It's been a goal of mine to run a 50 mile race for a number of years and when I found a race that offered a 25% discount for veterans, I signed up. :) I've been pretty intimidated by the distance and never had the courage to sign up, but once I did, I was pretty excited. My training in August and September was great. I was listening to a lot of ultra podcasts and couldn't be more excited. In October I ran the St. George marathon and then took a few days off as rest. From that point on, training started to feel more like a chore and I just wanted the race to be over. Mentally and physically I was ready for it to be over. So it goes...
Even yesterday (and race morning) I wasn't super excited. Not nervous, not excited, not scared...just flat. It was weird. I was a little intimidated by the elevation and the total elevation gain/loss over the race (7500 ft) and wondering if I made the right choice of course. And it was going to be cold. Really cold. 19 degrees cold.
Thanks for all the great advice from Jon Allen--going into the run I felt like I had a strong gameplan and strategy for success. I waited until the very last second to strip down to shorts and t-shirt w/arm sleeves. I was putting on gloves and walking to the start right as the gun went off. The plan was to go out easy (super easy) and take walk breaks for 3 minutes every 25 minutes. The course was stunningly beautiful with Smith Rock glowing with the morning sunrise. We decended down to the river and rolled along for 4 miles before climbing switchback for the next 4 miles. I took scheduled walk breaks and didn't stress one bit about the pace the first 20 miles. For anyone that has ran trail races, you are kind of at the mercy of the group. When the lead individual starts walking, the group walks as well. Tight singletrack makes it difficult to pass and I just rolled along with it. I checked into the first aid station at mile 9 feeling good. I grabbed some water and was off running again with 4 more miles of uphill (this section being somewhat rocky).
It was cold throughout and it took about an hour before I could feel my toes and fingers. Not much to report from here until mile 15. Just plugging along, running with individuals for a bit and then moving up to the next group. This was the most rocky section of the course and half of it was run on a dirt road. I used the bathroom at the 2nd aid station and was off quickly again. The next 3 miles were slight downhill on fun singletrack where I ran with a guy from Montan. We chatted throughout which took my mind off things and I was having a great time. Final aid station (on the first loop) at mile 21 where I filled up my water and ate 1 potato chip, then took off for the halfway point (start/finish line). Throughout the first 25 miles I stuck with my own fueling (sport beans, stroop waffles, gu) every 7/8 miles.
Miles 21-23 were fun single track again, relatively flat along the ridgeline. Mile 23 was straight downhill and it was horrible. As I ran down, I was already dreading having to run it again at mile 49. But that wouldn't be for another 4 hours. Ran along the river for another mile (25) and then a steep uphill uphill for .5 mile to hit the halfway point at 25.5 miles. My wife and kids were there to give me some high fives, I swapped shirts, traded my beanie for a visor, replenished my fuel/water, and was off once again. In hindsight I wish I would have hung out for even just a minute more but I was (for the first time) focused on my race time and wanting to be quick and on my way again.
I enjoyed running a double loop and seeing everything a second time. It was a solo run for the next 8 miles. The wind picked up and even though the sun was out, it was still chilly. My nose dripped continually and my face felt windburt. The hills that I felt weren't so tough the first loop suddenly became VERY STEEP. The first time through I remember thinking that the hills weren't as bad as I was expecting and I'd be able to manage them no problem the 2nd loop. I was wrong. They were so. much. harder the second time around. I walked/ran a good share of them and ran out of water about 2 miles before the aid station (mile 33). For the rest of the race, I maximized the aid station and took my time as needed. I sat down, drank 2 cups of chicked broth and a couple pretzles and then managed to stand and proceed with the race. It was 4 more miles of uphill (I walked a lot, ran when slighty uphill or flat) and rocky/challenging footing until mile 40. It flattend out about mile 37 and I ran to the aid station at mile 40. This was by far the hardest part of the race. It never felt depressing or like I needed to quit in any way. I was just tired, cold, out of water again, and realizing from this point on, it was the farthest I've ever ran in my life. It wasn't all bad (and clearly everyone was having personal struggles to some degree) as I passed 3 guys during this time.
I made it into the 40 mile aid station feeling optimistic in running the final 11 miles, but certainly tired. I drank 2 more cups of chicken broth and a couple animal crackers. I said "it doesn't matter because I'm not going to be able to run any faster, but any idea what place I'm in?" thinking the answer would be 20-25th place. They said 10th....and I was immediately rejuvinated and feeling like a million bucks. Shortly after that, the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th place runners arrived so I took off, running with some juice in my legs and my head. It was great. The next 4 miles were some of my fastest of the entire race, partially because of now running for placing but also because of the smooth trail and slight downhill sections. Miles 45 and 46 were uphill and in the shade and I was so glad I had kept my arm sleeves and gloves. I ran out of water for the 3rd time (!) and slowly made a climb to the final aid station at mile 46.4.
Same routine as the last 2; sit, chicken broth, animal crackers, and then a handful of M&M's as I left the aid station. The volunteers were amazing and I thanked them as much as I could. I was tired (understatement) but told myself that I could manage 4.6 miles no matter what. I actually felt great here; mentally I was sharp, happy to have fueled, and excited to be running at a good clip. The next two miles I cruised and hit low 7:00's each mile. I moved into 9th place and caught the 8th place guy right as we hit the killer downhill at mile 49. I hate downhill. Give me uphill anyday of the week. The descent down obliterated my legs; not my quads suprisingly, but my hip flexor and ankles. Just so much pain and discomfort with the steep decline. 8th place left me in the dust and halfway down the guy I had passed at mile 48 passed me back, putting me back in 10th place. So it goes.... With my place somewhat secured in 10th, I walked a chunk of the remaining downhill and then ran along the river and climbed the quarter mile uphill to the finish slow slow slow. Final 100 meters to the finish line I managed to run again, so a small victory. :) If the race would have ended at mile 49 before the downhill, I would have finished on cloud 9. The downhill was rough and...not fun. It put a slightly sour taste in my mouth for the race, but in reflection, it's silly to be disapointed in the entirety because of that small portion. Obvioulsy there were some lowpoints at times, but all in all I had a blast and am so glad that I set/completed this goal. Finally, I am speechless at the thought/idea of running 50 more miles. I always had respect for those that can run 100 mile trail races. The respect grew even more after today.
We'll see what's next! I'm looking forward to not running for a week, rest in general, eating ice cream, and finding another race to run in the future.