Sunday, July 20, 2008

Buckeye Trail 50k: The Good, the Bad, and the Crampy

I got up at 4:45 AM, not that big a deal since this is around when I normally get up for work. Most of the prep was done the night before. I had already loaded my Fuel Belt. I filled the bottles with Gatorade, and in the pouch, I packed 2 PowerBar Gels (50 mg caffeine) and 5 Electrolyte capsules.

I applied Sports Shield lubricant to my groin and underarms, and Vaseline between my toes. I taped over my nipples, then put on my shorts and mesh shirt. Given the forecast for 90 degrees and high humidity, I decided the mesh shirt would work better than my SERC singlet. I ate a light breakfast of granola and orange juice, then we were off.

Sue dropped me off at Oak Grove pavilion at about 6:00 AM, and already the place was busy with pre-race preparation. I talked with many people I knew, including Dave P., e-speed, Daisy Duc, Jeff U., Paul R., Dawn M., Kam L., Solar Squirrel, and of course, Steve Hawthorne

I turned on my Garmin, and at 7:00 AM, the race started. Paul R. is trying to come back from an injury, decided he felt good enough to at least start out with me. We picked up e-speed about six miles into the race, and we all ran together for a while. Paul's injury flared up at around 12 miles (I think), and he left dropped out. E-speed and I stayed pretty close together all the way to the half-way point and back to the Boston store.

I felt good through the first half of the race, making the half-way point at 2 hours 22 minutes. At the Boston store, I refilled my bottles, took an electrolyte pill, and packed five more in my pouch. By the time I got out of there, e-speed was already hundreds of years ahead of me and I never saw her again. I ran the rest of the race on my own, with the exception of a short distance with Dave P. , and about three miles with a young runner who's name I did not get.

Not far after the Boston store, I was getting frequent tell-tale twinges that warn of the full-on cramps to follow. Probably around the 22 mile mark, I had to stop and stretch out a cramp in my left calf. It was very discouraging because I know that once the cramps start, they tend to continue and get worse. They did. Eventually, I was stopping every few hundred yards to stretch out and walk-off cramps. I could not keep and real pace or momentum after that. I kept drinking my fluids and taking electrolytes to try to stave off the cramps, but they continued unabated. When I finally made it to Snowville Road, Paul R.met me with a double dose of Heed (a sports drink with electrolytes). He made me stop and drink it, then gave me one more before I left.
For the duration of race, I was very frustrated. I felt good, I had energy and stamina to finish strong, but the cramps would not let go of my legs. I began to get cramps in my thighs as well as my calves. This tightened my hamstrings, which forced me to bend too much at the knees, completely taking me out of my form.
At about the 29 mile mark, there was a water drop and I stopped for a quick drink. As I was leaving, I spotted Vince from Vertical Runner and heard him shout, "Less than 20 minutes to go." I really needed to hear that. I had been second-guessing the mileage showing on my Garmin, so that was very reassuring. I tried to pick up the pace, but I had to continue my pattern of stopping every 200-300 yards to stretch out a cramp. At one point, I picked up a thick stick and tried rolling it up and down my calf like a rolling pin to work out the cramps. Sounded like a good idea, but it didn't actually help. Finally, the trail opened onto Valley Parkway, and I knew I was only 1/4 mile from the finish. I had to stop three more times before I made it across, but I did make it, five hours and forty-one minutes after I started. Sue met me at the finish, and for her patience, she got a very sweaty, stinky hug and kiss.

Post Race Assessment

The Good

  • I finished my first ultra marathon.
  • I was 29th of 175 (I think) runners.
  • No injuries.
The Bad
  • Really, no bad news except for...
The Crampy
  • The cramps put the clamps on my hope for a 5 hour finish.
  • They might have been avoidable, so I need to review my hydration and electrolyte intake and better prepare for the next race.

I was OK to walk around immediately after the race, but getting up after sitting was not easy. The cramping had really done a number on my legs. My calves felt like they had been beaten with a steel pipe. The tendons in the backs of my legs were sore and tight. Here is a helpful illustration. The red arrows indicate the pain points. The yellow arrows indicate the where I experienced the strongest and most frequent muscle cramping.

After getting some wonderful food prepared by Chef Bill, and having a few cups of lemonade, Sue and I drove to sister Lisa's house, then we all went to the Beer Engine for some celebratory beverages. They had a cask conditioned bitter on the engine, York Centurions Ghost Ale, which went very well with a burger and chips. I didn't feel like staying too late, so we were home by 6:00. I ran the massager over my legs for a while, then got a great nights sleep.


E-Speed said...


Great recap. I'm so sorry you were brought down by cramps. I really thought you would be with me the whole way (if not ahead of me). It was not the ideal day for a 50k that is for sure, but you toughed it out and were sub 6 despite all the cramping, that is impressive! (Still far better than my first and 2nd 50ks!)

I can't believe you forgot to mention powerwalking through the pines though!

I love the picture of you and Sue. She looks so beautiful and proud of you!

solarsquirrel said...

Awesome job Frank!!! You weren't the only one with bad cramps - Todd had to keep walking he was cramping so much - I think it was just so hot and humid you guys weren't able to replenish the lost salt quickly enough.

Papa Louie said...

Congratulations on your first ultra marathon. I think part of making it through one of those is enduring the pain and you managed to fight through it. Good job.

EbethS said...

Congratulations on your first ultra.

Wyatt said...

Frank: Great job at the BT50K. You ran a smart race. I hope this is the start of many more ultras. A 50 miler might be the next good step for you...before joining the big boys in completing the 100. Nothing like getting ahead of myself. Great job!


DaisyDuc said...

Great job on finishing your first ultra!!! It is really too bad you had such bad cramping issues as I know you had that 5 hour finish in you!

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice job! Great report!!

(and nice illustration of where it hurts!)....

Lloyd said...

Nice report, Frank. A dry, fast trail does not come along as such every year..

Out of curiosity, what type electrolyte capsules are you using? Some have more e-lytes than others...

Good job.