Race: Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run
Date: 3 March 2018
Trail: 25 mile loop from Kentucky Camp in the Santa Rita Mountains
Naturally, after not finishing a 50k, the most logical thing for someone to do would be sign up for a 50 mile race. Right? Well, that’s exactly what I did. You can read all about my disastrous Oracle Rumble 50k DNF in my previous blog post if you haven’t already. Fortunately, this race report comes from a much more positive perspective. I’m going to share with you all of my secrets and shortcuts to go from 50k to 50 miles! Spoiler alert: there are no secrets or shortcuts. However, I will tell you all about my journey over the past month, and how I got my redemption from last months humbling failure.
After pulling the plug at mile 28 of 32 at the Oracle Rumble, it took all of about 30 minutes for thoughts of regret to fill my brain. For the first time in my life, I had quit in an athletic event. This was a tough pill for me to swallow. I immediately made a promise to myself that I would do everything I needed to in order to complete the Old Pueblo 50 mile race I was signed up for just 4 weeks away.
What was it really that needed to be done? After taking a look at my training leading up to the 50k, I honestly had no idea what else I could do. I had felt extremely good about my training leading up to that race, and felt even better going in to it the morning of. I felt like I needed some outside perspective from someone with an unbiased view point. So I enlisted the help of a coach. Not just any running coach, however, I needed someone to make me strong and durable. I got the help of George Briones, the Head of Human Performance with SOFLETE.
Without boring you with specific workout details, George replaced 2 of my “base” running workout days with very specific gym sessions to strengthen my core and posterior chain. He also incorporated some speed work (something I had abandoned for the “volume” method that I thought was required for ultra running), cycling, swimming and most importantly, breath work, in to my weekly training. He topped this all off with progressively longer weekend long runs.
George also took a look in to my race day pacing and nutrition. This, in my opinion, are the areas I was making the biggest mistakes. We replaced gels and sugar based nutrition with real food and simple electrolyte mixes. He also put together a more sustainable pacing plan. Apparently it’s not a good idea to run the first half of an ultra marathon at your half marathon race pace! This would allow me to stay on top of my fueling without running into GI issues as well as not blow my legs up after 18 miles.
So now to the point of this blog. After following George’s programming for 4 weeks and learning to re-calibrate my pacing, did any of this work? Absolutely!
The race started dark and early at a chilly 6am. As we headed out, I continuously kept reminding myself to keep is slow and easy. The goal was 11-13 min/mile pace while running, and 16-20 min/mile pace while hiking. I was able to stay right within those parameters for about the first 50k. The first 35 miles were fairly uneventful, in a good way. I was on my pacing. I was having zero GI issues, and the inevitable bonk still had not shown its ugly head. Over all, is was just enjoying the trail and the moments of solitude exploring the mountains. I actually set a new 50k PR by almost an hour! So far, the day was looking great.
Around mile 35 is where the bonk started to creep in. Pacing slowed a bit and the uphills started to feel much more steep than they actually were. At this point I started to utilize some of the breathing exercises George had me working on. This allowed me to become present in the moment and begin to self assess. I noticed that I was still sweating and peeing regularly so I must be adequately hydrated still. I wasn’t nauseous or in any sort of GI distress. My legs were tired, but not sore or cramping and the same could be said for my feet. I continued this pattern of breathing and self assessment through the next 8 miles or so until I reached the mile 43 aid station.
The last 9 miles. This was the gut check. Thoughts of pulling the plug at the Oracle Rumble started to fill my head. 9 more miles was too far. It would take too long. Your legs are too sore. Your feet hurt. Your pace is too slow. You’re finished. These are the thoughts that flooded the dialogue in my head.
NO. I’M. NOT. I reminded myself of the feeling of regret from that DNF. That bitter, bitter feeling that I promised I would never allow myself to feel again. Breathe. Slow your breathing I continued to tell myself. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward.
Around mile 45, as the sun began to set and the air temperature cooled. That highly sought after “flow state” set in. My legs and body felt quick and light as the course finally started to provide some relief from the constant up hill climbing. I was in a groove and this is where I knew. I knew that I was going to finish. My goal was to just keep moving all day. I hadn’t stopped for more time than it took to refill my water bottles and grab some food at aid stations. I may have not been moving fast, but I kept moving. Slow and steady forward movement.
Mile 51 ½. My friend Kevin was out on the dark dirt road directing runners off the road on to the final ½ mile of single track to the finish. He handed me my jacket and gave me a big congratulations as he pointed me towards the finish line. In that last ½ mile, all my experiences over the last month came to mind. I realized how grateful I am to have such a supportive group of friends and family. My coach, George, who believed in me after I came to him immediately after one of the most humbling experiences of my life. My running partner, Chris, who probably against his better judgement, would join me on those early Saturday mornings to keep me company. Thoughts of my partner, Kristyn, holding down our fort as I left the house every Saturday to spend the whole morning in the mountains training. My 3 boys, that I hope look to me as an example for how to handle challenge in life. These people are all the reasons I continue to challenge myself. Not for belt buckles, or medals, but for the people in my life. The people are what really matter.
The finish. I could see the finish line lights. I could hear Bob, the animated race director, yelling at me. “That’s what I’m talking about!”. “Let’s get er done!”. As I entered the final few feet, my good friend Kristin, who by the way had just finished her own personal redemption run, was there waiting for me. She handed me an American Flag and cheered me to the finish! After 14hrs and some change, I was finally done. Ill never be the fastest runner out there. I won’t set any course records. I wont be standing on any podiums. However, I can tell you with absolute certainty. Ill never quit.
Thanks again for reading my race recap. I hope you all continue to get out there and keep pushing yourselves, and keep raising the bar. That’s what life is truly about. For now, these are my, Thoughs from the trail.