Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11/19/11: Potomac Heritage 50K Race Report

Last Sunday I ran the Potomac Heritage 50K for the third time. I finally had a good race for the first time in a very long time and ran 4:58 for 2nd place.

I am still not in very good long distance shape and came into the race with very tired legs, so I was thrilled with the outcome. I have been building the mileage back up and ran about 80 miles in the week before the race with a 10 mile run the day before. I have also been doing a lot of speedwork, which included 5x800 in 2:40 a few days before the race. That left me not exactly race fresh!

The weather was beautiful for race day, and conditions could not have been any better. The first 5 miles of the race are on some great trails that wind through northwest DC. I train on these trails pretty often and love running these stretches through Glover Archebald and Battery Kemble Park. From there you run down a rocky creek and through a crazy tunnel that definitely does not look like you can go through it. Then you pop out on the canal tow path for a few flat miles before crossing Key Bridge to the first aid station at mile 8.5.

I ran this section conservatively and felt pretty good. A group of people took off fast from the start, and I more or less ran with a chase pack in about 10th place. I had Mom and Dad Lewellen and Jen waiting for me at the first aid station, so I was able to run without water bottle, which was nice. When I got there, they passed me a bottle with HEED in it. I ran about 8:30 pace for this first stretch, which was right about where I wanted to be.

I also carried a gel flask the entire time with 5 servings of Vanilla Hammer Gel. I haven't ever run with with a gel flask, and it worked out great. It was easy to get gels quickly, I didn't have to fumble with wrappers, and it is also environmentally friendly! Mom Lewellen was not impressed that my main source of fuel for 31 miles of running would be a tiny bottle of yellowish goop, but it got the job done!

From there we hopped on the Potomac Heritage trail and would run the 10 mile length of the trail from Key Bridge to American Legion Bridge. The first stretch was the four miles up to Chain Bridge. The Potomac Heritage trail is hilly throughout with a number of stream crossings and some very rocky sections that aren't really runnable. The 3rd and 4th miles right before you hit the aid station at 12.5 are particularly gnarly. There is one section where you climb hands and knees up a rock face. As if that section wasn't already hard enough, the recent earthquake totally dislodged the handrail that was bolted into the rock. Thanks a lot, earthquake.

Early on in this section the tired legs started to take their toll. I was get sore already, and my left calf was starting to tighten up. I was worried about my legs holding out for 20 miles more, especially if I started to cramp up. But what can you do other than keep running? I came into mile 12.5 in 1h57 and a bit under 45 minutes for the previous 4 miles, which I was happy with given the tough terrain and not feeling great.

The family was here again to cheer me on. Each aid station also has different challenges you can complete, and you get to subtract some time if you complete the challenge. At this aid station you could drop 1 minute from your time if you took your shirt off and did five push-ups. Obviously it was a no brainer (though it probably took me about a minute to do it). I tried lobbying for additional minutes with more pushups, but no dice unfortunately.

The next section is listed as 6 miles but is really more like 6.5 miles. I train a decent amount on this part of the trail, and usually 70 minutes would be a solid time. My legs still were not feeling good, but it wasn't getting any worse, and I was moving fairly well. I was starting to suck on the hills since I haven't been doing much hilly trail running, but I think the recent speedwork was helping with the downhill and flat sections.

I ran into the mile 17 aid station with a surprisingly fast split, which really fired me up. The legs were tired arleady, but I wanted to see how hard I could push it and if I could keep up a strong pace until the end. I got to the end of the trail and the turnaround point in 2:57 and a 60 minute split from the start of the section. That was by far the fastest I have ever run that stretch of trail, which was shocking to me.

I kept pushing hard on the way back and ran 64 minutes for the same 6 mile stretch, which was awesome. I was walking a fine line and going all out with my legs on the verge of cramping up. I had been able to keep it up so far but was definitely worried about blowing up in the last 6.5 miles. I came into mile 24.5 in 4:01, which put me in striking distance of finishing under 5 hours, but it would be dicey given how tired I was.

The cheering squad was there for me again, and it was certainly great to see them. I chugged a glass of Coke, grabbed a few grapes for the road, and put my head down and trudged off to finish the last leg. Someone at the aid station mentioned something about another challenge, but I had no time for that. Man on a mission!

The first couple miles were flat as I crossed Chain Bridge and ran on the tow path again. I tried to keep a good pace going since the rest of the course would be on hilly trails and much hard to run well on tired legs.

I had steadily passed people on the Potomac Heritage trail and was now running in 3rd place. I was surprised every time I came upon someone else, but I guess running consistently and not slowing down much was enough to get the job done. This course is a lot tougher than some people expect, and it is very easy to go out way too fast and struggle with the tougher terrain later on.

Someone told me Keith was leading and 10 minutes ahead. Keith is very fast and a ridiculously strong and consistent ultrarunner, so I immediately responded with "yup, that isn't going to happen" (and it in fact did not happen ... Keith finished 11 or 12 minutes ahead of me). I had no idea how far ahead second place was, but the gap was close to 15 minutes at the mile 19 turnaround, so I figured I was still far off.

The last several miles were a real grind. I was sucking something awful on the uphills and just doing my best to move decently well on the flats and downhills. I figured I would probably just miss finishing under 5 hours but kept pushing on anyway.

I eventually popped out onto the last road stretch and kicked it in to finish in 4:58. I ended up catching the guy in second a few miles from the end. We ran together for a bit, but he was suffering from leg cramps and had to dial it back a bit.

I couldn't have been more thrilled with this race. I had been hoping to just run under 6 hours and figured 5:30 would be a great time, so I was blown away by running under 5 hours. It was also exciting to be able to push so hard and run well on really tired legs. I have continued to believe that I can run ultras faster and push harder. However, this hasn't really come together yet due to stomach problems and bad luck with getting sick.

My stomatch was great this time, and my new fueling system was spot on. I took in 5 gels, one 20 ounce bottle of HEED, two 20 ounce bottles of water, a glass of coke, and ~10 grapes (got to count the grapes). It was nice to confirm that I now have the experience and conditioning to really push hard for a long time, too.

I'm excited to keep seeing where I can takes things with ultras. If I can get a bit of luck going for me (or at least not have bad luck), I think I can string together some solid races next year.

The crew also took some great pictures that are below. Thanks again to Mom L, Dad L, and Jen for being out there. It really helped keep me going and inspired me to push a lot harder. I mostly wanted to redeem my poor performance for them at Chicago :)


The fans waiting for me to come in at the mile 8.5 aid station


Blurry as I come into mile 8.5. Guess I was running too fast!


Offshoot of the Potomac River by Teddy Roosevelt Island.



View towards Georgetown and the National Cathedral from the aid station



Another view of the River



A buck that the crew saw while waiting for me



Running downhill towards the mile 12.5 aid station




Coming up into the aid station


Happy to see everyone and about to do some shirtless pushups!



Back again 2 hours later at the same aid station at mile 24.5. Drinking flat Coke, the nectar of life in ultramarathons. Very tired but ready to close this thing out.



Trudging away from 24.5


The finish line in all of its glory


Pushing hard to finish under 5 hours


REALLY happy to be done

2 comments:

JLW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen said...

congrats on a great race!!! it was lots of fun for your fans, too :)