Aug 6, 2007 2:10 PM
Training is an individual thing to me. There's an abundance of information on the web, in books, magazines, etc, but when it comes down to it I prefer to start from scratch and follow how I feel. Luckily, I enjoy running so much that I go to bed looking forward to it the next day (ok, so I need to develop more social outlets, fine). So, I'll back up a bit to early July and the Rattlesnake Trail 50k, which was my first ultra. That race went well and left me eager to do a 50 miler. I had already registered for one in late September, but now, after completing the 50k and wanting to send my application in for the Western States 100 Miler (remember, I'm impulsive and a little impatient....ok, a lot impatient), I found another 50 miler that was coming up in two weeks, and registerd for it. Details on the Western States 100 Miler: to qualify you are required to either finish a 50 miler in under 11 hours or to have run a 100 miler in the required cutoff times.
So, now I'm registered for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler. What now? I just continue my normal running routine of 80+ miles per week. It sounds like a lot, but for ultras it really matters how you break up the mileage. For instance, I do 12-20 miles daily, which I now have determined doesn't work for long (50 mile) races. I should've, and will from now on, been doing at least one very long run of 30-40 miles with the rest of my mileage spread out over the week.
Well, I drove up Friday to DC and the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler, picked up my bib and race bag at Tyson's Corner and headed to Great Falls National Park. The rangers wouldn't allow sleeping in the park, so I ended up going to the school where the post race festival would be held.
One of the tires on the van was going flat, so in the 95 degree heat the night before my first 50 miler I'm changing tires and wondering where I'll get the thing fixed that late or the next day after the race. I ended up leaving the tire at a gas station and told them I'd be back the next day at some point after the race. The guy looked at me sort of funny when I told him it was 50 miles and I had no idea how long it'd take.
Got back to the school and laid in the back of the van sweating for a couple hours before falling asleep. I woke up at 3am (start was at 5am) and felt surprizingly good. Headed over to the park and cleaned up in the bathroom, got the running gear on and tried to relax. It was pitch black there, so we were required to start the race with headlamps (I couldn't imagine running on the rocky trails without it).
Right from the start 5 of us were off the front and stedily pulling away. One dropped off, leaving four of us. I was quiet but the others were talking. Shorter guy asks, "Run many 50's?" "Yeah, a lot." "What about you?" answers the taller guy. Shorter guy says, "I run 100's mostly." "Oh? What was your last 100 miler?" "Western States." Taller guy says, "How'd it go?" "Oh, pretty good, took 14th overall." says shorter guy. "How bout you? What was your last good 50?" "JFK 50." Answers taller guy. "Took 3rd overall". So, I'm thinking, great I'm running with a guy who took 14th at Western States and another guy who took 3rd in probably the most competitive 50 miler in the country. I check my nerves and settle in. Another guy drops off from us leaving just me and two others. The Three of us run in the lead for 2.5 hours when I decide it's not smart to hold that pace for another 5 hours. So, now I'm running in 3rd place with a fairly large cushion over anyone behind me.
At about 23 miles the trouble starts. My knee starts hurting and gets progressively worse. By the time I reach the aid station at the 25 mile half way point, I'm limping so badly that the aid volunteers offer me a stretcher. I can't believe how unlucky I am and hurting this badly with 25 miles to go made me want to cry. I asked them for 1600 mgs of ibuprofen, ate some salted cooked potatoes, filled my water bottle and limped out of there. Being an out and back for this section of the course, I could gage my lead over the folks behind me. There was a Noth Face runner in 4th, maybe 8 mins behind, then Dean Karnazes in 5th, about 10 mins back. I knew I was in trouble but focused and started shuffling along until the pain gave up some and I was able to run a bit.
At the mile 30 aid station I felt ok and changed shoes into my road running shoes, hoping the extra cushion may help the knee pain. I left the aid station in 3rd place and then got totally lost in a very hilly section that dropped steeply off into the Patomac (the course was horribly marked). At that point I saw the guy in 4th and made my way over to him. I had run about a mile off course. We ran together for a bit, then the pain made me take a walk/limp break, so at mile 34 I reliquished 3rd place. I still had a slight hope of holding it together for 4th, but that didn't last long.
The ibuprofen wore off and the pain was incredible. My muscles started locking up in cramps as well. I finally made it to the aid station at mile 37 and while sitting there on the ground with huge chunks of potatoes in my mouth, a dripping wet wash cloth on my head and one shoe off, Dean Karnazes came striding up like a 10 year old kid. "Mut's up Dean?" is all I could say with the potatoes in my mouth. I got my shoe back on, filled my bottle and shuffled out of there. It didn't take long for Dean to catch and pass me. "Hang in there." he says as he goes by. Now I've stopped worring about which place I come in and start worrying about finishing. It takes me a long time to reach the aid station at the 40 mile mark. I'm still in 5th, but now, sitting there rubbing my knee and wondering how I can walk, let alone run, I almost quit. "I think I'm dropping out." I tell the cute girl at the station. I start to section out the remainder of the race in my mind, three miles to the end of the out and back, then 3 miles back to where I sit now, then 4.4 miles to the finish line. I decide to try for the first part, knowing I'd have to come back somehow.
I'm barely able to hold a shuffle of a run for more than 50 feet. The female winner passes me, then another person. I lost track of which place I was in and was begining to not care about much of anything anymore. I finally made it to that section's turn around where we had to mark our bibs with a marker at a table to prove we were there and started hobbling back. It was 98 degrees and much of this section had no shade, so I wasn't in a very good mood. Another runner comes up behind and passes me but he's running so slowly that I manage to get myself up to his pace and hold on behind him for over two miles. It was like two old men racing in a mall.
I made it back to the aid station where I'd almost quit 6 miles before. I just took a couple gulps of water and moved on.
This last stretch of 4 miles is something I'll never forget. I was very dehydrated and starving and my body from the belt down ached like I'd never imagine it could. I would walk and climb all the hills and barely made my way through the cliffs. I started wondering whether my body would just stop before finishing. I finally made it to the finish and could hardly lift my head while walking. It had taken me three hours to cover the last 10 miles, something I could normally race in 60 mins.
My ultimate goal was to qualify for Western States, so I guess I was successful. Never running a 50 miler, I realize now that starting off slowly (like Dean did) and patiently making your way throuh the race at your pace is vital. It doesn't matter that I was in 3rd place for 5 hours. I'm very happy I decided to dig in and force myself to finish. I ended up in 11th place at 9 hours 24 mins, about an hour and a half longer than what would have been reasonable for me had I run a smarter race. Going off in the lead for such a long time in the beginning was dumb, and I learned from it.