Plenty of ups and downs along the way.
I arrived at the park only 30 minutes before the start of the race due to a late departure from home and one missed exit off Interstate 84. By the time I got my race number and put on my running shoes there was no time to put together a drop bag for the aid station. I was a little concerned about the lack of a drop bag but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise and I learned a few things about race day nutrition that I may not have otherwise.
After some brief instructions from RD Steve the go command was given and 50+ runners were off to do battle with the rocks, roots and ridges of the Metacomet trail. After about 50 yards of flat running, the course took a hard left into the woods and immediately up a long, steep climb. Everyone went into a power hike and the long line of runners snaked their way along the twisting trail. I was struck by the silence of the people around me. Most often in a race of this distance people are very chatty early on. Maybe they were all thinking about making the climb two more times during the race and were already conserving energy.
After the long climb the trail opened up into double track that dropped back down to lower elevation. After some very brief flat running the course came to another uphill section that had to be climbed using a long series of stone steps. The locals call this section “The Stairmaster” or the “Stairway to Heaven.” I was thinking more like “The Stairway to Hell” as I counted out 120 steps to the top of the hill. As if that wasn’t enough punishment, the trail continued to climb after the stair section ended. Once the climbing stopped it was onto some gnarly single-track, complete with many slick rocks and roots waiting to take down any runner making a poor foot placement.
"Stairway to Heaven" I would have preferred an escalator.
A runner thinking, "There's no way I'm climbing that two more times!"
Gnarly trail and slicker than slick rocks.
It was around mile five that I caught up to Elaine, a runner from Connecticut that I met two weeks earlier at the Northern Nipmuck trail race. We talked for a while and decided it would be a good idea if we stuck together for as long as possible to make the miles pass more quickly. In a race this long it’s common to run many miles alone so I was happy to have the company. Meeting up with Elaine may have also saved my race as she was quick to point out I should be taking it slower on the uphills and saving some energy for the later stages of the race.
Now with a runner partner, I felt the second five miles pass more quickly than the first. I also thought the second half of the loop was a little easier than the first. The climbs were not as steep and there was also a one mile stretch of pavement from mile seven to eight in the loop that made for some easy running. Even though the asphalt was badly chewed up we were able to get into a good rhythm and make up some time here. After the paved section we hit a very long but not too steep climb on a double track trail. The double track lasted about a mile and then the final mile of the loop consisted of rolling single track with a few steep climbs and descents. Elaine and I coasted into the start/finish aid station in 2:06 for our first loop. We refilled our water bottles, grabbed some food, thanked the volunteers and headed back out for our second loop.
As I mentioned earlier, not having my drop bag available with my electrolyte drinks and gels turned out to be a good thing. I learned something about ultras that my friend Steve L already knew. Ultras are just eating contests with nice scenery!
Nice view from a high ridge.
In the past I relied mainly on liquid calories from my sport drinks and gels. Without them now, I had to rely on the aid stations for fuel. I learned eating ‘real’ food works much better for me than gels alone. I was able to maintain a high level of energy throughout the race and never got that hungry, low energy feeling I usually get when I eat only gels. Drinking plain water also worked fine as I was able to maintain balanced electrolytes by eating pretzel for sodium and bananas for potassium. My total intake for the race was 4 bananas, 10 Fig Newton’s, one PB&J sandwich, 8 handfuls of pretzels, 40 oz of Heed and 120 oz of water. I also had three gels that I ate between aid stations.
I was still feeling great on the second loop but Elaine started to slow down on the climbs. I’m usually the one that has a hard time on hills but not this time. I waited up for her even though she told me a few times to go ahead. When we ended up getting separated along the way I just waited at the next aid station for about a minute and Elaine would show up still smiling. I probably could have improved on my final time if I pushed a little harder on the second loop but I would rather run with someone and have a fun time than to run 10 minutes faster in a 50K. We slowed a little on the second loop running a 2:13 for the 10.3 miles.
Sweet single-track running. (photo credit: unknown)
With 20+ miles down and 10 to go I was surprised how well I was feeling. I figured finishing would not be an issue unless I fell and got hurt. I must have jinxed myself. About a mile later I started getting pain in my right knee. Following the Merrimack River race last Sunday my knee was very sore. Even though I iced it and took Ibuprofen regularly it was still sore on Wednesday. I rested the next two day and when I woke up Saturday morning it felt fine. I thought I was in the clear but now after 21 miles the pain had returned.
The pain continued to worsen to the point where I felt like I was limping. I must have been right about that because when I passed the aid station at mile 25 a volunteer shouted out, “We have Ibuprofen here!” I took two of them and about ten minutes later the pain lessened a bit and I felt like I was running with a normal stride again. Elaine was getting tired at this point and said she just wanted this race to be over. I knew exactly how she was feeling because I’ve been there many times before. I offered some encouragement by letting her know we were almost to the next aid station and it was only three miles to the finish from there. Even though she was tired she kept up a good pace and never complained.
With two miles to go I told Elaine I was getting a little cold and was going to pick up the pace a little and I would see her at the finish line. I decided to push hard, even on the climbs. Now I just wanted this thing to be over! I noticed my knee was hurting again, especially on the downhills but I kept plugging away. The 29th mile was my fastest split of the race and so was my final 10K. When I saw the finish line I sprinted to the end while the RD and volunteers cheered me on. Elaine finished shortly after me with a huge smile on her face.
Sprinting to the finish. (photo credit: unknown)
It feels great to get the first ultra of 2010 under my belt. I’m pleased with the way I ran and amazed I have NO muscle soreness and NO tightness the day after running 31 miles. My knee is still killing me though and that concerns me. I’ll take a few days off and see how it feels by mid-week. Thanks to RDs Steve and Kevin and to all the volunteers that made this race possible. I had a great time and will be back in 2011.