Friday, July 8, 2011

Race Report: Finger Lakes 50 miler, 7.2.11: Fun (ouch)

If you don’t have a lot of time to read race reports, here’s the quick version:
  • Great race. 
  • RD rocked. 
  • Volunteers ruled. 
  • Sweet course. 
  • Hot day. 
  • It hurt. 
  • Roosterfish IPA. 
  • Life good.

If you’re still reading, here’s the rest, in a somewhat abbreviated form lest I never get this story finished:

Set in the Finger Lakes National Forest near Watkins Glen, NY, this race is, for me, the epitome of a trail race.  Home-grown, right-sized, and very well-organized by Chris Reynolds and her honey—err, hubby—Joe (if you know them, you know I was more right the first time).  More than anything, I love this race because it isn’t so much a race as a family reunion—where even newcomers are family. 

The view from my least, before others arrived.
The race is staged out of a peaceful campground in the National Forest.  The course is a 16.5 mile loop, mostly single-track, ranging from cool, deep forest to upland pastures (don’t let the cows out!) with great views.  Three race distances: one loop for an extra-long 25K, two for a long 50K, and three plus a half-mile baby loop for a true 50 miler.

In 2010, I ran the Finger Lakes 50K as my first ultra.  Life hasn’t been the same since.  In 2011, I returned to run the 50 miler.  This is my story, and I’m sticking to it:

The Meadow...with lots more tents to come

It was a dark and snoring night (before the race)—if you were camped in the meadow, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.  Fortunately, the weather was fine. 

Despite the snoring—which actually didn’t bother me—I got a few hours of decent sleep, a rarity for me the night before a race.  Felt as good as I ever have on a race morning. 

Woke to clear skies and cool-ish temps (note I did not say “cool”….and so the beginning of my end was already upon me). 

Pre-race: coffee, half a Hammer bar, some Perpetuem.  Dropped my drop bag in a good spot.  Timing chips.  A cow bell.  And we were off.  Actually, they were off.  I was one hard-to-open new roll of TP in the porta potty behind.  Least of my problems for the day!  A little easy jogging and I quickly moved into and through the pack—and there were still several people walking to the start.  Hey, it’s an ultra…

Loop 1 (start – 16.5 miles)
Short bit of forest road, then onto the single-track and into the single-file.  This was fine, since I was being a geek and running on heart rate, and this kept me from “lighting a match” (spiking my heart rate) too early in the day.  Worked the woods, edged along and eventually crossed the first pasture.  Didn’t let any cows out.  Didn’t challenge any bulls.  Sun was bright.  Sun was warm.  You can guess where this is going.  But at this point, I was still fresh and feeling great. 

View from a pasture
This loop went, well, perfectly.  Stuck with my hydration/electrolyte/fueling plans (or so I thought….but keep reading) and I managed to hit my heart rate target dead on the entire loop.  Still hoping to break 10 hours for 50 miles someday (pitiful, ain’t it?), so I was aiming for about 3:00-3:30 for the first loop.  Ran 3:24—maybe too slow for a sub-10 hour finish, but not too fast, which was my bigger concern.  Life was good at 16.5. 

Loop 2 (16.5 – 33 miles)
Let’s cut to the chase: The wheels came off.  Things started off fine, but in hindsight, I think I’d loosened the lug nuts on Loop 1.  As Loop 2 progressed, and I stopped sweating, didn’t pee for an hour, two, three—I knew I’d screwed up my hydration and/or electrolytes.  After the long pull up Backbone to The Outback aid station—at a gentle grade I felt compelled to run as much as possible, in the close-to-noon sun—that’s when the wheels fully detached.  I’ve learned that miles 20ish-30 are the tough ones for me in 50 milers, and I’d hoped I could just roughly maintain my first loop pace through this lap, with the expectation that I’d be reenergized on the last loop as I started to sniff the finish.  Ha. Ha. Ha. More fool me.  I finished in 4 hours, a solid 35 minutes slower than the first loop.  Even that wouldn’t have been so bad, if I hadn’t been feeling so bad.  But I was.

Loop 3 (33 – 50 miles)
I never had any intention of stopping after two loops and taking a 50K time.   I came to run [sic] 50 miles and that’s what I was going to do.  And so it was that I headed out for a third death march….uhh, loop.  I will admit there were dueling little dudes on my shoulders in those first couple miles:
“This is stupid, you feel like shit.”     “This is an ultra, you’re supposed to feel like shit.” 
“Go back.”     “Never.”
“DNFing isn’t so bad.”    “DNFing sucks.”
“Take 50K and call me in the morning.”    “Not a fucking chance.”

The good thing about ultras is that you’ve got a lot of miles and time to get it back together.  The bad thing about this ultra is that I never did.  What I did have were some periods of really strong running, punctuated by some (long) periods of walking, with the end result a 4:40 final 17 miles (including the baby loop).  It seemed like I could either run, or not—there wasn’t much in between.  By the start of Loop 3, I was already readjusting my goals: from 10 hours (not sure I ever really thought this was possible—yet), to breaking 11 hours, to beating my 2011 Bull Run time of 11:42, to breaking 12 (fucking) hours, to Hey!  I finished another 50 miler and there’s cold beer!  Life is good.

So, this was my goal race for the year, and I ran, well…slow, even by my standards.  But I’m smiling as I write this, and feeling great. Why?  Well, first, because I went camping for a few days with lots of friends, and a 50 miler broke out.  What a blast!  Like so many other people have said in their race reports, this race is special not so much for the course (which I love), but for the people (RD, volunteers, runners), and the whole “this is what trail ultras are supposed to be” vibe.  I had a great time, even if I ran a not-so-great time.  The heat bit me, I made some tactical mistakes, and I struggled—making it a great psychological training run that will help me in future runs.  I’ve done another 50 miler—how can you feel bad about that?  And I always try to keep this in mind: I get to run.  Nobody forces me, it’s my choice, and I’m fortunate that I have the ability and opportunity to do so.  Don’t get me wrong—I put on my game face and give it all I’ve got every time—but I try to keep it all in perspective.  You take what each day, each race, gives you, and move on to the next.  That 10 hour finish may or may not ever happen, but as long as I can keep moving forward, then I’m more fortunate than many, and I will always be thankful for that.  Ok ok, off the soapbox…

Chris & Joe Reynolds, the volunteers, Search & Rescue—Thank You all for making such a great event possible.  This will always be my favorite ultra, due largely to all of you and the great karma you bring to this event.  Just wait till 2012….