Note: I’m posting all my old, pre-blog race reports.  Here’s how my first trip to Blue Marsh Lake went.

What: Blues Cruise 50K
When: Sunday October 5, 2014 8:30am
Where: Blue Marsh Lake, Reading, PA
Time: 5:46:15
Pace: 11:14 min/mile
Place: 122/275
AG (Masters) Place: 47/102

Westward Ho

Sunday morning I drove 75 minutes west to Reading to run the Blues Cruise 50k. This is a 31 mile race that circumnavigates Blue Marsh Lake. They change directions each year and this year it was run in the clockwise direction. This means we got most of the bigger hills at the beginning of the race and the flatter terrain at the end. Overall this was a moderately hilly course (125 feet gross elevation gain per mile) when compared to my 50 miler (70 feet) and first 50k (173 feet). The course was mostly single track with some fire roads thrown into the mix. Maybe 50% was shaded with the rest out in the open. The weather was very cool (about 40 degrees at the start) and it was mostly overcast and breezy. Just about perfect racing weather. Even though we ran around a lake, it wasn’t visible for most of the race.

As far as courses go, it was rather scenic and well marked. At no point did I ever feel like I was lost (it’s happened more than often than not for me in prior races), so this is a positive. And I think one of the reasons they bill this as a good into to ultra running. At the start, they asked how many of first time ultra runners where there and about half of the field raised their hands.

No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition

I have been planning on using this more as a training run than an actual race. As such, I went into the race with no expectations. My training has been pretty ho-hum and I feel like I’ve taken a step back in my running fitness from last spring so I was not expecting a great race. My speed has slowed and my long runs have been a bit of a slog. I didn’t have any doubt about finishing the race, but was sure I was going to be pretty beat up by the end. It ended up being more hilly than I expected, too.

Since I was using this as a training run, I wanted to try out a new strategy of running very conservatively to start things off. I tried this my last race (mostly unsuccessfully) and thought I could do better if I used my heart rate (HR) as a barometer of my effort than my pace. My goal was to stick to a HR of 143 or lower through the first 10 miles and then whatever felt good afterward. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but it sure wasn’t what followed.

Zero to 10 in . . . 127 minutes?!?!

I knew I was going to start out slower than most so was towards the back of the pack when the race started. And it took all of about 300 yards before my HR spiked to 143 and my watch started to chirp at me. Which means it’s time to start walking . . . which I did . . . while people streamed by me. Run, beep, walk, repeat. When I run by HR, this is what typically happens. I can’t run slow enough to keep my HR low so I walk fairly often.

Everyone else is still running around me save for the hills, but I’m part of a little group. At mile 2, I look back and notice the last person in the race is about 10-15 people and 200 yards behind me. The odd thing is that this really didn’t bother me in the least. I had planned to use this as a training run so the first 10 miles was mental training to stick to the plan. And I did. For 10 of the longest miles I’ve ever run. I swear they would never end. Usually I count down the last miles of a run, but this time I counted down the first miles. 6 miles to 10, 5 miles, 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . and . . .


And I’m off. I was passed for the last time about mile 7 and started passing a couple people at mile 8. I felt bad for those people starting to fade that early in an ultra and knew they were in for a long 20 miles. It was immensely liberating to finally be free of the beep. I also felt sorry for the people running near me because I swear they probably couldn’t hear the music in their ear buds over the sounds coming from my watch.

To Bonk or Not To Bonk

At mile 18, I started wondering when my low would hit. At each of my prior 2 ultras, I hit my low point around mile 20-24. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to bottom out though it because I still felt awesome. I was running very strong and had tons of energy. This was very abnormal for me. In each of my prior marathon or longer races, I would peak somewhere in the 10-15 mile range and then tail off from there. I was usually running at max or near max effort by the time I got to mile 20. There was never a question of kicking it up a notch.

But on Sunday? Oh, I had extra gears. It really flattened out at mile 20 and I cranked out 5 straight miles in the mid-9s. And it felt incredible. To give you an idea of my mental state, I get to mile 26 and I’m not thinking “I just ran a marathon”. Instead I’m a little bummed because I only have 5 more miles left to enjoy this run. I pushed a little the last mile or so, but not too much as this was still just a “training run”. Looking at my splits, it doesn’t appear that I lost any speed from mile 10 through the end and my average HR bounced around in the same range. I was probably close to starting to slow down, but hadn’t quite gotten there yet.

Upon Further Reflection

I was a little bummed when I crossed the finish line and noticed that my time was 5:46 and that I was 122nd. Given how well I was moving (and how many people I had passed), I was thinking that 5:15-5:30 was closer to my time. Turns out the first 10 miles really put me in a time hole that I wasn’t able to fully recover from. But I wasn’t treating this as a race and if I had to run it again, I wouldn’t change a thing given how great I felt at the end.

There’s so many things that factor into race performance that it’s tough to separate out cause and effect. I would say the primary causes of my positive performance:

  • Slow start – starting too fast shocks your system and burns through your glycogen stores,
  • Training program this cycle has been almost entirely at low heart rates, which should have lead to better utilization of fat for energy (i.e. better endurance),
  • Temperatures ranged from 45-55 degrees with partially overcast skies and a slight breezes all made for about ideal for running conditions,
  • Nutrition/hydration was pretty dialed in during the race. Muffin and Gatorade pre-race followed by some solid food in the first 10 miles with gels at miles 15, 20, 25, and 28. The only thing I’ll change is not refilling 1 of my 2 bottles with Gatorade when my first one ran dry. Once I start gels, I switch entirely over to water to avoid GI issues so carried some extra weight for the last half of the race.

I’m also happy to report that my recovery has helped underscore that this was a training run and not a race type effort. I didn’t have any problems driving home from the race and while a bit sore Monday and Tuesday, didn’t feel too much different that prior weeks. I’m taking it a bit easier than normal this week and will jump back into things full bore next week for my final push before I taper for the Stone Mill 50 Mile.