This race is 50 miles of trails. A year ago I ran the McNaughton 50 mile trail race in Pekin, Illinois. You can read about that race here (if you scroll down to April 2008). So here I was going to try the same distance on trails again.
Really the story for this begins nearly three weeks earlier after running Boston. Normally after a marathon I take it pretty easy for a good week or two. However in this case I needed to get ready quickly for this trail race. I've done two trail ultras before (McNaughton, and a 50K trail race in Louisville in February 2009) and both were ridiculously hilly and I suffered badly on the downhills. Not the uphills, since I mainly walk those. But the downhills tore up my shins and knees and quads. Because Boston was my priority I had not trained enough on downhills for this trail race.
So just two days after Boston I did a ~4 mile jog/walk. Then as often as I could for the next two weeks I found grassy hills or hilly trails and went up and down them, over and over. Usually walking up and running down. I normally only run three times per week but I ran 11 times from April 22 through May 9, including six days in a row in the middle of that. But the runs were short, all between 4 and 11 miles. And I ran very very slowly with lots of walking to work out those particular muscles. I took off the four days before the race completely.
Another thing. Exactly a week before the race my car died. I had to have it towed to the shop on a Saturday but the shop wasn't open until Monday. He had it fixed by Tuesday afternoon. It was the "crankshaft position sensor" which evidently rarely goes bad. Oh well. $360. I couldn't get to the shop before they closed Tuesday so I picked it up Wednesday morning. However it was evident within hours that something was still wrong. It was sputtering so I took it back Thursday. It turned out that the installed sensor itself happened to be defective. He overnighted a new part since none were available in town. I reminded him I needed to leave at 1 pm on Friday to head up to my race for the packet pickup. On Friday, at 11:45 am, he called to let me know the part didn't arrive and wouldn't until Monday. So I had to get to a car rental agency pronto. I rode my motorcycle to Enterprise. They were out of cars. (?) So I went to Budget, got a car, leaving my motorycle there, drove to the shop to grab stuff out of my car, and headed home to get my stuff and left town by 1:15. I think it's pretty good I did all that in 90 minutes. (Turns out my mechanic paid for the rental too. Good deal. Chrysler Sebring. Nicer car than my own!)
The rest of that evening was uneventful. I arrived at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum between East Troy and Whitewater, picked up my packet, and had an excellent pasta dinner there for $15.
Now I had checked the weather a zillion times during the week and was absolutely convinced there was no chance of rain. So...rain was on the way, I was told. By the time I was ready for bed in my little hotel room, I could hear the rain. So much for dry.
The Clausing Barn where the packet pickup and spaghetti dinner was held. I'm really not sure what a clausing barn is. This barn is octagonal in shape.
Gotta finish the race in 12 hours to earn this!
Waking up about 4:30, I could now hear it was very very windy. I headed to the start line and it was chilly and sprinkling rain a bit but not too bad, and the wind was dying down some. We took off at 6 am. The course mainly consisted of three sections, a 9 mile loop, a 17 mile out-and-back, and a 24 mile out-and-back (roughly). I did the first 9 miles WAY too fast, at maybe a 9 min/mi pace. But of course my legs were fresh from 4 days of inactivity. It rained some most of this loop but then stopped and I removed my long sleeve shirt for the rest of the race. The weather would turn out to be great: chilly, mainly cloudy, and low humidity. There was some mud here and there on the course but not enough to complain about.
We were allowed 3 drop bags which were transported to various aid stations on the course. The first was at the end of the 9 mile loop. The other two would be about midway between the other two sections, so I'd see both of those drop bags twice. There were a lot of aid stations so that I think our longest stretch between aid stations was less than 5 miles. The aid stations had water and gatorade and M&M's and other goodies and my favorite for these runs, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. In my drop bags were water bottles with my electroylte/protein drinks plus any other items I might need.
During the second section of the race, I began to slow down and was struggling quite a bit around mile 20 and was fighting to make it back to the aid station at 26.2 miles. Here I was met by friends (who happen to live in Whitewater) Renee and her daughter Kate. I took my longest break here (10 minutes) to refuel and refresh my legs, then set off on the final 24 miles.
I ran the first 26.2 miles (a marathon) in 4:31. Since my goal was 11 hours for the race, I was nearly an hour ahead of my pace, and this made me worry I had really overdone it. I figured I'd end up walking a lot of the second half of the race. However my legs perked up a bit around mile 30 and in fact I actually was able to just keep chugging along, through some nice pine forest sections, just focusing on going from aid station to aid station. I realized at about 30 miles that barring a catastrophe, I'd easily make it in 11 hours. (The race rules are that you get a belt buckle only if you finish the race in 12 hours.) By around 35 miles I was even thinking I might do this in 10 hours. Keep in mind that my last 50 miler took me about 11:16. But I knew that was a more hilly course and rains had turned the course into peanut butter. This race was much easier.
It was very nice hitting the turnaround on the last out-and-back, at 40.5 miles. I hit it at about 7:30. It had taken me about 2:50 to do the last 14.3 miles. So to finish in 10 hours, I just needed to do 9.5 miles in 2:30. That truly seemed to be pretty easy!
During the course of the race, I did have the familiar shin/knee pain going on during the last half of the race, but not so much in my quads. In fact I started to realize it was mainly my left knee, that my left knee was actually injured to some extent. (I wonder now if this was the case in the last 2 ultras but just didn't realize it.) So I found that what I could do is do all the hard landings on my right leg. In other words, when coming down a hill I would kind of stutter step, limping on my left leg lightly and using my right leg to break. Interestingly this didn't bother my right leg much, reinforcing the idea that what I'm dealing with is more of an injury than just weakness in my legs.
At 40.5 miles I still hadn't walked any of the race. I need to qualify what that means. By "not walking," that means I did not walk any flat portions just for the sake of walking. I did walk many of the uphills since I can nearly walk them as fast as I can run them and that's part of the strategy. And of course there's always a bit of cheating at the aid stations, walking into them for 25 yards and walking out of them a few yards. That doesn't count as walking in my book.
In the end my steps were short and "shuffly" but I was still running, feeling alright. In the last home-stretch every step was pretty painful but I could feel the finish line somewhere up ahead and that kept me going. By mile 47.6, the second-to-last aid station, I started thinking that maybe I could finish in 9:30 (!) and it was only 0.9 miles to the next aid station (shortest distance between any two of them). I left that final aid station at 9:12 and sprinted (ha ha, it felt like it) the final 1.5 miles, finishing in 9:28:24! I surely have never beat a goal by 90 minutes before and I doubt I will again! I never did walk. 50 miles of running. Pretty cool.
I actually didn't feel too horrible at the end. Legs shot, for sure, left knee feeling somewhat injured but not permanently so. So I had two brats, bbq sandwich, potato chips and pop and watched the other runners come in. I finish 56th of 203 finishers (more started), 50th of 159 among men, and 15th of 39 among male 45-49 (by FAR the largest division).
I did the first 26.2 miles at a 10:21 pace (4:31), the last 23.8 miles at a 12:01 pace (4:46), and those last 9.5 miles at a 12:06 pace (1:55).
During the race I found a couple of my Facebook Ultra friends, Jason Elliot and Brian Gaines. I got to chat with Jason for a bit. That was fun.
Afterwards I met up with Renee and her husband Charlie and Kate at Culvers and they treated me to a big malt. Yum! Then I drove home (4 hour drive), arriving at 11:15 pm and plopping into bed!