Friday, February 29, 2008

Buckeye 50K Winter Trail Fun Run - REPORT

Friday January 25th, 6 pm, my wife asked me: “Are you sure you want to do this?” “This” refers to waking up in the crack of dawn and going out on a 20F weather to run for 6 hours, to cover 31 miles on snow/ice packed trails. A reasonable question to ask, even coming from a runner.

To understand how I ended up in this situation, we have to go back a few months. My association with trail running started last summer when I saw a notice about a group (organized by Vertical Runner) training for the 50K Summer Trail race. Without any previous trail-running experience I joined the group, completed the training runs, and, with some hesitation, signed up for the race. The weather on race day was beautiful, sunny and cool. I had a great time and finished with the respectable time of 5:15. Not only was I not injured (as I had feared) but I recovered right away. After that, I became a trail-running enthusiast.

So I had no hesitation to sign up for the Winter 50K run. But, as I soon learned, winter trail-running is very different than summer trail-running. Depending on the temperature, rain and/or snowfall, the trails can be muddy, or covered with snow and/or ice, which makes running a lot harder and less enjoyable.

Training for the Winter 50K was tough. I refused to run in the rain or when the trails were flooded or with too much snow or ice. I had to train mostly on my own, running weird days and times, like middle of the week, early afternoon, a mix or roads and trails. My longest run was 20 miles which I did twice, two days apart, a week before the race. My longest run on the trail was only 16 miles. My mileage peaked one week before the race and I took it easy the week of the race. To get back to my wife’s question, yes, I was as ready as I could possibly be. I would not miss it after all this training. So, there I was, at the Boston Store, ready to go at 7:00 am.

The race route consists of 2 “loops” (out and back actually). The short loop (S - From Boston to Brandywine Falls, top part of the map) is 5 miles and the long loop (L - From Boston to Pine Lane, bottom part of the map) is 8. Runners can run for 1/2M, 18 miles, Marathon, or 50K, depending on how many loops they do. It goes like this: S + L = 1/2M + S = 18 + L = Marathon + S = 50K. So to complete the 50K you had to run the small loop 3 times and the large loop 2 times.

Everyone pays the same entry fee and gets the same beautiful “Brooks hunter green warm up jacket”. It does not really matter what you signed for. You can always complete a different distance. This opens the possibility of stopping the run earlier if things don’t go well, or keep going for more if you feel like it.

About 100 people signed for the 50K & marathon and 100 people for the 1/2 Marathon. To make things easier, the two groups started in opposite directions. The race is labeled "Fun Run". We had timing chips but at the end, we had to tell them how much distance we covered (the chips only gave our final time.) There were no awards. The nice jacket and the pride of finishing a challenging race was our reward.

Before the race I ate a good breakfast and filled my carry-on bottle with fresh orange juice. There were aid stations every 3-4 miles where I would fill my bottle. This is the first time I ran carrying a bottle and it helps distribute fluids more evenly. I ended up eating chocolate cake and drinking Mountain Dew. A terrible diet for a runner, but it felt great during the run.

This is also the first time I ran with an MP3 player so I can listen to the radio. Around 10 am I was laughing, listening to “Car Talk”. After 3 hours of running, the other runners must have thought that I was losing my mind at this point.

The temperature the week before the race was in the 20s so the ground was frozen. The morning of the race the temperature was 20F and it went up to 25F, so it stayed well below freezing. According to some runners, the running surface was perfect, but not for me. Somehow the frozen mud was very rough and it felt as if was running on sharp rocks. After a while, this took a toll on my running.

In these smaller races, my pace usually brings me in competition with the top female runner. My secret goal is to finish ahead of all the women in the course. It was a tough battle. The top female runner for most of the race was a 23 year old from Indiana. She passed me around mile 7 but I caught up with her 2 miles later and this went on and on for the entire race. She was faster in the flat/downhill portions of the trail, but I would catch up with her in the uphill portions (we both walked, only I walked faster) or the aid stations.

My peak running was around the middle of the L loop (about 9 miles) were I went fast downhill and passed quite a few runners, including the “Indiana” girl. My low point was returning the second time on the L loop (about mile 22). My legs were tired of the hard surface and my pace had slowed to 12 min/mile. “Indiana” passed me at this point and she looked fresh and unstoppable.

Surprisingly, after 26 miles, and with only the small 5 mile loop to finish, I felt very good. My wife joined me for a mile or so. At the middle of this last loop, while approaching the aid station and running uphill, I spotted “Indiana”, and started running faster. I caught up with her and pulled ahead. And here is the bummer: With one mile left to go, another female runner came from the back, running really fast. She beat us both handily! Well, I did not really care, but this must have been a disappointment for the “Indiana” since, despite leading for 30 miles, she missed the honor of being the first female. (Again, there are no awards, only the honor and pride).

My final time was 5:31 (pace: 10:41/mile), better than expected (my goal was 11 min/mile, 6 hours). My final mile was done in 8:24 (to see all my mile splits, click at the data here (from my Gamrin)). I have no idea where this strength came from. The human body/mind is an amazing thing.

After the race we were treated to hot chili. I wanted to take 3d pictures but was too tired to walk to the car to get the camera and back, so I just went home. If you want to see pictures or a video from a fellow runner, check out (type “buckeye 50K”) or the blogs of various runners.

Here are some pleasant surprises from this race: 1) I did not fall, not even once. 2) I did not get any blisters. 3) I recovered surprisingly fast. The day after the run I was a bit stiff but ready to resume running (after a marathon it usually takes me a couple of days to be able to walk!) I think the difference is the slower pace, the variation in pace and the softer running surface. Trail-running is definitely easier for the body.

And here is the burning question: Will I do it again? I am ready to sign up for the summer 50K. I have to think about the winter. Training was tough, but the race was fun, so I think I will go for it. Do I recommend this to other runners? I definitely recommend trying trail-running. You might find it more fun and addictive than road running.

If you want to check the results of this or previous 50K races, or to sign up for future races, the Buckeye Trail web site is here:

1 comment:

Clara said...

Hey- I think I'm the "Indiana" girl you were referring to. You and I finished this race at the same time! :)

Yes- it was a BIG disappointment to be 2nd female after all that time in the lead.