Ultramarathon

58) North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC 50 miler, Algonkian, VA, Apr 28th 2018

Time: 7:35:04  Place: 4/202

There are very few long distances races that I have done twice as part of the fun for me is running in new places. The opportunity to do a 50 mile race close to DC was an opportunity too good to miss in this training cycle (running high mileage as training for the #Edinburgh24 24 hour race in Edinburgh in July), especially as the Bull Run 50 had gone so well. I entered late so this was a late addition to my training / racing plan.

Preparation

Yet another race with no real taper (though I did rest on the Friday). I had run 40 miles during the week so it would be a good test of running on tired legs and I planned to not really use the watch and just run using feeling of effort to dictate pace.

Race Morning

I had forgotten how early the start time is for these races and it obviously didn’t sink in when I registered. I was in bed by 10:30 and the alarm went off at 2:30 giving me time to get ready and leave the house at 3. It is an hour drive to the parking and the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:15 for the 5am start.

Having run the miles in the week to have tired legs, the early start meant I would also be running on sleep deprivation as well – perfect training for a 24 hour race!!

I had my usual PB&J bagel on the drive and a can of coconut water. I didn’t eat as much as I normally would because of the early start, though I did have a banana on the bus.

The yellow buses to the start area were well organized and frequent. All were full of nervous runners and there was a mix of chat and people trying to catch a bit more sleep. I tried the latter camp but failed.

I handed in my drop bag (frittata, banana loaf, 2 bottles of coconut water, tailwind and nuun electrolyte tabs) for the Great Falls aid station which is passed at mile 15, 22, 29 and 36. It was cold at the start but the fire pits (and coffee) helped warm me up. There were also plenty of portajohns so no queues.

The Race

Dean Karnazes gave the pre-race briefing and there were some announcements about the wetness of the course. I had decided against my waterproof Altras as the previous year the course had been fairly dry, and instead opted for my standard Altra Lone Peaks. I started to regret the decision, though as it turned out it was a good one. Waterproof shoes would have been full of water within a mile making for a wet day!

The first part of the course is around the sports fields and there were plenty of puddle which couldn’t be avoided, after that the course follows a trail (via a small lollipop extension) along the river to Great Falls. The track was mostly dry to begin with but with large puddles and at one point a large river. The person in front of me ran straight through it and I had a quick look for an alternative but didn’t see one. The water was half way up my shins! It was only on the way back in the daylight that I realized there was a large bridge just off the trail in the wood!!!

The puddles continued on and off for the rest of the course until Great Falls but my feet were drying out enough between puddles to not cause me problems.

I had started off at a comfortable pace that I felt I could continue with for the full length of the race. There were a couple of people around me though I was mostly running on my own and knew I was fairly high up the field.

I was carrying 2×12 oz bottles of Tailwind, a bladder of electrolyte in my Nathan pack and had a frittata and slice of banana bread to get me to Great Falls meaning I could run through the aid stations. The route along the river is mostly runnable with a couple of steep hill sections where I walked.

The early start had played havoc with my usual morning routine but there was a well placed restroom on the run into Great Falls. I was feeling good and the weather was perfect, cool and misty but not too cold. I dropped off my head torch (Foxelli – which worked really well as always) grabbed another frittata and set off on the first of three loops in the park. There are three out and back sections so it gives the opportunity to see where you are in the field and give / get encouragement from other runners.

I was feeling good and passing people and the nutrition plan was working well (frittata / banana loaf every 45 mins or so combined with a half tailwind. I stopped at the end of the first lap to fill my tailwind, grabbed more food and continued into the second lap. I could see some people were gaining on me but tried to ignore it as the goal was to run a steady pace. On the second lap the trails were starting to become crowded as more runners entered the loops, followed by the 50k runners which made pacing harder on the third lap on some of the narrow trails. The sun had come out by then and the temperature was increasing. I was still passing people who I recognized had been ahead of me but didn’t know what place I was in.

I stopped at the end of the third loop to put the last contents of my drop bag into my pack and to top my bottles and bladder for the run back along the river.

I passed a couple more people and lots of 50k runners on the trails back to the start and was also meeting marathon runners on their way out which made for busy trails, though never enough to impact on my pace.

I was starting to feel the weeks mileage in my legs after leaving Great Falls. I was running the flats but was also grateful for the steep uphills to give me an excuse to walk. The heat was getting to me by this point so I was surviving on tailwind and electrolytes. The last 10 miles became a mental exercise of focusing on the next mile at the current pace and ticking them off. By this point I knew that I was up on my previous years time and that a PR for the distance was within my grasp but I kept pulling my focus back to the next mile so that I didn’t blow up.

A mile and a half from the finish line, 50k runners go straight on and 50 mile runners do the same 2 mile lollipop as on the way out. As I was running up the stick I met a 50 mile runner coming the other way who told me I was in fourth place. I knew there was someone coming into the previous aid station as I was leaving it so I decided to push on as best I could for the last couple of miles. The final few miles looked very different in the daylight but there was still plenty of water that couldn’t be avoided, and I ran back through the river, ignoring the bridge!! The final downhill across the sports fields to the finish felt good and I crossed the line in 4th place in 7:35:04, almost 25 minutes quicker than the previous year and my quickest 50 mile race by 18 minutes.

The finish line festival was very welcome. I wandered around trying to rehydrate and enjoyed the complimentary food (good vegetarian options) but skipped the free beer because of the drive back. The ice buckets for tired feet were very welcome but the queues were too long for the massage suits.

Learning points

My high mileage training and four 20 minute weight training sessions a week seem to be paying off.

Another race where running on feel rather than focusing on time has meant running quicker.

Waterproof shoes are great for winter running but breathable shoes dry quicker in warm weather with large puddles.

Put the head torch on full beam to check for bridges over large rivers!!

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