Monday, October 15, 2012

Glacial Trail 50K Race Report 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012
Greenbush, WI

I wasn't even going to write a report for this race; this was just supposed to be a fun run where I limped to a slow 50K personal worst. Not only did I have no training cycle for this race, but I spent the majority of the summer sitting on my ass while injured.  Throw in some of the toughest trail in Wisconsin and I was going to be happy enough just to finish.

The Glacial Trail 50 races (50K and 50M) are held on the Ice Age Trail through the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  It's a simple out and back course.  It's a bit of a hilly beast: 5,500 feet of elevation gain in the form of constant shorter hills.  Couple the constant hills with constant rocks that litter the trail, but you can't see because they're covered in a blanket of leaves and you've got yourself some fun.  I ran this same race in 2011 and it was ugly.  I stumbled through the last 5 miles last year like a drunkard at a slow walk and finished in dismay.  I just didn't want a repeat of that.

Elevation profile for the first 15.5 miles.  Turn around and do it over again.

Race morning was early.  I left my house at 4am to make the 2 hour drive North.  The forecast was pretty simple.  In the words of Ollie Williams from Family Guy: IT'S GON' RAIN! 

I found my friend Dan in the huge crowd of a 132 and we lined up on a street in the town of Greenbush, WI (population unincorporated.)  It was sprinkling as we started.  Just a half mile jaunt on the road until we hit the woods.  As we started running, people took off like jack rabbits.  Where was the fire?  Dan got sucked into the crowd and off they went.  I trotted behind everyone, bringing up the rear in DFL.  I looked down at my Garmin and I was jogging at a 10:30mm pace.  No worries, I knew I would pass plenty of those people later on in the race.  I pretty much suck at everything running except for pacing.  I'm a very consistent pacer.

So into the woods we went.  It was raining.  It was always raining.  It would rain for the entire race, eventually turning the trail into a mini river.  After a few miles, I caught up to Dan and we played leap frog for a while.  When he was running, he was running at a faster pace than me, but I was running more frequently.  Sometime during this time, he turned back to me and yelled, "How cool is this?!"  In the beginning miles of a rainy ultra when you're in the middle of the forest running through a fog, it I had to concur that it was pretty damn cool.

Dan dropped me after a while and took off, so I was running alone.  Early on in the race, I decided that I needed to embrace the suck.  At first you try to keep your feet dry, avoiding the puddles on the trail.  Then there comes a point where you just say fuck it, and splash right on through.  Make peace with the fact that you're going be muddy, sopping wet, and cold.  Embracing the suck is sort of the essence of ultra running.  For a while I passed the time by contemplating the pain associated with ultra running and wondered if that made me some sort of masochist.  Then I couldn't decide if I actually liked the pain, or just the feeling of the pain stopping.  Maybe a combination of both.

Speaking of pain, I took only fall during the entire race and it was a good one.  Coming into the 13 mile aid station, there was a set of wooden steps leading down to the aid station.  I slipped on my way down and tumbled down the rest of the steps directly into the crowd at the aid station.  Apparently I wanted to make an entrance.

I hit the turn around in 3:50, almost the exact same time as last year.  I popped my first 600mg of ibuprofen here for my aching groin and hip flexor.  Coming back into my slip 'n slide aid station for the second time, I managed to hold it together.  Dan was there and had just changed clothes.  He asked me if I wanted to go for a walk.  I yelled at him as he was leaving, "I'm going to catch you if you're just walking!"  I put on my iPod leaving this aid station with the thought in my head of catching Dan.  Shortly after this was my only true low point in the race.  My stomach wasn't feeling well and thought that maybe I needed to visit the restroom in the trees.  So I bushwhacked off trail, but was unsuccessful in my quest.  Back on the trail, I ate a ginger chew and increased my water intake.  That seemed to fix things after a mile or two.

Feeling better and rocking out to some tunes, I decided to go "hunting for wunners," in words of my dear, sleep deprived, 100 mile running friend Katie.  First on my list: Dan Stickler in his bright neon jacket.  20 miles into the race and I was feeling good.  I knew that I would be able to pick off a good handful of folks who went out too fast.  So off I ran.  Eventually I did catch Dan and I'm afraid that I turned into a "heartless twat" as I cruised by.  (His words, not mine.)  There may have been taunting involved.  I thought maybe he would try to stick with me, but I never saw him again until the finish.

The rain seemed to increase in intensity as the day went on.  At points it would just start to come down in sheets and thought to myself, "Bring it on, mother nature!"  I ran as much as I could and power hiked the hills with vigor.  I relished running through the puddles and the mud.  I was having a blast.  After Dan, I picked off more people.  Then even more. 

At some point, I realized that I was going to take a good chunk off of last year's dismal time.  But how big of a chunk?  I was pretty sure that I could finish in under 8 hours.  As the miles went by, I was constantly doing math.  Could I finish in under 7:50?  I think so.  And the closer I got to the finish line, the greedier I got.  Maybe I can even finish in under 7:45, I thought.  I ran.  Oh, did I run.  I pressed on, passing more people.  Holy shit, maybe I can finish in under 7:40?  7:40 would mean that I had run even splits.  Finally I settled on a goal: I'm going to negative split this race and finish in 7:30 something.  I was constantly looking at my Garmin and calculating those last few miles.  I was running well and breathing hard, pushing in a way that I haven't done during a race in a while.  A fast 50 miler passed me and kept looking back at me to see if I was catching him, thinking that I was also a speedy 50 miler in contention for a top 10 finish.  It made me laugh, but also gave me confidence that I must look like I'm moving well.

Finally we popped out of the woods and into flatter prairie land with less than 2 miles to the finish.  I was running at a 10:30mm pace on the flat grass.  Same as the start.  I felt too good at the end of this race.  It would have been a great day to run longer had my groin been in better shape.  I even had delusions of finishing, then turning around and backtracking to find Dan and run him in.  (Delusions, of course, squished by the prospect of warm chili and cookies at the finish.)  But the trail abruptly ends and plops you onto some easy road running for about a half mile until the finish.  I got choked up a little on the road, realizing that I had run an almost perfectly executed race, something I hadn't done in a very long time.

Finish time: 7:35:10.  Almost an hour better than last year and a 5 minute negative split. 

Running that time on that trail without training and through an injury gives me confidence going into 2013, knowing that I can run a sub-7 50K on an easier course.

I ate some chili, spent a while in the bathroom attempting to clean the mud off of me and changed into warm, dry clothes and waited for Dan.  Eventually I took my wet clothes to the car and happened to time it perfectly to see Dan strolling down the street to the finish.  I turned into a heartless twat and again and yelled, "RUN IT IN, DAN!"  He complied. 

Thanks to Dan for running with me, baking me forgotten bread (I'm sure it was delicious), and putting up with me in general.  You know where to find me when you're ready to run that 50.

Fleece and finisher's "medal."

Yummy shoes afterward.


Matthew Williams said...

You might have caught me. I was 7:32, and in total agony as I crossed the line. I learned a lot about myself on that run. So much that I'm running it again this year!

Bob26.2 said...

Great write-up! I also ran there in the rain last year. While nobody chooses to run in the rain, I think most real runners would agree that they often are great runs. Last year, I managed to take about 25 minutes off of my 50k time from 2011. I ran it again last weekend. I put the 25 minutes back.