hit the dirt at mile 1.5 and started picking off runners on my way to Knickerbocker Creek. The creek was just below the knees this year and I have no desire to wait in a single file line to rock hop across in a feeble attempt to stay dry, so I splashed my way across and skirt past a few more runners. At this early stage I’m still running up hills and felt lucky to get in a conga line that matched my pace on the Secret trail. Despite the crowds, the slip and slide trail conditions and a first class back splash covering my back side in mud, I reached the Cool Firehouse at mile 8 in an 1:41, 4 minutes ahead of my goal pace.
I set three goals for every race. First, my ‘it would be awesome if I could do this’ goal. Then my ‘this is what I really think I can do’ target, and finally, my ‘I’ll be really disappointed if I can’t do this’ goal. For this race, my dream was under 7 hours. I had broken the race into three 8 mile sections, the first one down in under 1:45 meant I was on pace for sub 7 hours, but the hills were yet to come.
Leaving Cool and heading toward Hwy 49 is usually a fairly fast section and I did get some stretches of bounding downhill, leaping off of rocks. The slippery conditions and the over crowded trails however slowed me down a bit. Another porta potty stop and the first significant climb put me at mile 16 one minute behind my ideal pace, but still well within my second target of 7:30. This is where my lack of training became evident as my legs just quit. If was even going to finish this race, it would not be because of my legs, but in spite of them.
At about the same time, I started having stomach cramps that I couldn’t identify. It wasn’t intestinal. I tried different food at the aid stations, but that wasn’t it either. It took me several miles before I realized that I was using my abs more (something I have been working on) and they were sore. By the time I finished I felt like I had been doing crunches the whole time.
Another thing I have been working on is Chi running. I don’t know very much about it yet, but I have been applying the basics because I have heard two things about it. First, the style of running reduces injury and uses less energy to move forward. Second, the joy of running on the verge of out of control has always been the best for me and I am trying to get more of that. As my legs gave out, I knew I would need some force to keep me moving to the finish; gravity never stops! I’ll write more on this as I learn more.
Reaching the aid station at mile 21 I felt good. Tired, but good. I refueled and stepped into new territory, as that is where I dropped last year. After a peanut butter sandwich and some electrolytes, I took off the shirt and the arm sleeves and threaded them on my spi-belt, refilled my water bottles and leaned down the hill from the aid station. The next 4 miles were mostly about enjoying the solitude and preparing my head for Goat Hill, the steepest and most infamous section of the course. I really enjoyed this section, although fatigue had thoroughly set in, letting gravity pull me down the downgrades and pushing up the rises, it was slow going, but beautiful single track in the trees with perfect running weather.
I pushed my way up Goat Hill and made the final 5 miles on the winding single track mostly alone, which was fine for me this day. I could see my second goal slipping away, but, considering the lack of training and the fact that I have actually put on some weight (all on my gut – don’t judge me!) I was starting to feel lucky if I even made my drop dead goal of 8 hours. I made it to the last aid station and only needed a splash of water to make it the last 1.4 miles. There is an immediate climb that I have run many times, but not this time. Water was running down it like a small stream and it was as muddy and slippery as I was tired. I walked that stretch and then trotted the last bit, making sure I could run to the finish line.
I finished at 7:52, chip time, and came across feeling pretty good. My bib number was 747 so I felt compelled to spread my wings and fly across the finish like a very slow moving airliner. They handed me a medal and a water. I kept the medal, but quickly traded the water for an ice-cold amber ale Matt had saved for me. Hanging around with my FTR friends, talking about the course and the great accomplishments of some of our members and all of our great finishes was the best part of the day.
Gear and Nutrition:
Although my training was poor, to say the least, I had very good luck with my gear and nutrition. The spaghetti feed carb load the night before, oatmeal and a banana for breakfast and my traditional Starbucks pre-race got me started. I always carry a couple of Gu packs just in case, but I try to rely on the aid stations because NoCal Ultras always does such a great job of taking care of the runners. Even after the long Facebook discussion on hydration, in which I was a proponent of the back pack over the water bottles, I opted for the double 20oz bottles anyway because the aid stations were close enough together to refill often and quickly. I also knew it would be warm later and I might want to go shirtless and that would not be possible with the pack. I converted one of my water bottles to electrolytes around mile 4 with a drop-in tab (can’t remember the brand). I didn’t like the taste and I used up all the water so I just made do until mile 8. I refilled the bottles with water and electrolytes, respectively and that combination seemed to work. I am a firm believer in eating what my body seems to crave at aid stations and took potatoes and salt, a cookie, peanut butter sandwich quarters and salt tablets at each station. At mile 21 I took two s-tabs (I wish I hadn’t but they handed them to me and I took them both) and switched to two bottles of water because I had run out at mile 19. Fortunately there were some spectators right there who had ice and flat coke… Perfect! I looked at the pizza at the last aid station, but by then I just wanted to finish and time was slipping away. There would be pizza in 1.4 miles, and a cupcake!
I started with a Hoo-Rag around my neck, but decided it was too warm and put it in my truck a 1.4 miles. I kept the nike running cap, Balega short trail socks, and arm warmers. The shorts are Conner Trail Shorts from local company RypWear. These are a seamless short that are extremely comfortable and provide with almost no chafing (properly and amply applied Glide helps too) and absolutely none of the cutting and binding caused by the typical built in liner in most running shorts. I wore the Patagonia shirt that was given at last year’s WTC and this is the most comfortable shirt I own. I was pleased to see that they supplied us with another of the same this year in a different color. Thank you Julie! I took off the shirt and arm sleeves at 21. Threading the spi-belt through was a bit of brilliance I came up with because I was tired of losing things I hang in my belt. The spi-belt is light and holds several Gu packs and some Chomps in the pocket with virtually no weight.
Finally the shoes. I have been running trails in Brooks Cascadias and they fit me wonderfully. The plantar fasciitis, however, finally compelled me to try the Hoka Mafate 2 (I got mine at Running Warehouse, but you could also try Gold Country Run and Sport if you are local. The extra cushion provided by Team Marshmallow has been amazing. Especially on the downhills I feel like I am floating. It took me a while to get used to the raised profile and I wish the tongue was a little wider at the top because the lace creates a blister when I use the heal lock eyelet, which I need to do. I haven’t checked the changes in the new Mafate 3 yet.
With all this amazing gear and the nutrition working well, you’d think I have a better time, but 5-7 extra pounds around the waist and no training during the week for 4 months will cost time.
Truth be told, I’m happy to be able to run this distance without pain. Now, let’s get ready for 50 miles!