The night before I started to get a “nervous” feeling. My last attempt at a 50k resulted in a DNF and me bowing out at mile 26.2. With a few ultra distances under my belt, it was nothing new, but the truth is anything can happen out there. It’s you, a trail and plenty of time to realize what training mistakes you have made.
At the start line, I ran into a couple of friends and shared in general pre-race chit-chat and well wishes. I even caught up with a Oiselle bird flying low enough to snap a photo with. Hi Paulette!
I ran the first few miles with Paulette and Layla and was able to catch up on how their training has been going and what they have coming up. Thankfully the first few miles were relatively flat, so we were able to talk comfortably.
I later caught up with Alisyn and she doesn’t know this, but this is where the race changed for me. It was a flat-to-downhill section of the course and we jumped straight into conversation mode. My legs relaxed and just drifted off into a “running zone” as we talked and flew downhill. Turning point. We ran for maybe a mile or two, but it changed my entire disposition for the whole race.
After the first aid station I caught up with Alyssa (and Kim — who I met for the first time). It was an uphill portion so we chatted for a short bit. It was great to see Alyssa out running strong after some injuries last year. Go Newtons, go!
I was about a third of the way into the race and still feeling good. The friends I encountered helped keep me relaxed and aware of keeping things consistent early on. I was running all the flat-to-downhill portions of the course and walking the uphill when needed.
I started to “pick off” people to keep me moving and focused. I’d see someone in front of me and spend the next mile trying to catch up. I’d take a corner on the inside track, or run the tangents to the curves (a tip I learned in Dane Rauschenberg’s book). Any little bit to make up ground while keeping my conservative pace. It was almost like a game. I was still in the “running zone.”
As I approached the end of the first loop, I was at mile 18 and my time was around 2 hours and 50 minutes. My legs felt really good, but I still had the tough mental miles ahead, the ones after running 20+. Paulette had finished and I gave her a high-five-slash-air-hug and asked if I could stop. I didn’t, and continued on. Half marathon to go.
The second loop felt really empty. There were people walking the lake and some runners, but I didn’t see any other racers with bibs. Since I couldn’t “pick off” anyone, I tried to remember what I was doing on the first lap. “oh, this was where I caught up with Layla.” And “here was where I ran with Alisyn.”
At the first of 2 aid stations on the second loop, a man in a yellow shirt passed me. “He came out of nowhere.” I hadn’t seen him for the past few miles and there he goes. I caught up to him within the next half mile or so and passed him keeping my normal pace. The next few miles were tough, as expected, but I ran with the same strategy “run the flat.” Even if it was 20 yards, I would run it to keep the legs fresh and to keep me focussed. I look at the watch and realized I might be able to finish this in under 6. No way. That would be a massive improvement. I tried to keep it out of my mind as I would have another 5 miles after the marathon distance.
At the second and final aid station, my friend was back. There goes the man in the yellow shirt. It wasn’t like I was lingering at the aid stations chatting around. I was actually making a point to grab what I needed and keep moving. But there he goes. With a few miles to go in the race and me on PR pace, I decided to keep him in sight.
My strategy would be to stay as close as possible while making up ground and see if I could pass him in the final mile. It would be like the Olympics where it comes down to the final 50 yards. I had visions of announcers doing play-by-play on NBC with the crowd cheering. The next three miles (28-30) were at a 10:20 pace. — very close to my early pace. He was making good time and was going to pull me along with him.
The “one mile to go” sign made an appearance and both of our paces had picked up. He wasn’t going to let me catch him. I had come within maybe 10 yards a couple of times over the last 30 minutes, but was never able to over-take him. I looked at my watch and realized I had sub-6 in the bag and decided to take the last mile as a celebration mile.
I kept the 10 minute pace and crossed the finish line at 5 hours, 50 minutes and 3 seconds. My first sub-6 hour 50k and an 89-minute PR. That is “absurd” to me. That’s an average of 3 minutes per mile faster than my previous 50k PR. My goal was sub-7. That is how unexpected that time and pace was.
I never really left that “running zone” in the early miles with Alisyn. I stayed focussed the entire time whether it was picking off runners, trying to run the tangent lines, or catching the man in the yellow shirt. It was the best trail race I had run and maybe one of my best race experiences overall. Surprising results can do that.
What race day tips or strategy do you use?
Ever thought of doing a trail race? An Ultra?