One day back in March, as my wife and I were perusing the race schedule for the upcoming year, she gently goaded me about doing a long run. “You seem to be better at endurance races” was here comment, a gently way of saying “your too slow to do short races.” Well for anyone who knows me once a challenge like that has been laid at me feet action must be taken! Soon after I began my search a long race, luckily (and I use that term loosely), I found one near by it was the aptly named Pineland Farms Trail Challenge. Double luckily they were beginning a new division this year, a 50-mile trail race in addition to their 50 and 25K races. Damn, why run only 50K (31 miles) when for only $15 more you can run an extra 19 miles. That was all I needed to hear, I was in.
Doing mostly triathlons this year left little training time for a long trail race, the time to do a long training run plus having to taking the next day off just didn’t fit into my schedule. So my only major training run for the 50-miler was to do the Boston Marathon dressed as Elvis (a blog for another day). Upon picking up my registration I heard a lot of stories of epic trail runs done in preparation for the race and believe you me it left me feeling a little queasy about being ill prepared for the race. In addition I had no idea what to expect after mile 26, is there a second wall you hit? Does everything just stop working? Would I become delusional and think Bush was really our president….
The race was extremely well organized, not Kirsch organized, but close. The 50-mile race started at 6:00 under a clear sky but with the omen of some heat coming later in the day. Omen is say because a good portion of the race was run across fields, exposed to the sun, which would be fine for the first hour but I wasn’t too sure about hour number 7.
I had asked many people about strategies they employ for a race of this length and got several answers, start out slow and build (hogwash to this strategy I say, there is no “building” after mile 30). Some suggested a warm-up the first few miles then just go with how you feel (this is the one I chose). Then there was the start out strong while you feel good and then hang on (this is the one I wish I picked) and lastly your doomed just run till you drop.
They rang a cowbell to signal the start and we were off. First there was a short 3+ mile loop followed by 3, 25K loops. I started out slow, 28:27 for first 3 miles, in retrospect too slow because no matter how slow I would have started (except for never getting out of the car in the first place) I would be suffering the last 10 miles. Therefore I should have made time while I could. I chatted it up with some dudes, all who had done this before. Even met the husband of the woman who runs Innov8 (he said to say hi to Kevin “Hi” and I thanked him for sponsoring our series). After the 3-mile loop I felt like I was wasting time and opened it up a little, it felt good to get moving. This also moved me away from a crowd of shufflers and into some faster company.
Speaking of strategies one that a lot of people were employing was “walking the hills,” now this being a cross-country ski trails there were constantly hills! In fact it is considered a hard 50-miler (like there is an easy one?) because of those hills. I tried it for awhile until one of the other runners said that’s there weren’t many people out here in the kind of shape to run through all the hills and it was a good idea if I walked them. Well now that sounds to me like another challenge to me (if you remember that’s how I got in this mess in the first place). So I proceeded not to walk any more hills, I believe this helped a lot in my final placing.
The first 15 mi loop went relatively easy, 2:12 or 9:15 miles. I had some company on and off but, even though they were running 4 races on the course this day, after this first loop I ran the race mostly by myself. I also quickly came to hate (I know hate is a strong word but I am justified in using it here) the fields part of the course. They were mostly hay fields and we ran around there perimeters, up one side down the other. They were a bit mushy, had plenty of ditches, were all slanted, were fully exposed to the sun and had the occasional snake underfoot. Other than that they were, you know, OK.
The second loop was a bit more difficult 15 miles in 2:30 or 10:00 miles ; this one went from mile 19 to mile 34+. Before this race I thought this would be the hardest part of the race, far enough into it that you began to feel tired but still a long way to go (I was wrong about that). Due to the hills it was impossible to put it into cruise control but I was feeling OK. Eating at the aid stations, my favorite was the boiled potatoes dipped in salt and the Pringles, and drinking my Sustained Energy HEED at the drop bag area and generally just running.
The last 10 miles of the 3rd loop was the worst, I completed this15 mile section in 2:40 or 10:40 miles. I was told I was in the top 10 so walking or even slowing down now was not an option, but I sure felt like it. The thirties went by pretty fast and without anything remarkable (except for those fields!) but by the time I got to mile 40 the sufferfest was on. The heat had started to take its toll and I was becoming dehydrated, even though I was drinking at every aid station. I just can’t drink more than about 24 ounces an hour and run without my stomach shutting down. I was still eating, and taking some Rolaids now and then (which really helped) as well as Endurolyte tablets.
In the 50-mile crowd their benchmark times are: under 10 hours, which is considered a solid effort, under 9, better effort and under 8 (I wasn't even considering that!) Once I saw the hills and heard the weather report I thought I would never get under 9 so I was planning on doing it about 10 hours. But along the way things went well and now, with 10 miles to go, I only need to do a little more than 10-minute miles to get in less than 8 hours. Problem was that right now 10-minute miles seemed near impossible. That’s when I switched to drinking coke and mountain dew at the aid stations. On long bike rides I would often switch near the end to soda, but with an hour and a half to go till the end I wasn’t sure I could make it just on soda (and Pringles) but it really did the trick. I instantly felt better and my pace become easier, although not all that much faster.
At the second to last aid station, with 3 miles to go, the volunteer said if I hustled I could make it under 8 hours. I found that a little funny, like the last thing I could do after 47 miles was do a dance from the 70’s, but I thanked him for his encouragement and tried to hustle. I skipped the last aid station and did my best impersonation of someone sprinting to the finish and got in at 07:56:13 !!!! I have to admit I was quite stunned with my time. It was good enough for 8th overall and second in my age group, my age group winner came in 4 minutes ahead of me (ah, if I didn’t go so slow at the start), my fastest mile was a 8:14 the slowest 12:03, ugh.
The post race BBQ was great and they had free beer! For finishing I got a gold cowbell, a commemorative glass, a pair of Innov8 socks and in the near future some new toenails!