After a long, hot summer of racing, I found myself at the start of the New River 50K Trail Run last Saturday rocking the Smartwool beanie, gloves and a long sleeve base layer! Temps at the start were hovering around 40 degrees and fog had settled in around the banks of the New River. As usual, I was joined by my "5am" compatriots Lauren and Mo, plus our friend Bill had joined us on the ride up and would be running the 50K along with us.
The 3 Amigos! Photo courtesy of L. Wilkins
Lauren had run the race last year in 5:47, her 50K PR, and had her sights set on beating that time this year. Mo had just been told she had Bronchitis the day before, and was primarily focused on finishing. Me, I was coming off 86 miles at Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run two weeks prior. "The course is flat" they said. "You will get a PR" they said. I was trying not to get too caught up in the "flat/fast" hoopla. I knew if I did, I would go out too hard and probably blow up. Waking up race day morning with a slight sore throat and stuffy nose was also a cause for concern, but being a true Irishman, I kept those feeling to myself and soldiered on.
So off we went into the cool Virginia morning. The first several miles were great, and soon Lauren had separated from me and Mo and was up ahead and looking strong. I felt good, although I kept looking at the 9:30 miles we were ticking off and realized I was sipping freely from the "PR Koolaid"
Me and Mo, on the go! Photo by L. Wilkins
I knew I had better ease off a bit, not quite knowing what my stamina might be at the end of the race. It was about this time our friend Bill came gliding past us. A cagey cycling veteran, Bill likes to start from the back, let the herd thin out, and then motor his way through the pack. He is also blessed with a long stride, so my choppy little ultra pace was no match for him.
Bill in full "Stealth" mode! Photo by L. Wilkins
Mo and I were still holding sub 10 min/miles as we came through the first aid station around mile 6. Curiously, Mo was not showing any weakness for someone as sick as she was. Sure, there was the lung scraping coughing jags, but her strength and stamina appeared to be unaffected. I, on the other hand, really started feeling like crap! I had not drank much, and was in need of some fuel. I downed a gel, hoping that would provide a spark, and focused on drinking more often from my hand held. It was not long after this that my pace slowed and I watched as Mo slipped out of sight ahead of me on the trail.
The allure of a flat course can be a double edge sword. Yes, you can run faster. There are no oxygen sucking climbs and quad screaming descents. You are, however, using the same core group of muscles the entire time. I found it to be quite a grind, both physically and mentally. Looking back on my Garmin stats, we only gained 921 feet of elevation over 31 miles. Flat indeed.
I was now running by myself, churning out the miles, head down. The scenery was beautiful, but my mind was focused on getting my ass to the next aid station for some more fuel and to top off the water bottle. The mental battle was now on. The first victory was hitting 10 miles. The second was hitting the half way point at mile 15, and the aid station at mile 15.94, where I saw the the familiar faces of Barefoot Josh and his wife Iris. (you can check out Josh's excellent blog at: http://www.barefootjosh.com/) Josh filled up my water bottle, I downed a gel and off I went. The next little victory would be reaching the Cliffview Turnaround at mile 17.
Josh and Iris at the AS
Not long after the aid station, I was starting to have to suppress thoughts of dropping at the turnaround. I had a drop (no pun intended) bag there with dry clothes. The leaders were already flying by in the opposite direction, looking strong. I knew before long I would be seeing Lauren, Bill and Mo.
Bill came by first, cruising along with his earphones in. Not long after I saw Lauren, still running well. I remember telling her I was "dyin'" and she told me the turnaround was not much further. I had still not reached the turnaround when I saw Mo, strong and steady coming my way. I believe I asked her "where the $#@^ is the turnaround?"
Finally. The Cliffview turnaround. I didn't even look for my drop bag. I handed someone my bottle to refill, grabbed a quick snack and headed back out. I rationalized that if I just kept going after the turnaround, I would eventually grind my way to the finish. It was a split second moment of clarity.
Now I was passing folks on their way to the turnaround. I took slight comfort in the fact that I could now see that others were toiling as well. I continued to rumble down the trail.
"Welcome to mile 20!" was the greeting bestowed on me from Josh as I doubled back through his aid station. More fluid and gels. Back on my way. The next several miles was a series of ups and downs for me. I would run at a nice pace, thinking I had gotten my groove back, only to slow to a walk. It was sort of like a low self esteem Galloway method.
It was right around mile 22 I started to catch some folks. This did perk me up a little, and I wound up passing 5 people between mile 22 and 26. Then came the marathon split, which I came through in 4:53:59. WTF? I could still PR for 50K! (Previous best was 6:08 at Derby 50K) Energized, I took off running from the marathon split. That lasted about 1/4 mile. The New River Trail was not done with me yet.
The remaining miles were a mix of ultra shuffle and walking. I did suffer a minor bout of trail tourrete's along the last two miles as I shuffled and muttered. Where is the GD #$%!!** finish!?!?! Then, one last foot bridge and the finish line beckoned! I was done. 5:53:03 a New PR!
That one hurt!
Crossing the line! Photo by L. Wilkins
I am also happy to report that Lauren, Mo and Bill had PR's too!
A big thanks to Annette Bednosky (RD) and all the volunteers and crew!
For more info on the race: http://www.ncnr.org/nrt50k.html