After running 41 marathons and nine 50Ks, I finally popped my 50-mile cherry by running 50.54 miles at the Watershed Preserve 12-hour race two weeks ago (I finished in 11:23:11, deciding I didn’t need to continue on for the full 12 hours).
This race was originally going to be a training run for the Rainier to Ruston 50-mile on June 5; however, I’ve decided to try to BQ at Seattle Rock ‘n Roll at the end of June and wanted more recovery time (I’ll still be running a 50K at R2R). Besides, I figured Redmond Watershed would be easier on my body as it’s all on trails, while R2R has a lot of road. In addition, given it’s a 12-hour race, even if I didn’t reach my 50-mile goal, I’d still be able to run farther than I ever had (my longest run prior was a 50K).
I didn’t follow a specific training plan; rather, I just ran a sh!tload of marathons and 50Ks (this was my 18th race of marathon distance or longer for the year). While I’d never run more than a 50K in one day, I have run 62 miles in two days and just over 80 in three days. While I was pretty confident I had the endurance, I was still quite nervous.
I knew the key would be too start off conservatively, something I’m used to doing in my marathons. I actually mapped out a pacing strategy for each loop on a spreadsheet, with paces starting at 11 1/2 minutes/mile and increasing by 15-45 seconds every loop, ending with 15-minute miles. My plan had my total running time at just over 11 hours, which would leave almost an hour for breaks at the aid station. Of course, I knew this would all be speculation; I had no idea what race day would bring.
I also received some great tips on nutrition/hydration from one of my ultra-running friends. This race puts out quite the spread at the aid station; in addition to typical ultra-running food (boiled potatoes with salt, cookies, pretzels, fruit, potato chips, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, electrolyte drink, etc.), they also offer sandwiches and soup later in the day. Therefore, the tendency to overeat was great. My friend recommended sticking to gels for the first 20+ miles before imbibing in “real” food.
The weather conditions were absolutely perfect, although a tad bit on the hot side for me (I believe it got up to 70 degrees). But fortunately the race is well shaded, so I didn’t overheat. (Since we started at 7 a.m., the first few loops were quite pleasant).
For the first 10 hours we were to run the full loop comprising a 4.65-mile loop and a .72-mile one. After that we had the option of switching to just the .72-mile one (and with just an hour left everyone had to switch to the smaller one). I planned to run nine large loops and three small ones for a total of 50.54 miles. The 4.65-mile loop is a rather wide dirt trail with just enough up and down to keep things interesting. It’s all very runnable, but given I was going for 50 miles I walked up all the hills. The .72-mile loop is single track with a couple more obstacles to watch out for. (In fact, one runner fell and hit his head really hard on the first loop, blackening his eye. An ambulance was called, and fortunately the medics cleared him to run again. However, he decided after walking a bit to call it a day).
With all the marathons I’ve run, I know about the ups and downs one experiences throughout the race. One moment you can be hurting all over and feeling defeated, but then you manage to get through it and feel good again. I went through this several times yesterday. When I started off I immediately felt a hot spot on the ball of my right foot (where I often develop a blister), despite taping it and liberally applying BodyGlide. I figured this would not bode well for my race. But the sensation miraculously disappeared by the end of the first loop and I survived with nary a blister.
As for pacing, it didn’t go as planned — it was better! My first loop was slower (11:56 average pace), but all the rest were faster than anticipated (my last long loop was my slowest at 13:45 min/mile). My breaks at the aid station ranged from a minute and a half to more than 13 minutes. My nutrition strategy worked like a charm; in addition to eating gels/Shot Blocks for first 5 loops, I also took small bites of potato chips, potatoes and fruit at the aid station. I then took extra long breaks after loops 5 and 7 to eat some sandwiches and sit a spell. By the time I switched to the three small loops I was SOOO ready to finish. I ran up most of the hills and my paces got faster each loop. As I ran toward the finish chute for the last time I yelled, “Anyone got a fork? ‘Cuz I am DONE!”
While I needed a couple of rest days afterward, I managed to run a fast half marathon a week later, missing my PR by only 42 seconds. I’m not sure I’ll ever be up for a 100-miler (famous last words, huh?), I know there’ll be other 50-milers in my future (and probably a 100K).