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

What: Stone Mill 50 Mile Endurance Run
When: Saturday November 15, 2014 6am
Where: Gaithersburg, MD
Time: 9:37:56
Pace: 11:13 min/mile*
Place: 62/260
AG (M40-45) Place: 11/38

*Note: My watch was measuring 1 mile short at both the 24 and 35 mile aid stations and ended at 50.5 miles so this represents my pace over the 51.5 miles which I think I ran.

Goal Setting

The first time you run any new distance you’re usually racing against the distance, not the clock. You’re always a little nervous of whether you can actually finish so while you may have hopes for a certain time, as long as you cross the finish line then it’s a successful “race”. But the second time? Now the second time you know you can run the distance so it’s all about setting a new PR. I ran my first 50 mile race back in May making this my race to really go at it. I was looking to shave at least 10 minutes off my first race and go under 9 hours. My training went really well and I felt there was a good chance of averaging a 10:30 pace or 8 hours 45 minutes if the course was flat enough. And it was.

Out of the Darkness

The temperature was 27 degrees when we started out from Sedwick Elementary School at 6am. This was the earliest I had ever started a race and it was still dark out. The vast majority of runners had their headlamps out, but I decided to go without. I was out for a run on Thursday and noticed it was getting light about 6:10. With the first mile was on a street, I figured there would be enough people around me once I got to the trail that I wouldn’t have any trouble seeing. This turned out to be the case.

My strategy was to start very, very easy for the first 3 miles before transitioning into my race pace. So I ran for a bit and walked for a bit depending on my heart rate. I turned around at mile 1 and there were only about 5-6 lights behind me. Perfect. Just where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to start too fast because that only leads to problems down the road. This way my legs get warmed up and I’m able to run more efficiently. There was a short out and back early on so I got to see the large number of runners ahead of me. Everyone was very supportive offering encouragement as we passed each other. Things were going perfectly according to plan.

On Your Left”

And then I was off. Since I basically started off at the very back of the pack, I spent the next couple hours passing people left and right. Well, more on the left but you get my point. My legs felt awesome and I was flying up and down the gently rolling terrain. I passed one pair of runners and heard the guy comment that I must have either started late or gotten lost. I didn’t bother counting the number of people I passed, but it was a ton. I passed them singly and in pairs and in long lines of 5-7 people. I passed them on uphills and downhills and the flats. My legs felt incredible and while it wasn’t effortless, I wasn’t working too hard. I was clocking a lot of sub-10 minute miles in here and got back under my goal pace by mile 8 or so. I even hit two sub-9 minute miles that had a long section run on sidewalks that connected the 2 trails we were running on.

I really liked the course set up, which was shaped like a lollipop. Basically, a 10 mile out and back with a 30 mile loop in the middle. It was predominately run on two single track trails – Seneca Creek Greenway and Muddy Branch. The first and last mile were run on sidewalks getting to the trails. There was a 3 mile stretch on a canal tow path from miles 25-28. The trails were scenic and I liked the variety of trails, sidewalks/roads, and tow path.

I was a little worried coming into the race with my lower back. It’s been tight and a little sore for the past month or so. It stayed tight for the first 10 miles and then it loosed up fully and I never noticed it for the rest of the race. What I did notice at mile 10 was the beginning of a blister on the ball of each foot. Uh-oh. Blisters can be incredibly painful and I didn’t even want to imagine what running 30 miles with blisters was going to be like. I ended up being very fortunate and never having to find out.

Intermission

There are two constants when I run trails. I trip and fall down. I get lost. Both happened twice during this race. Luckily, I went down fairly gently both times so didn’t hurt myself. I ended up doing more damage on one of my trips than either of those falls though. I’m not sure if it was a root or a rock that got my right big toe, but I thought I may have broken it for a second. It only hurt badly for twenty yards or so though before receding into a dull ache.

I got equally fortunate with my bonus mileage, which added no more than a half mile in total. The first time had me running up this hill until the trail seemed to disappear. I glanced down and to my right and saw a couple other runners still on the trail. So I bush whacked my way back onto the trail and only cost myself 30 feet of additional elevation gain. The second time I turned onto and up a gravel road instead of crossing it. I turned around at the top when I didn’t see any markings and 2 runners behind me shouted out that I was off track. No harm, no foul.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head at the odd things people do on trails. Somewhere on the back half of the course, I saw a guy on a bike with 3 dogs pulling him along sled dog style. It wasn’t even a mountain bike either.

Welcome to the Pain Cave

At mile 22, I started to work. My pace slowed down and I stopped passing people. I hit the nice, flat tow path where I had planned to crank out some low 9 minute miles and was struggling to keep a 10 minute pace. There was no extra gear left and I started to wonder/fear what the second half of the race had in store for me. I checked my watch at the halfway mark and was right at a 10:30 pace. My energy levels were good the entire race, but my legs started feeling heavier and heavier.

Then at mile 30, I walked into the pain cave, sat down, and hung out for the next 4.5 hours. It’s always a bad sign when I start counting down miles and that’s exactly what I did for the last 20-21 miles. Technically I was running, but it seemed more like a shuffle than anything else. Run, shuffle, walk. Repeat. And things progressively got harder and harder as I went along. It hurt to run up the hills (hamstrings) so I walked, which hurt almost as much. Then it started to hurt to run down the hills as my thoroughly bruised toes kept smashing into the front of my shoes.

There was a lady at the mile 43 aid station calling out places. She said I was in 61st place and doing great. I was so out of it at this point, that this didn’t really register beyond the fact that I was very obviously not doing great. But the volunteers did do a wonderful job. Right up until I got to the last aid station and about cried when the volunteer said there were only 3 more miles to go when I thought I had 2 left. I would probably have punched him if hadn’t involved backtracking 10 feet or so. The final miles lasted a subjective eternity, but eventually they came to an end as I left the woods and cruised down the home stretch on sidewalks. I crossed the line 45 minutes later than expected, but no less satisfied with my accomplishment.

I hung out for 30-40 minutes after the race. Got some pizza. Filled up my water bottle with Mountain Dew and walked to my car for the 2 hour drive home. Well, I crawled more than walked. I think the quarter mile hike took me about 20 minutes. And I spent the entire time wondering how I was going to drive for 2+ hours when I could barely walk. Good news? Driving muscles are entirely different than walking/running muscles. Whew.

Schooled

The Stone Mill race took me to school and taught me a few lessons. Namely:

  1. Respect the distance. Fifty miles is a long way to run. I know everyone reading this is nodding their heads and saying “duh”, but I totally forgot this heading into the race. I let my recent running successes go to my head and thought I would just crush this race. I wasn’t nervous leading up to Saturday and I’m always nervous before a race. Heck, normally I’m a little apprehensive about a 25-30 mile run. I had a good training cycle and a very good tune up race last month and figured this would just build off of that. This led me to forget lesson #2.
  2. Twenty miles of speed is all I have. Your body can store about 20 miles of carbs running at a high effort. Guess when I started having to work? Ding-ding-ding!!! Tell ’em what they won. And I knew/know this and still kept flying along! I did a good job of running by heart rate for the first 3 miles to get warmed up, but threw away my early patience by going too fast from miles 4-20. In the future, I’ll ramp up my effort after getting warmed up, but not push quite so hard for so long.
  3. When the going gets tough, I’m the Energizer Bunny. I think of myself as a glass half full kind of guy and so this is going to be my key takeaway from this race. By mile 40, it was obvious that I was not going to hit any of my goals. It would have been very easy shut it down and walk it in. Part of me wanted to stop. I wasn’t having fun and I really didn’t know how I was going to keep running for another 2-3 hours. But I persevered. I kept running and only walked the steeper uphills. And when I got to the top of the hills, I started running again when my legs screamed at me to walk, walk, walk. It’s not the rainbows and unicorns runs that make you better, but the grind it out one step at a time hard ones. And this was the hardest run I’ve ever done by far. Just absolutely brutal. I was very proud of myself that I had the mental fortitude to push through the sucktacular and not give up. I learned more about myself from this race than I would have if I had hit all my goals. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Doubling Down

I have obviously not mastered the 50 mile distance. It’s equally obvious that I’m not sane. So of course that means it’s time to go run 100 miles. April 25, 2015 will see me toeing the line at the C&O Canal 100 Mile. I’m already a little nervous about the race. Or right where I need to be mentally.

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