Photo Credit: Jim Bickelhaupt
Speaking of the race itself. Its a 50K measured out to the inch. You run a short out-n-back in the beginning and then complete 7 loops that are about 4.25 miles each. 1.4 miles of each loop is on a very groomed & flat trail beside the catawba river. So this gives you a total of 9.8 miles of trail and 21.3 miles of road. I would call this a road ultra. Maybe a hybrid by some standards...
With that being said, the goal of the day was not another multi-hour trail race with tough climbs and gnarly trails. The goal was to finally run a 50K under six hours.
Spoiler: I did it! Here is how it went down:
I had absolutely no plan going into the race. I just wanted to run faster and harder than I ever had before. I've made some improvements in my running over the past three months, but had yet to really "race" and see what kind of run I could put together.
After running close to 40 ultra marathons, I've learned that 50Ks are not my strong suit. I do better on 50+ mile races where endurance becomes more of a factor than speed. Either way, I still felt that a 5:59 50K (or better) was in my grasp and it was just one of those little goals that eats at you.
I've often thought about my first 50K ultra race in Virginia Beach during the giant Nor'easter of 2009. I sprinted to the finish line only to find myself 12 seconds shy of my goals at 6:00:12! That was a good race for me in those conditions, but it stung to miss my goal by only 13 seconds...
So Saturday morning rolled around and I found myself lined up with about 40 other runners beside the beautiful Catawba River in Lancaster, SC. Claude fired his cannon of a rifle at 7:00 AM and we were off and running!
The first little out-n-back on the course is uphill. I would normally ALWAYS walk the uphills during an ultra, but not today! CHARGE that baby! It felt very weird starting out with a 10:00 mile/mile pace. I ran even harder coming back down the hill to finish the little out-n-back before the seven loops began.
Greta and I were running together and catching up on the latest running news. I thought it was smart to stick with her since she has had a lot of road running experience. I felt like we were flying, but there were still several runners going much faster.
We finished the first loop in about 42 minutes, quickly filled our bottles up and headed back out for loop 2 of 7.
We charged the hill again without any problem. I was feeling on top of my game and I had a good feeling that today would be sub 6 day. Wow, still a LOT of running to do though.
We both ran loop two together and took a quick pit stop at the aid station. Greta had to grab something from her car and I took back off up the hill for loop 3 of 7.
Once again, I ran the hill hard and got to the top. This is where I met Robert Crosby. Another Laurel Valley runner and we briefly chatted. I passed him and Greta caught back up to me - she asked me if I realized that I was running a 8:40 min/mile pace?! Woooooaaa! I couldn't believe that!
I decided to slow back a little bit and at least stay around a 10 min/mile pace. I needed to maintain a 11:30 min/mile pace to finish under 6 hours. Seemed simple enough at the time.
I chatted with several other friends during this stretch and ran the 1.4 mile trail section with no problem for the third time. I was drinking my full 20 oz water bottle on each 4.25 mile loop and downing two full cups of Gatorade at the aid station each time. I followed that with a hand full of aid station food and one SCap.
Things got tougher on loop 4/7. I ran half of the hill, but had to walk some of the 2nd half. My quads were beginning to burn and I could feel the previous 18 miles that I had just ran. I kept thinking only 13 miles to go - keep running - don't worry about the clock - keep running.
After the hill I ran the rest of the loop and felt horrible as I came into the aid station. My stomach was feeling weird and I wanted to walk. I grabbed a few ginger cookies and sipped some Coke. I walked for about thirty seconds and started feeling sorry for myself.
"your're just not a fast runner"
"you don't really have what it takes to get under 6 hours"
"this should just be a training run, why push it?"
"you're still gonna finish with a good time if you walk"
SHUT UP little voices!
I put those voices to rest with some running into loop 5 of 7. It was becoming a struggle to maintain any type of decent pace. Even on the flat areas.
At this point I was tyring my best to keep Robert in sight. I had told him that I was trying to break six hours and he agreed that we should both be able to do it. I felt that keeping him in my sights would increase my chances.
The leaders of the race had just lapped me twice and it sent me into a complete tailspin. How can they run so fast while I'm struggling so much? Just look how effortlessly they are running! It made me jealous and then mad. My pace would increase and then I would fall back to a walk.
Around mile 24 I decided that I would never be able to break six hours today. I'm too tired and hurting too bad. I began thinking back to running the rugged 35 mile Laurel Valley course backwards last Friday night. My legs felt like two iron anchors attached to my waist.
Forget the PR of sub 6, I just want to finish and get off this road!
I walked for a few minutes and began to think....you know I got up at 3:30 AM this morning then drove over an hour for a chance to break my record. I'm currently on pace to break it, but I'm gonna have to run in order to do it.
Man I don't wanna run right now, but I think I want the personal record more than my legs are hurting me!
By this time Robert had gotten about a half mile ahead of me and I ran hard to catch him. I got him in my sights and had to walk for a bit to let my legs rest.
I ran into the aid station with two laps to go which was roughly 8.5 miles. I had one hour and 58 minutes to run it. I didn't even try to do the math, I just ran the 7th loop as hard as I could go. Yep, I had to walk the entire hill, but I walked it fast. As soon as I hit the flat areas I broke into a run.
I put my MP3 player to work with some nice tunes to help me zone out. My legs were absolute toast. Every step was tough, but I knew that each one would get me closer to my record.
At this point I had caught up to Robert as we were about to finish the 7th loop. He was spent too, but still able to run fairly well. I told him that I planned on following him for this final lap because I knew that he would run it well. We both got in and out of the aid station quickly. I looked at my watch and I had 63 minutes to beat my best 50K time. 4.5 miles in 63 minutes? I'VE GOT THIS!
We ran the entire hill this time. It was a slooooow run, but we managed it fairly well. My legs were burning like a fire as I crested the hill to the flat road.
I ran down to the trail entrance off the road with 1.4 miles to go. I looked at my watch and it read 5:33. I had 27 minutes to cover 1.4 miles. I could have walked that if I wanted to! This made me feel even better.
The closer we got to the finish, the faster we ran. The trail finally opened up onto a concrete walkway that lead into the finish area and we were in a full sprint.
Claude read out my time as I finished - 5:48! Whooohoooo!!!!
It felt excellent and horrible to break six hours. I was very proud of myself, but my body was completely shot. It was all that I could do to drag myself up to the car, change clothes, and plop down into my car for the drive home.
Of course I'm excited to have finally reached this goal. Now I'm wondering if I can run a 5:30?!
On a side note, I haven't been able to run for five days since the race. I've had a 5X3 inch area of my back cut for biopsy and I currently have a heap of stitches in it. I'm taking advantage of this time to rest for a week or so with no running. I've been training very hard for the past three months and rather than get depressed over this "unplanned" rest, I'm going to use it to my advantage and be ready to start another tough training segment soon.
Thanks again to race director Claude Sinclair and all the volunteers for putting on the Landsford Canal 50K! I will always remember it....