Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lessons Learned from my first 50k Trail Race

I love to read, especially about other long distance runners. I find it inspiring most came from humble beginnings, only discovering their talent after years of training and trial and error. Frankly it gives me hope that I too can improve from a back of the packer trail runner to a mid packer at some point ;-)
This past weekend taught me so much about trail running, fueling, racing a trail race and the kind of crowd that participates. First and foremost, trying to compare a road race or road training time to what you should expect in a real trail race is just impossible. There is simply too much variation in the terrain to be even closely accurate with what you should expect for a pace. It's going to vary-alot. My garmin showed I ran anywhere from a 4:50 per km pace to a 9:18 per km pace throughout the 7 hours I was out there. I ran on packed dirt road, sandy trail, packed gravel single track, river beds (lots of leaping involved there), water-soaked moss, high grass ridge line and soft pine needle single track. Pure awesomeness, but nothing like what I had trained on. Thinking back, had I gone out and run the course before the race I probably would have dropped down to the 30k event option. I'm thankful that I didn't because doing those additional 20kms really taught me that I can endure and push myself to my physical limits, although I think with proper training those limits can be pushed even further.
I had a really rigid fueling plan all mapped out for the race. After completing the first 6k that plan was kind of thrown out the window. I couldn't walk and grab food from my hydration pack since I needed to keep my hands free in case I lost focus and tripped over something. The aid station stop was once of the few areas where you could stop and eat something so that turned into my plan, I would start each loop by eating a caffeine GU and a banana (or other fruit) re-fill my hydration bladder then head out. That worked ok, but I think next time I need to make sure I'm wearing pockets so I can take some GU or other food along with me since I slowed down during the last 9k loop quite a bit which caused me not to eat anything for a good hour and a half, not good when you're out running for 6+ hours.
The trail racing scene is one that calls out all sorts of runners. Some seem to be looking for their next adventure, others are there for the scenery and others because the road have beaten up their bodies too much and they'd rather run on the more forgiving surface of a dirt trail. Most of my fellow participants were at least 10 years older than me. I ended up running with Gordan, an Ultra veteran, who was about 62 I figured, based on his stories. He emphasized walking the steep hills, picking up my feet so I don't trip over hidden roots, how to correctly shoot a snot rocket and the importance of peeing during an ultra. He kept me at a decent pace and gave me a much needed boost at the end of my second 9k loop. I hope I run into him and his most awesome dog Tess again in another Ultra.
I realized after about 15k that I really didn't need or want my music. Here I had spent a few hours downloading new music, creating a playlist to take me through the 6 hours I expected to be out there, and I didn't want to listen to it. It took away from the scenery and  I found I would rather talk with my fellow ultra-runners than listen to some hyper-caffeinated music. I was so thankful when my husband, daughter and my mother joined me for the last bit of my third 9k loop and then my husband jumped in and ran with me through the last 6k loop. He hasn't been running all that much since a recent hernia operation, but at the pace I was going keeping up with me wasn't much of an issue for him. His joining me gave me that extra push to the finish. I enjoyed showing him part of the course that I had been running all day, he could later understand why my pace was all over the map after those 6k. It also made me hope that he and I could run a few more trail ultras together in the future. We both talked about how, when we were kids, these were the kinds of trails we enjoyed running on, so it kind of brings you back to your roots to get back out there in the woods, running like loons. I truly had a blast. I'll be back for more as soon as I can.

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