Note: I’m posting all my old, pre-blog race reports.  Here’s how my first 50 Miler went.

What: Dirty German 50 Miler
When: Sunday May 18, 2014 7:30am
Where: Pennypack Park, Philadelphia, PA
Time: 9:11:15
Pace: 11:02 min/mile
Place: 31/76
AG Place: 7/17

Perspective – Part 1

I’m getting the directions all setup on Friday before the race and noticed that it’ll take us a bit over an hour to drive the 50.1 miles to the race start. An hour to drive the distance that I plan to run – and mostly highways at that. And that’s when the distance got real for me. Before it had always been this abstract (though nicely rounded) number. It’s the next logical distance step for me – 6 miles to 13.1 to 26.2 to 50k to 50 miles. I was a little apprehensive up until then, but that pushed me in to full blown nervous ninny mode. I have steadily upped my distance PRs in increments of 1-3 miles over the past 2 years of training and races, yet now I was planning on running 19 miles further than I had ever gone before. I was as confident of finishing as someone running a distance 60% further than they’ve done before could be. But I don’t think you could necessarily quantify that as “highly” confident.

Race Strategy

I went into the race with a three prong strategy – no nines, chill the hill, and 20/200. I wanted to keep things very simple because I had no idea what my brain function was going to be like after 5 or 6 hours on the trails. This is probably indecipherable so let me explain.

No nines. I wanted to keep my pace at or slower than10 minute miles. The goal was not to go out too fast leading to the dreaded zombie shuffle with 10 miles to go.

Chill the hill. OK, this one’s not too hard to figure out. I wanted to make sure I walked all the hills (recommended by every single ultra runner I’ve read) to conserve strength. Doing this would also help avoid blowing up. I wasn’t too sure of the course profile and thankfully it turned out to be very flat.

20/200. This was my base nutrition plan and meant I was targeting 20 oz of fluid and 200 calories per hour. The top 2 things that screw up most ultra races based from what I can tell is either dehydration or not ingesting enough calories.

You Spin Me Thrice Round”

I swear those are the lyrics to that song no matter what anyone else says. And thrice round is what I did. The only complaint I had with the race is that the 50M course was not clearly explained ahead of time. In years before, there was a 3.5 mile loop at the beginning to bring the three 25k (15.5mile) loops up to 50 miles. This year they said the we would do the added loop at about mile 11. My Garmin was already measuring off by the time we got there and then only read 16 miles when we hit the start/finish area. Now I may not have been all that sharp after 3 hours of running, but that seemed like a large shortfall. It also didn’t seem like we had run 19 miles. It wasn’t till we got that section on lap 2 that I realized they added a little over 1 mile to each of the 3 laps, not all at lap 1. Needless to say, I was a little bummed to realize I was only at mile 27/28 ant not 30/31. Sigh. Stupid non-standard trail miles come up and bite me in the fanny pack again.

The Best Laid Plans

Loop 1 is where my race strategy started to fall apart. The first couple miles were going right according to plan – 11:05 min/mile, 10:09, 10:43, 10:33 then 9:50 – doh! I thought, “OK. No problem, I’ll just slow down a bit.”

9:53 – “Come on, just a little slower”

10:05 – “Now we’re talking.”

9:40 – “Aww, come on man!” At this point I threw in the towel on this part of my strategy and just tried to run easy.

9:56 – Cruising along now. This is the last time I’d see a 9 handle on my watch so at least I got it right for the last 40 miles. Ha.

I actually don’t think this caused me too many problems later on. My legs merely felt incredible right out of the gate. It took them a couple miles to warm up and the effort was very low. And in the grand scheme of things 10-15 seconds a mile faster than my goal on these mostly flat to downhill sections didn’t do too much damage.

Looking back, my nutrition was a bit weak on most of the first 2 laps. I was getting my fluids down consistently, but I wasn’t getting enough calories. I grabbed and ate something off every aid station, which were spaced about 3-4.5 miles apart. I’m not sure how many calories are in a banana and some fig newtons, but I’m sure it’s a lot closer to 50 than 200. I was drinking about 50/50 water/Gatorade so this was supplementing my caloric intake a bit. I took my first get towards the end of the first loop.

It took me a while to notice the calorie deficiency because my body was burning the stored carbs, which lasts about 15-20 miles so I still felt good. The back half of each loop was hillier than the first half and I started walking more and more. I commented to one guy I was hiking with that it’s funny how the hills always seem bigger on the second loop. Somewhere between the second and third (of 3) aid stations the thought of dropping after 2 loops quickly fluttered through my mind. I never seriously considered it, but at that point running through the start/finish area and not being able to stop just seemed like a cruel device inserted by the race director to torture the 50 milers. I had my second gel after the last aid station and continued making forward progress.

Victory Lap”

I could hear the German music blaring from the start/finish area over my headphones about a mile or so before the finish. This gave me a little boost and then I got an even bigger one when I hit the finishing stretch with everyone clapping and cheering me on. There was virtually no one here when I came through the first time, but all of the 25k runners who were done when combined with the faster 50k runners made quite a crowd. Perhaps the most demoralizing part of the second loop was how often I was getting passed. I knew these runners weren’t doing my race, but it was still tough to see person after person go blowing by you and knowing they started a half hour after you did. Doesn’t matter that they had run a shorter loop than you or were about done. Getting passed sucks.

I chatted with Kate briefly as I stopped for aid and told her I had about 3.5 left. She mistakenly thought I meant miles, when I was telling her that’s how many hours I thought the final loop would take me. While I had started to perk up, I couldn’t help but remember how much slower the second loop was and figured the last one would be that much slower again. I had been running behind this girl for a bit and as we left the aid station she said we just had the “victory lap” left to complete. It brought a smile to my face because it was the exact opposite from how I had been imaging the last 17 miles or so. Who would have thought she’d be right?

In the Flow

The last loop was an amazing experience. I moved entirely over to gels at this point and had one between each aid station. I switched my fluid intake over to 90/10 water/Gatorade to compensate for the increased concentration of carbs. Bingo. Nutrition puzzle solved. It’s tough to say whether I had more energy than before, but my mood was definitely improved. I never had a low-low point earlier on, but my emotions were now firmly on an upward trajectory. On my longer training runs, I’ll typically start counting down miles once I hit the halfway point. On Sunday, I was still counting up till I got to mile 40. Every new mile – 36. . . 37 . . . 38 – was a new personal record for me. It was right around here that I knew I had the race in the bag and that gave me another boost. I had only walked one or 2 of the steepest hills so far during the last loop and decided I was going to run it all the way in except for the very steepest hills.

I was running near 4-5 people as we hit the hilly section in the last 5 miles. I passed them and was running what felt like 10 minute miles no matter what 13 something number flashed across my Garmin. It wouldn’t be a long trail race without me getting lost, which happened with 4 miles or so to go. Luckily, I realized the error pretty quickly so only ended up losing 3 minutes or so. Though I did have to re-pass several of the people again. I had not been checking my total time over the course of race just mile by mile splits so wasn’t sure exactly when I was going to finish.

Going in, my primary goal was to beat 10 hours. My last several long runs had been solid enough that I was thinking sub-9 hours might be within my grasp. More important than my time though was that I wanted to finish strong enough to make this a fun experience. I would rather come home strong at 10 hours than zombie walk my way to an 8 hour finish. There was a point during loop 2 where I wondered if I would ever run another 50 mile race. I didn’t really doubt that I’d finished this one. I was thinking about all the time and effort I spent training and this is what it felt like? But as I crossed the finish line, there was no doubt that this is what I want to do. I could easily have cranked out another 5-10 miles. I was slowing down and would have continued doing so, but the curve was much shallower than I thought it would be. I may have been 2 miles from the cliff. Then again, I may have been 20 miles from it. Or more.

Perspective – Part 2

50 miles is a sick distance to run. No one knows this better than me. Two years ago I didn’t even like to run. Coming through the other side of this race though has given me a better appreciation of where my limits are. Or rather where they aren’t. It’s possible that this was my pinnacle. That on this one day everything came together in a perfect storm of performance (training, weather, nutrition, easy course) and I’ll never run as well again. Then again, maybe this ultra mountain goes a little higher. I wonder. . .