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

What: MD Heat 50k
When: Saturday August 8, 2015 7am
Where: Elkridge, MD
Time: 6:44:21
Place: 17 of 51 (includes 11 DNFs)

Pre-Game

The race was held in Patapsco State Park about 8 miles southwest of Baltimore. Runners weren’t allowed to park in the park, however were bused in from a Park-and-Ride just off 95. Given the extra time needed to get to the park, I left my house a little before 4am. This got me down there about 5:15am as there was virtually no traffic out that early on a Saturday morning. A bunch of runners were already there and I walked over to join them. And promptly met Gary Knipling who was incredibly personable and looks/runs about 15 years younger than his 71 years. About 30 of us boarded the bus for the 10 minute drive over to the park. The driver missed a turn and almost got us lost on the way. Not an auspicious start considering how often I typically incur bonus mileage in these runs.

We arrived at the start/finish about an hour before the start so had plenty of time to chill. In hindsight, I easily could have grabbed an extra 30-45 minutes of shuteye, but would much rather show up to races an hour early than 5 minutes early. Right before 7am, the race director gathered everyone to the start for the final instructions. He was done a minute or so early so we all stood around for a minute and then off we went.

Lap One

I started off towards the back of the back and ran rather conservatively for the first couple miles. I slowly passed a couple people here and there and eventually fell in with 2 other guys (John from Annapolis and Chris from Mass) at about mile 5 who I would see off and on for the next 15 to 20 miles. The course was rather technical with tons of roots and rocks. I tripped a couple times right off the bat before going down lightly. I bounced up quickly without any injuries, however then went down hard around mile 5-6. I got a rather large cut on my hand and scraped up one knee equally well. Blood was flowing freely, however stopped within a couple minutes so no biggy.

The first half of the course ended up being a bit hillier than the second half. The only exception was mile 7 right before the aid station, which was on a bike path. Chris and I were just cruising along here chatting away and we clocked an effortless 9:40 min/mile. Right before the end of the loop was the “Wall”. This was clearly marked on the map so I was a little fearful of what this entailed. Ultras love to name their hills and I just hoped it wasn’t too bad. There were a couple signs leading up to it so I was getting geared up when I reached . . . a wall. Not a “wall”, but a six foot stone wall. There was a little ramp at the bottom so it wasn’t too difficult to pull myself up. It was about 3 feet wide and we ran down it about 30 yards before climbing down.

The 25k starting at 9am was much larger than the 50k so there was only 1 aid station open during the first loop at mile 8. My only issue with this race was with the aid stations, but it was a large one. I typically rely entirely on gels during races, however when I got to the first aid station there weren’t any. Luckily, I had grabbed one before the start and had it at mile 5, but I knew I needed more calories to make it the 8 miles back to the start/finish line. So I swapped one bottle of water for their fluid of choice, which was Tailwind. Yikes, but the stuff tasted awful. It was all I could do to choke the stuff down. When I finally did get a gel at mile 16, it was a PowerGel Orange Somethingorother and it was just as bad as the Tailwind. Needless to say, I was behind on calories the entire second lap, which didn’t help matters.

Lap Two

John, Chris, and I all hit the start/finish right at 3 hours (about 11:15 min/mile pace). This was a little quicker than I thought I was going to be able to go, but this course wasn’t quite as hilly as advertised. And when I say that, I mean it was only really, really hilly and not really, really, REALLY hilly. In hindsight, I ran the first half too hard. Especially, when combined with my lack of calories. I started feeling the combined effects within the first couple miles on the second loop. Miles that I was running in the high12s during the first loop were taking me 17 minutes now. And that super easy bike path? Turns out it wasn’t pancake flat!

My pace continued to slow a bit over the last quarter of the race, but not to the same degree as the earlier part of loop 2. Mentally, I started to deteriorate a bit during the second loop. I never had any doubts about finishing, but I started counting down the miles fairly early in the loop. I also questioned why on Earth I keep signing up for these things. These lows were never too low and never really lasted too long, but definitely planted doubts in my head for my upcoming fall races. The one offsetting factor is that this race came up fairly early in my training cycle. Normally, I’ve done 7-10+ 20 mile runs before I do my first ultra, but this summer I’ve only done 3.

Afterwards, I hung out for a couple hours to enjoy the food (burgers, pulled pork, chips) and beer (Corona, Yuengling, Sierra Nevada) before getting back on the bus to head home. I was able to chat with a couple guys who are doing the same races I am later in the fall. I’m not an especially outgoing person so it’s nice to start making some acquaintances within the ultra community.

Final Thoughts

Running ultras are hard. For the life of me, I can’t understand why I keep forgetting this. It’s like the distance doesn’t even register as “hard” when I sign up and plan for these. I knew going in that this one was going to be hard based on the vertical (5221 feet based on my Garmin), but I don’t seem to be able to grasp this on an emotional level. Maybe it’s because I spend dozens of hours fantasizing about blazing fast finishes during my training runs. I mean, no one dreams of bonking at mile 16 of a race. I never think of the bad spots of a race while I’m training and I’m starting to think this is what keeps setting me up for mild disappointment when I run them. I’m only focused on finishing races, not the time/effort it takes to finish them. And they’re all hard to one extent or another.

But they’re worth all of the effort. Every single one of them. Because all the pain and effort and frustration is instantly forgotten once you cross the finish line. Not just forgotten, but its like it never happened again.

Lessons (Re)Learned

  1. I need to stop going out so hard so early. I wear a heart rate monitor and I think I need to start using it to pace for the first couple hours in a race. I’ll try this during my next couple runs to see if this works.
  2. I can’t take fueling for granted anymore. I need to know what will be on the course and have backups available in my drop bags in case I need it.

Recovery

I can’t believe how quickly I’ve recovered from this race. Typically I’m moving like an old man with a walker the day after an ultra, but I was relatively spry after this one. Three days of very easy running and I think I’m back to where I was before the race. It probably didn’t hurt that I was more healthy than I’ve been at any point so far this year.

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