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
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