Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts from my first 50 km race

Last Saturday I ran my first 50 km race at the NJ Ultra Festival that was put on by NJ Trail Series ( Though this wasn’t actually my first ultra distance, having completed 27 miles at the 2010 12 hr fat-ass at the Parsippany Hills track, it was my first 50 km race. I made it to the Long Valley Presbyterian Church early Friday evening and saw lots of friends who were going to be running a variety of distances from 50 km to 100 miles! Jessi Kennedy and Dave Lettieri were running the 100 mile race – as was Johnny Rodriguez who I first met in August at the Mahlon-Mayhem; Jonathon Wilson, Dave Kravitz, Dave Monzella, and Ron Redfield were going to be running the 50 km “with” me. With is in quotes as I knew all of them were going to finish way ahead of me. It was interesting to hear the nervousness from some of the runners and I kept thinking to myself “Why am I not feeling the same concern”. It was my first 50 km race and the last time I ran a marathon was seven years ago! Plus my longest training run was 16.5 miles – 13.1 miles at Lewis Morris Park which isn’t a place that is easy for straight running and then 3.4 miles in Kearny – not exactly the best training for a 50 km race. But I also knew I had all day to complete the distance (goal #1) and that I’ve ran my last marathon with probably less training. Surprisingly, I also thought I should be able to do this in about 7 hrs (but secretly hoping for 6 hrs).

Race morning started with me not wanting to get out of bed at 5:45 AM so I slept in for another 15 minutes. Probably a mistake since I still had to find breakfast – which I was able to do at a bagel shop about ½ mile from the hotel. I ate the bagel and drank coffee on the drive back to the church, neither of which I finished before the start. I dropped my stuff off at the start with a few minutes to spare. It was quite chilly so I donned a double layered fleece that I picked up recently. I figured if I got too warm I can always tie it around my waist.  We all received directions from the race director, Jennifer McNulty, and we were off. I started running with Dave K. at a comfortable pace of about 11 min/mile, according to his Garmin, till we hit the turn-around 3 miles later. Both of us needed to make a pit stop and at this point it was time for me to walk a bit. My strategy was to do timed run-walks. I kept debating how long I was going to run before walking – 15 minutes won out. I was running well, though my shoes kept bothering me – my toes were getting numb. This is a common occurrence for me with new shoes until they are broken in or I’ve figured the correct tightness of the laces. Luckily the course had the 50 km runners going back to the start-finish two times before we finished so I was able to change out to another pair of shoes that I brought. Of course this was a huge leap of faith on my part since I had run all of 6 miles on these shoes. I also switched out the fleece and put on the windbreaker. I was debating whether or not to wear the windbreaker but I’m glad I did – every so often clouds would obscure the sun and the wind would pick up and I would get cold.

So 6 miles done, 25 more to go! Of course the new shoes were giving me issues but not as much as the first pair. During my walk breaks I would untie my shoes to loosen up the laces. A couple times of doing that did the trick and I was able to run without any shoe issues for the rest of the race – though it wasn’t the end of my foot issues. After a while (not sure at what mileage – was I still on the western loop? Or back on the eastern loop?), my feet really started hurting. This was likely due to the lack of training and the fact that I am carrying an extra 20 pounds or so for these distances!  So I continued my run-walk, eating cut-up bits of Cliff bars and drinking water and feeling pretty good for the 15 miles or so until I ran into John Coffey who was walking as well. So I chatted with John for about 5 minutes and then I was back to running.  At this point I thought I was doing pretty well since John usually finishes races before me (and he did again, passing me for the last time towards the end of the western loop). At some point I started struggling, so I switched to 10 min run – 1 min walk, then to 5-1, and then to running when I felt good enough. I figured I was struggling because of the lack of training, but based on how I felt after getting some food at the start-finish, it was likely due to lack of food. Earlier at one of the aid stations, I ate two raspberries and all of a sudden my stomach tightened up. Not good since I still had a lot of race left! I was also getting really tired of my Cliff bar bits (I had cut a Cliff bar into 6-8 bite-size pieces and put them in a ziplock bag). So at the aid stations I would grab a strawberry or two, pick out several jelly bellies that I knew I would like (some of their flavors are just nasty!) and continue on the run. Not the best nutrition but I always felt I had energy to continue running – got to love those simple sugars that get into your blood stream quickly!

So I finished the western loop and had 9 more miles to run. Ugh! I was seriously hurting at this time – feet, legs, hips, back – you name the body part it hurt! So I just finished running much more than my training and I knew the last 9 miles were going to be a struggle. But I knew I would finish even if I had to walk the entire distance! Which of course I would never let myself do. I was hoping to keep at least a few 50 km racers behind me. I’ve been ok with finishing DFL in several races this past year but that day was not going to be one of those days! So as I continued running for a bit and walking even more, I spied a woman about a quarter mile ahead of me and I could see she was struggling. So my goal was to catch up and pass her! And I did! But at some point she ended up catching up to me again. Darn! I talked with her for a while to find out she was also running her first 50 km race. And she never ran a marathon before this, which I find totally amazing since I know how difficult a marathon could be! So while we were chatting I saw Jonathon running towards me. He had already finished his 50 km race and he decided he would run the last couple miles with me. Thanks Jon! And then Dave, who was running his first 100 mile race, joined us as well. It was nice to be running with friends again since I ran alone most of the race. Though never truly alone as I kept seeing people running in the opposite direction – we would give each other a thumbs up or a “nice job” – or someone would pass me.  So after chatting with my “competition” for a while I was back to running – and walking – with Jon. After turning the corner to the straightaway to the end, I found myself picking up the pace and “sprinting” to the finish. I finished in 7hr 11 min! Pretty much hit my target! I figured I would have been emotional about finishing my first 50 km race but I wasn’t. But I was definitely proud of what I had accomplished – and had a post-race celebration beer with friends at the race. Not everyone can run that far!

Of course, I was exhausted and quite sore but that evening I was already thinking about next year! I know that I can run faster and my training wasn’t optimal. I also need to think more about nutrition and plan better. Grabbing a bagel and coffee 45 minutes before the start of the race is not ideal. But I also have to think about nutrition during the course. The Cliff bars were pretty good but I probably need to carry something that is more readily digestible and probably should eat more often. I know a lot of people eat gels, but the thought of "eating" a think gel does not sound appealing. Though the thought of eating Powerbars used to not appeal to me, until I started long distance training and races and needed to carry food with me. So maybe I should give gels a try. I just have to find ones that I like.

I’ve already registered for my next looong distance race. I’ll be running for 12 hrs at 3 Days at the Fair in May – another race put on by NJ Trail Series. I wonder how far I'll run - 50 miles perhaps?