Monday, November 12, 2007

RR: Stonecat Ale 50 Miler

Saturday, November 10, 2007
Stone Cat Ale 50 Miler
Ipswich, MA

Challenge: Something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc. About a month ago I accepted a challenge within, a calling onto myself, which asked if it was possible. Possible to set a personal best time at the marathon distance, and then set a personal best in the 50 mile distance, just six days later. I knew the task wasn’t going to be easy. After all, how dull would my life be if I didn’t set out to challenge myself beyond what seems attainable?

Six days before this race, I ran in the Manchester City Marathon. There, I set a personal best time of 3 hours 37 Minutes and 27 Seconds (Formerly 3:40:33). The course was amazingly challenging with many tough hills and a stiff westerly wind. This, I thought, would be the tougher of the two races to PR at, and I gave it my all in the historic Queen City. As I found out today at the Stonecat Races, I might have given too much.

All the racers lined up in one huge mass in the “starting area” ready to go. We all wanted to get moving with the hopes that it would warm us up. The temperature at the race start was a balmy 32 degrees and a light breeze blowing across the elementary schools ball fields. Runners wore tights, hats, gloves, and some even wore shorts. Whatever it was that you wore, the mission was quite simple. Marathoners were to compete 2 loops of the 12.25 mile course, and 50 milers completed 4 loops. I had many friends running in both races, and some working aid stations. There was tons of a moral support to go around and for this I was grateful. The race hadn’t even started yet and I was having a great time hanging out with everyone.

Loop 1: Miles 0 – 12.50

The first loop of any loop course should be spent “scouting.” Trying to figure the course out so that a plan can be devised on how to run the course. Sometimes, runners will arrive to the course a day or two early to run a loop to see it before hand, but many of us were seeing t for the first time right then and there. It wasn’t long after the race started that runners were still running like a bat out of hell. I watched 50 milers run up every hill before them. I was blown away, until I noticed that I wasn’t far off, running many of the same hills.

I was pushing myself and pushing hard. All I could think about was moving quickly. I wanted the PR so bad that it was all that I thought about. No real race strategy, just run as fast as I can. I tried running with some friends, but I felt like they were pushing me beyond a comfortable level. I ran with my good friend Paul into the first aid station (Al Cats Lounge) and I made sure I stopped long enough to gain some separation… and to have my hand held filled with beer… Thanks Al! Paul is a strong runner and knows his stuff in running ultra’s, even though this was his 3rd ultra. Unfortunately, he was moving much too fast for me and I knew I needed to find my own groove and run my own race.

I left Al’s on my own with the plan to settle into my own race. Ryan Prentiss was running the marathon and he had caught up with me. We ran an easy pace for a bit before he took off on a blistering pace as well. People began passing me left and right, I was pooped all ready. I had started out WAY too fast for fifty miles and was sucked into paces other than my own. I committed a HUGE mistake but wondered how it would even out in the end. And then… Nate and Jeff caught up to me and we ran together for a bit as well. Once again, I was sucked into a pace other than my own. The only good thing is, the folks that I had been running with are all great folks. I love their conversations, we all make each other laugh and I was having a great time.

We arrived at Fast Fred’s CafĂ© and I let Nate and Jeff run ahead. I kept forgetting that the last 3 people I ran with were running a race half the distance of what I was going to cover today. I finally settled into my own race for good and was amazed to see just how much of the last 4 miles of the loop one could run. The entire course is a mixture of single track and dirt roads. The trails are technical in that roots and rocks hang up on the course yet are covered by slimy fallen leaves. I rolled my ankle a few times but was good enough to keep moving forward at a good clip. Soon, I re-emerged out into the school’s athletic fields to complete loop 1. And I’m not too happy, the clock reads 2:10 and I knew that this was too fast by about 20 minutes.

Loop 1 Time: 2:10

Loop 2: Miles 12.50 – 25

After knowing I finished loop 1 a little too fast, I knew I needed to reel myself in, and figure out what the plan would be. From the start to Al’s is where most of the walking should take place, from Al’s to Fred’s is a good mixture of both, and from Fred’s to the finish is an extremely run-able section. If I could only hang on to this plan for the loop, I’d do just fine. As I ran out of the start/finish area, I began to “bread & butter” the other runners who were just coming in. It was neat to see who was on my heels all day… especially later when they all passed me. Everyone looked strong, including Ian Parlin and Eric Boucher who were both running their first 50. Eric had whipped himself up into some amazing shape and I was really rooting for him.

I continued onto the first section of single track and the first major hill, slowly walking and then running when I could. I noticed a guy had driven his pick up into the woods and he was cutting down what seemed to be every hardwood he could find in this softwood forest. Chainsaw in hand he went to work and I must say, in the time I took me to run 2 loops, this dude had amassed quite a pile of wood. I made it to Al’s and was feeling good again. I drank some chicken noodle soup, some soda and chatted it up with aid station workers again. Bob Dunfey is always a great source for a good laugh and another gentleman told me he reads my blog and enjoy’s it. That’s always a good pick me up.

I headed off to Fred’s. I was running mostly alone out here, but what else is new. Most times in these races its what I do. The only problem was, without company, it was much harder to keep my mind off of “natures calling.” But then again, I was able to run my own race and keep things simple. I got back on track, and ran into Fred’s where I saw Jason Patch. Jason was great in keeping me motivated throughout the day, just another one of the great personalities of the race staff.

I ran what of the final 4 miles I could, and as I ran towards the start/finish again, I watched Paul head back out and even noticed some girls from the high school my HS rivaled with. I had to jaw at them, it was fun back then and still is now. Turns out they know my uncle. My time for this lap was more like it, but probably should have been about 20 minutes slower. I knew I was in trouble seeing as my race strategy was non-existent. Plenty of mistakes here in the first half, and the cold was really doing a number on my all ready tight legs. It was time to dig deep

Loop 2 Time: 2:24

Loop 3: Miles 25 – 37.5

I took off on loop three feeing tired still but confident. Nature was certainly calling and two miles into the loop, I finally decided to answer its call. Off into the woods I went and when I returned to the course, I knew that some 6 to 9 runners had moved ahead of me. I felt rejuvenated now that I had finally “got the lead out” and decided to munch my way back up in the ranks. I passed a few of them by Al’s and a few more shortly after. On my way to Fred’s I was in a groove and feeling good.

I ran a long downhill section before noticing that course markings were scant… and I saw what appeared to be remnants of where markings had once hung. So I kept going forward until I came up to a long strand of orange tape across my path. I stopped, looked up and saw a runner in front of me whom I remembered as being WAY ahead of me on the course. He uttered, “Ha! I see you did the same thing I did.” I asked him how far back it was and he uttered not a single word, turned and left without an answer. “Ok FINE! I’ll find out for myself!…. ::grumble::” I turned around and hurriedly ran up hill and back on to the course seeing the turn I missed. And when I came upon the first runner that was ahead of me, I realized I had lost all of my positions again.

I was still feeling good. I stopped at Fred’s to talk to Jason again and a few others, included some guys who knew me from a hiking website I used to belong to. I was sure to issue a short but honest opinion before hurrying off. I ran as much as I could the last 4 in on the loop, walked briskly at times and felt great about my time. This HAD to be my fastest loop and I’m on track still!… Ian Parlin caught me and we ran together for a bit talking about the New England racing scene. He and Eric Boucher put on some GREAT races in Maine as they try to create some type of trail running scene in New Englands Largest state. I enjoyed my time with Ian, excited about the run, still feeling tired, we ran into the finish area. I looked up at the clock.. and it read a dismal 7:37. I now had 2 hours and 10 minutes left in order to PR at the 50 Mile Distance. The wind was let out of my sails but I was still running with all that I had, PR or not.

Loop 3 Time: 3:03

Loop 4: Miles 37.5 – 50

Loop 3 felt like my fastest loop when it was actually my slowest. My race had slowly fallen apart and I was an army of one. Per the normal at Ultra’s I was running alone now, enjoying my time and thinking of many wonderful things. I was moving much slower now. As I had run in to finish loop3 I saw Paul running out. Surprised that I was still close to him, I was quick to leave and try to catch up. As I ran through the first trail section, a guy came from the other direction and said, “You Sherpa? Paul said to hurry up.” I smiled and got moving.

I eventually caught Paul and once again we were running together with some of the other runners in our area. We ran into Al’s where I told a few jokes, ate some more soup and grabbed an Oatmeal Raisin cookie. I thanked the volunteers for their time and effort and was on my way. As I entered the woods, I saw Paul crest the small hill and never saw him again until the finish. I spent the last miles of the race trying to catch him and as many runners as I could along the way, only to be passed myself with never passing anyone at all.

Somewhere out on the course, before or after Fred’s, the trail sections get rocky and narrow. I had rolled my ankles MANY times today and stubbed my toes enough to wish they didn’t even exist. Each hill came and each hill was walked slower. I tried to run the down hills and did just fine, but running the flats was now a chore. I was running from ribbon to ribbon and tree to tree, whatever it took.

Soon, some of the runners who were behind me came flying up and passed me with ease as their pacers led them away. I was once again discouraged and demoralized and wishing that pacers were NOT allowed in 50 Milers. But it is what it is and each race is different for everyone. Today, was definitely not my day and I knew it. So.. I trudged along as the life was ever so slowly sucked out of me.

About a mile from the finish a man came running up the trail and asked me if I was ok. I told him I was very tired and very much disappointed as I held back tears. He told me Paul sent him to find me to make sure I was ok, and then asked what I was disappointed about, “you just ran 50 miles! Do you know how many people can’t or won’t ever do that? Be proud man.” I held back tears and took a few deeps breaths. In my mind I thought about what he said. I thought about Jeff Washburn, the race director, who suffered a stroke back in September. I wish Jeff had been there but alas he wasn’t and I realized that this stranger was right. Sometimes, even as runners, we take things for granted.

So finally I had a pacer and we moved briskly along the final miles of the course. I knew this was my slowest lap… or was it?

Loop 4 Time: 2:57

I finished the race with a time of 10:34, about one hour longer than I had hoped. Even though I felt very much disappointed by my time at the end of the race, I was very much happy that I got to PR at the marathon 6 days before and even have the ability to run 50 miles today. I cherish this race finish as much as I do any others because hey… 50 miles is 50 miles (well… 50.5 right?). At the finish line I hugged Sarah and told her I felt like I had just run 100 Miles. It had been a long time since I was THAT tired; perhaps I was just relieved that it was over. I’m very much glad I tried the double PR as it sparked great life into my running.

Supposedly 139 people started the 50 Miler and only 81 finishers. I came in 49th.

A HUGE thanks to the folks at Gil’s Athletic Club (G.A.C.). They put on one hell of a race. The aid stations were top notch, friendly and supportive volunteers and one tough hombre of a course. My feet and legs were killing me! I loved it! I got a tech shirt for entering and a new jacket for finishing that says “50 Mile Finisher.” Special thanks to all those runners who I got to yuck it up with out there. You guys are a great family and I had a blast. It’s the reason I really look forward to the races.

So… a marathon PR, 50 miles 6 days later.. time to rest right? NOPE! Two days later I ran 23 miles over 12 peaks in New Hampshire’s Belknap Mountain Range… but you’ll have to hear all about that later

Pictures Here: