Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dirty German 50 Miles

At the finish with Pete and Andy holding my sweet 1st place age group award!

Wow! This is way up there as far as personal accomplishments go. It honestly went as well as it possibly could have.  That's not to say there weren't some surprises and issues that came up.  From everything I read, those things are inevitable.  The question is how they get handled. Well, I finished which was my real only goal in 9 hours and 11 minutes. What I really wasn't expecting at all was to get 1st in my age group!  I know this mostly depends on who decides to show up and the size of the field, but you know what, I will gladly take it.  I got an awesome German thermometer to serve as a memento for this incredible day. Being able to share this with my family and friends just made it even more awesome. Ok, now it's time to break this thing down.

Pre Race

I won't go into too much detail of the thoughts and preparation going into this, because I've covered most of it in other blog posts.  Lets just say that this was a long time in the making. Looking back at my training, I think my greatest accomplishment was not the two 50Ks or several 60 mile+ weeks or even running every single day of this year.  The best thing I had going into this was not being injured.  I realize there is a huge luck component to this.  But, I frequently made wiser choices in terms of scaling back and reducing or eliminating speed.  I think that was the single biggest thing I did right.

I did the usual carb loading a few days before and most importantly kept up on my hydration.  Some people forget about this, but this is really the most important thing. I set out all the stuff I needed for the next day.  This included the following:

3 sandwich bags of 6 S!Caps each
12 GUs
2 band-aids for the nips
Running outfit
Extra sneakers, socks, shirt
Water bottle
Suntan lotion
Garmin Watch
HR Strap
Backup watch (when Garmin runs out of batteries)

That is a long list and for those that know how forgetful I am, I somehow remembered everything!

The night before the race I started to get a little nervous and as such did not have the best sleep.  But, I was expecting this, and I did sleep well 2 nights before so I was satisfied. 5 hours is pretty good for me before an event. I woke up at 5:30 and ate my usual big bowl of Special K Fruit and Yogurt (my current favorite).  I had some coffee and a banana as well. At 6, I left my house feeling good.

I got to the start/finish area at 7 am, got my racing bib and was feeling pretty relaxed. I spoke with a few other ultra folks and they were talking about how this is such a great course for your first trail ultra because it's so runnable.  At this point, I was thinking that my plan of running at around 9 minute pace for the first 2/3 with breaks here and there was totally feasible.  Ha ha ha! I'll get to that soon :)

3.5 Mile Loop

because this race also has folks doing a 50K and a 25K, the 50M runners start off in a different direction to do a 3.5 mile loop before they do 3 main 25K loops. The race director said a few words and thanked a few people and then he just said "Go!" and we were off at about 8 minutes after 8. I would estimate about 40 - 50 or so 50 mile folks, with a lot more 50K and 25K runners. 

The first mile I took really easy just getting warmed up and I had a long day ahead of me.  I was actually closer to the back and going about mid 9 minute pace. There were a bunch of little rolling hills and I wondered how much of the course would continue like this. Soon after, we turned into some single track with lots of twists and turns and even more ups and downs.  At this point I was just following the person ahead of me and didn't concern myself with how fast I was going.  I walked a few uphills and I realized I was going still mid 9s and then with the 3rd mile I was doing low 10s. I was a little upset with the pace but I figured it was still early and who knew what the rest of this course would be like.  Perhaps this was just the hilly, twisty trail section. As I approached the start, I realized that my Garmin was almost .5 miles off meaning that I wasn't going mid to high 9s this whole time, but probably closer to 10s or maybe even 11s. At this point I realized my estimates were likely to be way off, but I had just started and I wasn't too worried.  I was feeling great and I was loving running in the trails.

"First Loop"

As I started on the first loop, the field started to thin out and I found myself running on my own at times.  I was in paradise. I decided right then that I can see how people completely turn away from road running and switch to trails.  Being in the middle of a forest with a river running near by, jumping over an occasional log, it felt so great and natural. Because it was early in my run and I was feeling awesome, my only emotion was pure joy. There continued to be more hills than I imagined, but I was also flying down the down hill portions too.  I averaged in the low 9s up to the first aid station.

When I got to the first aid station, I had already removed the top of my water bottle, and the folks there were very helpful and friendly. After they filled up my water I was on my way in just a few seconds. I made sure to thank them as I left, plus I was in an awesome mood.  Then came the best part of the course.  I had resigned myself to the fact that this was going to be a much slower race, but I was enjoying it so much, I didn't really care.  I just figured I'd let everyone know when I texted them after I finished the first loop. This section had lots of twists and turns and ups and downs like a tight roller coaster track. I felt like I was flying through this area and I wasn't stopping much but I was barely maintaining high 9s.

First Wrong Turn

And then the first problem arose. As I was about a mile or so from the "2nd aid station" I started hearing the accordion and I remember thinking "oh wow, they have music both at the start area and all the way down at the bottom too, that's really cool".  But then I started to recognize part of the path and that was not good.  The more I ran, the more I was certain that I was retracing my steps from the 3.5 mile loop I did at the start.  I couldn't figure out what went wrong.  I never felt like I was off course or I missed a turn.  As I came into the start/finish area I was so upset. I thought maybe this whole thing was over for me and that I would be disqualified.  As I came into the aid station, I asked to speak with the race director.  I explained to him my dilemma and he realized that I went the wrong way after leaving the first aid station.  This big loop is a figure 8 with the start/finish at the top, the 1st/3rd aid station at the intersection and the 2nd aid station at the bottom.  When I left the 1st aid station, instead of continuing on to the bottom loop, I went back up.  Honestly, it is the job of the aid station workers to direct the runners as well, and I think they just missed me. The race director was super cool.  He was really calm and figured out how to solve the problem. He told me that I just needed to do the bottom loop twice and then I'd be all set.  Once I realized that I could continue and I wouldn't be disqualified, I was so relieved.  I was on my way back down to the first aid station.

This whole time I was drinking water every 15 minutes, taking a GU every 30 minutes and an S!Cap every hour.  I figured as it got hotter, I would start taking an S!Cap every 30 minutes and I would start to work in other food then too. I continued the same pace as before, occasionally walking a bit for the hills, but I continued to run slowly while taking GU when I didn't have to look down at the trail.  Some parts were less technical than others.

When I got back down to the 1st aid station, I explained the situation to them and that I had talked to the race director about it.  They understood and were very sorry that they missed me somehow.  I grabbed a couple orange slices, a quarter PBJ, refilled my water and was on my way down to the 2nd aid station. 

Second Wrong Turn

This is when I got lost again.  Somewhere I missed a turn and I was running somewhere along side the park.  I then picked up the trail again, but I was going against traffic.  I was happy to find the trail but I wasn't sure how this was going to work with me getting back to the second aid station going the wrong way.  As I was passing people in the wrong direction, I think most folks thought I was the top elite 50K guy and kept saying "Alright man! Great job!"  I couldn't explain to all of them that in fact I was just completely lost. As the crowd thinned out I came across an older gentleman who knew I was going the wrong way.  He asked me if I was lost, and I told him I was.  He had a map of the course on him and we realized that there was a bridge coming up that I could cross over to start going the right way.  I thanked him for his help and headed toward this bridge.  As I got closer I pulled out the iPhone and figured out where I needed to go.  The trail passes underneath the bridge on either side and there is a crazy steep way to get up and down near the bridge.  On my way down, I almost fell going down this steep section but when I finally got back on the trail going the right way, I was so happy! I figured out that I only added about a quarter mile so that wasn't too bad. I was determined to not get lost again.
As I got closer to the second aid station I entered my least favorite part of the course.  It was out in the open sun and on asphalt.  Normally I don't mind running on asphalt, but after the trails in the shade, this sucked. I got to the second aid station and stayed a bit longer this time and ate more orange slices (favorite food of this event).  I then realized that because I was doing the bottom loop twice, that I would not get back to my drop bag for extra S!Caps and GU.  Luckily they had S!Caps at the aid station and a different brand of gels.  I took a couple and a pretzel and I was off. A little while down the road at 19 miles I decided I finished the "first loop" and texted everyone that I was done with it.

Second loop

I was headed back toward the 3rd aid station and this included a water crossing.  On the website it warned that there were a few water crossings and it would mean at some point your feet would get wet.  But there were always some strategically placed rocks to use to get across, so I managed to avoid getting my feet we the whole time.  This was something I didn't want to worry about.  Running in wet shoes for lots of miles would probably mean blisters. This part also had some more serious climbs which again made me realize how much I underestimated the hills on this course.  The net elevation gain is deceiving because a lot of the hills are small and they don't even register on the maps.  But let me tell you, they register on your legs.

Once I got to the 3rd aid station I reminded them that I'd be doing the bottom loop again and they remembered and even said the race director called them to let them know about my situation. I grabbed some more orange slices, a PBJ quarter and another gel and I was off.  Now that I was starting the bottom loop again, I was finally back on track with everyone else. I had been running mostly alone for a while because of my lack of navigation skills, and now I started to run into a few folks. I passed a few people but it wasn't clear if they were slower 50K folks or 50 mile runners that had slowed down.  There was one guy in particular that I would pass, but then when I would walk to have a gel, he would pass me.  We kept doing that for many miles.

When I got back to the 2nd aid station again, there were 4 or 5 runners there.  Nobody wanted to leave because the aid station was under a bridge in the shade and it was starting to get hot out in the open sun.  I spoke briefly with a guy that I caught up to who was really taking the whole  "minimal" thing seriously.  He had on shorts and a pair of sandals that looked like these:

No shirt, no hat, no hydration pack, not even a handheld water bottle.  That was pretty insane to me.  I felt like this was the equivalent of climbing mount Everest without oxygen (well maybe not exactly).

I spent a little too much time there, but finally managed to leave after a couple minutes. As I headed back to the 3rd aid station for the end of my second bottom loop I had an awful coughing fit.  I've been having that this spring with all of the pollen in the air and I did not want to be dealing with this now. I had a couple bad coughs in particular that actually hurt my sides.  Luckily after 5 minutes they would go away. 

I reached the 3rd aid station and got some more orange slices and PBJ. When I got there, the guy who I kept going back and forth with was just leaving.  As he left, one of the aid station guys told me that this guy is a serious ultra runner and held records at some point.  He said he had won the 100K nationals and finished in the top of the field at a bunch of bigger races. I guess he was just taking it easy or recovering from something here, but I thought that was so cool.  The ultra community is small enough that when you go to a local event like this, you can rub shoulders with some of the elites in the sport.  I looked him up when I got home and everything that aid station guy said was true.  His name is Howard Nippert.  He is now a coach and you can check out all of his accomplishments on his site.

After I left the 3rd aid station I was headed back to the start/finish area for the start of my third and last loop.  I was definitely starting to slow down at this point.  I was exhausted and my legs were feeling really sore, but there were no real specific problem areas and my stomach was still holding out, which is what I was most worried about.  I kept telling myself I just needed to run 4 more miles and then the whole last loop was with Bieka, Pete and Andy. Plus, I would get to see my parents and April, Abby and Sadie. This was a huge motivator.  I don't know how I would have felt not having that to look forward to. I called my sister to let her know that I was about 40 minutes away and about 35 minutes behind schedule. That timeline I made with my estimates for everyone turned out to be way, way off.  I knew there was a chance I would be slower, but man was I naive about how much slower I'd really be going on these trails.

As I got within a mile of the start/finish, I started hearing the accordion music again and I knew I was close to seeing my family.  I was really excited. I came into the area and my parents were already taking video and my sister was ready to go.

My parents and sister said I was looking good compared to some of the other folks, and I was happy to hear that, but wasn't sure how true it was. At this point I thought about how tired I was and how I still had to run 15.5 miles. But then the thought of running with Pete and Andy and seeing April and the girls got me going again. 

Final Loop

Bieka and I started walking the start of the third and final loop while I finished eating a PBJ. after a little while we started to run very slowly.  It was so great to have her there to talk to. I had been running alone pretty much the whole time, with only brief moments that would last a few seconds of running with other people. I let her know about how I got lost, and she was really enjoying running on the trail and how beautiful it was.  We were going pretty slow because now every tiny incline meant I would stop to walk because I had a tough time running. Even so, our 3 miles flew by so quickly and before we knew it we were at the 1st aid station.  I came down and saw Pete and Andy waiting for me along with my parents.

I apologized to them for being so far behind my estimates.  At this point I was about 40 minutes behind my original schedule.  They seemed to be happy just to see that I was in good spirits and feeling pretty good considering the distance.  This was now all new territory for me.  The farthest I had run in training was 31 miles.  I was now at 38 and feeling alright. I warned them that it would just get slower and would include more walking breaks. I ate some more oranges and had coke for the first time. I read about how coke is a staple at ultra events, and now it was evident why.  The combination of sugar, caffeine and calming your stomach really helps late in an ultra. My stomach was starting to get a bit questionable but nothing too bad.

Pete and I took off and just as I promised, I walked a bit more.  Every incline, we walked, and instead of flying down the down hills, I was now really cautious not to fall. I felt like my legs were not super reliable so I wanted to play it safe.  I was starting to hurt more and my stomach was now starting to bother me a bit. I was dreading the open area coming up on the bike path with all the sun, but I was so thankful that Pete was there to run with me.  Once again, being able to talk with Pete the whole time, was awesome.  It really made the time go by. As we got to the open area, I spotted some porta-potties and decided that might be what I need.  Lets just say that after that I was feeling much better and got a bit of a second wind.

The course is quite diverse in appearance. There are these super secluded areas with very narrow twisty switchbacks, open areas going through meadows, trails where you can run side by side while looking at a river below and then there are these huge tunnels that pass underneath bridges.  A really cool mix.  Here is one of those tunnels I took some video of while running with Pete:

As we were approaching the 2nd aid station I really started to get pretty happy.  I knew that I was only going to have 8 miles left and I was actually feeling alright.  I was moving slower, but I was going to finish this thing. When we got closer, I got an awesome surprise.  April, Abby and Sadie were able to come see me earlier than I expected.  Seeing them made me so super happy! They were cheering me on and Andy joined Pete and I for the short jog to the aid station. Everyone was there! This was all really happening. I grabbed more of the same stuff from the aid station and Pete and I were off.  4 more miles to the 3rd aid station and then 4 more miles to the finish with Andy.  I was going to finish this!

As Pete and I were running to the 3rd aid station we got to a part of the course where for about a mile you pass people going in the opposite direction out on their last loop.  This was the first time Pete and I saw anyone for a long while.  We passed about 7 or 8 people and it started to occur to me that besides being happy to be able to finish, I may be doing alright in the field.  I figured based on how much slower I was going than expected, I was right in the middle, but now I started to think maybe I was a bit closer to the front.  In fact on the same portion where we were going out, we only saw 2 people ahead of us. I started to entertain the possibility of getting an age group award.  Maybe it was possible I could get 3rd, if I got lucky with who was there.  Pete seemed to think it was possible.  I was really in good spirits at this point, regardless of whether I got an award or not.  I was 45 miles in and I was starting to feel better rather than worse. Of course I was still going pretty slow, but I was fine with this. 

The only thing that was occasionally starting to bother me were my legs were starting to cramp up. I figured this was just a matter of time, and I think the way I'd been hydrating and taking S!Caps actually held it off for pretty long.  I would feel that my hamstrings or calves would be on the verge of seizing, but then I would shorten my stride, or if it was worse I would start to walk a bit.  After a little while I would start to run again. I know from experience from my previous marathons not to stretch in this situation.  What happens then is in the process of stretching one muscle, the opposite one seizes up.  At my first marathon, I stopped to stretch my quad and got a muscle spasm in my hamstring. There are various degrees of cramping up, and this was so far completely manageable and I was not too worried.  

Pete and I arrived at the 3rd and final aid station before the finish and Andy was ready to go. I told him that it would be really slow, but that this was my favorite section of the course. I thanked Pete for being an enormous help during the hardest part of the course and he was off to drive to the finish area to meet us. I grabbed a few pretzels and Andy and I started walking the final 4 miles. The final segment starts with a pretty serious incline so we walked for a good 2 minutes while I finished eating the pretzels before we started to run.  When we got to the top of the hill, we were at the twisty, turny single track I love.  I was really feeling good and even though we were running 10 minute pace, I felt like I was flying through everything.  We walked the hills, and I would slow down or walk a bit more frequently when I felt my legs seizing up, but with every few minutes, I knew we were closer to the finish and this would all be over.  I was really in an amazing mood. I once again was enjoying being outside running on this awesome trail, this time with my friend. 

With a mile to go we saw the one and only person who passed us while we I was walking trying to recover from a muscle spasm.  After he passed, I turned back to ask Andy if he thought this guy was under 30.  He definitely thought so, trying to keep up my happy mood.  I still had the idea that there was a slight chance I could get an age group award. As we got within a mile of the finish, I really started to get excited.  I had no pain at all.  No stomach problems. As we got closer we actually started to pick up the pace. With about a quarter mile to go I turned to Andy and said "Let's do this!" And we picked it up hard. Even though my legs were still on the verge of cramping, I was able to modify my stride in a way to still run fast and I just went for it.  We crossed the finish line with the last little .18 mile split at 6:31 pace! Everyone was there and I was done! It felt incredible. And then after I finished, I got this little cherry on top of good news:

Post Race

As far as what's next? Rest.  I'll leave what my future plans are to another blog post.  If you read this far, congratulations to you! I cannot thank everyone enough who helped me and encouraged me to do this.  To my parents, thanks so much for being there and being so super supportive and not thinking this is stupid, dangerous and crazy. To Bieka, Pete and Andy who paced me through this thing, I really cannot imagine how that last loop would have gone without you. Most likely it wouldn't have. And of course, April and the girls for putting up with the training necessary for me to do this without breaking down, and then being there to motivate me through the finish. I don't know how many more times I can use the words awesome, incredible, amazing, etc. Instead I'll let these pictures and video tell the end of this ridiculously long post.

Finished, tired, happy!

Girls hanging out while waiting for their slow dad.

Feeling quite satisfied, for now


  1. Congratulations on your race and AG award. I love the detailed race report.

    1. Thanks! It was such a great day, I wanted to get down every detail so I could remember it later :)

      I see that you are doing river to sea this year. I did that last year and am doing it again this year. So much fun, but can be really hot! Good luck with all you racing!