Note: I originally wrote this as a note on Facebook. I've backdated it and posted it here now that I have a blog.
I've been thinking about doing a blog for while, but I just haven't gotten around to setting it all up. So I figured I'd just throw a few thoughts down about my race this past weekend and how the training has been going for JFK.
Let me share some background first. If you care enough to have read this far, you probably know that I moved from Huntsville to Cincinnati in June. I ran an easy 50k just a couple days after I drove up because I was living in a hotel, Stefanie and the dog weren't with me yet, and I didn't have anything else to do that weekend. So what if I had trained all spring for a 10k and it was less than a week after running 31:37 at Cotton Row? I ended up running 3:34:34 and breaking the course record at Another Dam 50k run....no really, that's its real name...because you run across a dam. It was a relatively easy course, other than the very slippery mud, so I was pleased, but it wasn't anything to write home about. But that race finished off my spring season and I took some major (for me) downtime from running and racing.
It's really difficult to run and race well when you're moving into a new house and have a new job and are trying to get settled, so the timing was not coincidental. I ran easy for 6 weeks at about 50% peak mileage before starting to build back with my eyes on running the JFK 50 miler in November. I started doing some quality workouts and long runs with a group based out of Bob Roncker's Running Spot; most of the team was training for Chicago or another fall marathon so it fit in reasonably well with what I needed to be doing - minus the fact that they don't get off the roads much. I ran the Hood to Coast relay in August with a corporate team from GE, and it showed my fitness was still very good even though I ran it mostly for fun. Since that point, I ran 7 consecutive 90mi+ weeks leading into Stones Steps 50k this past weekend.
I went into this weekend's race with the mindset that it was going to be a tune-up race for JFK. I wanted to go hard and knock the rust out of my legs so to speak, but I didn't want it to be an all out race effort. I knew from running the course in training a couple times that even at that level of effort I should be able to break the 4:16 course record if everything went to plan. Since I'd never run past 31 miles, and I'm about to attempt a 50 mi race for the first time, I wanted to run a bit longer, just to mentally convince myself that it was possible. So, 30 min before the 8AM race start, I went out for a 3 mi warmup - something I don't normally do before a 50k. That left me with 8 min to take off my warmups, change into my trail shoes, grab my water bottle and catch a few pre-race announcements. I saw Eric Schotz (who was up in the area visiting family) at the starting line and wished him luck. He was the only person in the entire field that I knew.
The race starts and I immediately have deja vu, flashing back to Mtn Mist when Carl Laniak took off at sub 6 min pace...and I stupidly followed. A man, who I'll call Harvey...because that's his name...I just didn't know it at the time...takes off at probably 5 min pace for the first 200m or so. I was planning on starting conservatively and I ask out loud, to no one in particular, if this guy was legit. It wasn't like there was a bottleneck imminent at the trailhead. To each their own I guess. I caught him before the first mile mark without pushing it all. A third guy followed me closely, but this was the only company I'd have all day.
The course consists of a 5+ mi loop and a 3+ mi loop which meet in the center of Mt Airy Forest at a pavilion where all of the aid was located. You run both 3 times, then finish with an extra 5 mile loop. The 5 mi loop has 2 pretty good climbs, one of which consists of about 250 vertical feet of stone steps for which the course is named. (I've attached a link to my GPS data at the bottom of this post.) Neither "major" climb was very long, but both were so steep that I walked a significant portion of each. The trail was almost all single track and somewhat technical, but still very runnable most of the time.
I was determined to be patient and sit behind Harvey (still the leader) for at least the first loop. I was successful in doing that for the first 5 mi section and let him gain a ~30s lead leaving for our first time on the 3 mi loop because I stopped to refill my bottle. The third place guy stopped to use the facilities, and so he joined me as I returned to the trails. We caught Harvey pretty quickly just as the trail opened up into what amounted to a big, flat field that we had to cross before entering another portion of single track. This allowed the 3 of us to bunch up and exchange names. When I told Harvey my name, and he established I had moved from Huntsville, he informed me that he met a training partner of mine at Spartathalon. I knew immediately that he must have been talking about Kathy and Rob Youngren. I instantly had more respect for him knowing that he did Spartathalon, but I was perhaps even more perplexed as to why he would start as fast as he did with that kind of experience.
Unfortunately for my new friends, these flat, wide open areas are exactly the type of course where I can just cruise effortlessly. The pace had begun to slow, so I just naturally took over the pacing. The 3rd place guy moved into second and followed me for the rest of the short loop back to the aid station as we pulled away from Harvey. I took my time refilling my bottle and grabbed another gel but didn't wait for him as I left the aid station because I could tell by his breathing that the pace was a little too much for him to handle. 8.5 miles in and I'm alone and nicely warmed up and the trails were wide open. So of course I started running too fast. After a while, I started catching people. Some were in the 50k and being lapped, and others were part of a 27k race that started 30 min after the 50k. Trying to pass people who are wearing headphones on narrow single track trail is frustrating, so I just run even faster. To be fair, most people at least attempted to give me some room as I passed.
Fast forward to about 20 miles and I found myself alone again and realized that I had probably been going faster than I should have. Especially if I wanted to put in a few more miles after the race on the roads. I tried to relax a bit especially as I started my last 5 mi loop. I knew I was well under the CR and I was pretty tired. My quads were starting to spasm, which I can't remember ever happening before so that was kind of scary. I realized that I had not taken any of my salt tabs all day and the temperature had been creeping up into the unseasonably warm 70s. Fortunately I had a couple of electrolyte caplets in my water bottle pouch and I think they actually worked, because the spasms went away after a few more minutes. I can't afford to make that kind of mental mistake at JFK. Lesson learned. I cruised in the remainder of the last loop and finished in 3:44:39 with a CR by over 30 minutes. I quickly changed shoes and headed out for another 3 miserable miles on the roads. I had originally thought about making it to 40 miles total, but I just ran too hard in the 50k. So 37 miles in 4:40 total running clock time.
All in all, it was a good day. I learned some lessons and got a little reality check before JFK. Big thanks to race directors Dave Corfman (2010 Badwater finisher) and Andy Jones (road 100mi WR holder) for putting on this great event.
Finally, a couple gear/product shoutouts. It was my first race in my Nike Pegasus Trail shoes and I liked them a lot. I've been running mostly on the roads here in Cincy, and I wanted a trail shoe that felt more like the road shoes I am so comfortable in. I'm curious to see how they would handle a really muddy, wet course. I am a huge fan of GU gels and GU Brew energy drink. Another drink was provided, but I can barely get that stuff down. There is simply no comparison when it comes to taste. The raspberry and lemon lime flavors are both great.
This was way longer than I intended. I can't believe you're still reading. Go run.