Man, it’s been a while since I posted!
First off, I have some bad news. I DNFed at JFK 50. I had thought I was ready and had finally figured out stomach issues. My stomach was again the problem, but I think it was something different this time. My stomach was really bothering me when I woke up, and it only got worse throughout the day. I think I may have gotten a stomach bug or something.
The good news is that I ran really well for the 30 miles I covered even though my stomach was rumbling and feeling terrible. Two years ago I ran the Appalachian Trail section in just over 10 minute miles. This time I ran it in something like 8:50s no problem. I’ve definitely become a much better trail runner. It was still a bummer to DNF but good to know that I’m in good shape.
One other quick note is that at mile 27 I witnessed the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my short ultramarathon career. I was coming up to an aid station and heard Van Halen’s solo on Eruption. I was thinking that it was awesome that someone got a boom box out to the trail! I turn the corner and see a 10 year old kid ACTUALLY PLAYING the solo on his guitar. Note for note. Perfect. Nothing more awesome than a 10 year old kid melting your face while you’re out there racing!
After the JFK DNF I kept training hard and had a lot of really great runs including a blazing 30 mile run in Chicago two weeks ago and back to back 20 and 25 mile fast runs last weekend. This weekend I ran the Gluteus Maximus 50K that the Virginia Happy Trail Running Club puts on.
I was thinking this would be a fun race at the end of the year and wasn’t planning to take it too seriously given it would be shortly after JFK. Coming into today I was still planning to take it easy and really hoping just to feel good and finish. I didn’t taper at all and had a crazy week at work with lots of travel and late nights, so my expectations weren’t too high.
Well man, I felt fantastic! My stomach was perfect, my legs were feeling good, and it was a beautiful day out on the trail. I ended up winning the race and cut 10 minutes off my 50K PR.
The day started off pretty cold in the high teens. We started off down the trail, and I tried to tuck in not too close to the front so I didn’t go out too fast. I was probably somewhere around 15th after getting through the initial bunching as we got on the trail.
I quickly moved up to 10th or so and settled into a really comfortable pace. Once I warmed up from a few miles of running, I was feeling good and really enjoying the beautiful day and clear blue sky.
On the first major climb I quickly passed a few people and moved into 5th or 6th. There was an aid station at mile 6 that I blew through and as a result quickly found myself in a lead pack with three other guys. Now I really didn’t want to be pushing hard this early, and these guys were definitely going faster than I wanted to.
Normally I would have backed off the pace. But this wasn’t quite your typical race course. You go 12 miles out, run a 7 mile loop, and then run same 12 miles back. That 7 mile loop is on meandering trail, much of which isn’t marked, and much of which doesn’t qualify as a trail at all. They call it the “Do Loop”, and it is virtually impossible to navigate without someone who knows where they are going. In our pack of 4, 2 guys knew the route, so I figured I’d have to try to stay with them.
I was definitely starting to feel the fast pace and took a bit of a spill when I tripped on a hidden rock or root. Then I realized that I hadn’t actually eaten anything yet, and it was about 70 minutes in. I took a gel and came back to life a bit. I caught back up to the lead 3 guys after my fall and wasn’t having nearly as much trouble staying with them.
The next few miles passed pretty uneventfully. We arrived at the park that started the infamous Do Loop. I checked my watch and realized we had averaged somewhere around 8:30 miles over the first 12. Definitely faster than I had been planning on going, but I was feeling pretty good at that point.
We hit an aid station about a mile later. I stopped to refill water and ate a few shortbread cookies and some Pringles. Normal stomach! Woohooo!!!
The Do Loop was simply laughable. Even the guys who had done it 5+ times really didn’t know exactly where they were going. We were wandering around and trying to follow a few scattered trail markers for a while. At one point our leader announced that we were lost. Lost didn’t really look any different than how things had been before, but we certainly weren’t anywhere close to a trail. We crossed a stream, which involved getting my shoes wet. Booo! We bushwacked for a while until we found something that looked marginally more like a trail.
After our meandering, another pack of guys caught up to us, which took our group to 8 or so guys. They knew the way fairly well and soon we encountered runners started the loop as we got close to finishing it, which made the path easier to follow.
The Do Loop was certainly an experience. It could have been frustrating to wander around lost and trudge through the woods, but I chalked it up to part of the experience, and we laughed our way through it. At one point I foolishly asked what “Do Loop” actually meant. Our fearless leader said that it’s because you do the loop. Then you get lost. So you do the loop again. And again. And so on. Guess it was a silly question.
So we were getting close to coming out of the Do Loop, and I was really feeling strong at this point. At some point I took an S-cap and Clif Shot Blocks, and my stomach was still holding up really well. I knew I’d hang with the pack until the loop was finished, but I had been starting to think that I may be able to make a run for it after the loop. Of our original pack of four, I knew one guy from before the race. He came in 3rd in the national championship 24 hour race recently and is a really strong runner. I figured he’d bring it home hard and that I’d have a shot at 2nd.
He and I opened up a bit of a lead as we started pushing the pace coming out of the Do Loop. We came back to the same aid station, and I stopped only to quickly to refill my water bottle. I guess he must have hung at the aid station a bit longer, as I quickly found myself alone on the trail with no one in sight.
I certainly hadn’t been expecting to be leading this race, but I was really feeling great. I really opened it up at this point and stretched out my legs. I hit the Bull Run trail which marked the last 12 miles and started clocking some fast miles, some of which were in the 7-8 minute mile range. I was still climbing well and was really hammering the downhills hard.
I was starting to feel the pace but kept pushing hard. I hit the aid station about 6 miles from the finish, quickly refilled my water bottle, took another e-Gel, and also grabbed a Sugar Cookie for the road.
Before I knew it, I turned off the trail for the 1.5 miles to the finish. It was all uphill, but I still had some pep in my legs and ran the whole way up. I finished in 4:48, which was a 10 minute 50K PR for me. I was especially happy with this as my PR had been set on a slightly easier course, and the ridiculousness of the Do Loop certainly cost me some time as well. Even better, I still had plenty in the tank at the end and was still feeling strong.
The VHTRC is unparalleled in what they provide at these free events. They had some beer waiting for us, so I indulged in a Sam Winter. Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, pizza that the VHTRC had ordered arrived! Three slices later I was feeling pretty good.
All in all it was a great day. I felt great, had lots of fun, and put in a solid performance. My stomach was fantastic all the way through. I also realized that I’ve come a long way in my trail running, particularly in technical and downhill sections. I used to get ROCKED on downhills, but I definitely held my own when running with the lead pack and could have pushed even faster.
On Sunday my legs weren’t even too sore, and I got in another 12 miles or so. I’m really looking forward to continuing my training and hopefully having some great races in 2010!