I have mixed feelings about this “Fun Run”.
The first 13 miles were easy and rather enjoyable, at 10 min/mile average pace. But after that, the “fun” very quickly changed to “torture”. My pace slowed down to 12-14 min/mile. I developed blisters, got tired of running, and started praying for the ordeal to be over.
But I made it under 6:30 and when it was done, I actually felt pretty good. Good to the point of entertaining thoughts of more 50Ks soon and attempting longer distances, even a 100 miler!
Am I a masochist or what?
Who thought that running 32 miles in snow-covered trails without proper training in January in Ohio would be a good idea?
One problem is training: It is impossible to train properly for the given running conditions because most likely the running conditions on “race day” will be unique. I had trained on dry trails, leaf-covered trails, muddy/wet trails, trails with fresh snow, but not slippery trails covered with half-melted snow, as we had on Sunday.
My training consisted mainly of running 12 miles / 2 hours on trails every Saturday. That’s clearly not enough. You need at least 2 runs 20-25 miles to get ready for this.
With the word “fun” in mind I arrived at the “Ledges” around 6:45 am. The race director (Tanya, below) gave us the final instructions and at 7:30 am off we went!
This is a new course, consisting of two loops 5 and 8 miles, just like the old course. To compete the 50K you need to run 5 + 8 + 5 + 8 + 5. After you complete each loop, you return back to the “headquarters” (starting point). There is one aid station inside each loop.
The run is labeled “fun” in the sense that it is not a race. There are no awards. Everyone pays the same amount and gets the same benefits: a handsome Brooks running jacket and a bowl (or more) of chili. Anyone can run any distance they like, a combination of the two loops: 8, 13 (“Half Marathon), 18, 26 (“Marathon”), 31 (50K)
According to my GPS Garmin, both loops were about 1/2 mile longer so the total distance was about 33.5 miles or 54K.
After each loop, I zeroed my watch (a good idea, since I then knew exactly where I was located within the loop and how far away I was from the nearest aid station). I timed each loop and I think these times tell the story:
5 mile loop times: 54:37, 1:00:47, 1:13:02
8 mile loop times: 1:27:11, 1:58:00
The first two loops (5 + 8) went fine, running strong and confident. I was even ahead of Mel and Rachel, the top female runners. (They both passed me around mile 13, with 15 year old (!) Rachel finishing first - again! I can run faster than her in shorter races but she is nowhere to be seen in these 50Ks).
The course was well marked with little arrows at cross-points and orange ribbons marking the right side of the trail. We were told that it is possible to get inside a loop the wrong way and still finish the loop, having the orange ribbons on the left side, instead of the right. This actually happened to me in the first 8 mile loop, when I followed the guy in front of me, despite my better judgment. No harm done, I got to meet all the runners who ran the loop in the correct direction.
By the time of the 2nd 5 mile loop I was already slowing down, got passed by several runners and felt blisters developing on the bottom of my foot, as a result of the friction of the wet socks and shoes.
The worst part by far was running the 2nd 8 mile loop. I slowed to a crawl and did a lot of walking. Only a couple of people passed me (a sign that others were struggling too?) so I was mostly alone.
Just to give you an idea of how low my spirits were, I had carried with me a music player to entertain myself listening to the radio, podcasts, or some music, and did not even have the energy to take it out of my pocket! I also carried my new Fuji digital 3d camera with me, but only used it for a few pictures. I was not in the mood (very strange for me).
My feet were sliding all over the place and I was wondering if wearing plain trail shoes was a good idea. I could see from the footprints in the trail that some people were using additions to add traction on the snow.
I was feeling miserable and I had decided to skip the last 5 miles. I was already composing my blog with title: 50K (NOT!) FUN (NOT!) RUN. This was definitely not fun. The only way to run the last 5 miles was if my wife joined me. She was going to meet me before the last loop. I called, but she did not bring her running shoes, which made me mad (not difficult to do at this point).
By the time I reached headquarters for the last loop, something strange happened: I felt better. This is very weird, but it also happened last year. My wife said that I looked fine (after 5+ hours of running, under these conditions??). I changed my socks and shoes (well aware that this would do little to stop the blisters), kissed my wife and son, and headed for the last 5 mile loop, determined to complete the 50K.
This last loop was actually the best, even though it was the slowest. At first I was trying to catch a younger guy in front, so I could have some company. But he seemed determined to finish ahead of me and he had more energy, so he pulled ahead. Then I heard someone approaching from behind. I started talking to him and, soon enough, we are talking and enjoying the run together. Running with a partner makes a hell of a difference at this stage.
Two young guys passed us when we stopped at the last aid station (1 mile from the finish). Then another guy came from behind just to finish a bit ahead of us. If I were alone, I would have pushed, to finish ahead of these guys, but, what the heck, it seemed meaningless at the time and I had a good time running and chatting with my new friend, Bob (above).
As we approached the finish, Bob noticed the Race Clock nearing 6:30 and said “let’s beat 6:30” so we sprinted and made it! Here is the proof:
In the end, there were 5 of us finishing within one minute, from 6:29 to 6:30. In the official results (posted at: http://winterrunforregis.blogspot.com/ ) I am listed 29/74 with the official time of 6:29:56. This is better than last year’s 6:47, but slower than the year before (my first winter 50K) were I finished at 5:31 (in better weather conditions).
I am sure there were a lot more than 74 runners signed up for the 50K, so I am pleased to be one of the 74 who made it (even though I barely made it!). The rest completed the shorter distances.
After the race, I stayed around for a while, socializing with other runners. I met Clara and her friend from Indiana. Clara is the “Indiana Girl” from my first Winter 50K blog (seen below, suprisingly fresh and quick, at the "finish line")
We all got our packages and were treated to nice chili and grilled cheese sandwiches (I had 3 servings!) By the way, in this race I made an effort to eat and drink in every aid station. My favorite food was noodle soup and I had plenty of Gatorade.
The most amazing thing is that I felt great at the end. It seems that all the bad memories were erased. As I am writing this blog, I am making an effort to remember the “bad times”. Equally strange, the next day I had almost no muscle pain. Liz took care of the blisters and I am ready to resume running today (Tuesday).
The human body and mind is a strange thing. Despite the pain and frustration during parts of the run, I am already thinking of running longer and faster. I love running and I think I prefer long and slow trail runs to short & fast road runs.
I think I will look into running a 50 miler this year and maybe 100 miles next year.
Many thanks to the race director and volunteers for making us do this, and helping us stay fit and strong during the winter (talking about "strong", I've gained 10 lbs since my marathon in Athens, but I am sure it is all "muscle" :)) Now I am starting a diet so I can go back to my normal race weight!