Monday, June 20, 2011

6/20/11: North Face 50 Race Report

This is a tough one to write. I’ve DNFed more races than I would like. The reasons have all varied, and I’ve been more ok with some than others, but I’ve always been able to look back without much regret. While there is no regret with my DNF at the North Face 50, it is certainly the one that hurts the most.

Training went exceptionally well leading up to the North Face 50. My mileage was high with lots of 85-100 mile weeks. I had done numerous quality long runs, back to back long runs, speed workouts, hill workouts, you name it. I hit the taper just right and went into the race in top physical shape.

There was just one problem. I got really sick the week before and unfortunately couldn’t shake what I had in time for the race. By Friday night I was feeling a bit better than I had earlier in the week, but I was far from 100%. I still had ear infections and some sort of cold / sinus infection plaguing my nose and throat.

I was sufficiently foolish and stubborn to decide that I would still give the thing a shot. I knew it wouldn’t be possible to finish well and was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to finish at all, but I thought there was an outside shot at surviving to the end and figured I’d take that shot. Another brilliant move in a long list of my brilliant moves.

Jen and I woke up at 3:30, filled our thermoses with as much coffee as they could possible hold, grabbed the race gear, and threw a confused and startled Eve into the car. Before I knew it, the race started at 5am in the pre-dawn darkness.

My energy was low, but on the bright side my legs felt great. I was effortlessly running somewhere between 7:30s and 8:00s and feeling good. Before I knew it, I blew through the 4.8 mile aid station.

Around mile 6, I took an unfortunate 10-15 minute detour. An official race sign pointed to turn right towards a country club. I figured it was strange to be leaving the trail, but I looked behind me and four guys were following in the same direction. I figured we couldn’t all be wrong.

We were. It became apparent we were straying off course, and we turned around. As we got back towards the trail, there were at least 50 people also heading off course. I definitely have never seen this may people go off course at the same time in an ultra.

We got back on the trail, but now I was in the middle of a conga line that was moving more slowly than I liked on a really narrow trail. It took a good three or four miles to finally break free and start making up some ground.

I met Jen at the 14.8 mile aid station still feeling pretty good all considering. Aside from the detour, my pace was still pretty solid, too. The course then had us run three 6.9 mile loops before heading back the same 14 miles we started with.

Loop 1 was also went very well. I was really enjoying the course, the scenery, and the weather. The temperature was perfect with highs in the 70s and no humidity. The course had some really nice single track trail and was hilly but very runnable. We also had great views of the Potomac River and Great Falls, which was pretty awesome to see with all the recent rain.

My stomach was also feeling great. I’ve switched over to fueling primarily with Hammer products (more on that in future posts), and it was working well. I ran that first 6.9 loop in 8:40 pace and refueled from Jen for Loop 2 still feeling good.

But alas it couldn’t last forever. My body started failing on me pretty quickly during that loop. I just had no energy and was completely wiped out. Being sick had finally caught up with me. There was only so far I could push my body, and I had reached that point.

I definitely slowed down during Loop 2 and finished it 4h30min and 29 miles into the race. While my pace had been pretty solid up to that point, I knew I was done. I could probably have very slowly dragged myself through the third loop, but it was daunting given how bad I felt, and I didn’t really see the point.

So this DNF really hurt. I was in great shape, I finally pulled my stomach together, and I know I could have had a great race. Unfortunately I just had really bad luck and got sick.

I had been planning to transition to training for the Chicago marathon after this race, but I think I will have to postpone that now. I have trained really hard all year and feel that I’m in my best shape ever, but I just haven’t been able to get it all together in a race. I really feel that I need to run a good ultra to take advantage of this hard work and get some closure.

I’m looking to figure out what race to tackle. I’m definitely running the Catoctin 50K in Maryland as more of a training run on July 30th, and hopefully I can find a 50+ mile race shortly after that to gun for. Stay tuned!

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