Six months or so ago, Brandy convinced me to run a 50k with her. It would be the first ultramarathon for both of us. At the time, I wasn’t running many miles, but she said she’d be running easy, so I figured I’d survive. We registered a few months ago for the 50k at the Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms. Fast-forward a few months, and I was running 16 mile long runs as general training, planning on a long easy adventure with Brandy.
Then, some things happened, and Brandy was unable to race. I had a decision to make. I could maintain my plan of running it easy, or I could attempt to actually race it. Coach extraordinaire David Roche said to race it, and put two 20-mile runs in my training schedule. The first two solo 20-mile runs since 2014. This could get ugly. Thankfully, I was coming off several weeks of the best training of my life, 60-74-mile weeks where previously I’d been in the 40’s.
The race is in New Gloucester, Maine, about three hours away, so I stayed the night in Freeport, meaning I only had a 20-minute drive in the morning. Nice. I ate some quinoa with chicken and olive oil, and roamed around Freeport a bit, hitting up LL Bean, the Nike outlet store (mostly fashion, not running clothes) and wandering through a few others that were open past 8 on a Saturday. When I got back to the hotel, I ate a bit more quinoa/chicken, foam rolled a bit, and went to bed. I fell asleep fairly quickly, which is strange for the night before a long race, and stranger still when I’m alone in a hotel room, but I’m thankful, especially considering I’d have to drive home the next day after spending 4-5 hours on the trail!
I got to the race about an hour early, got my bib/shirt and Brandy’s shirt, and started to get ready. In terms of equipment, nutrition and logistics, I felt that I’d prepared better than I ever had. I’d even remembered to bring extra socks, a change of clothes, sandals and towel for afterward, and shampoo for the shower. (I’ve had many a 2+ hour drive in race clothing before).
My nutrition/fluid plan:
- Generation UCAN 30min before start (this is designed to be used every 90min)
- Water with Nuun tablets in a 17oz Salomon soft-flask handheld
- Water from cups at aid stations according to thirst
- Dropped gel flask with maple syrup at the aid station to grab at mile 10.3
- Dropped SCAPS at mile 10.3 aid station
2nd lap: (I dropped these items at the start/finish area where I ran by to start lap 2)
- Generation UCAN again
- Water with Nuun tablets in a 17oz Salomon soft-flask handheld
- Water from cups at aid stations
- New gelflask with maple syrup
- Possibly more SCAPS
- Gen. UCAN Recovery mix + VEGA Sport Protein + cocoa powder + PB2
- Two Kind bars (from the post-race table)
- Shoes: Altra Superior 2.0
- Shorts: Salomon Twinskin
- Shirt: aR singlet with race dots to secure the bib
- Headsweats aR hat
- Rudy Project sunglasses.
The race started at 8am, and I went to the front with Brandon Baker, Eric H., and a couple other guys. We all stayed fairly close together for a few miles. The course wound through double-track both in the woods and through the fields. For the most part, the course was pretty smooth, with a couple short rough patches in the fields.
As we ticked off the km markings, things started to thin out, and eventually, it was just Eric and I. We ran more or less together, never more than a few strides ahead, for the entire first lap.
We started passing lots of 50-mile runners, who started at 6am. At several points there was two-way traffic for a minute or so before we split off on our own into the next section. It was very cool to get to see all the 50-milers, and eventually folks further back in the 50k. I got some epic high-5’s from other racers! We passed several aid stations, and there were even some spectators out on the course cheering.
Just before mile 10, we passed the start/finish area for the first time. All the 25k racers were getting ready, but it looked like we’d eventually have a ten minute head start before they came barreling past us.
As I ran past the mile 10.3 aid station, I grabbed my maple syrup and took a few swigs. I like maple syrup because it’s not as thick as traditional gels, so it goes down easier and tastes better. I can also take small sips from the gel flask, so I don’t upset my stomach with a big dose of sugar.
The next section from mile 12-14 contained the most difficult hills. They weren’t terribly steep, or terribly long, but Erik and I remarked that they were going to suck when we hit them again at mile 27-29.
I’ll pause here for my personal course description: this course is easily runnable. It really is; there are no long climbs or descents at all. The hills are short enough that you can blast both up and down them losing very little momentum. In fact, many miles had over 100ft of both ascent AND descent. This is evidenced by my running (along with Erik) extremely close to course-record pace for the first lap, at times exceeding it. (I didn’t know that at the time, or I’d have slowed down. I have no business running CR pace on this course, or even being in the same sentence with Scott Traer). So this smoothness of the course can really be your downfall. There is still over 3,000ft of gain on the course, and the fact that it’s easily runnable can really kill your legs by the time you come back around for the second lap.
So Erik and I started to head back toward the start/finish area to finish lap 1 and start lap 2. My legs were starting to get just a bit tired, and I found myself having to expend just a bit more effort to keep Erik from drifting too far ahead. No big deal, I didn’t come here expecting to run in the lead, or even make the podium. Still, we were no more than a few strides apart as we came through the halfway point in 1:48.
As we came through the start/finish area to finish lap 1 of 2, I stopped for two minutes or so to mix another batch of the Generation UCAN, and swap handhelds/hats. Here’s where I made another mistake. As it took a minute to mix the UCAN, I ended up not drinking it all in my hurry to get back out there and try to catch Erik. A true moment of stupidity as I’d just got done thinking that I didn’t care about my placing. I drank about 1/3 of the drink, and took off, telling me I had plenty of calories of sugar with me.
As I started lap 2, I began to slow down slightly. I wasn’t hurting yet, so I think it was partly just not having someone to mentally latch on to. I’ve never been good at running alone in races, especially longer races. I had been running 6:30-6:55 grade-adjusted-pace (GAP), or 6:30-7:20 actual pace for each mile split 1-16. I kept it up for mile 17, the first of lap two, by slowly faded a little to low-7’s, then mid-7’s…
I never saw Erik on the second lap. According to Strava flybys, he was a quarter-mile ahead when I left the start/finish area, but I narrowed the gap to .1 before my walking breaks. After that, he was long gone.
The 25k runners started to catch me just after mile 22. First Dan Button went flying by, then Ryan Kelly, then Todd Callaghan (with a few strangers mixed in). Next came Kevin Tilton with Ethan Nedeau hot on his heels around 23.5. (Precise mileage courtesy of Strava flyby’s–my memory isn’t that good! I was pumped for a few minutes at how my pace was still strong enough so that Kevin and Ethan weren’t flying past me quite as fast as I’d figured they would… I kept them in sight much longer than I’d expected, and a photographer at mile 23.9 took one of my favorite race photos of me just after they passed me.
That didn’t last long however, as at mile 24, I had my first walk break, by an aid station that really didn’t require any walking to get fluid.
Coming through the start-finish at mile 25.3, I was starting to really have some targeted fatigue. My left quad was very sore, while my right was perfectly fine. Can you say imbalances? Thankfully the rest of the soreness and fatigue was all bilateral, so I wasn’t worried about injury, and frankly, I wasn’t worried about the quad as much as any compensation that might occur. I’ve been doing a lot of single-leg strength work, and I think I sometimes forget my left leg, which has been injury-free.
Throughout the second lap, I was really astonished at how quickly the time and miles seemed to tick by, despite my slowing down. In fact, it seemed that the second lap had gone by much faster than the first!
Just before coming through the start/finish area, I had been passed, knocking me into 3rd place. He was looking as rough as I was though, so I wasn’t too worried. Anyway, I was mostly concerned with survival.
Now I’ll let my survival-oriented brain take over telling the story. I think that will be more interesting, as I don’t remember too much more than this, and Strava flybys are no longer helping me out.
10k. I now had only 10k left to go. That’s what I kept telling myself. Boy does this hurt.
9k. A few more walk breaks. I gotta stop doing this. Okay just this aid station. (Tom Hooper: “You gotta go, he’s coming for you fast”). This guy is looking strong, he’ll probably be passing the 2nd place runner and giving first a run for his money. (Where the hell was he the first half of the race, relaxing in the back of the pack?!)
And here come the marathon split. 3:14:58 by my watch, or one second faster than my downhill road marathon PR (from 2014). Cool. But ouch.
8k. Here go a few more 25k runners past, no burst of energy this time though… damn. Lets take a few more sips of maple syrup. But it doesn’t feel like lack of energy… I’m not bonking, just sore from all the miles. I really want to catch one of the guys ahead of me… no, it’s way too early to be turning up the effort on these legs. (In fact, my heart rate had been steadily decreasing since the halfway point, testament to my complaining legs.)
7k. Jesus this hill hurts. All the 50-milers are walking, so I can too. Damn, nobody is sitting.
6k. There’s the 3rd place guy! He’s looking even rougher, maybe I can catch him. But my legs don’t want to go faster. Brandy would tell me to suck it up…
5k. Now in 3rd. I think. Unless I missed someone with a different bib. Just a casual 5k left, I can do this.
4k. Killllll meeeeee.
3k. Almost to the field, where I can see in every direction.
2k. I don’t see the guy in front of me OR behind me.
1k. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT What’s he doing here? He has a blue bib? But he’s flying, he can’t possibly have run 31mi! I’m literally going as fast as I can, and it’s not gonna be fast enough.
Finish. Done. And so are my legs. But I finished my first ultramarathon. And I wish Brandy was here. Mostly to carry me to the food. Speaking of food, where is it?
I did end up being able to hold off the guy behind me for third overall, by running my fastest split since mile 17. I ran the final .6mi at 7:00/mi pace with some hills. At first, the results said 4th place. A few minutes later, I got another text message, and got bumped to 5th place. When I looked at the results, several of them were from either the 50M or 25k races, so I alerted the timing folks.
I have to send a big thanks to all my family and friends for their support, to Brandy for her support, motivation and inspiration (and persuading me to do this in the first place), and to David Roche for his fantastic coaching. Some photos and Strava stats follow, and check out the race video at the bottom if you didn’t see it on the main page! Thanks for reading.