Lake Sonoma 50

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On the course, loving the hills! (Gary Wang Photo)

Great weekend at Lake Sonoma!  No race report per say, but had some thoughts rattling around in my head that i wanted to get down for posterity.  In short, i was really pleased with how the race unfolded, and in particular, how i felt in my third 50 miler race.  Unlike my first two 50 mile races (North Face 50mi San Francisco in 2011 and 2012), i felt much more in control of the variables that go into a successful performance.  I knew cracking the top 10 with this competitive field was going to be really tough, and I managed to finish in 8th place in 6h:42m.

Some other thoughts:

Competition: I was really proud to be able to compete with such a talented group of athletes near the front end of the field (4th through 8th place was separated by only a few minutes at the end).  For the first time in a 50 miler, I really felt the thrill of competition… not just trying to finish.  This is what makes racing exciting for me, and it was awesome to finally feel feel it in an ultra.  I felt a tremendous sense of both pride and humility as I finished this race;  proud of my performance and yet humbled by the course, the distance, and the awesome runners who finished ahead of me.  Stoked to see my good pal Dave Mackey crush it for 5th place (1st Master and father of two!).

Finishing:  One of the main things i would love to go back and improve upon is my finish.  I felt like a champ through 38 miles and got as high as 5th place after passing Dave and Chris Vargo. But then I hit a rough patch where i couldn’t seem to stay ahead of my calories/electrolytes, and both guys passed me soon after.  I managed to recover, but not in time to rally back.  In retrospect I should have crammed more calories in, and dug a little deeper mentally to push through and hang with those guys during the rough patch.

Taper:  The complexities of the pre-race taper continue to elude me, but i tried something completely different this time around that seemed to work.  I got a debilitating stomach flu only 2 weeks out from the race that caused me to not be able to run for nearly a full week.  At that point, i decided i would either withdrawal from the race, or spend the next week running normal volume to get my strength and confidence back up.  I chose the latter.  It took a few days to get my strength back, but by Thursday/Friday I felt a spring in my step again, despite having just run 50 miles in the previous 5 days.  I showed up to the start line feeling relaxed, confident, and strong.  The reverse taper worked!

Long run: Basically, I used my training for Way Too Cool as a springboard for this race.  As such, 50km was my longest run, and most of them were quite a bit shorter (generally 20-25 miles).  Occasionally i did back to back 18-20 milers.  Curious what others do for their long runs leading up to a 50 miler?

The Course: The course was beautiful!  Way more enjoyable than expected, with incredible views of the lake throughout, high quality single track, stream crossings and rolling meadows.  You know it’s a good course if you don’t mind coming back the same way.

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Previewing the course during an Injinji photo shoot

Fueling: I managed to stay ahead of my calorie balance for most of the race, averaging 2 gels per hour for the first 4 hours and increasing to 3 gels per hour for the last 2.5 hours (by necessity).  I also slammed Coke at every aid station in the second half and took 3 salt tabs in total. Hydration was the main concern out there on such a warm day.  I ran out of water before nearly every aid station, and had to fill up at creek crossings a number of times.  Probably should have spent more time in each aid station getting fluids down before topping up.

Gear: Brooks PureGrit from San Francisco Running Co and Injinji Performance 2.0 socks fit the bill on this course.  With all the creek crossings and choppy up/down course, good footwear was key.  No issues with blisters or any discomfort with this combo.  Also love the new Patagonia Strider Pro shorts – so awesome for ultras.

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Injinji photo shoot (photo by Dave Mackey)

Support: Having the support of my wife (and my 13 month daughter, even if unknowingly), not just during the race, but during the training that leads up to it, makes balancing running, family and work possible, and fun!

Strava: The dessert to every race is uploading to Strava and seeing how the numbers played out as the race unfolded.

strava

Congratulations and thanks to all the competitors, crew and organizers that made this such a great event!

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Another Look at Ultras – TNF50 Round 2

A weary runner (Brett Rivers /San Francisco Running Co)

A weary runner (Brett Rivers /San Francisco Running Co)

Here’s the irony of ultra running: When you are on an easy run, you have time to think about a lot of things. But when you are racing an ultra, you have a lot of time, but somehow can only manage to think about one thing: how uncomfortable it is. Or maybe it’s just me.

I ran my second 50 mile race on Saturday, the North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge. I ran the same race last year as my first serious ultra, and let’s just say things didn’t really go as planned. So i was determined to learn from the experience, and come back to do it right this year.

I focused more on the long runs in the months leading up to the event, and got to the point where clicking off hilly 25 milers on the weekend was relatively casual. I built recovery weeks into my training cycle, ensuring that i would not show up to this late season race burned out (like last year). And i got my nutrition dialed… namely by discovering that the best way to survive an ultra without bonking and getting sick is to drink the most un-nutritious beverage on the planet: Coke. Lots of Coke (Sorry Mrs Obama).

And all that stuff worked fantastic on race day. I showed up well rested, didn’t bonk, and ran like a champ… for 25 miles. I chatted quite a bit with Rickey during the early miles, agreeing that biding our time, running a consistent pace would be key to running a successful (or at least satisfying) race.  I was feeling confident about this plan.  Although i realized that the pace I was running for the first 25 miles (7:30 min/mi) would win the race most years, it felt comfortable and sustainable.  But the last half of the race felt almost as tough as i remembered it from the year before: numb, battered legs that simply refuse to go any faster down the stretch.

And who can blame them?

Strava course profile

Strava course profile

47 miles, 9000+ feet of climbing, darkness, rain, and mud.  Ultras are hard.  Really hard.  You have to be willing and able to run uncomfortably for a long time, which is as mentally taxing as it is physically.  How the leaders manage to run sub 7 min/mile pace over that course is beyond my comprehension, but i suspect it is has much do to mental conditioning as physical training.  I suddenly feel like an amateur in a pro sport.

Good gear helps

Good gear helps

In the end, i would finish in just under 6.5 hours for 21st place.  Kristin and Autumn, who crewed for me the whole day in the rain, were waiting for me across the finish line.  I could finally enjoy their company.  Autumn gave me a thumbs up.  You know you have a family that loves you when they are willing to embrace you even though you are sweaty, muddy and smell a bit like urine.  I couldn’t talk for the first few minutes, because i just wanted to cry.  Not out of disappointment, and not out of joy, but rather tears of relief, that i had persevered and gotten through it.

At the finish line with Kristin and Autumn (Brett Rivers / San Francisco Running Co)

At the finish line with Kristin and Autumn (Brett Rivers / San Francisco Running Co)

Although my pace slowed in the end, i ran every step and never lost my composure.  I climbed well.  I fueled well.  I wore the right shoes and socks.  And i never gave up.

But i question if i have the ideal physiology to run ultras as hard as one needs to be competitive   Maybe i’m not robust enough.  My quads don’t look like the tree trunks.  But most of all, i question if i have the desire to train and race such long distances.  Running is more special to me when it is kept in balance with the rest of my life, and i think to be competitive at these ultras you need to train more than i do.

Remember when marathons used to be considered long distance?  Well, they are sounding pretty good to me right now.

Congratulations to everyone who ran their heart out in such a challenging race.  It was inspiring to be a part of it.

-Galen

Links:

iRunFar Article

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