Mohican 50 is the easiest ultra marathon I have ever run!
I have run Mohican 50 three times now: 2010 (my first 50 miler), 2012 (my second 50 miler), 2013 (my 4th 50 miler). All three times I finished under 10 hours. My best race was last year. I finished 7th overall with 8:37 (see: http://drtrunning.blogspot.com/2012/06/mohican-50-2012.html)
I love the new (since 2011) course. The 25 mile loop is perfect. It is long enough not to be boring (if you want to see boring, try running a 5 mile loop – 50s for yo Momma, or even a 10 mile loop) but short enough to learn the course if you are running it 2 times (for 50 miles) or 4 times (for 100 miles). After I get to the Covered Bridge aid station, I feel that the loop is almost over, even though I am in the middle of it. I can visualize what happens next: A series of steep hills which I will walk, some flat parts that I will run. Then I reach the top and turn left. Two miles of beautiful runable and mostly downhill trails follow, that bring me to the last aid station. From there it is 6 miles to the end, mostly downhill. If this is my last loop, I will run these miles fast, knowing that “the end is near.”
I was planning to run the 100 mile race this year at Mohican, but, as the time for the race approached, I lost confidence in my ability to run 100 miles. Why did that happen?
The year started well:
- Run for Regis 50K in January, I finished with the excellent time of 5:22 on a very muddy course (a heat wave caused all the snow to melt on race day, and turned into mud)
- Green Jewel 50K (March 2), a road race, went OK
- Buzzard 50K (March 23), inaugural trail race, 5:01
- Fools 50K (April 7), 5:17 on a rather warm day (we were not used to that)
Then, cracks started to appear:
- I did not show up for Forget the PR 50K (April 28) because the previous day I had run the Hermes 10 miler and my feet (and back) were hurting.
- 50s for Yo Momma (May 11) was a torture. I finished the 50 miler in 11:18, fighting my desire to quit as early as 25 miles into the race. That’s when I first started doubting that I can run 100 miles at Mohican.
- I had a bad training run at Mohican on May 26. Attempting to run just one loop, I ran out of steam. That left me thinking: “How can I run 100 miles if I have trouble finishing 23 miles on the same course?”
- Buckeye Buster 50K (June 1) was a disaster. A hot day, indigestion, flies eating me alive… I lost my desire to run (how is that for an excuse?) and dropped out after 2 loops (20 miles). This is my only DNF in many-many years and busted my confidence seriously.
Somewhere along the way I developed a pain in the heel/Achilles tendon on my left leg. And my back felt stiff at times. These “failures” and health issues shuttered my confidence.
The way I saw it, I had two options for Mohican: 1) Struggle to finish 100 with lots of pain and suffering, 2) Enjoy the day by racing 50 miles.
I opted for #2.
Right before Mohican I went to a week-long 3d conference. I was very busy and in one week I only ran two days, a total of 10 miles. I came back on Tuesday before the race. I ran 5 miles on Wednesday and took the day off Thursday (I went to the pool for some water-stretching) and Friday (we drove to Mohican in the afternoon.) So, I went to Mohican well-rested.
Friday was the pre-race meeting. A chance to meet and socialize with fellow runners. A new location this year, across the street from the campout.
A nice Mohican benefit: Free beer for two days!
I had a late dinner at the Mohican lodge and the next morning I was not hungry. So I broke my routine of a good morning race breakfast and just drank water (I was thirsty) and ate an orange.
The 50 mile race started at 6am (the 100 mile race started at 5 am and the marathon at 8 am). The weather was great, 50s in the morning warming to 80s (but cool inside the shaded trails). There was a record of about 200 runners running the 50 miles this year, including many local running friends. I was happy to see Clara Clemens a running friend from Indiana (we had met at the winter BT50K/Run for Regis races). After a couple of failed attempts at 100 she was running (and successfully finished) the 50.
Here is a map of the course:
As Roy Heger said, don’t pay attention to this map, it will just confuse you. The course consists of a long ~25 mile loop, which we run clockwise. Each section (from aid station to aid station) has its own character.
The first section (Mohican Adventures to Gorge Overlook Aid Station, 4.3 Miles) had a lot of hills. Considering my low morale (I was not even sure I could finish 50 miles, even though I had an ambitious goal of 10 hours.) I started running conservatively and walked most of the hills in this section. I remember following a lady with pink socks, and a guy with orange duct tape in his shoes. It was his first 50 miler and he was walking the hills.
The second section (Gorge Overlook to Fire Tower Aid Station, 4.5 Miles) was a bit easier but it felt long at times, especially towards the end when it felt as if we were circling around the aid station.
The third section (Fire Tower to Covered Bridge, 6.2 miles the first time around – long loop -, or 2.6 miles – short loop), is one of the most beautiful sections, especially the “enchanted valley” of the long loop. I took my time to enjoy the scenery in this section.
It was also in this section that I started passing some of the 100 mile runners, covering our one hour starting time difference. Kali Price was one of the first 100 mile runners that I passed. I thought that she was injured, running so slow, but this was part of her race strategy, slow and steady, a strategy that gave her a 3rd place overall finish! Some other 100 mile runners I remember passing: Ron Ross, and Paul Lefelhocz, both running a clever slow race. It was also at this section that I heard someone coming from behind and following me. I glanced briefly and I thought it was a Japanese lady or man. After running like that for a while, I let them pass me… and who do I see? Sunita Sethia (seen here going down the steps by Lyons Falls):
I met Sunita at the Buckeye Buster 50K when she came from the back, to pass in the 2nd loop and finish first female in this race, her first 50K. A similar thing happened at Mohican. She started slower than me and passed me in this section and continued running strong, her first 50 mile race.
After the Pleasant Hill Dam, and while running on a gravel flat road, I lost my balance, fell really hard and skidded across the gravel, hurting my hands, feet, and chest, and slamming my brand new 3d camera on the ground (I was running holding a camera on my hands in the first loop). I quickly got up, pretending that nothing happened… "Are you OK?" “Yes, I am fine” I said to the runners around me. But I was bleeding and hurting, especially my chest when trying to breath deep or cough. (It is still hurting, a week after the race.)
Right after the Covered Bridge Aid Station I caught up with Sunita and the guy with the orange masking tape in his shoes. The three of us ran most of the next section (Covered Bridge to Hickory Ridge, 5.5 Miles). We passed quite a few 100 mile runners in this section, including Kimberly Durst and Anastasia Supergirl Rolek. At the Hickory Ridge aid station I caught up with Martini Mike and Jennifer Yaros. They both seemed to be doing well. Here is Jennifer at the Hickory Ridge aid station:
From Hickory Ridge to the Mohican Adventures is about 6 miles, and this completes the first loop. I have mixed feelings about this section. It reminds me of the Buckeye Trail with lots of rocks and tree roots. It is easy in theory since it is mostly downhill, but, depending on your state of running at this point, this section can feel hard or easy. It felt hard and I walked most of it during my less-than-stellar training run a few weeks ago. It felt OK (average) during this first loop. It felt really easy and fast during the second loop both this year and last year.
At the aid station at Mohican Adventures I spent some time to eat and change shoes. Sue Angell (crewing for Pam Pickel) made me a delicious cheese sandwich which I thoroughly enjoyed (now I know what I want for BR100!) plus I ate some of my own food (nuts, cheese and potato chips), and some fruit from the aid station.
Regarding shoes, I switched from the very lightweight New Balance MT110 to the more padded (I call them my “Hokas”) Brooks PureGrit. Changing shoes (and socks) was a great idea... It made my feet feel “like new” and the extra padding helped with the rough sections of the trail in the 2nd loop.
In this race for the first time I did not run with a GPS watch or GPS program in my phone. I did not want to know my time or pace or mileage is. I did not care. I had decided to run as I felt like. As I left the aid station I glanced at the time on my phone: 11:00. So, with the break at this aid station it had taken me exactly 5 hours to complete the first loop. Considering that the 2nd loop is shorter than the first, I thought that I had a chance, with some luck and if I could run the second loop strong, finish in 10 hours.
In the second loop we had to take the trail instead of the road for the first mile. After that it was "dejavu all over again", except that there was more walking the second time around. Sunita had moved ahead, so I ran most of the 2nd loop alone. At the first aid station I caught up with Bob Pokorny and shortly after that with Michael Schaffer. Bob, running the 50, was having some leg cramping problems while Michael, running the 100, was looking fine (he was ahead of most of my other friends running 100 miles, which is part of his running strategy to run fast early on when he has the strength and slow down later.)
A lot of runners report going through "lows" during these longer races. This happens to me too, but in this race I do not remember any lows of any significance. I had minor indigestion which bothered me a bit, but did not slow me down. I am not sure what caused this. I avoided pop and Gatorade (which gave me indigestion in previous races this year) but ate quite a bit of fruit (orange and watermelon). I have to experiment in this area. Minor indigestion is OK but severe indigestion can be a huge problem. I experienced that during the Fools 50K race. Not only I could not eat anything, I could not even drink water.
The two important aid stations for eating in this race, as I see it, are the Covered Bridge Aid Station and the Mohican Adventures Aid Station. At Covered Bridge I had a nice turkey and cheese roll (no bread) and nuts/chips that I had carried with me on a plastic bag in my pocket from Mohican Adventures. After Covered Bridge I took my time and walked the hills slowly, sipping water and eating the food I was carrying.
At the “top of the hill” I turned left for the two miles of beautiful runable trails. At this section I passed facebook friend Kyle Fahrenkamp. He recognized me and said that last year I also passed him in this section. "History repeats itself" was my stoic response :)
I finally made it to the last aid station. As I was taking my time drinking and eating fruit, I heard the aid station volunteer say “welcome back runner number 444”. I look and who do I see? Joan Cottrill. She grabs some water and quickly leaves the aid station. I am sitting there speechless, thinking “Did Joan just pass me?” I do not want to sound sexist or anything like that… Women passing me is no big deal, but Joan is 51 years old with limited trail-running experience. So, I am being passed by a relatively inexperienced 51 year old woman. That’s a bit hard to digest.:) She looked fresh and I had no doubt she would finish ahead of me… Oh well…. I did not really mind it, but I admit I was surprised but also happy for Joan running such a great race.
I finished my fruit, drank my water, filled my bottle, and started running again. My pace was slow at first, but, gradually I started running faster. At some point I caught a glimpse of Joan ahead of me. My pace increased even more. I caught up with Joan, passed her, and, with 3 miles left to go, I passed a couple more runners ahead. At this point I was going really fast. Not sure how fast but it felt as if I was flying in this last section fueled with energy and enthusiasm. I have read that the brain knows when 90% of the race is completed, resulting in faster pace. This happens to me a lot, resulting in negative splits, and it is more pronounced since I started eating low-carb.
I was watching the mile markers for the bike trail go down 3, 2, 1, and then presumably zero at the end of the bike trail. We still had a little bit to go to the finish (around half a mile?) At this point I saw my friend Jeff Sanders (we first met and ran together at the 50s for Yo Momma) and another 50 mile runner. I passed them so fast that Jeff yelled “what’s the hurry?” With half a mile to finish, I had no intention of slowing down. My legs were on fire. I kept looking behind to see if anyone is following me. No one. No one was ahead either. I gave myself permission to relax and walk some sections on my way to the finish.
To finish this year we had to run a long section of pavement behind a gas station, and then cross the road to go through a sewer water pipe, and then run a short section to the finish. This is a bit anti-climactic, especially compared to last year’s finish, but that's OK.
Here is my photo-finish picture (taken by Sunita):
After the finish I stayed around for while drinking water and taking pictures of other runners finishing. Here are my results:
- Finish Time: 9:37
- Gender Placement: 15
- Age Placement: 2nd Masters (the guy finishing right ahead of me, Kirk Ridenour, who I met at the practice run, is also 53 years old and we both beat all 40 year olds, except for the guy who finished 3rd overall who is 42)
- Overall Placement: 21 / 200
(An interesting note about the female runners in this race: It is unusual that 6 women finished ahead of me... These are great finishing times for female runners. In previous years an under 10 hours finish would have resulted in one of the top 3 spots. This year Joan finishing after me under 10 hours was 7th, which is surprising...)
Overall, even though my time was slower than last year by 50 minutes, I am pleased with the relatively even pace between the two loops (thanks mainly to the last fast 6 miles) and strong finish. It was a good run and it boosted my confidence for BR100 at the end of July. I am still nowhere near last year’s running fitness but I think I can do a decent job at Burning River this year. I also believe I could have finished 100 miles in Mohican this year, but it would not have been very pretty. I really love this race, the course, the organization, the volunteers and the fellow runners, and I want to come back and run the 100 miles next year.
The day after the race I felt a bit like a train wreck but this was mostly due to the pain from the fall. Thanks to delayed muscle soreness, my quads (and, for some reason, triceps) were hurting on Monday and Tuesday. I was planning to run on Tuesday but I was not in the mood. My first post-Mohican run was on Wednesday.
Next long race: Buckeye Trail 50K. Followed by Burning River 100. Carbon copy of last year.