My current 3:00:07 marathon PR may stand forever. The trails are where it's at!
Some background info:
The North Face Endurance Challenge-Madison is held closer to Milwaukee in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. There are 50 Mile, 50K, Half Marathon, and 10K events, with staggered starts, throughout the day. The 50K course is a mixture of horse trails, cross country ski trails, and the famous (and my personal favorite) Ice Age Trail. The first mile is from Ottawa Lake State Park to the horse trail via road. From Mile 1.1 to 6.6 (My mileage may be a bit off on all of this, but it's close), we run on a rolling cross country ski trail, then we do a 4 mile (again, estimation) out and back on a sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky, always rolling horse trail, before spending the next 7 miles on the Ice Age Trail (single track...the BEST) through the "prairies" that anyone who's followed the Kettle 100 know about. At about mile 19 the course returns to the horse trail, which is a wide, rolling (this portion includes the biggest climbs of the day), sandy/muddy/rocky trail with an occasional jaunt alongside a corn field. Aid stations are fully stocked and about every 5 miles. The previous North Face events had gotten mixed reviews because of course marking. In fact, last year's "Madison" 50 Mile winner got lost.
I really needed to take a new approach to this event, as my last two FAILS at breaking 3 hours had really left a bad taste in my mouth. This event was going to be fun DAMN IT! I wanted to start fueling with Gu and Water immediately at the start, rather than wait and fall behind. I also wanted to smile a lot and finish STRONG for the first time in a while.
Ellie (and the little bitty baby in her belly the size fig or a lime at this point, depending which iPhone App you look at) and I came down to Milwaukee on Friday night and battled about 10 car accidents (not us, others) around Milwaukee. The local traffic guy went from saying "slow" to "bad" to "horrible" to "what is going ON OUT THERE!?" over the course of 20 minutes. We also made our first stop at Babies 'R' Us. I checked out the jogger strollers. The packet pick up was held at Laacke & Joys, a local outdoor (and outdoor furniture) retailer. An ultrarunning expert panel was scheduled to speak starting at 6:30, so we arrived about 6:15. After getting my stuff (including some amazing bonuses--a retail $30 North Face Shirt and some nice socks), we sat down to hear the presenters. Unfortunately, Dean was nowhere to be found--likely a casualty of the traffic situation-- and the panel didn't include Tim Twietmeyer (who I really wanted to meet...more on that later), so Ellie (and the lil bitty baby) and I ended up taking off after the talk didn't start by 6:45. I was hoping to see a couple people I knew were running also (Brad, Jerry), but no luck. Ellie and I found dinner (for me, a Broccoli Penne and a glass of "Red Blend" wine--sorry, G--which made Ellie (and the bitty), ever the
Edited note: A post-post wine search found that a bottle of said wine costs $10. My glass was $7.
We were in bed by 9:15, and I slept great at our hotel that night.
Start-Scuppernong (Miles 0-6.6)
We were at the start line at Ottawa Lake State Park with about 30 minutes to spare. It was cold and windy, but I decided that I'd wear just shorts and a long sleeve shirt-no tights or layers over the top of the shirt (no evening gloves either). I figured as soon as I got running, I'd be warm enough. Good call. I had 5 Gels in one pocket, two packs of Shot Bloks in the other, and then about 15 SCaps (haha, not sure why I grabbed that many) in a third pocket. I had a 4th pocket empty to use for discarded Gels. The shorts are Pearl Izumi Infinity Long Distance and were fantastic. The pockets are designed very well, allowing for a LOT of cargo inside but not bouncing all over the place when I'm running. The fact I had the majority of my fueling on me allowed me to simply exchange bottles with Ellie (and the bitty) at aid stations and keep going. I passed a lot of people at aid stations today. As the announcer started us off, I went to hit "start" on the Garmin, only to find that it had reverted back to hibernate mode, where it just shows the time. This forced me to step aside and let everyone pass as I waited for it to "Find Satellites" and then appear in stopwatch mode. Very annoying, especially when one is CHOMPING at the bit to get going! Finally I was off and running after getting a couple looks from other runners wondering why I made my way to the front, only to step aside.
The race starts with about a mile (maybe a bit less) of road running before reaching the trail. I happened upon Jerry early on, and he congratulated me on the big news. Once again I was smiling ear to ear.
Soon enough we were onto the horse trail and beginning a slow and steady climb. I was sure to keep things nice and mellow. After running the majority of the course earlier this summer, I knew that the most difficult section of the course was the horse trail portion from about mile 19 to the finish. I decided I wouldn't pass ANYONE on an uphill until that last horse trail section. This strategy lasted about a mile, but at least I felt guilty every time I broke it. All in all it was a pretty uneventful segment of the run, and I returned to Aid Station 1 (Mile 6.6) in 57:27. In this time I'd taken in 1.5 gels and emptied my 21 oz water bottle. Right on schedule with that. Ellie (and the bitty) had another bottle ready for me, so I quickly got rid of the gloves I was wearing, changed out the water bottle, and started off on the second loop, about 4.5 miles long.
Horse Trail Section 1 (Miles 6.6-11.1)
As I left the aid station, I was amazed at how many volunteers were around. They were all enthusiastic and cheering and helpful, and I almost felt bad not needing them at all and just having Ellie (a.t.b.) help.
This section of horse trail has some pretty sandy sections, but it was all packed in from the week of rain we had received. Easy running, and I kept the pace easy, again deciding not to pass ANYONE on uphills. I got passed by a couple guys who were FLYING. One was only carrying an iPod--no water, and was already sweated through the upper half of his fleece like sweatshirt. I figured I'd see him again. I continued on, taking a bit of gel and a mouthful of water every 5 minutes. An hour into the race, which happened shortly into this section, I also took in an SCap. My heart rate was a steady 140-155 which is right where I want to be. I began to think about pace at this point, but had no idea of any splits I was aiming for other than where I wanted to be at the Mile 16.4 Aid Station, so I simply reminded myself to enjoy the trail, keep the pace and stride easy, and wait on the tough trail section at the end. That mindset was so wonderful after fretting over mile-by-mile splits during Fox Cities and Twin Cities Marathons.
This section of the course is a bit of a lolly pop, where you run out, then make a loop back, and return onto the original "out" portion, but a bit closer where you started. Make sense? I was a bit worried about this section of trail, as when I tried to run it earlier in the summer, I got myself lost. This time, however, the course was marked great, and at one particular spot where one might get confused, there were 5 volunteers making sure I knew where I was going. As we continued on, making our way back towards where we started, we passed two runners with blue bibs (50K) running the opposite direction. Oops. I'm not sure how they got turned around, but I figured they'd continue on the course and cover the same distance, just backwards. At any rate, I continued along and eventually made my way back to the next aid station.
Ice Age Trail (Miles 11.1 - 18)
Finally, after another water exchange with Ellie (a. t. b.) I was on to my favorite running surface...the Ice Age Trail. This is the only section of the course on the IAT, and with the rest being wide ski/horse trails, I was really looking forward to it. I love the twisting and turning and subtle undulations that come with single track trails. On my previous run this summer, I easily ran this section at 7:30 to 7:45 pace. That wasn't the case today because of all the rain this week. It was sloppy and muddy, so I paid very close and careful attention to the boardwalks. I kept a nice and easy pace and really enjoyed the scenery, including the specs of blaze orange in the praries signifying hunters with their dogs, looking for birds. The occasional shotgun blast wasn't all that great, but all in all I really injoyed this part of the run. I was sure to keep my gel/water going every 5 minutes and found myself disappointed to reach the Wilton Aid Station and knowing that the time on the Ice Age Trail was almost over.
At Wilton, Ellie (atb) and my parents were nowhere to be found. Not thinking clearly, I walked through the aid station and made my way back to the trail, never re-filling my water bottle. That was dumb. Unless they were able to find me on one of the roads, I wouldn't have the option for water until Mile 21, about an hour away. I did notice that my Mile 16.4 (Wilton Road) split time was 2:21:something, so I had to be close to a 4:30 pace.
Horse Trails (Miles 19-25)
I still had plenty of Gel and SCaps for this section, but was very, very low on water. By this time I was getting pretty sick of the nuun flavoring I was using, also. Cold, Ice Water really sounded good. I knew the next aid was at 22, and having missed my chance to refill water at Mile 16, I figured I better take in what sugar and salt I could while I still had water. I took an SCap and a bit of Gel and finished my water bottle. This was a mistake. My fueling had been great up until this point, but I think the extra salt in my gut started pulling water into my gut. I was very nauseous for about 15-20 minutes around Mile 19. I even coughed and dry heaved a bit. Not cool. Like in most races, though, the low points come, and they will pass, so I just kept working, watching my HR, and things started to come around by the time Ellie (atb) and my parents caught back up at a road crossing around Mile 21. Ellie had a bottle of nuun ready for me, which I wasn't all that excited about, but I took it and told them to meet me at the next aid station (Mile 21.9). While only a mile in length, this part of the trail provided quite a lift for me. First, I caught a single 50K runner, and then 2 more (one of which was stopped for a #2 break right there on the trail). That lifted my spirits a bit to be passing people. Then, the sloppy and rocky and muddy hills I had been on for the last 3-4 miles opened up into corn fields, where the terrain was much friendlier. Ahead, I could see the next aid station, where I knew WATER...ICE. COLD. WATER...was waiting for me. My stomach still wasn't quite right, but, like I said, it was improving, and that helped.
I went through the Aid Station and continued on, knowing that the course was much tamer from here, in. There weren't many muddy and rocky sections but instead the course was more of the edges of farm fields. I had one more aid station to reach at Piper Road, Mile 27. I was able to continuously run and was hoping to catch a couple more 50K runners as I went. I figured I was someplace in the top 20-30, and knowing I had run smart thus far, I was hoping some of the people ahead of me would start to come back to me.
Horse Trails (Miles 25-Finish)
At about Mile 26, I passed Timmy Parr. Yes, that Timmy Parr.
Never mind he was running the 50 Mile and had started 2 hours earlier. Or that he would run those 50 Miles at about a minute faster pace than I would run the 50K. Never mind that. I passed him.
I introduced myself and got to talk to him for a bit on the trail. He shared he was in second, with Sal Bautista leading. (Sal ended up winning in 6:01 for 50 miles. Is that even POSSIBLE? Holy Crap!) Timmy said he wasn't feeling so great and wasn't planning on running another race for a while. I can't blame him, based on his schedule for this year.
Talking to him was definitely the highlight of the run so far.
I came into Piper Aid Station (Mile 27.2) and was doing well again, despite the look on my face here.
My stomach had come around, and I felt better mentally after meeting such a great runner on the trail. I grabbed a PBJ sandwich from the aid station, having become nauseous at the thought of another swig of Chocolate Outrage Gu (I had downed 5 already). The PBJ didn't taste good at all, though, and after only a couple bites, I tossed it. My bottle was refilled with cold water, and it was time to get home.
The final couple miles of the course are shared by all of the events, and upon reaching Mile 28.5, I was now passing 10K and Half Marathon runners. As I'd pass them, I would glance at the color of their bibs. 50K was blue, but I was only seeing red and yellow. Damn.
Finally, I was to about mile 29.5, where I was at the top of that steady incline I mentioned at the beginning of the race. This time I was going down it. This was awesome! I simply trusted my legs and let them go and, according to Garmin, was running anywhere from 6:15 to 6:50 pace down the hill, this late into the 50K. Splendid! The same part of the course was travelled at 13 minute pace on the way out. As I smiled and flew down the hill, I was still keeping my eyes out for any blue bibs. No such luck, until I started to gain on a runner with very dirty legs who kept looking over his shoulder.
I slowly gained on him, knowing that anytime someone is looking over their shoulder, they're tired. I was only about 25 feet behind him when we reached the last 3/4 mile, which is on the roads. Still gaining, but still behind him, I wasn't really trying to push that hard to the finish mainly because, in my mind, what's the difference between finishing 18th and 19th, right? As I mentioned earlier, I thought I was top 20, at best.
Into the last 100 yards, I finally caught him, and said to him, "Come on, let's go, we got this!" I was trying to inspire him to finish strong with me, but looking back, he probably thought I was being a jerk. Nonetheless, I sprinted in to the finish, not looking over my shoulder at all, and while the form wasn't pretty, it felt SO GOOD to finish strong! Fantastic!
Race Results (4:26:34, 7th Overall, 3rd Age Group)
My Aid Station Splits and Garmin Data