Monday, March 9, 2009

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K

Ok, this is the long version.

Well, it's done. Last Friday, my daughter and I packed our bags and drove all the way from Toronto down to Washington DC for the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K. I signed up for the 50k, to use as a long training run in my training for a 50 Miler later this Spring.

I admit it: I was a bit cocky. I thought I had it all planned out: nutrition, pace, foot care. My experience with the road marathon had been fairly benign. Although it was a tiring race, everything had gone according to plan and I finished within 2 minutes of my plan. Well, this was not to be in this race!

 My plan was to try to maintain an average of 9:40/mile. Given the fact that the course elevation profile was generally down, this somehow seemed reasonable to me. I didn't just make that pace up: this is the pace I should be able to maintain according to the pace tables in a number of books. Of course, those books are based on road races, not hilly trail races.

I was wearing my Nathan Hydration vest, with the pouch about half full (1 liter). In one of the pockets, I had a plastic bag containing about 20 Cliff Shot Blocks. For more substantial food I decided to rely on the aid stations. I was wearing a watch, my Garmin 305 as well as the HR strap. The night before, I had taped the underside of my feet, the big toes and the pinky toes using Kinesio tape. I put my Injinji socks on and slept with them on. As for shoes, I was wearing my La Sportiva Crosslites and my new gaiters.

There were about 200 runners signed up for the 50k and about 80 for the marathon. The course is point to point (see map below). We parked at the finish and were bused to the start. The weather was almost too nice: sunny, about 60 degrees with a maximum around 70.

From Running

Let's just say that the first half went well and I maintained my planned pace. For the first 25k, I maintained an average of 6:10/mile. As planned, I took a 3 minutes break after every 5 miles on top of a quick break at the aid stations. But at around 20 miles, things started to change. It became obvious that I had made a big mistake when I picked my pace. To maintain that speed, I had to go up the hills fairly fast. It seemed easy enough early on. Big mistake. By mile 20, going up OR down a hill was not so easy anymore. I was drinking and eating at and between aid stations but things became progressively harder. By mile 25, my feet were hurting, not from blisters but from the constant pounding. I was not running up ANY hills. 

From Running

At mile 26, the marathon distance, someone at the aid station said: "Only seven miles to go!". WHAT? FIVE, FIVE miles. He then informed me that the distance might be a bit longer than 50k. Almost 2 extra miles. That news nearly destroyed me mentally.
From Running

It's not like I'm the only moron. I'm actually passing quite a few people, mostly marathoners who didn't run the extra loop at mile 15 but also a few 50k people. Not that many people are passing me. It's confusing because there's a lot of back and forth, but I'd say about 5 people passed me and and stayed ahead until the finish. 

Now time stopped. I look at my Garmin: 48.03km, I run for a LONG time and I look again: 48.17km. I shit you not, that how it felt. Going up hill was murder. Going down hill was killing my quads. I hated flats because I had to run them. It actually hurt to breathe, I felt like I had pulled my friggin diaphragm. Even my balls hurt for Pete's sake. I catch up to a girl I've passed at least 3 times and I just stay behind her. We just run slowly without talking. Walk uphill, run flats, jog carefully downhill. Then, at 30.5 miles, an aid station, just to mock us. We're supposed to SEE the finish from here, but we're told that we still have 3 miles to go. I actually tried to bargain with a volunteer! Tell me it's TWO miles, have some heart, COME ON! I put a bit of water in my vest, I grab a salt tablet, some food and I get going. 

I get to the trail and there are giant fucking stairs. The steps are like, two feet high. How the hell am I supposed to climb this? Of course, I do. I run, run. I see a guy walking ahead of me. As I get closer he hears me and tries to jog a bit but I can tell he's just spent. I look at some bushes and I wonder if it would help if I laid down in them and cried for a minute. No, it would be too hard to get up. 

This is the low point of the race for me. I begin to think that there's no way I can ever run 50 miles just a couple of months from now. I turn my thoughts away from that and decide to not decide anything today. I get to the road and I know this is it. One mile to go. It's on hard surface and my feet are just screaming. At 22 miles, I tried to find the Advil I had stashed somewhere in my vest but couldn't find it. Now I would welcome the relief.

From Running

I sprint the last half mile at 10:00 min/mile. I tried to go faster but breathing hurts too much. My solar plexus is on fire. I finish the race in 6hr 12min and change. They handed me a card that said I was 50th (out of about 150). Quite frankly, I didn't give a crap. I was just happy it was over. I had to wait until I downloaded the race data before I figured out my time.

When I sat down, both thighs immediately cramped. I was surprised because I never had a cramp before. It took at least 20 minutes before I was able to untie my shoes and change my socks.

Lessons learned

I did a few things right in that race, but mostly I I was way off.

The things I did right

  • My feet were fine. I did not have a single blister. I'm thinking next time I will tape all the toes.

  • The vest worked well. I can't imagine running holding a bottle for that distance, plus, I enjoy the storage capacity.

Things I did wrong

  • Picking a pace in a trail run was just stupid. I have to keep my exertion level low from the start. I don't know if I could have finished faster, but I'm pretty sure I could have been more comfortable.

  • I don't think I will wear my Garmin GPS again. Maybe just for HR monitoring, but I don't want to know how far I've run or how far I have left to go. It was basically useless, just inflicting mental pain. Aid station to aid station is the way to go.

  • I have to start training in trails as soon as possible. My legs were not ready for this.

  • My nutrition plan sucks. I got so tired of those Cliff bloks it wasn't even funny. I'm going to experiment with drinking Accelerade instead of water. I also have to bring more substantial food and/or eat it at aid stations. Also, I'm not sure I drank enough. I don't think I got dehydrated but I have to make sure I drink enough to assimilate the food. 

  • I spent way too much time at the aid stations. I should drink quick whatever I want, grab something and run out of there, or at least walk out. All in all I must have spent 20 minutes at the various aid stations. It's not a buffet.

Things I learned

  • In a longer race, I'm not sure how I can take care of my feet myself without cramping. I'm going to try to convince my daughter to learn how to tape.

  • Taking Tylenol before the race might be a good idea. Bring an extra one or two if it's a long race.

  • I can do this.  All I need to do is finish my training and apply what I learned in this race.
So this is it. Like a bad dream, the negative emotions from the race are dissipating. I remember being in pain and tired, but it doesn't bother me anymore. Can't wait for the next race!
From Running

PS.  Official results: 

Time: 6:12:42  (the winner ran it in 4:17:12)
42nd male out of 108
49th runner out of 137
8/16 men 40-44 AG


42at42 said...

Alright JD, good job. Trail ultra is my goal one day.

Caroline Novak said...

Wow, what an interesting race report!! Can't believe those extra 2 miles just somehow got added on, that'd really be a bit of a mind game. And the stairs near the end!

I can really see what you're saying about the Garmin. Most runners I know rely on the Garmin, but I refuse to get one because it can just be too much information :)

I appreciate you sharing all the things that stand out for you in terms of training and race day - very cool.

Anonymous said...

Nice job JD. It's a good thing we runners (especially ultrarunners) have an awful memory.. otherwise we wouldn't do what we do :)

I've been going back to the trails and holy moly! I am quite challenged by the hills and need to do substantial training.

I did my first long run Saturday since coming back from my piriformis problem last fall (I got lost and ran 29 miles instead of 26...oops).

I look forward to hearing more about your training!


Anonymous said...


I ran the "marathon", which was close to 29 miles. I had a similar experience to you in that I started out feeling great and crashed towards the end. The weather hit me really hard. After training for the last 3 months in 20-30 F weather, my body just wasn't ready for the 70 F temperature.

This was my first trail race (and my first race of any sort longer than 10 K) I was miserable after the race, swore I'd never run again, but I'm already planning on running the race again next year.

Don Libes said...

Great race report! You'll be amused to hear the course is being run in reverse from now on. In other words, uphill overall!