Monday, July 11, 2011

Finger Lakes 50 Mile race report

I've been competing in races from 55 meters (indoor track as a high school sophomore) to 50 miles (9 days ago) for over a decade now, and as far as I can recall, this is my first race report, so it may be a little rocky. Here we go...

While I've been running for years, I had been training for this race specifically for about four months. I had done my last long run (36 miles, including 16 long, steep hills) 15 days prior, and I had limited my running to less than an hour a day for the subsequent two weeks leading up to the race. I had also taken the two days before the race off of work so that I could stay off of my feet as much as possible. I was well rested, and I imagine that my incipient hyperactivity was starting to bubble over in weird ways (my girlfriend, Jeannine, would be in the best position to testify about this), so I was ready to race. We left for the race after Jeannine got out of work Friday evening and arrived at Finger Lakes National Forest at around 11 o'clock. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to get a hotel room, so we had to sleep in my car. I was happy to see that we weren't alone, and there were actually a lot of other people doing the same thing. Despite the fact that my car (a 2009 Chevy Aveo) is roughly the size of a tackle box, we slept surprisingly well. I woke up at around 4:45 (15 minutes before my alarm. Dammit.) and walked the half mile to the start area to pick up my bib number, and there were already several people awake, and the tent area was almost completely set up. There was also a campfire and coffee to accompany the anticipatory energy that envelops race morning. Having gotten my bib number and affixed it to my singlet, I was ready to run. Jeannine, armed with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and many hours to kill, continued to be supportive and awesome.

The course is a 16.5 mile loop that goes through woods, dirt/gravel roads, and pastures (I didn't see any actual cows, but I'm from Washington County, Virginia, so I've seen more than my share). There is a 25k race that does one loop, and it starts an hour-and-a-half after the 50k/50mile races starts. After 2 loops, the 50k/50mile runners can either stop as 50k finishers, or continue for one more loop (plus a half mile "baby loop" at the end) to complete the 50 miler.

The gun cowbells went off at 6:30am, and the 200ish of us 50 milers and 50 k-ers began our blister-laden journeys. There was a group or five or six guys that took off at a pretty fast pace, and with this being my first Ultra, I figured that at least early on, I should err on the side of being conservative. I let them go, and I continued at what I felt was a comfortable pace, especially since I didn't warm up at all (since, you know, the race is 50 damn miles). During the first hour or so,  I just relaxed and enjoyed the quiet of the woods (that I would occasionally interrupt when I would stub my toe on a root and treat the woodland creatures to an ever-increasingly complex display of lucid profanity). I had my water bottle, so I would take a sip about every 5 minutes, which seemed to work quite well. There were aid stations every three or four miles which were stocked with water, Heed, pretzels, peanut M&M's, quartered pb&j sandwiches, and really nice, helpful people. I would basically take in half a pb&j every 45 minutes or so (which I had experimented with in training), and that seemed to work well. There was one really long (I estimate a mile and a quarter) steep downhill on a gravel road that ate into the bottoms of my feet pretty badly because I was running in the New Balance Minimus, which have pretty thin soles. I had brought along a couple of pairs of Nike Free, in which I've been running since 2007, as well as two full race outfits, just in case I needed to change between loops. I caught the lead group around an hour into the race, which could have been the result of my being warmed up, their slowing down, or both. At any rate, they were all super nice, and all but one of them were running the 50k. I also learned that the disdain I had acquired for roots sticking up was shared by everyone else. During the half hour or so I ran with the group, we all took turns tripping and falling or almost falling. I still think I emerged as the undisputed profanity savant. Eventually, two other guys and I broke away, and we talked for a while. Peter, a 50k runner, and Chad, a 50mile runner, were, I believe, both from Burlington, Vermont, and at least one of them was doing the Vermont 100 in two weeks. They were incredibly nice, and completely exemplified the supportive nature of the event. We talked about what races we had run and how training leading up to the race had gone. I was curious since I was a rookie at Ultra distances. They also informed me that a guy named Sean was way out in front of us.  I eventually got away from them, silently hoping that I wasn't wrecking myself for later in the race. I felt great, but I had never run an ultra, so there was uncharted territory ahead (insert skydiving metaphor).

I finished the first loop in second place. Jeannine was there clapping, and I waved and winked and got another half of a pb&j sandwich and was on my way. Still doing my best to stay relaxed, it was nice to know that everything in front of me would now be things I had seen before. The first half of the second loop was uneventful, and I ran alone hoping that the guy in front of me might slow down. Sure enough, about halfway through the second loop I caught up to him. I said, "You must be Sean." He said yeah, and I asked him if he was doing the 50k or 50mile, and he said 50k. Part of me was relieved, and part of me thought, "I'm ahead of the 50k leader? What the hell am I doing? I'm going to die!" I was at least comforted by the fact that I still actually did feel quite good. We talked for a while, and it turns out that he's a fellow native Virginian, and he said that he reviewed patent applications, and I told him that that's what Einstein did, so he's in good company. After a little while, Chad, the other 50 miler, caught up with us and the three of us ran along together. Then I decided that if I was going to go for it, now was the time, and for the second half of the second loop, I did my hardest running.  There were varying terrains, so I did quite a bit of running at sub-6:30 pace (during the single track, with the damn roots), punctuated by long stretches of ankle-deep mud, during which you're lucky to not lose a shoe. As I came to the end of the second loop, I realized that my feet were so chewed up by the gravel that if I didn't change shoes, things would get quite ugly on the third loop. I went through start/finish area at what I would later find out was course record time for the 50k. I looked for my bag, and couldn't find it, at which point I yelled, "I NEED TO CHANGE SHOES! WHERE IS MY BAG?" I want to take this opportunity to say that I apologize if my urgency was mistaken for anger, to those who were in earshot. Seriously, no anger. I just needed shoes. And I got them. So it's all good.

I changed into my Frees, had some Coke, and got on my way.  As I was leaving the start/finish area, Chad was just coming in, so I figured I had better get moving. Nutritionally, for the last loop, I basically drank some Coke at every aid station. My digestive system had lost any desire for solid food (this would continue until around nine o'clock that night), and Coke seemed to be working, so I stuck with it. The shoe change was just what I needed, although with my foot pain alleviated, I was now left to focus on the pain in my legs (from, you know, all the running). Around 20 minutes into the loop, I had officially run farther than I had ever run before, so I had this, "aw shit, here we go," kind of feeling. I decided that mentally, the best way to deal with the last loop was to live between aid stations, kind of like in boot camp, when I basically lived between meals, and it worked. By this point, I was passing a lot of runners from all three races, and the heat was starting to get rough. I just kept hydrating and continuing to move forward. I love running, but for the last hour or so of the race, all I wanted in the world was to not be running anymore. About 20 minutes from the finish, I saw some folks on horseback off to the side of the trail drinking beer, and I said to them, "God, I wish I was doing that right now," and they chuckled and said good luck. At the last aid station, I asked and found out that I was 2.8 miles from the finish. Fantastic news! I was hurting, but I definitely had that left in me. I kept moving forward, expending as little energy as possible, and lo and behold, the Finish Line!


I didn't know about the half-mile baby loop at the end. Admittedly, this was a lapse in research on my behalf. The people at the finish line informed me about the baby loop after I thought I was done. Another occasion for which I must apologize if my urgency was mistaken for anger. I distinctly remember yelling out, "WHICH WAY DO I GO?" I did the half mile loop, which included plenty of clapping fans and wasn't that big a deal, and I finished in 7:06:02.

First off, I called it an epilogue because I've been reading a lot of Michael Crichton lately, so bear with me.
Anyway, after finishing, all I wanted was sugar and water. I felt like Edgar from Men in Black, without all the malice. I hardly ever drink soda, and I downed a Coke and three Cream Sodas, and they were heavenly. The lady at the finish line had told me to let her know when I'm ready to receive my awards. After probably 20 minutes of being immobile and consuming as much sugary liquid as I could, I told her I was ready. She gave me a big wooden bear-shaped trophy (awesome), a bottle opener that's a color of my choosing (I chose green because, well, I like green), then, alas! What is this?! She reaches into a cooler and produces a growler (half gallon jug) of local beer! It was the Rooster Fish Brewery's Pale Ale, and it was, at that moment, nothing short of transcendental. I sat there at a picnic table, and eventually on the ground, on my back, hung out with Jeannine, talked to other runners/beer drinkers, and just soaked in the experience. After finishing the growler, Jeannine drove us back to Delaware ( It turns out upstate Pennsylvania is quite pretty. Who knew??), where the remainder of the evening involved Yeungling and no fewer than three Five Guys double cheeseburgers. Not a bad day.

I've been taking it easy since the race, but I plan to be back at training full bore next week. I have the Blue Ridge Relay in September (my favorite race, hands down, and I will do it every chance I get), and then I would like to take the endurance I've gained from this race and throw in a lot of speed to run a fast marathon in November at the Philadelphia Marathon. I also plan on doing this race again next year. I'll be in lab rotations next summer, but if I can get away, I would definitely like to return.

Chad, Peter, and Sean, thank you for the companionship and advice during the race. You guys are damn tough, and I wish you good luck for the fall. I'm sure you all have plenty going on. 

Regarding tree roots. Bitch-ass tree roots. By the time I finished the race, I had, by my count, nine 'almost falls', one 'normal fall', and one full-on barrel roll. (Jeannine: "Sweetie, how did you get mud on your back?") Next time, they will not defeat me. OK, they probably will. Dammit.

Anyway, it was an all-in-all great experience. I would like to give me thanks to the race director and volunteers. You all are incredible, and I will definitely be back.


1 comment:

  1. As a voracious mountain biker, enviro-hippie, and die-hard Appalachian hillbilly: I love roots.
    So there.

    It's okay, brother, I love you, too. I won't disown you. Yet....

    Also, in the realm of constructive criticism: "Having gotten"? Facepalm.