I mentioned in my last post that my key training consists of back-to-back workouts. Since getting Leadville training in full swing since February, I decided to divide the 6-1/2 months build up into two phases. Both phases have a 50 mile race incorporated into the plan. Phase one peaked with one such race I had my eye on for a while. I’ll talk phase 2 another time.
On May 5th, I took part in The North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile race at Bear Mountain, NY. A grueling test, exactly the sort of stuff I go after!
It was my first time back to Bear, a year since I had jumped into ultra running with a memorable 50K (even if I did break my toe). This time around I was going after the biggest challenge possible; 50 miles. It was much the same course as the 50K, just another 19 miles to make sure you were really beat up and deserving of the medal.
I woke up at 3am with a glucose of 231. I ate my bagel, cereal bar and banana on the drive up north from NYC, ironically 50 miles. I lowered my insulin intake for this meal to 75% which helped keep my reading high pre-race. It was 264, 20 minutes before the gun. Technically greater than 180 is perceived as hyperglycemia but with 50 miles of upcoming exercise this would not be an issue.
The 5am start required a mandatory headlamp. I picked up a Black Diamond Storm from REI (think Toys R Us for outdoor adult junkies), the only weatherproof one without breaking the bank or weighing a ton. This headlamp shopping was all new for me learning about lumens and battery life, weight, to wear or not wear a hat as well. This preparation was ideal as the Leadville 100 will require me looking like a miner not once but twice come August.
Bear is as technical a course as I have experienced. When you have to use your hands as well as your feet, you know why they label it the Endurance Challenge. I went to The North Face pre-race panel discussion on Friday night to listen to Dean Karnazes, Leigh Schmitt and Tracy Garneau; all three world class ultra runners and dead nice people too. I picked Leigh’s brain afterwards. The best advice he gave me was to walk the uphills, it was going to be a long day and it would pay off.
Although this was not a huge ultra trick, I definitely focused on this more because it was fresh in my head. Other runners would pass me up the hills, breathing heavy only to see me again at the summit when I began my running again and passed them by. I also used the advice of Scott Jurek about hydrating and refueling on the downhills as the body can digest far easier while descending. This scenario played out countless times over twenty miles from mile 5 through halfway. I regained about 30 spots going from 50th to the top 20 with discipline. I continued to run steady for the next twenty miles getting random cramps throughout both legs. I gobbled down saltstick capsules to fight this off praying it wouldn’t cause full on cramping as happened at JFK50 last November.
I was now trotting along keeping my blood sugar in a good place (well I didn’t have any hypo or hyper symptoms anyway). I was consuming about 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour from a mix of gels, chews and Gatorade and also sipping the H20 from my backpack every mile. Just before the toughest climb of the day (Timp Pass at mile 45) I noticed a pacer bringing up the lead woman fast behind me. I was about to lose a place and get “chicked” as Dusty Olson (Scott Jurek’s pacer) likes to say in the process!
My fear however did not really come from her sex. Ultra women are hardcore. I was more bummed about falling out of the top 20. I ascended and descended Timp Pass at a really aggressive pace. As hard as that climb is, the descent is equally tough to stay upright. Any mistake here on the big loose rocks and I was going down hard and collecting some trail tattoos.
I came out unscathed and reached the last aid station where a lot of the 50K and marathon runners were taking some stock for the last 3 miles. I had no time for such luxuries, anyway I had my backpack on which still had enough gel and chews stored away to get me another 30 miles if necessary. I ran straight through in all business mode clipping off 8:30’s that felt like sub-6’s.
After all my fears of being kicked out of the top 20, I never did get caught and came in 19th anyway. I had a one spot cushion I never knew about! Over 9 hours on my feet. The longest run of my life by over 2 hours and the best thing about it all was that I felt pretty good! I later found out the woman closing in was a previous Western States 100 champ. My post-race glucose was 147 at 3pm. That was great but I also knew to get a good meal inside me before that kept going south. I happily did just that.
Post-meal, I got the chance to catch up with Leigh Schmitt again and thank him for his advice. He came in 2nd place and seemed remarkably fine about it. A real class act and down to earth guy. He really extended his advice to me by exchanging numbers and putting me in touch with his friend, Hal Koerner (a double Western States 100 champion).
How can you not love this sport when you get to run the same course and then hang out, get advice and share stories with the top guys? How many amateur golfers get to mingle with Tiger Woods after 18 or small talk with Roger Federer in the Tennis Pavilion? Although the Leigh’s and Scott’s are out of sight during the race, the egos of the best ultra runners are just not their and for that, everyone wins.