Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Buckeye Trail 50k Report

Before I start, I want to address my apparent inability to listen to very reasonable advice. I was supposed to be running this as a training run, not racing it. I was going to go for a time of about 5 hours and 30 minutes, which still would have been faster than my target pace for the Burning River 100 miler in two weeks, but would have been slow enough to allow me to recover. A few days before, when the trails were still dry and fast, I checked and found that the Grand Masters (over 50) record for the course was 4:41:32 (Jeff Ubersax). At that point, the weather had been dry for about a week and the trails were dry and fast. I figured I might never get such a good opportunity again, so why not go for the record. Unfortunately, rain Friday and Saturday morning changed the trails from dry and fast to muddy and slippery, making that record safe for another year. No matter, I decided to let it fly and see how close I could come to it.

I arrived at the Oak Grove pavilion at 6:15 AM. I brought two pairs of shoes but I knew already which I was going to wear, my new Inov-8 RocLites. These are legitimate trail shoes, made for providing better grip in just the kind of slippery conditions we were facing. It was a bit of a gamble since I just got them a few days before the race, and ran a total of four miles in them. My other option, a 500 mile old pair of Nike LunarTrainers, might have been my choice on a dry day, but on wet trails, they provide traction equivalent to bedroom slippers on Teflon. One other decision I made just a few minutes before the race was to ditch my fuel belt. I found Vince the RD and confirmed that there would be Heed at each of the aid stations, so I decided that I did not need to carry my own.

I met up with some of my SERC buddies, did a little warm-up run, and made one last trip to the mens' room. By then, the race was ready to start, unfortunately, my Garmin was not. I had turned it on, but but it was still struggling to lock on to the satellites when the starter sent us off. It was .24 miles into the race before it started recording. I know it was .24 because I was running with Zach Lewis whose Garmin was on from the start.

This is the part of every race report where I say that I realized I was going out far too fast. My target pace was about 9:04/mile, but my first two miles were 7:41 and 8:05. Granted, these were more runnable portions of the course, but that was mostly due to adrenaline. I was able to dial it down and get under control after that, although the hills may have had something to do with that. I was running the shorter and/or less steep hills, but power-walking the steepest hills. Long stretches of the trails were just wet but not very muddy, but most of the low-lying trails were mucky with fresh mud. My strategy became 'just make it through the mud, so you can run the better trails'. The Invo8s were proving to be a very smart decision. They provided good traction through the wet dirt, hung on to my feet through the shoe-sucking mud, and were still light enough to allow me to run the clear stretches. I was loving my Inov8s.

I was making good time and actually feeling very good as I came through aid station at Snowville Road, about the 6 mile mark. I drank about 8 ounces of Heed (2 half-full paper cups), grabbed a couple of PBJ sandwich quarters, thanked everyone and moved out quickly. My absolute rule in this race was drink at every opportunity, and take an electrolyte pill every 20 minutes. The 3 miles between Snowville and Boston store flew by so fast, I didn't even realize until I came down the hill and out onto the road. As I crossed the bridge, I heard E-speed shouting my name. Here is a photo she took of me chugging toward the aid station.

Again, as was my routine for the day, I shouted for Heed and PBJs as I approached, and the volunteers had them ready for me. I drank two more cups of Heed, took another electrolyte pill, ate a couple of PBJ quarters, then thanked everyone and ran on.

I climbed the big hill after Boston store, and ran root-filled stretch of trail called the Pines. It was not much further between mile 13 and 14 that I encountered the lead runner, Mike Seymore, running past me going the other direction. He had already made the turn and was heading back. About 50 yards behind him was Mark Godale. As he approached, a gray coyote dashed across the path between us. He gave me a quick look over his shoulder and vanished into the brush.

I reached the Pine Lane aid station, the half-way point, at about 2 hours and 16 minutes, even faster that the target I had set when the trails were dry, and much faster than I should have under the current conditions. I grabbed my PBJs, Heed, and electrolyte, and did a quick assessment of my condition. My legs were only OK, feeling some of the effects of 15 plus miles of mud, but no pain and no injuries. I had been eating and drinking faithfully, so my energy level was good. I was not tired. All considered, I was in good condition to run a strong second half. Here is a photo taken as I approached the aid station.

I began encountering runners heading toward me as I ran the back half. At first, just a few here and there, but after a few miles, it seemed like there were groups of runners every hundred yards. Most of the time, they gave way to let me through, but not all of the runners knew the protocol. Some were newbies, and they didn't realize they were supposed to yield to the returning runners, so there were a few awkward moments. I made it back for my second pass through the Pines, then back down and through the Boston store aid station again. You know the routine by now...PBJ, Heed, electrolyte, thanks, bye...the trail running equivalent of "Wham, Bam, Thank you Maam".
Last year, it was on the big hill just after Boston that my leg cramps started, and the worry was in my head as I began that climb. This year, I had no indications, not a hint of a cramp. I ran for a while with Patrick Fisher and Beth Woodward, the current woman's record holder for the course. Both of them were running strong. We played cat and mouse for the next five or six miles, taking turns passing each other and being passed. Eventually, Patrick dropped off the pace, and it was Beth and I running together for a few more miles.

By the second pass through Snowville aid station, the fatigue was beginning to tell on my legs. My pace on the more runnable sections was not as fast as on the way out. I could not get the leg turn-over I needed to to make up for the slower pace in the muddy areas as I had been doing. I realized that I was about a minute or more of the time I needed to break the Grand Master course record, and worse, I was getting slower not faster. Still, most important, there we no cramps or even early warning twinges. So I pressed on, hoping a second wind might come and allow me to get back on pace for the record.

The last six miles were nothing more than a gut check. I was beginning to struggle, the mud seemed deeper, the hills higher. I began marking time by looking for familiar landmarks, a creek crossing, a opening in the woods, anything to tell me I was getting closer to the finish. I continued to drink at every opportunity, and take my electrolytes. There were no more aid stations, but there were jugs of water stashed every three miles or so, that allowed me to keep hydrated. Finally, I came upon a sign that said '1 Mile to Finish'. This gave me a tremendous lift. I checked the time, and calculated that I had no chance at the record, I was off by a couple of minutes. Still, I felt great that I was that close to it on a day when the trails were not fast. Despite the fact that the leg cramps had not hit me, I knew they might at any time. I picked up the pace as much as I could, and began ticking off the familiar twists and turns. Finally, I emerged from the woods and ran the remaining quarter mile on the road leading to the finish. When I crossed the line, the clock read 4;44:13, 2 minutes and fifty seconds shy of the record, but nearly an hour (57 minutes) faster than my BT50k time last year.

I got a kiss from Sue, and my medal from Vince, although in the state I was in that could have been the other way around and I might not have known. I walked around for a while, got some food and drink, and rinsed the mud off my legs with some help from Sue. I found Mark and Kam, both looking as bad as I felt. Eventually, Sue and I found our way to the car and headed home.


Julie said...

Well it still isn't showing in my feed, but nice race report. Nice work on improving your time that's quite the jump! Next year perhaps you'll be the new champ?

allanjel said...

Wow! You are really running like a machine and having Sue at the finish to support you and give you a smooch is awesome ;-) I love it when my family comes to support me.

Less than 2 weeks until you rock BR!!! Rest up.

Floyd gave Mel the following advice for her first one...

1. Drink like a fish
2. Eat like a horse
3. Run like a turtle

and it worked!!

Graham said...

I so enjoy reading your race reports, they always leave me motivated and wanting to push myself harder to reach my own goals!

Awesome time and great report!

Babs said...

Glad I checked your blog and came upon the video and your race summation...awesome! I got a shot of adrenaline reading your words, while visualizing the course..Man, I can just run on the trails vicariously through you!

Ernesto said...

Awesome time, Frank! Sounds like that record ought to be sweating in anticipation of next year!

And a great race report. Nice writing. Gives me some better insight into what these ultra races are like. Maybe someday...