Well, having managed through (a modified) version of the hill work I needed the previous weekend there was one more important test that I had assigned myself in order to determine if I should stick with the C2M plan or not. I knew that none of this was really a good idea and that my overall fitness was nowhere near where I had wanted it by this point. However, I also had convinced myself that if I could just finish a reasonably tough 50-miler three weeks before the 100 that I could stick it out for the full distance come race day.
My plan was to run the PCTR Skyline Ridge 50K. However, I would turn it into something closer to 50 miles by starting early in the morning and parking my car about 9 miles away at the Saratoga Gap parking area at the intersection of Hwy 35 and 9. I would start by running about 2 miles on the Saratoga Gap Trail to the road crossing at the start of the Hickory Oaks Trail. This was the location of the turnaround for the 23K loop of the 50K so it would be marked from this point all the way to the Start/Finish location at Skyline Ridge.
I arrived at the parking area around 6:15am and quickly gathered my stuff together to head out. The race started at 8:30am and I didn't want to push too hard or have too much time to stand around cooling off. It was a beautiful morning and looking like perfect running weather with a nice cloud layer overhead promising mild temperatures. I hadn't been on these trails since my mountain biking days and I'd forgotten how great they are. In fact, they were almost too runnable and I had to force myself to slow down and walk some hills when my body wanted to keep going, reminding myself that I had plenty of miles to go and needed to maintain an "all day" pace. Mostly I just tried to focus on enjoying the morning and the trail alone. I did make one wrong turn along the way since the markers were set assuming that you would come in the opposite direction first, there was one location where an arrow made of sticks sent me heading back in the wrong direction and added a nice little loop for some extra miles. After this I pushed it a little bit, but then realized I had plenty of time (and an extra 1/2 mile was not a bad thing). I saw a family of deer along the way which once again reminded me that I really need to start packing a camera on these runs. Beyond this the 9.5 miles was fairly uneventful.
I was carrying two handhelds and testing out my rig of mounting my GPS watch on one of them so that I could later recharge it during the run. It seemed to be working out fine, but the one downside I discovered about 2/3 of the way into the run was that the slight added weight of the watch and charger made me think I had more fluid in my bottle than I actually did. I kept trying to find that last little bit at the bottom and, perhaps, it was due to this that a tear developed in the nipple of my UD Fastdraw Plus. It was a pain, but I was still able to drink from it by placing my lip over the hole when I drank. I also had on my waste pack to carry some food and gel for this trip out as well as the return after the race. I didn't plan to use it during the 50K figuring the handhelds and aid stations would be fine. I also had a light shell stuffed into the horizontal bottle holder. At any rate, I made it to the start area with plenty of time, maybe even a little too much as it was much windier and colder there than in the woods.
I arrived at the check-in area certainly more warmed up than I normally would be. Miki was doing the race bibs so I chatted for a bit and then looked around for others that I knew. There were a number of people I knew doing this race including Craig Slagel, Jenny Ray, Leslie Antonis and Harry Walther among others. Harry was going to run some with me at the end perhaps doing the 23K loop an extra time. However, he also wanted to put in a hard race. I however, wanted nothing of the sort and was worried about not taking it easy enough during this middle section of my run. Luckily, I also met Steve Holman who I knew was usually slower than me. I decided to take it out with him. I stuck back there as long as I could and enjoyed just chatting and taking it easy. Then, one of the steeper downhills came and there was simply no way for me to maintain that pace. Steve hollered something about needing to learn a thing or two about being a back-of-the-pack runner. I still focused on ting it easy on this loop and enjoyed the now familiar route back to the aid station. I refilled my bottles, grabbed some goodies, said hi to everyone and headed on out. About half way along the return trip, I could feel my pace and my energy level slowly degrading. Each of the legs was a little over 7 miles which would not be a big deal in terms of hydration and fueling. However, I was now around mile 20 (not 12) of my run which is generally where my needs tend to accelerate. I was regretting having left my waste pack at the start.
I finished the loop and decided to just spend a little extra time at the aid station. I ate some extra goodies including cantaloupe dipped in salt. The next part of the race consisted of two loops of about 8 1/2 miles each. However, there would be an aid station half way out so it wouldn't be an issue now. There was some decent climbing here and I was definitely feeling the hill work that I had done the previous weekend. My calves were tight and I actually felt my quads on the downhill which is abnormal for me. I was mostly worried about any ITB issues that might arise so I again focused on taking it as easy as I could. The difficult part of this loop was that the front runners in the 50K were now starting to lap me as they finished their final loop. This was a little demoralizing as (from my estimates) I would normally be working to hold off the front runners before heading out for my final lap. However, I kept reminding myself that I had extra miles on my legs and more of them waiting for me after I finished. I passed through my own 50K mark before the end of this lap in a time of around 6:15. Definitely a fair bit slower than I think I could manage on the course, but not nearly as slow as my actual finish time would be in the race results as I knew my pace would further degrade.
I met Scott Dunlap as he lapped me a little before finishing my first lap. I am always impressed by the speed he can maintain while taking so many photos along the trail. He snapped this one up on a particularly windy section. This loop alternated between windy/cool sections and still/warm ones. I decided to stick with my warmer clothing since my pace was so slow. I finished this lap at a bit over 32 miles which meant that I would have a total of close to 40 when I hit the finish. The struggle on the last lap as my average paced continued its trend from 13 to 14 minutes per mile was whether I should just do the smart thing, call it done at 40 and find someone to drive me to my car. The temptation was strong especially as I was cresting the final hill of the last loop. Then, coming towards me, HARRY! He'd finished the 50K in a blazing sub-5 hour pace just missing a top 10 placing (man there were some fast folks in this one). I joked, telling him he should have done the whole loop and caught me from behind, but really I was just happy to have him join me. He said he would continue with me on the final journey to my car if I could drive him back to the start. No problem. Now I was now committed. I finished the "race" in a little under 6:44. I'm pretty sure that this is about an hour slower than I could do on this course under very different conditions.
I was glad to be done and the soup at the finish line was very welcome. However, was also getting pretty stiff in the legs and Leslie was tempting me with a ride back to my car. I refused, but certainly thought about it. Before Harry was ready to head out I found my waste pack and put my shell on. I needed to keep warm if I didn't want to totally freeze up before these final 9 miles.
Harry and I headed out slow. Very slow. I was stiff and could definitely feel my ITBs. To further frustrate me, my other water bottle had also developed a hole in the nipple. I wander if Ultimate Direction really tested these things over the long haul. With his hard race on his legs, Harry was happy to take it easy as well, but I still had trouble keeping with him on the uphills. I was estimating about a 2 hour trip back to my car. This would put us there right around 5:30pm. About a mile into our run, Harry realized that he didn't know what time the lot at Skyline Ridge closed. His car was parked inside the gate and the last thing he wanted was to have it stranded up there. He tried to find cell reception at various locations and I suggested that he could head back. Heck, I would go with him if he would drive me to my car. Dauntless, we pushed on. He finally found a connection and left a message for Sarah about his car. At this point we were pretty close to the 3 mile point and turning back wouldn't be that much better than continuing on anyway.
We also decided that once we reached the 7 mile mark at the intersection with Skyline Blvd that we would just take the road back to my car. We were thinking it would cut about a mile off the trip. I certainly didn't have any burning need to hit exactly 50 miles. The trip was already going to total well over 10 hours for me and that was more than enough to convince me that my endurance was not totally lost. In fact, somewhere in there I actually ran a bit of the uphills. Running being more of a shuffle at this point, but still it was encouraging. Somewhere around mile 5.5 of this leg we saw a sign pointing towards the road. We decided to cut off the trail a little early thinking it would be quicker on the road. Well, I'm not sure what the distance was that the sign indicated, but it wasn't exactly a direct route to the road. Somehow we ended up on this private dirt road running through some dilapidated old houses culminating in a nasty climb up to the Hwy. At a little over 47 miles we were on asphalt moving along the shoulder where we could. Not only had we hit the road about 1/2 mile earlier than expected, but it wasn't the "mostly downhill to the parking lot" that Harry had promised me. Furthermore, I was out of water and trudging along the road with cars whizzing by was just annoying. I was wishing that we had stuck to the trail where we could at least have been distracted by some nice scenery. I didn't mention it too much as I could tell Harry was worried about his car.
Eventually we crested the hill and then a little longer before coming to the final curve into the intersection. We were both happy to see the parking lot and Harry ran on ahead of me. I did a little lap around the lot to assure that my GPS watch hit the 49 mile mark (my software later measured it as a little bit longer). It was now just after 5:30 and my total running time came to just under 10:34. Not a bad days work. We made it back to Skyline Ridge just in time to see Sarah and Wendell about to leave. We chatted for a bit, got a few extra snacks and drinks from their van and said our goodbyes. I was definitely feeling satisfied with my effort and was now, more than ever, determined to get on with the Coyote Two Moons 100.
My stats looks something like this.
Total Distance: 49.16mi
Elevation Change: +/-7800ft
Total Time: 10:33:53
Average Pace: 12:54 mpm
I certainly didn't run negative splits as my average pace on the various sections tells quite the tale.
Post-race Whine and Cheez
I was sticking with Coyote Two Moons. However, I had definitely decided that I wanted to be in an earlier start group. Harry had done 45 miles for the day and was clearly way, way beyond my fitness level. Even if he was at the front of our start group, I would be chasing the cutoffs at the back. I didn't need that added stress so I was going to have to beg the race director to let me start in the second to last, rather than the middle start group. I had friends in this group as well since it included Craig, Leslie and Chris Marloff.
I sent off a message to the RD, crafting it to convey just the right amount of temerity and levity to convince him of my earnestness. He accepted my humble request.
I spake thusly,
The best news is that, while I was pretty sore and very tired after driving home Saturday night, I awoke to much less stiffness than expected come Sunday morning. I had no mobility issues and made sure I walked around as much as possible including taking a nice neighborhood stroll with my wife before bed. Monday brought on the expected DOMS, but nothing very severe. Lots of stretching, self massage and the use of various rolling tools allowed for a nice, short and easy recovery run of 4 miles on Tuesday. Yesterday and today I am back at my normal weekday runs with a little extra tiredness in the legs, but nothing to cause undo caution. In other words, things are looking good. I'll try to hit some hills this weekend and then try to take it fairly easy the next two weeks. However, I will be adding more hill (or treadmill incline) walking as that is what I expect to be doing a lot of in a race with over 28,000ft of climbing.