I've always felt that to use the word "epic", you needed to have accomplished something that goes beyond being merely "hard". Well, I'm using that work today. My Sulphur Springs 50 miles race was friggin' EPIC!
For the first time ever before a race, I actually had trouble sleeping. A 50k run is only a bit over a marathon. Going another 30km beyond THAT had me a bit worried. I had done the training but I was very aware that other factors would come into play. Weather, nutrition, hills, paceing, to name a few. I got up at 3:45am and performed my morning ritual: Cliff bar, lube, tape nipples. I replaced my traditional double expresso with two Excedrins. I read that cafeine from a cup of coffee is not very effective as a sport stimulant. Excedrin has caffeine, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I was worried about my Achilles tendon so I decided to do some pain management.
I loaded the rental car and drove to Ancaster, a small town about an hour from Toronto. When I got there, I met Marty (http://42at42.blogspot.com/) who was running the 10k. We grabbed out bibs and shot the shit for a while and then it was time for me to go. I put on my Nathan hydration vest, hat and sunglasses (with yellow lenses) and lined up. The 6am start was for the 50 and 100 milers. There were about 50 of each and we gathered at the start line. AT 6am sharp we got going.
I don't know how to relate the race. I don't want to go into a minute by the minute description, but I will described flashes that I remember from the event.
The course was a 20km (12.5 miles) loop. We were to run 4 loops, the 100 milers 8 loops. The couse has a 1633 feet elevation gain per loop. That over a MILE of gain over the 50 miles. Very little of the course was flat. I walked evey single hill. I ran down the hills as fast as I dared, which mean gradually slower as I stopped trusting my leg muscles.
I lost count of how many times I stubbed my toes on roots. My big toes would get crushed in the front of the toe box and that hurt like hell. I'm pretty sure I will lose my right big toe nail. I might keep the left one, which just finished growing back. I fell only once, just as I started loop 3. I have no idea what happened, the root was sticking out, in plain sight. I got a pretty nasty scratch on my right arm but it wasn't bleeding much. I cleaned myself with some baby wipes and kept going.
I found the second loop annoying because by then, the 10km, 25km and 50km runners were on the course, passing me like I was standing still. By loop 3, it was pretty much only the 50km and up runners and that pretty much ended, except for the occasional 100 mile-relay runner just motoring down the course.
I'm always amazed by the volunteers. Some are not even runners, but they stay there all day and night, cheering more and more as the runners get tired. During my 4th loop, a volunteer had just come back from buying freezes. I've never had anything better during a race. So cold and sweet! At the time, that was just what I needed and those 2 freezes just made my day.
I found it weird to run 50 miles at the same time as the 100 milers because it made me almost feel lazy for running only 50. Early in the race, I ran with a few 100 milers but after the first loop, no one is willing to compromize their pace and most people end up running by themselves. My pace was similar to a woman who was also running her first 50 miler and we ran about a third of each loop together and then somehow one would fall behind for some reason.
I didn't experience any race-threatening events. My feet got increasingly sore, as I expected, but my Achilles was never an issue. After the third loop, I went to my chair and popped 2 more Excedrins. They never got rid of the pain completely but they helped. The constant pounding, especially when running downhill, becomes a bit overwhelming. At the very end, my lower back was a bit achy, possibly as the result of my face plant earlier, but nothing dramatic. No blistering to speak of. I had taped my big toes and the arch of both feet.
I think I did well with my nutrition. I ate a few gels early in the race because most of the aid stations didn't have the good stuff available until later in the race. Starting with the second loop, I survived on a diet of potatoe wedged dipped in salt, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watermelon, coke, ginger ale and yes, the occasional freezy. I did force a Cliff bar down during the 3rd loop but I could do it after that. I had a few Honey Stingers and Jelly Bellies as well. The last loop was the hardest because you are so sick of eating and drinking. The end is near and you think you can just power through those last miles. I don't think you can. After the first two loops, I felt like my body found some kind of equilibrium that allowed me to expand a limited amount of energy over a long period of time. At time, you can feel that you are getting close to crashing. Halfway through the last loop I got a bit queezy and had to force myself to get eating again. This is a time where you can't listen to your body, because all it wants to do is stop. You just want it back into the zone again.
For the first time ever, I didn't wear my Garmin Forerunner GPS. I wore a watch and I almost regretted wearing that because at the end, I got close (or I thought I did) to running under 10 hours and I spent way too much time trying to make myself go faster, which was simply not in the cards. In other loop races, I might consider not wearing a watch at all.
I did not experience any great revelation or hidden wisdom. Toward the end I did doubt about my sanity for doing something like this. Then I would see a hundred miler (they had the bib numbers 1 to 50ish) and I knew I was at least smarter than him (or her). Listening to music left me wanting to scream or cry as my emotions got a bit out of control, not that I was elated or anything like that. It was more like I had difficulty controlling them. At some point, I felt like if I had a good cry (alone in the bush), everything would be all better.
The finish was at the top of a nasty hill, which I had walked on previous loops but decided to run this time. I was happy to be done.
I finished 25th, out of 46 50 milers. I was 9th out of 16 in my age group (40-49).
My laps were
1: 2:18:31 2:18:31 2: 2:28:37 4:47:08 3: 2:35:46 7:22:53 4: 2:43:29
My finish time was 10:06:22, which is pretty much my A goal (close to 10 hours). I might have been a bit too fast on the first loop, but other than that, I don't think I could have improved anything else. You just feel so strong on the first loop.
Now the hard question is going to be: what next? I'm not sure. I will probably run other 50 milers, possibly go for 100 miles, but I'm not sure when. I need to see how long it will take for me to recover. I am switching to triathlon training and I will see how much running my body can take.