Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My first 50k

I did it. I ran more than twice the furthest distance I had ever run before in my life and 5 miles further than a full marathon. Having never run a "real" 1/2 marathon (I have done Spartan Races that are 13+ miles) or full marathon, I ran and completed a 50 Kilometer race - The Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50k in Virginia. A 31+ mile trail race along a retired railroad track through the lush forests of King George County. Up until two weeks ago I had no intention of even running this race, but when my friend and fellow VPX Team Xtreme teammate, David "Buddy" Homa (DBH) described the race to me, I got the itch. He said we wouldn't focus on time like we do with obstacle racing, but just on finishing. With a hesitant "ok" from Gretchen, I quickly paid the registration and signed up. My previous training runs were anywhere from 5 to 12 miles in length. This race was going to add some incredibly tough miles to that distance. With all of my CrossFitting, running, strength training, and obstacle race schedule, I thought this would be something that I could work in and complete. Would it be difficult? Yes.

I began researching and reading anything I could find online about ultra running and talking to my network of friends who had done these types of races in the past. Most of the advice focused on starting and keeping a very slow to moderate pace and making sure that nutrition and hydration were addressed throughout the entire race. I ordered a new pair of shoes because my minimalist Inov8 Bare Grip 200's that I use for Obstacle Races were not going to be any use for a distance like this, and my Mizuno Wave Rider 15's have over 500 miles of road miles on them. I decided on the Salomon Speedcross 3's. They are a very light and versatile shoe made for trail running at any distance. The day after I got them and less than two weeks from the race, I went on a 14 mile run and got a nasty blister on the inside of my right foot...ugh. Over the next week I did another few runs with them at various lengths - 10 mile and 7 miles and the shoes broke in and improved. I also ordered an Ultraspire race vest since my Geigerrig hydration pack has zero room for anything other than liquid. I wanted something light and something that could carry food and water. The vest is fantastic.

Dave picked me up on Friday afternoon and it took us about 6 hours to get down to meet up with our other fellow VPX teammates and fellow racers - John Sales, Brandon Seale, Dave Gluhareff and Fuego Y Agua Survival Run champion Johnson Cruz. We went out for a pre-race meal at Carraba's - John's girlfriend Kristin was our friendly waitress and the carbs were flowing with hot bread and whole wheat pasta.

After dinner we headed back to John's gym to crash on some air mattresses. Anyone knows that it's pretty difficult to get a great night sleep the night before a race, but after the long drive and carb filled dinner I slept fairly well.

The morning of the of the race came quickly and I fueled up with a blended power shake of a banana, 40g of VPX vanilla protein, blueberries, strawberries, chia seeds, hemp hearts, ice and coconut water. It was a perfect pre-race meal.

I did the quick "before" photo just prior to 6:30am and we were off! We all started together, but as in any race, after the first 1/2 mile the field began to spread out. Most of the crew took off pretty quickly, but Brandon and I stayed together. He was having some trouble with his GPS watch, but mine was working fine. My goal was to pace slowly around 10 minutes per mile and just take the miles as the come. The temperature was perfect at around 69 degrees with slightly overcast skies. Even with those cooler August temps, I sweat and run hot. After 2 miles I took my first "s-cap." I was told by various distance runners that S-caps can be a life saver on long endurance races as they are capsules filled with sodium and potassium which give your body the electrolytes needed to hydrate and prevent cramps. I felt great. A nice slow run through a lush forest. It was awesome. I filled my hydration vest with fresh water at every stop, and before I knew it I was at the turn around point 15.6 miles into the race.

Brandon's mom was waiting for him at the half way point and he wanted to keep running right away. I was a bit stiff and just wanted to stretch and eat for a few minutes before the return trip began, so this was where we split up. The rest of the race would be solo for me.

I won't lie - the next 15 miles sucked. Even though the trail was relatively flat, there were big stones on every step and brush to the middle of my calves. My headphones were still working and I had an endless playlist going which definitely helped to pass the time mentally.

It got pretty bad from mile 19-28 from what I can tell of my GPS splits. My left knee was hurting pretty badly, so my right leg was overcompensating and my right calf would start to cramp. I pushed through the pain by running for a few minutes then speed walking for a 10-20 count. It wasn't easy, but after I passed the 26.2 "marathon" mark it felt like the home stretch. Some miles seemed to fly by and others seemed to take forever. My iPhone died at mile 27, so then it just became the sounds of my feet running, heavy breathing and nature. During the last 2 miles I really started to pick up my pace because I saw I could make the time in under 6 hours if I moved fast enough. I passed about 5 or 6 people on the last mile and ran as fast as I could.

I could see the finish line and some of my friends there waiting for me and it made me push harder. I finished in 6 hours and 1 minute. I was pleased with my time, but definitely think I could do better.

I was hoping for some sort of cool "50k" medal, so I was a bit surprised when the girl at the end asked me if I'd like a pint glass, a tumbler, or a hat. I told her I'd like a medal and everyone laughed. I opted for the pint glass. I immediately took off my shoes and socks, got out of my sweaty vest and shirt and ate 2 burgers from the after race BBQ. We took some photos of our team together - showing the muscles of course - and joked that this was probably the only ultra race where you'll see guys like us flexing.

All in all, this race was an incredible experience that I will absolutely do again. Maybe not this particular venue, but this was the beginning for me of ultra running...