"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 Autumn Leaves 50 Mile Recap: "It's Awesome, Baby!"

Part 1: Autumn Leaves 50 miler at Champoeg State Park: 10hours 19minutes 21seconds
(Pictures to come as they become available)

Let me start by saying that it didn't feel like I was out there for 10+ hours. I can't explain it, but at the end of lap 7 (of 8), I commented to my buddy who paced me the last two laps that I really hadn't felt like it had been 8 1/2 hours, or basically two marathons. In fact, the whole day -- the time spent, how my legs and body felt, even how the miles felt, didn't seem all that different from a marathon. I've spent the time since finishing trying to get my head around why and have come up with a few possible reasons, but nothing concrete. I'll mention a few of them as I get through my race recap. Also, I have to give credit to all of the amazing runners that were there. So many of them completed this race in 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours...just amazing. They are inspirations to me.

Lap 1 - Miles 0-6.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:08

It was an extremely foggy morning, especially being as close to the Willamette River as we were. This made it a little bit difficult to see as we started out at 6am, but because we all (most) had headlamps on, it wasn't a huge deal. The first 5 miles of the loop was on a nicely paved bike path that presented no problems such as pot holes, roots or rough pavement. It was easy to find space to run in after just a few hundred yards and I settled into a nice groove at about a 10:30 pace.

The first pass through the aid station came at 1.4 miles and then it was a run through the forest area (still on paved path) up to the turnaround just short of 3.1. The last 100 yards or so before the turnaround was a pretty good incline and after running it the first lap I decided it wasn't worth it and that I would walk it in later laps. It was such a short distance that the difference between running and walking it pace-wise really was negligible in the big picture.

The second pass through the aid station came at 4.75 miles and at 5 miles we split off from the bike path and onto the dirt trail for about 1.25 miles. In the dark this was a very difficult section to run. In some areas the actual trail was only 6" wide with uneven grass clumps on both sides. Some areas were through the trees, which presented their own problems. Because it was so dark we were instructed to follow the green glow sticks that were placed every so often along the way. Between looking for the glow sticks, trying to stay on the trail and continuing to keep up a good pace I was a little slow to react when the runner in front of me yelled "root!" What roo---? oh, that root. The one I just tripped over and face-planted because of (and as I later discovered, cut my leg because of). A good wake up call if nothing else.

The final .2 miles of the lap were back through the parking lot we had started in and up to the start/finish area where we crossed the mat, went around the cone, attended to the aid station and our drop bags and then set out for lap #2.

I was about 7 minutes slower than my projected time, but didn't care too much. I was running at a comfortable pace and that was more important, especially early on. I also discovered that my car was parked literally on the course (in that last .2 miles of the lap) which was nice as I stored some of my stuff there as well.

Lap 2 - Miles 6.25-12.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:07

By the time lap 2 began it was starting to get light. Still extremely foggy, but light enough that I turned my headlamp off by the time I reached the aid station. I continued on at the pace I had been running and continued to take my walk break every 20 minutes.

One of the most important things I settled into on lap 2 was the mind set of taking this thing one lap at a time. I didn't worry about how many miles I had left or even how many laps were left. Nor did I look to see how many miles I had gone (I turned that setting off on my watch). I didn't even care what my time had been on previous laps. My only concern was the lap I was on, nothing else.

I finished lap 2 in 1:07, again a few minutes slower than projected, but I felt great and wasn't straining or struggling at all.

Lap 3 - Miles 12.5-18.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 10/1
Projected Time: 1:09
Actual Time: 1:09

By lap three I felt like I knew the course well and could easily break it into smaller sections: the 1 mile marker, the aid station at 1.4, the bridge at 2.3, the turnaround at 3.1, the bridge again just before 4, the aid station at 4.75, the trail at 5 and the end of the lap at 6.25. That was my life for the final six laps. Just get to the next landmark.

I welcomed the chance to begin taking a walk break every 10 minutes during this lap and finished right on target, at 1:09.

Lap 4 - Miles 18.75-25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:15
Actual Time: 1:07

Lap 4 was the best I felt all day. Early in the lap I would take my walk break every 8 minutes, but didn't feel like I needed the full two minutes of recovery so I would cut it short at just one minute. During the running portions I felt great and really tried to stretch my strides a little bit to challenge myself while remaining comfortable.

Normally during a marathon this is where I do a number of things, including bonking, cease sweating, and walking for long, long stretches. Not on this lap though, and not on this day. I broke into an almost sprint pace as I hit the parking lot for the final .2 miles (it wouldn't be the last time I would sprint to the a lap) and finished in 1:07, eight full minutes under my projected time.

Lap 5 - Miles 25-31.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:14

My biggest fear, if you want to call it that, was laps five and six. This was uncharted waters for me and I had no idea how my body would react or respond to what I would ask it to do during these laps. I used some of my projected aid station time between laps 4 and 5 to stop at my car and start lathering up my legs with an icy-hot gel. While there I struck up a conversation with an elderly couple parked next to me. They were there to cheer on a family member and assured me they would be there all day, cheering for me to. It was nice to have a little adopted family there for support. They cheered for me every time I ran by as if I was one of their own and offered encouragement whenever I stopped at the car. It's one of the little things that made the day possible.

I owe a big thanks to my friend C, who sent me copies of her late-90's Jock Jams/Jock Rock collection. You remember those songs, don't you? Many of the songs are still played on stadiums today during timeouts and player introductions, but who can forget Will Smith, Coolio and the Backstreet Boys all jamming? And if you can have Dick Vitale yelling "America, are you serious? It is showtime baby!" in your ear as you pass the 26 mile mark, how can you not be pumped up? (Inconsequential note, I passed 26.2 at around 4:50, but didn't bother to stop to celebrate or make much not of it...that wasn't the goal today).

At the aid station in lap 5 I met up with a girl also running her first 50 miler. We had passed each other numerous times on the turnarounds and at the aid stations already and made chit chat as we left the aid station. I asked if she was following any sort of run/walk pattern and she said not really, so I told her what my lap plan was. We each had our music going, but it was helpful to have someone to run with to be accountable to. For instance, at the end of my running segment, I would tell her I was going to walk for one minute (or two). At one minute (or two), if I didn't look like I was starting to run again, she'd say let's go and get moving again. Occasionally I had to make sure she got moving again also. We ran the rest of the lap together and then lap 6 as well. Again, a small thing that made the day possible. Had I been left to run those uncharted miles by myself, maybe I get lazy and walk more than I should have.

Finished the lap in 1:14, another 7 minutes off of my projected time.

Lap 6 - Miles 31.25-37.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:19

Much the same during this lap. Get to the next landmark, take the walk breaks, continue to refuel (more on refueling in a minute). My buddy drove up next to me about a mile into this lap to let me know he was there and would be waiting for me at the end of the lap. This was a shot of much needed adrenaline that served me well the remainder of the lap. 1:18, another 2 minutes off of projected time.

Lap 7 - Miles 37.5-43.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:26

Definitely a slower lap. As far as I can remember I didn't walk any more than the 5/2 projected ratio, but my walk pace was probably slower than the 16 minute pace I was using in my calculation. I felt like my running pace was pretty consistent throughout the entire day though, including these final laps. My buddy K, was a great support and had brought all sorts of stuff that he thought I might have needed, including a leg roller and a sub sandwich, which I wasn't in the mood for, but appreciated a lot nonetheless. More than anything, his enthusiasm for what we (the girl I was running with stayed with us for lap 7) were doing was enough to keep me going strong. A 1:26 lap, 5 minutes slower than projected, but I made the cutoff to start the final lap! Hooray! (It wasn't close, I was almost 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff, but at the start of the day I wasn't sure). More than that, I kicked it into high gear the final 1/2 mile and ran a low 7-minute pace in the final stretch and felt awesome (mile 44 for those keeping track).

Lap 8 - Miles 43.75-50
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:21

I'm not going to lie, this lap was a struggle. My running pace stayed where it should have been, but my walking pace was getting slower and slower. Just get to the mile marker, the aid station, the bridge, the turnaround etc. At the turnaround I knew I had just a 5k left. Then I got to the aid station and knew I had just 1.5 miles left. So close, yet the trail awaited, with all its uneven terrain and I was absolutely spent. It was here that K said probably the only thing he shouldn't have all day and that was to think about my family waiting for me at the finish line. That's certainly not a punishable offense by any stretch, but at that point it was all it took for me to get emotional for the first time all day and have to hold back tears. But on we went.

The last mile is no different from any other mile, in theory. Same distance, and on this course, a stretch I had already run seven times that day. But man, those little ups and downs on the trail through the forest seemed like flights of stairs and were really hurting (going up and down).

I was talking to myself quite a bit during this final stretch and K was pumping his fists, pushing me along. Just before the 6 mile mark of the final lap, I asked myself out loud "what do you have left?" I needed to know.

And so I did what any rational person who had just run 49.75 miles would do: I broke into a sprint, breaking out of the trees, into the parking lot, past my adopted family and towards the finish line where my wife and kids were waiting. I touched 6:33/mile during this stretch and crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. My final lap was right on my projected time.

Overall I finished in 10:19:21. Slightly slower than my projected overall time, but certainly in the "I'm freaking out because I can't believe I just did that" range. I definitely want to talk about my hydration and refueling strategy and experience, but I will leave that for another post because of the length here already.

So mark it down. I'm an ultra-marathoner. It's awesome, baby!

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