Monday, June 21, 2010

Mohican 50 2010 - Race report


I got the idea for the Mohican 50 from Sensationally Red's blog. Since I cannot do my favorite race, the Buckeye Trail (BT) 50K this year (same time as the NSA convention in Ohio) I thought the Mohican 50 miler would be a good idea. Plus, I always wanted to move to longer trail runs and eventually do the “Burning River” 100 miler in Cleveland and, ultimately, the Spartathlon (160 miles) in Greece. So 50 miles is the perfect first stepping stone from a 50K (31 miles) to 100 miles.

Training was so-and-so. It took me 2 weeks to recover from the Cleveland Marathon and resume trail-running. Three weeks before Mohican I did my first long run of 21 miles. This did not go very well and I considered cancelling Mohican. Father’s Day weekend, Garrison Keillor is in town, Jim Klett 10K, etc., plenty of reasons to stay home.

Two weeks before Mohican I did 31 miles. This run went OK, plus last week (a week before the race) I did 11 miles in the trail reasonably fast which boosted my confidence, so Mohican was in. But, in the end, I did not feel nearly as good or fit as last year before running the BT 50K in July.

Because this was my first run over 31 miles, I had no expectations. But after talking to a few friends who told me that the Mohican course is hard, I revised the goal to 12 hours. But the main goal was to finish without any real expectations beyond that. 

Liz (wife & support crew - see picture of both of us above) and I arrived at Mohican Friday 7pm for the prerace meeting. We then went to our room at Mohican Lodge, some 10 miles from the start. I slept very little, got up, dressed, ate little (unusual for me) and headed for the race.

At 4:00 am the temperature was 68F. Looked like it was going to be a "survival race" in a hot day. Lined up at the start and at 5:00 pitch dark, off we went.

Miles 1-10

After a short all-purpose path, we turned into the first trail. Mistake #1: I did not have a light, thinking that natural light will come out soon. I could barely see where I was stepping for the first 5 miles in difficult single-file trail running.

The next "purple trail" was a 4 mile loop. This is supposedly the most difficult trail since it had some creek crossings and two parts where you climb up or down using both hands. Even though technically difficult for running, all runners walked/crawled the hard parts so it did not feel difficult.  Here are two pictures from this trail.  Hand-climbing on the left.  The little Falls after a difficult but short descent:

Miles 10-20:

After a short 2.7 mile section, we arrived at the Bridle Staging aid station. This was one of the few aid stations open to support crews (family & friends). Knowing that a long 7.3 mile section follows, I tried to hydrate & eat well.

The next 7.3 miles were mostly on horse trails. This was my best trail! I passed at least 12 runners in this section, including the leading female runner (Kim).  Here is a picture I took while running behind Kim. I was carrying my Fuji 3d camera with me for the first half, until I handed it to Liz to carry:

I also discovered something that surprised me: Up this point I thought that my main strength is downhill running (the steeper the downhill, the better), but now I am seeing that my strength is actually uphill running or fast walking. I passed most runners during uphills either by running or just walking quickly.

While we were maybe 2 miles into the trail, we reached our first river crossing. I looked around but there were no "stepping stones". We had to just walk through the water. I have never seen anything like this around my area. Two more river crossings and we arrived at the "Rock Point" aid station. I see a lot of "drop bags" in this station. Clever runners who knew about the river crossings are changing shoes at this point. But I was clueless.  Here is a picture of runners crossing one river:

Miles 20-30

We now get into a section with mainly country roads going up and down. Very steep! I passed a couple of runners here too.  Here is a picture that I took in this section.  It looks flat but it is really an optical illusion.  I was going down a downhill, facing a very speep uphill:

Finally, we arrive at a road, designated as HL1 (Handler Location #1). This is not an aid station but runner's crews (family & friends) are allowed to park along the road to meet their runners. As I arrive at this section, people are clapping and cheering and I feel really good! It is at this point when I first realized how well I was doing, when Liz told me that I am at the top 10!!!

We continue mainly on hilly asphalt roads until we reach a trail, enter and after a short distance, reach the Buckhaven aid station which is the turn-around point for 50 mile runners. I return back to the road with the cars and now change shirt, shocks, put plenty of Vaseline in my toes, new shoes, drink water, etc. I leave the car feeling like a new man! My feet were starting to develop blisters but now they feel fine.

Miles 30-40:

I now enter a 4.3 mile horse trail running alone. After a couple of miles, I am sick and tired of this trail. It is muddy, the kind of deep mud that you step in and pull your leg out, only to leave your shoe in the mud. I start to struggle. I am walking...

To make things worse, I see a guy coming from behind. He looks fresh and happy (this is really demoralizing to see). I ask "Aren't you tired of this f---ing horse trail?" He says "yes" but he really does not look like he is tired. He passes me easily.

Thankfully, the surface changes and I am able to run again and try to keep this guy within reach. His name is Tom and he is from Macedonia. This is his first 50 miler.

Tom pulls ahead. We now arrive at a downhill part of the course, with large rocks, which make it impossible to run. And here comes a female runner, looking very fresh and happy (another demoralizing blow) passing me.

OK, I am thinking... Two runners passed me, what is next?

What happened next was a change of events. We all three arrive at about the same time at the South Park aid station. I drink water, pop, and stuff some trail mix in my pocket.

The girl, dressed in all-black, leaves the station first. Tom follows. I go last, thinking that I have no chance to catch these guys. And here is how things change: I eat my trail mix and feel better. We hit some difficult uphill sections. We are all walking, only I am walking faster. I catch up with Tom and the girl. The uphill ends but Tom is still walking. "Shouldn't you be running?" I ask. "There will be plenty of time to run" he replies. Well, that's the last time I saw Tom in the trails.

So, now I am running with the girl. She is the leading female runner and looks strong. Her name (as I found later) is Laurie, she is 36 (looked much younger) and it is her first 50 miler.

We are at about mile 33. I ended up running with her until the end. This story repeated itself many times: She passes me at the downhills and aid stations (she spends no time at aid stations). I pass her back at the uphills. Most of the time I am leading and she is following, but we alternate many times. When I thought I lost her (behind), she would come back at the aid station and pass me. Basically, I could not get rid of her :) And a good thing, because she is the reason I did so well.

If you are running alone, and you are tired, you will slow down. Running with another runner motivates you to keep running. If you are running behind, you try to keep up. If you are leading, you don’t want to slow down and get passed. It is always good to run with someone of equal running ability and develop a bit of friendly running rivalry during the race.

We arrived at the Fire Tower Aid station, one of the few with crew access. I am looking for Liz, when I hear her yelling, "I am coming". Here, I am expecting her to quickly supply me with food and liquids, and she is up the Fire Tower taking pictures!!  When she got down, she snapped this picture of me eating watermelon at the aid station:

By the time we are done, two things have happened: Laurie has left ahead, and the second female runner, Kim, has caught up with her. I am hurrying to join the fun.

Last 10 miles:

We arrive at the Covered Bridge station with about 11 miles left to go, and with one aid station in the middle. We were warned that the first miles are very difficult with steep ascent and that we will be happy to reach the aid station.

Kim is leading the way, followed by Laurie and myself. Looks like Kim is increasing the lead, impossible to stop at this point. I catch up and pass Laurie at some point in this very difficult ascent.

The trail gets better later on. As I am getting low on water and it is getting warm too, I see Liz waiting at a road crossing, with my camera ready to take a picture. My clever wife looked at the map and figured out that we were crossing the road at this point. Even though this was not designated as a "crew access" point, she parked the car, waiting for me.  She took this picture of me, emerging from the trail:

To my eyes, she is an angel. After saying a few sweet words, I started yelling at her to drop the camera and bring the supplies!!! I poured cold water over my head, drank Gatorade and filled my water bottle. While this is happening, here comes Laurie, to pass me! Aggghhhr! I kissed Liz to head back in the trail. I pass Laurie again. I heard her yelling at some point but did not turn to see what was happening. A few seconds later I trip and fall (first and only fall in this race). As I get up, I hear Laurie saying “Are you OK? The same exactly thing happened to me just a moment ago.” Great!

The adventure continues. In this race I zeroed my watch in every aid station so I knew exactly how long before the next aid station. Usually the aid stations come sooner than expected, maybe because the watch is losing GPS signal or maybe the up/down hills make the GPS measured distance look shorter. But this aid station is an exception. We are past 5.5 miles and no sign of an aid station (should be at 5.3 miles). I am getting worried. Did I take a wrong turn and got off track somehow? I look behind to make sure Laurie is following. I ask her if the aid station is coming up soon, and she says that she is out of water and it better come soon. At this point I feel guilty because I have water (from Liz) plus I use it to wash my face and pour it over my head !

FINALLY, the last aid station is a welcome relief. I get plenty of liquids here, plus put ice cubs in my sweat rag and in my head (under my hat). By now it is sunny and warm, but the trails are well-shaded. Laurie claims that she had pop for the first time and felt good. I am amazed because I have been eating and drinking (including pop) in every aid station (lesson learned after my collapse in the last two miles of the BT last year).

We are now in the last leg, 5.7 miles long. The aid station crew has assured us that it is mostly downhill and they are correct. But after 45 miles and 9 hours in the trails, it seems that even downhill running is getting hard. I look at my watch and figure out that, with a bit of luck, I can beat 10 hours. I call Liz to tell her that I just cleared the last aid station and should be arriving in one hour. Liz says "you can do it in less than an hour". I am a bit annoyed... I felt like saying "do you want to run 45 miles and then see how fast you can run the last 5 miles?" but I keep my mouth shut.

Starting around mile 12 from the finish, I noticed signs counting the miles left. At first, I was not sure that this was accurate. But now I am certain that when it says "5 MILES TO FINISH" it is actually correct for our race. Laurie lets out a happy cry every time she sees this sign. Being a faster downhill runner, she has now taken the lead, but I am sticking behind. I thought we could settle our "duel" in the last 100 yards (in which case she would definitely lose, because I have a very strong kick, being 5K or 50 miles, makes no difference). However, by the time we hit 2 miles from the finish, Laurie is pulling ahead and I am unable to catch up.

At this point I see two runners. I think that they coming from behind, which is very annoying (at this point, I am in 9th place and I really want to finish 9th). So I am trying to push hard to move ahead. Later, I realize that these guys are actually ahead of us. I think Laurie could catch them. I will just stay and finish 9th. I then try to pee and I am worried with what I see (dark & smelly, I will spear you the details). I am glad this is almost over.

With one mile left, I see my guardian angel, Liz, coming to meet me. We talked about her running from the finish in the reverse direction to meet me, but made no definite plans, and here she is!  And she is taking a picture of me:

I urge her to run ahead to take a picture of me at the finish. She replies that there is really no clock at the finish and we can stage a "photo finish" after the fact.

From time to time, I stop to walk (of course!) and Liz asks "are you OK?" "Of course I am OK, this is part of the plan you silly!" Finally, we exit the trail. At this point I am just looking for the finish line, not paying attention to markings, just having Liz guide me through a few confusing turns. I am looking at my GPS time: 9:58. I better hurry, I have less than 2 minutes left!

I sprint to the finish! Clearly, under 10 hours! After the fact, we staged the picture I posted in the previous blog. The actual finish direction was from the other side, in which case you would see my back, but this picture is perfect.

After the Race:

The torture is over, mission accomplished, etc., etc. After the race I need to take my shoes off. I feel I have some blisters, and I am stiff and move slowly, but otherwise sound and solid. Liz had the fine idea to go into the river nearby to cool down, which I did, but the water was not cold enough:

We stayed around for a while, and then headed back to our room. I took a cold ice bath and felt better. We then went for dinner and a short walk.

Next Day

The next day Liz got up at 7 am for a run, and I walked around a local trail (you'd think that I had enough trails for a while, wouldn't you?) After breakfast ("all you can eat" buffet at the Mohican Lodge, a dangerous meal to serve ultra runners - I had at least 3 plates) we went to the award's ceremony.

As it turns out, this race is geared mainly towards the 100 miles, with the 50 miles being a bit of an afterthought. The only awards for 50 miles are for the first three male and female winners. The 100 milers get awards per age group and even an award for the runner who finished LAST, called the "Last of the Mohican" award.  

Here is a picture of all award winners.  100 milers at the top, 50 milers at the bottom (many 50 milers had left already, since their race was done the previous day):

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a very positive experience. I completed my first 50 mile trail run without any serious difficulties. The weather cooperated with cloudy skies and cooler (70s) temperatures and even some rain early on. The sun came out and got warmer around noon, but by this time we were in deep woods and closer to the finish.

Surprisingly, after the race I had very little muscle pain. For some time my theory had been that trail running is easier for the body. I have had more pain the days after the "Perfect 10 miler" where I set my 10 mile PR, than the 50K Buckeye Trail. But last year I actually raced (= ran as fast as I could) the 50K BT and then I was sore for a week, so I am back to the old cliché: "It is not the distance but the speed that kills".

The bottom line is that I can do a better time if I ever decide to actually run 50 miles as fast as I can. Or, I could run longer than 50 miles if I run even slower.

Which brings me to the last point: I would really like to run a 100 miler next year. Ideally, I would like to run 100K (62 miles) first, but perhaps I should just bite the bullet and sign up for the 2011 Burning River 100 mile run.

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Congrats! Great race report, how many people will have photo's?

Sensationally Red said...

Great race report Dr. T! Congrats on such a fabulous finish. I really enjoyed the pictures too. much for your theory, I ran slow, but still covered 50 miles and I feel like a truck ran over my legs! Yep, you'll be doing Burning River before you know it. Heck, you could even tackle it this year even!

Clara said...

Great job! You should be very proud. When I attempted by 100 miles there last year, I had a million blisters from all of the water crossings! And yes, you are definitely very fast going uphill; I'm jealous. That's awesome that your wife spent all day out there to support you. Also, did you and the 100 milers start out on the same course?

DrT said...

Thank you guys! Clara, yes I read your report from last year... The course was changed this year. 100 milers started the same course and split at the 50 mile turnaround point (around mile 24).

Amy said...

Great race, there's a lot of fun on the race, nice!!!