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Race Report: TNFEC-Wisconsin 50 Mile

Result: 4th, 6:25:26

It took five years before I ran a marathon well. My 2:36:18 back in March was a good marathon, not necessarily because of the time, but because (a) I paced well, starting slower and ending faster, negative splitting along the way, and (b) my finish time was, I think, indicative of my fitness at the time and I achieved a time close to my potential (perhaps a finish time closer to or below 2:35:00 would have been most optimal in terms of my fitness).

So perhaps I should not be surprised that I have not yet run a 50 mile race well, given that I have only been running them for two years.

On Saturday in Kettle Moraine State Park at the TNFEC-Wisconsin 50 mile, I was not able to do many things well. My primary goal going into the race was to stay relaxed and keep the pace easy during the opening ten or so miles: that I accomplished. As for the rest, I was hapless: I was unable to slowly bring down the pace in the flat prairie sections from miles 12 - 20; I was unable to maintain low- to mid-seven minute per mile pace on the seven mile out-and-back of undulating terrain from miles 21 - 28; I was unable to maintain that moderate pace on the same seven mile stretch of rolling miles from 28 - 35; I was unable to race the last fifteen miles of the race, since I was almost entirely out of contact with the top three runners.

When I finished late Saturday morning and began reflecting on the day, a single question remained steadfast as other thoughts floated in and out: why so impotent?

The answer was easily discerned. True, I had run a vast number of miles over the summer, especially in the months of July and August. True, many of those miles were at high elevations, up steep and lengthy mountainsides, down technical and rocky terrain. True, I actually had a proper taper for this race, something I oppose categorically! Upon further reflection, these facts explain why I wasn't able to perform as I had hoped on Saturday.

The bottom line is that I lacked any semblance of specificity in training for this race. I was, of course, aware of that fact, but I thought that the benefits that I was acquiring otherwise would make up for the fact that I didn't train on terrain comparable to the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine over the summer. Running out West from mid-July to late August, I missed out on of the following:

(1) Fast miles. Being at altitude, the average pace per mile was rarely under eight minutes for a run of any length.
(2) Rolling terrain. I ran mountains, and I ran lots of them. But this meant that I would go up climbs of 1,000', 2,000', 3,000', 4,000', and even close to 5,000', which would cover anywhere from one to seven miles. Then, I would descent those same miles and lose the same number of feet in elevation. The ascents and descents were almost always lengthy and constant and never undulating.

The lack of specificity was obvious early, on the first hilly loop of the course. By mile four, I was already feeling the effects of the rolling terrain in my legs, and my perceived effort was much greater than my actual effort: low- to mid- seven minute miles on rolling terrain felt physically taxing, precisely because I had run very few miles of that kind during the summer. My impotence on such terrain should have come as no surprise [An aside: these issues didn't slow down Brian Condon, who was out West for some time this summer, and who cruised to a second place, 5:55:xx finish. Dude can flat out run! Serious props.]

But I have to remember what I did gain over the last three or so months: an improved aerobic base, serious strength, and an increased number of red blood cells coursing through me. Those benefits were palpable on Saturday: I felt very strong on the uphills; I essentially ran the whole course, with the exception of a few steep pitches and some short segments in and out of aid stations; my breathing was never taxed; though I felt tired later in the race, I still felt strong and I was mentally much more focused than I have been in past races. The problem was that I was used to running uphills very slowly, and so any attempt I made to increase the pace up the short ascents was futile: my perception was that I was working much harder than I was, the pace seemed much faster than it was, my body having grown too accustomed to moving more slowly in the thin air. The good news, no doubt, is that I am in an excellent position to train hard for the remainder of my fall races. With a good month-plus of moderate mileage and lots of speed/strength work, faster miles won't seem so fast, and my endurance will improve further. That should be a recipe for success in some more high profile races in November.

It's comforting to remember, too, that I'm still quite young for this sport, which is probably not advantageous, as I've pointed out elsewhere. More miles and maturation over the coming years will alone prove beneficial.

As always, The North Face put on a splendid event: well stocked aid stations, organized on course instruction, cheerful spectators, helpful volunteers. Many thanks to all! Thanks especially to a good friend of mine for dropping his obligations to assist me during the race. A good crew always goes a long way in making a race more enjoyable, and that was certainly the case this weekend.

Here are some of my splits from the race, as I remember them [splits given at the time I exited the aid stations]:

6.9 Aid:       :48
11.5 Aid:    1:20
16.8 Aid:    1:59
21.3 Aid:    2:34
28.4 Aid:    3:29
35.5 Aid:    4:29
40.3 Aid:    5:09
Finish:        6:25

Also, some good pictures from the race, especially of my finish line shenanigans, here.

Finally, gear & nutrition used during the race:
--Salomon Sense Mantras
--RaceReady Active Men's V-Notch Running Shorts (2311 LD)
--RaceReady Men's Cool T - Tech Running shirt
--RaceReady Compression Socks
--RaceReady Runner Cap
--5 x Honey Stinger Waffles
--3 x Cliff Shots
--2 x Starbucks Doubleshot
--Lots of water, some pepsi


Colorado Cruisin'

After a splendid three weeks in Flagstaff and several hundred miles of running (many of those with Brian Condon), Condon and I traveled northeast into Colorado for some more fun. I grabbed Matt Flaherty from the airport the night I arrived, and the next day, August 6th, Cassie Scallon, Matt, Brian, and I got started on what was to be a fun-filled two weeks (most of the runs below were run with these three). After the first two weeks in Colorado, I spent a week running solo miles before heading back to the Midwest.

Most every run that I did in Colorado would be worthy of a single write-up and blog post but, due to time constraints and the fact that I don't remember all the fine details (it's now almost mid-September as I'm writing this), I've only given brief details of the runs. The biggest highlights in August, unequivocally, were running the Grand Canyon, and circumnavigating the Maroon Bells on the Aspen Four Pass Loop. But, as I did in my last lengthy post on training, I'll simply post some breathtaking pictures instead of attempting to recreate each journey in words. Enjoy:

First four days of August: 52 miles, at least 6,400' ascent:

09/01 (Thurs): AM 14 miles, 1,800' ascent, Canyon Vista Trailhead to Elden Lookout Rd.
09/02 (Fri): PM 6 miles, :45, Flagstaff Urban Trail System.
09/03 (Sat): AM 20 miles, 4,600' ascent, Grand Canyon, AZ. All the pictures of this run can be found in my post about running the grand canyon.
09/04 (Sun): AM 12 miles, 1hr:24, track, roads, and bike paths, Flagstaff, AZ

1st full week of August: 101 miles, ~21,300' ascent:

09/05 (Mon): off
09/06 (Tues): AM 18 miles, 4,000' ascent, 4hrs, Mt. Audubon, CO
Struttin' their stuff.

Condo moving along.
A little backwards running.
Ominous clouds approaching as we near the top.
Cassie enjoying the ascent.

The four of us at the top.
A quick shot along the creek.
Relaxin' just before the finish.
 09/07 (Wed): AM 10 miles, 800' ascent, 1hr:11, Boulder Reservoir; PM 6+, 600' ascent, foothills, Boulder, CO.
 09/08 (Thurs): AM 11+ miles, 4,000', Green Mountain, Bear Peak; PM 9 miles, 2,200' ascent, Mag.

Summit of Green.

About halfway up.

And that's a snake...

...a good looking one too.

More fun at the top of Green.

Running towards Bear Peak.

More fun in the woods.

Atop Bear Peak.

A second, better shot.
09/09 (Fri): AM 7 miles, 1,900' ascent, Mt. Sanitas, Trent Briney showed us around.
09/10 (Sat): AM 12 miles, out-and-back with easy miles along the Creek Path and into Breckenridge.
09/11 (Sun): AM/PM 27 miles, ~7,800' ascent, 7hrs:08, Maroon Bells, Aspen Four Pass Loop. The views here were exceptional!
The Maroon Bells.

A view from the start.

Ready to go.

A final shot before starting.

Some view.

At the top of the 1st pass.

At the top of the 2nd pass.

The descents were always welcoming.

Beautiful single track.

Possibly the best photo of the trip.

The lake looked tempting.

At the top of the 3rd pass?

A quick three pictures of Kerrie and Matt.

Hangin' by the lake.

Ready for another descent.

River crossing!


As Flaherty put it: "No words."

Charging up the 4th pass.

This taken near the top of the 3rd pass. It was steep.

A view off the back of the 3rd pass.

And more.

Taking in the sights...
...and getting some shut eye.

Probably joking around; definitely tired.

Myself, wading across.

Brian capturing the group as I was capturing Matt's "blue steel" face.

Pre-27 miles.

2nd full week of August: 84.5 miles, at least 6,000' ascent:

09/12 (Mon): PM 9 miles, Turquoise Lake, Leadville, CO, with a sizable crew including Matt, Brian, Cassie, Jackie Palmer, Mike Ambrose.
09/13 (Tues): PM 11+ miles, 1hr:37, Ski Hill Rd. to Peaks Trail to Frisco with Matt and Brian.
Along the Peaks Trail with Brian and Matt.

A nice view of (cloud covered) peaks.

Some fine trail running.
09/14 (Wes): PM 12 miles, Peak 9 & 10 summit (after being driven up 300 vertical feet below the Peak 10 summit), descent through Breckenridge and back to the house, with Matt and Brian.
09/15 (Thurs): AM 8 miles, 1hr:04, Flume Trails with Matt, Breckenridge, CO; PM 4+ miles, around Boulder, CO with Matt and Cassie.
09/16 (Fri): AM 8 miles, 1,100' ascent, some Ranch outside of Boulder with Cassie and Matt.
09/17 (Sat) - 09/18 (Sun): PM/AM 32 miles, 2,900' ascent, 8hrs, pacing fellow RaceReady athlete Terry Sentinella at the Leadville Trail 100. One hell of a great experience. Congrats to Terry on now having finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning!

3rd full week of August: 84 miles, at least 8,200' ascent:

09/19 (Mon): PM 12 miles, 1hr:24, South Boulder Creek Trail, solo.
09/20 (Tues): AM/PM 11+ miles, 4,000' ascent, 2hrs:35, Green-Bear double summit, solo, Boulder, CO.
09/21 (Wed): PM 6 miles, :55, 1,400' ascent, Colorado Trail, solo, Breckenridge, CO; PM 4 miles, :30, bike path in Breckenridge, solo.
09/22 (Thurs): off
09/23 (Fri): AM 15 miles, 2,000' ascent, 2hrs:11, solo, Breckenridge, Peak 8; PM 8 miles, Boulder bike paths, solo.
09/24 (Sat): AM/PM 18 miles, 800' ascent, Boulder Reservoir, solo.; PM 5 miles, Boulder bike paths, solo.
09/25 (Sun): PM 5 miles, :45, Columbia, MO. A few easy miles with my friend Alex Kriegshauser on the way back to Illinois for a final week of work on the lake.

Since Colorado, it's been easy going as I'm resting myself up for the TNFEC-Wisconsin 50 mile race. Soon after that race, I'll be back to higher intensity training for 4-5 weeks before the final races of the season approach in late October and November.