Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mohican 50 - 2012

Mohican 50 Mile Race – 2012

Two years ago I ran Mohican 50, my first 50 mile race, and did very well, finishing 9th/100 with a time of 9:57.  This gave me the inspiration to run Burning River 100.  So, this year I registered again for the 50 miler, as a training race for BR100.  Liz, in a moment of weakness, agreed to register for the Marathon.

Traditionally, Mohican is a 100 mile race and has been going on for 26 years now.  A couple of years ago the 50 miler was added.  Last year the Marathon was added.  Last year the course was redesigned to include on basic loop done once (Marathon), twice (50 miles) or 4 times (100 miles).  This year the participation was the highest ever with 200 runners running 100 miles, 200 running 50 miles, and 100 running the Marathon.

Considering that 2 weeks ago I had an injury, I approached this race with caution.  My plan was to treat it as a training run and even drop after the first loop if I had any issues with pain.  My official goal was to finish “around 11 hours”.

The week before the race I started feeling better.  My injured quad muscle healed quickly.  On Thursday before the race I got a pair of new shoes (NB 110) from Vertical Runner in Brecksville.  I have been running on NB Trail Minimus for over a year now.  The 110 felt very lightweight and comfortable, but with more protection in rough trails. I liked them instantly and tried them for 6 miles on trails on Thursday, my last run before Mohican.  I felt good, which increased my confidence for the race.

Friday morning we packed two cars and drove to Athens OH, to move Lea to her new apartment (she is starting Physical Therapy at Ohio University).  We (Liz and I) then drove from Athens to Mohican.  Knowing that the free food at the Mohican prerace meeting is not something we would want to eat, we stopped at an interesting Dinner and had dinner (hamburger for me, salad for Liz).

We arrived at the Mohican Lodge around 5:00 PM.  We got settled in and then went to the prerace meeting.  There we met with running friends, had some beer (beer was free for the entire weekend) and attended the prerace instructions, held outside. 

Then we headed back to the Lodge for another round of eating and drinking :)  We witnessed a nice sunset sitting outside the restaurant:

Saturday morning we got up at 4:00 AM. I had my trademark low-carb breakfast (eggs, nuts, cheese and olive oil, prepared from home), took a shower, got dressed and ready to run with my hand-held water bottle and my camera on my hands.  I did not have any drop bags, other than a bag at the start (and aid station at 26 miles).  We left at 4:30. Liz’s marathon did not start until 8 am, so she gave Kimberly and myself a ride and went back to take a nap.  We arrived at the start at 4:45, checked in and got ready to start.  The temperature was in the mid 60s.  The weather was expected sunny with a high temperature in the upper 80s. 

The way I understood the course, the first two miles were on open road on purpose, for the group to thin out before getting into the trails. I made the mistake (again!) not to bring a light, thinking that it will get lighter after 2 miles.  Big mistake! Since I was treating this as a training run, I decided to start with Kimberly and utilize her light to see where I was stepping.

Things did not work out very well.  We positioned ourselves at maybe the top 25%, but that’s 100 runners ahead of us.  First, we entered a short trail section almost right away.  Slower runners held the line back and dictated the pace.  It was impossible to pass in these narrow trails in the dark.  Then, we got into a road section for a while, and then back into the trails. I badly needed a light in these trails.  In addition, my Garmin watch indicated low battery right away (I know why this happened - never plug the watch on a hotel plug that shuts off when the main light switch is turned off :)).  I was carrying a table with distances to aid stations.  Without the GPS information, the table was useless.  Well, I managed to survive without the watch or the table.

Again, the pace in the trails was dictated by the slower runners and it was overall slow (~12 minute miles) with quite a bit of walking for the first 8 miles.  Then, around mile 8, a runner fell down in front of me.  I jumped around her and passed the two runners ahead.  Kimberly did not follow.  So now, for the first time, I found the trail in front of me open and I could finally run my own pace.

This marks the point where the race started for me. I did not push hard, but running my own comfortable pace was enough to move me forward, passing runners ahead of me. Around mile 12 I caught up with Joshua Strzala, a nice guy whose goal for this race was 9:30 hours.  We ran together for a while, including the sections of the enchanted valley and the hand-over-hand climb, the most famous part of the course:

I had a nice chat with Joshua, but lost him after the Covered Bridge aid station.  A few miles later I caught up with another runner.  Chatting from behind, he told me that our pace was good for an under 9 hour finish.  “Are you sure?” I asked in disbelief.  I would be thrilled to just finish under 10 hours.  “Positively” he replied.  He was a strange guy, running in road shoes and carrying no water.  I lost him after the last aid station of loop (Hickory Ridge).

The section from Hickory Ridge to the finish is 5.8 miles and it was my favorite!  Mostly downhill, runable surfaces.  I was able to go fast and enjoy the ride.  With less than a mile to finishing the first loop, I caught up with Connie Gardner. I was very friendly but she had no clue who I was.  She did not remember me from the Wooster trail race earlier.  We chatted for a while and when I told her that I am originally from Greece, she asked if I knew Dimitris.  “Dimitris who?” I asked.  “Dimitris Kouros” she replied.  I believe she is talking about Yiannis Kouros, a Greek and one of the word’s best ultra-runners of all times and my personal idol ( ).  “He is not known in the USA” I replied.  “We’ve run many races together” Connie said.  Well, it is nice to run with celebrities like Connie Gardner.  At the time she was the leading Female 100 mile runner and she kept her placement and finished 4th overall.

I completed the first loop (26.3 miles) in about 4:50.  Back at the start I changed shirt and spent more time hydrating.  I then started the 2nd loop (23.6 miles).  There were a couple of difference in this loop. First, instead of a road section at the start, we entered into a trail, and it was a hard one!  Then, one loop was changed, known as the “short loop”.  The lady at the Fire Tower aid station told me that it is an easy 2.6 mile jog.  Well, I found this “short loop” to be very hard, at least the first part!

Around mile 30, I caught up with Bob Pokorny.  Bob told me at the start that he was going for an 8:30 finish, but it was clear that he was not doing well. “It is not my day” he said as I passed him.  At this point I started thinking about my overall placement.  Around mile 30 I caught up with Juan Vicente.   Juan is a strong runner, and finished ahead of me 2 years ago.  But he was having some issues with his toes and he was not doing as well as he had expected.  We chatted for a while and lost him at the Fire Tower aid station.  He told me that my placement at the time was 8th overall (it was actually 10th).

After the so-called short loop, I arrived at the Covered Bridge aid station.  I was hungry for some fat so I asked for ham and cheese.  They just got a supply and Kim Dawn Boner, who was a volunteer at the aid station, made a nice roll with turkey meat and cheese (no bread).  This felt very good.  I also drank a lot of water.  Because I was only carrying one water bottle, I had to make sure that I drank a bottle at the aid station and then carried a full bottle with me.  This was needed with aid stations 5-6 miles apart.  I was very careful with hydrating and eating well in this race.

The trail after Cover Bridge was terrible.  Constant uphills, lots of walking.  Also, Marathon runners were all over the course after this point.  Not a problem, they were all polite, stepping to the side when I was passing.

Overall, I’d say that this was a very challenging course.  The vast majority was narrow technical trails with lots of rocks, roots and other irregularities.  Even though I consider myself an experienced trail runner (I run in hard sections of the Buckeye Trail 2-3 times a week), I fell twice, stumbled numerous times, jammed my toes, and had a hard time running in parts of the trail.  I cannot imagine how less experienced runners could handle 12 or more hours in these hard trails!  But, there were also some very nice sections, like this one here:

I finally arrived at Hickory Ridge, the last aid station before the finish.  At this aid station I caught up and passed Steve Godale, so now I am in 9th place. Steve is an amazing runner and the fact that I am passing him gave me extra strength to run the last 5 miles to the finish very fast. That’s what I call racing!  With 3 miles to the finish, I caught a glimpse of another 50 mile runner (I could tell from the yellow bibs, vs. green for the marathon runners).  I ran fast and passed him very quickly in a section where he was walking, advancing to 8th place.

With one mile to the finish, I started feeling weak, as if I needed food (this is the first time I felt like that since eating low-carb).  I also started feeling the effects of the heat for the first time.  I ended up pouring water on my face and head. 

With half mile to the end, I caught sight of Liz. Finally, I caught up with her and asked if she had anything for me to eat. I really needed to eat something to continue running.  She gave me a half finished goo, and sucked as much as I could out of it.  That was enough to power my sprint to the finish.  I was so happy to see the finish line, knowing that this was the end of a great race!

I asked for my time:  8:47!  This is really unbelievable!  With an initial goal of 11 hours, I would have been thrilled with a time of 10 hours.  If someone had told me that I could do 9 hours, I would have not believed it.  And, here I am, finishing well under 9 hours! That’s an improvement of 1 hour and 10 minutes from what I thought was a great time two years ago.  How did that happen?  I have no idea!

Here it the list of the first 10 finishers in this race:

What I find interesting here is that I passed Steve Godale with only 5.8 miles left and I managed to build a difference of 13 minutes! I passed Court Lilly with less than 3 miles left and built a difference of 6 1/2 minutes.  This says a lot about how strong and fast I finished the race.  Here is another piece of information, my times from the last aid station to Mohican Adventures (start/finish) during the first and second loop:

HR to FIN, 1st
HR to FIN, 2nd

In the second loop, I covered the same distance at 10:20 pace vs. 10:51 in the first loop.  Not many runners are able to run the last 6 miles of a 50 mile race faster than the same distance in mid-race.

Upon finishing, I turned around and took a picture of Liz finishing, just a minute or two behind me.  I then went to eat. I was really hungry!  Eating and drinking inside the air-conditioned room, I missed a lot of my friends finishing at 9:30 hours. 

After the finish we took a shower and stayed around watching other runners finish, taking pictures, drinking beer and eating.  The marathon awards started and Liz went to take a shower and missed her name, called for age group winner.  She later confessed that she secretly hoped to get an award but thought it was impossible and did not want to be “cocky”.  Does that make sense to you? :)  I went to pick her award but the director said, it’s OK she can come later, which she did.

At the time I thought that my placement was 6th overall.  The top awards went 6 deep and there was money involved.  So we decided to stay for the awards.  The 50 mile awards started at 7:30 PM.  The director called the 6th place winner and it was not me!  It was a guy with 8:40 time.  So, I missed on some money (that would have been the first time I got money for running).  But he did call my name as an-age group winner and also 7th overall finisher (even though I am listed 8th in the final results), so I stood in line with the other fast runners, and had my picture taken by Liz:

Here is one last picture we had someone take, before we left to drive home.  This time we posed by the side of the banner that says “Finish”.  We are wearing our Mohican 100 visors, part of the award for our age group winning:

After the race, two questions were going though my mind:
  1. What would have happened if I had treated this as a race from the very beginning?
  2. What does this race tell me about possible BR100 time?
To answer to the first question, let's look at this table of times of arrival at aid stations:

First 2 Aid Stations
Rest for end of 1st loop
First Loop Data
Second Loop Data

My pace during the first 9 miles when this race was a training run was nearly 13 min/mile.  Once I started running faster, my pace increased to 9:30 for the remaining of the loop.  My pace in the second loop is actually faster than that of the first loop (negative split).

Had I positioned myself in the front and run these 9 miles at an average 10:30 pace, my time would be lower by 23 minutes!  Looking at the list of top winners, this would have made little difference in my placement, but, still, 23 minutes is quite an improvement in a 50 mile race.

To answer the second question:

If I round my time to 9 hours, double it, and then add 2 extra hours for the 2nd half, I get a time of 20 hours.  This is a conservative estimate, considering that the BR100 course is a lot easier than the Mohican course.  So, based on my performance in Mohican, I think 20 hours at BR100 is a reasonable goal, assuming that everything goes well. But I prefer to stick with the 24 hours, which is also a great time for my first 100 miler.  Anything faster than 24 hours will just be a bonus!

1 comment:

Bill said...

Great Race! I find that when I start slower (Regis and Green Jewel), I always feel stronger at the end and finish with negative splits. Good luck with the rest of the training for Burning River. I'll be there volunteering either at Mike Erhardt's aid station or Bob Drake's aid station.