This past Sunday, I ran my first ultramarathon: Coastal Trail Runs’ Horseshoe Lake 50K. The event was held in the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, Palo Alto, CA and had several other distances to it: 5 mile, a half-marathon, a marathon, and the 50K – drawing a sellout crowd of 68, 113, 38, and 29 respectively.
The weather was excellent. It was about 54 degrees at the start and I would say that it had warmed up to at least 80 when I finished. There wasn’t too much wind to speak of, though there was a nice breeze at certain points on the course.
The course was a beautiful mix of rolling fields and forest (I love the Bay Area!) and had a nice mix of single track and dirt road (59% & 41%.) On the first portion of the course, you could see the Pacific Ocean off in the distance (that’s it in the distance on the header photo) and the SF Bay on the 5-mile section. As far as elevation, it was a good mix of climbs, associated downhills, and flats. The total gain listed on Coastal’s site was 4,560′ (my Garmin showed 5,676′.) All runners except for those doing the 5 mile, started a the same time and did an out and back 13.1 route – those doing the full marathon and 50K, did that twice. The 50K runners then ran the 5 mile, out and back route. I wasn’t sure if I would like the routing, thinking it would be boring; but I actually ended up liking it. Running it twice enabled you to know what was coming and plan accordingly (which we’ll see that I still need to improve upon.) All in all, a great course and one that was well suited for a first time 50K: doable, yet challenging (just as Wendell from Coastal had told me when I asked about it prior to registering!)
As usual, the race was well-managed and marked – though I did yell at a few fellow runners I saw heading off in a wrong direction at an intersection. With the out and back course, the aid stations were at the start and mid-point on the half/full/50K course. Aid stations were excellent and the volunteers were super helpful when you arrived. To me, it made the day even better. WAY TO GO COASTAL!
All in all, a great race and one that I will be back to do again…yeah, again!
- Garmin time: 6:34:44 at an 12:46/mile pace
- Official chip time: 6:34:43 at an 12:46/mile pace
As with the post after my first marathon, this is a long recap. Mainly to capture for me what the day was like, what I did as far as fuel/kit/etc., and what I learned. Read if you like, scan if you prefer – I am one of those who likes reading longer race recaps…it’s how I learn!
“Do the work. Do the analysis. But feel your run. Feel your race. Feel the joy that is running.”
“Run when you can, walk when you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
“Embrace the suck”
So, a 50K was not on my original plan for 2013, though I knew I would run one at some point. As I shared in my April Stats post, I found a few blog posts and articles about leveraging marathon training (and the marathon itself) as preparation for an ultra, and after some analysis of my training, how I anticipated Big Sur would go, and the calendar, I decided to register for the 50K. I will be honest, most of my running is on pavement. Due to schedule, running on trails is only something I can do on weekends. Even so, I registered – gotta be challenged!
As far as goals for the race, that was a tough one to plan. I had run three trail half marathons before this and no trail marathons, so I wasn’t sure how to gauge pacing with a projected elevation gain of 4,560′ – my previous trail half’s were at: 2,075′ (2) and 2,250′ and my training trail runs were at a max of 2,990′ gains…all of which were well shorter than 50K (31 miles.) But…you have to have goals! So, I looked at the following:
- Realistic. Based on 13.1 miles over several training runs at gains below 2,800′: 6:35:34 @ 12:44 pace (using McMillan.com calculator)
- Possible. Using my heart and an “I think I can” attitude: 6:13:12 @ 12:00pace
- Stretch. Based totally on a round number and wanting to get home for an afternoon lunch: 6:00:00 @ 11:35 pace (this probably should be grouped with the next bullet!)
- Totally unrealistic. Based on my slowest trail half run, with an elevation gain of 2,250′: 5:40:18 @ 10:57 pace
With those preliminaries, on with the report!
I got to the race location, parked, and walked to the check-in and got my bib and shirt. I used the port-a-potty real quick since there was no line (there were only three port-a-potties!) and then walked back to the car to get ready. I headed back to the start area and joined the queue to use the port-a-potty again and barely made it as they called runners to the start. I would guess that most of the runners in the queue opted to start the race and “go” on trail vs. having their port-a-potty time included in their overall run time (Coastal uses a gun time for the start of their runs) – though some may not have known that.
Fellow Run It Fast Club member (Lisa G.) was at the race as well up from SoCal; however, because I was stuck in the port-a-potty queue, I only got to introduce myself and chat with her briefly before the start. Because the course was an out and back, I did get to say hi a few more times though. It was great to see another RIF person at a race – that’s two in a row now!
We received our instructions, which were important because there were several opportunities where one could get off course, and we were off right on time – my Garmin showed an 0800 start.
I won’t do a mile-by-mile, but there are some interesting things to share in the three segments of the race…
Miles 1 to 13.1
- I ALWAYS check in with my wife at race starts – she’s my sanity, cheerleader, love of my life – but, with the terrible cell reception at the site, I couldn’t do that. I had called her about 5 miles from the location when I saw that cell service was spotty, so I missed my pre-race, “Run Like The Wind!” from her… 😦
- I avoided the “too fast start” that I usually do and managed to control my pacing from the get to – my first mile was a conservative, yet respectable 10:34 as I tried to get prepared for the single track portion that lied ahead.
- Moving forward, I passed some runners, but ultimately decided to pace with a group of people who seemed to be experienced ultrarunners (they were talking about past and upcoming ultras, so they seemed legit) and were going at a comfortable & conservative pace. I ran when they ran, walked when they walked, and traded leads with them occasionally. It was fun!
- I had the fastest mile split of the day on this section; which, in the scheme of things, might not be the best thing to do: 9:57pace.
- I carried my 20 oz. handheld and the plan was to refill it at each aid station. I started with water vs. GU Brew, which seemed to be working good for me on my training runs. I changed to GU Brew at the 6.6-mile aid. When I got to the 13.1 aid station, I opted to go back to water rather than another 20 oz of GU Brew, which seemed to be a good decision.
- I took two GU Gels at -:45 and -:15 and then held off on any further gels until the 6.6-mile aid. I took a gel every three miles from then on.
- I took a salt tab at the start (I actually forgot to take it prior to the gun and popped it on mile one.) I took another at the one-hour mark and then each hour after that for the rest of the race. I did change to the caffeinated version of Salt Tabs on the second half of the run.
- Split for the first section was: 2:28:48 @ 11:22 avg pace
Miles 13.2 to 26.2
This section started out pretty good. I was running the section for the second time, so I knew what lied ahead. My mile splits were slightly slower though, which means that I was “doing it wrong” again from a pacing standpoint. Still, feeling good, I took a “selfie” at the 15.5-mile mark!
- At mile 18, I took my phone out to take a picture an noticed that I had cell signal, so I called my wife! The one minute phone call was great and a nice pick-me-up!
- I got to the aid station (~mile 19.7) and switched back to GU Brew. I probably spent too long at the aid station, but it was shady and the crew was great, so I just enjoyed the shade and talked “salt tabs & hydration” with them and a few fellow runners. As I was leaving, one of the guys working the aid asked what I had scribbled on my handheld – “U R BTR THN U THK U R – U CN D MR THN U THK U CN” – I shared that it meant, “You are better than you think you are – You can do more than you think you can.” [It’s a quote from Ken Chlouber, Leadville 100 founder, that would come in handy soon]
- Somewhere between mile 21 and 22, the wheels fell off – or maybe just one wheel: my knee started hurting, mostly on the downhills. It wasn’t excrutiating pain, just enough to bug me and cause me to stop/slow for a bit. I switched between fast walking and running for a while, hoping that it would work itself out. I was still keeping a fairly good pace, though not as speedy as the first section. Mile 24 was the worst as it had some good downhills heading to the 26.2 point – it was also my slowest mile split at 17:58. It was actually easier on my knee to run the uphills and walk the downhills.
- My mind was playing games after that, suggesting that I simply opt for the marathon and call it a day. “DNFing wasn’t an option, but shortening the day…that was still ok, Dennis.” My answer, “BUT I SIGNED UP FOR THE 50K AND I WAS GOING TO FINISH IT!” Remember, “U R BTR THN U THK U R – U CN D MR THN U THK U CN!”
- I got the the mile 26.1 aid station and spent about 4 minutes there resting and chatting with the volunteers and a fellow runner who was having knee issues too. They didn’t have any ice left, which I was thinking I could use to ice my knee, so I just massaged my knee and pressed on! I switched back to water in my handheld, thinking that pattern was working from a hydration standpoint.
- Split for the second section was: 3:00:30 @ 12:34 pace [I had kissed negative splits bye, bye well before that…]
Miles 26.3 to 31
- I ran/walked up the hill out of the aid station and got to the top and thought about at least texting my wife to tell her that my time would be longer than expected because of my knee. I got signal on mile 27 and had a brief exchange with her – telling her I was OK, that my knee hurt a bit.
- It was definitely warmer on this section than the previous two – being later in the day and not having as much shade. I realized that I was drinking more water than I had been and realized I was going to run out…there was not aid station on this section. Thankfully, there was a nature station on this trail with a water fountain…in the shade…that was nice and COLD! I refilled with a smile on my face and pressed on!
- At about mile 28 – I remembered: I had put some Ibuprofen in my Armpocket “just in case”… I popped three and prayed it would alleviate some of the discomfort. It worked!
- On the way back, I made a potty stop at the nature station and topped off my handheld, sticking with water still.
- Miles 29-31 were mostly downhill and, with the three Ibuprofen in my system, I kicked it into gear and actually managed faster pacing each successive mile: 13:53, 12:51, and 11:12!
- Split for the last section was: 1:05:25 @ 13:38 pace
I modified my pre-race carb loading plan slightly for the 31-mile distance (36 hours of >80% carbs and +1200 calories above my normal day) and my changed my pre-race meal from my standard, Sara Lee plain bagel to a stack of McDonald’s hotcakes and some light syrup! I am pretty happy with my nutrition/fueling strategy at this point in my running, having used it on all longer distance runs: half-marathon, marathon, and 50K. I have not bonked yet (knock wood)…though I’m sure it will happen at some point. I’ve gotten tired, but not to the point of what I’ve read “bonking” involves. My tiring has more to do with pacing than not having enough energy or reaching exhaustion. I also recently read about drinking Coke at aid stations on a few blogs. I NEVER drink Coke (I prefer Diet Coke), but tried it at each aid station: it was sweet nectar! It hit the spot and actually tasted pretty good. I’m confident that I won’t start drinking it apart from an endurance run, but it is something I will add to my aid station favs.
Equipment (head to toe)
- Hat: Road Runner Sports Breathe Easy Cap
- Sunglasses: Tifosi Tyrant sunglasses
- Earphones: Yurbud Inspire Pros [had them in my handheld, but never used them…]
- Neck: Basic bandana. [This was a Thursday add to my planned kit, knowing that the weather was going to be hot and that the 5-mile section was almost all in the sun (based on a Google review.) I was VERY glad I added this…even though I had not tested running with a bandana on my neck previously.]
- Shirt: The North Face Better Than Naked tech shirt [I opted to wear this as it is very breathable and I knew it would be hot.]
- GPS: Garmin 910XT [In addition to the bandana, this was the other piece of new equipment. I had been thinking about getting one of these and saw that they were $100 off at Road Runner Sports…so I jumped!]
- Handheld: Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Pocket [Love this handheld!]
- Shorts: ASICS 55 Short [My favorite run short, which they have stopped making! I stocked up on four pair I found on sale though – taking my inventory to about 10 pair!)
- Waist pack: Amphipod Race-Lite-Go [I’ve worn this on training runs, but it always chafes me at the belly…as it did on this run. This will be set aside for now and I’ll be looking for other options.]
- Legs: CEP compression calf sleeves. [even though i knew it was going to be hot, I went with black…]
- Socks: Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Running Socks [I’ve been wearing these on my long trail runs and they have been great for my feet – no blisters, etc.]
- Shoes: Hoka One One Stinson EVO Trail [I’ve got a total of 113 miles in these now (82 before the 50K) and LOVE THEM!]
Here are some pictures I took – which I’m terrible at while running:
Overall, this was a great experience! I made my race goal and know I could certainly make the “possible” goal on this course if my knee had cooperated. I’d like to think I could make the stretch goal, but I’m not sure.
- Bottom line: AWESOME DAY! Beautiful scenery! Wonderful environment for runners of all levels! MY FIRST ULTRA – BOOYAH! Most important – I had fun and will definitely do another!
- Post-race meal: Corn chowder, corn muffin, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and veggies at the Black Bear…followed by a mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks!
- Takeaways: Pacing improved, but I can do better – and need to pay attention to dividing the run into sections (think negative splits.) I think I have a good fuel plan now…one that can be adapted for varying distances. COKE! I did good on the hills, but probably need to still add hill work drills when preparing for this type of run. Need to decide on a new waist pack, a vest or backpack, or use drop bags on these longer runs – i carried everything on me, and that may not be the smartest wisest way to run an ultra.
Training Journal – 5/22/13:
- Current plan: Horseshoe Lake 50K Training Plan
- Today’s session: Rest & recover
- Comments: Decided to give myself another rest day – I plan to ride the bike tomorrow.