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Setting, Achieving Goals (Race Report: Surf the Murph 50km)

Result: 1st, 4:04:51, course record

The variables that can impact race performance are vast; they are external, i.e. the weather, the trail conditions, etc., and they are internal, i.e. fitness level, nutrition and hydration before and during the race, etc. The conscientious runner, cognizant of this, should thus be conservative in setting goals. This typically means that, prior to the race, several goals are set: one almost certainly achievable, i.e. don't start the race too fast; one fairly reasonable, i.e. finish the race in xx:xx time; one a reach, i.e. win the race or set a course record.

My goals on Saturday were all of the latter sort, that is, they were all a reach, and they had to be, since I'm trying to prepare myself to hang with, errrr, stick close to, some of the best ultrarunners in the country at the Bootlegger 50km and JFK 50 mile. My goals were these: (1) go out faster than course record pace; (2) finish first; (3) break the course record, set last year by Chris DeNucci in a fairly stout, given the long course (see below), 4:08. I was able to achieve each of these goals, in large part, because the variables were working in my favor on Saturday: temperatures were cool, the course wound largely through the woods and so was protected from the wind and sun, the trails were firm and not too sloppy, my fitness is good, recent workouts have been favorable, my nutrition and hydration were optimal (about 200cal/hour and 20oz/hour).

So I took the lead in the first mile and never looked back, grinding out the steep, short ascents (amounting to 4,000' of climbing on the day), hammering down the descents, and cruising on the flatland. The only snag in my racing plan resulted when two runners inadvertently went off course and found themselves ahead of me after the first lap (each lap being 16.96 miles -- the 50km course, then, is actually just shy of 34 miles). During the second of the two laps, I took time to talk with workers at each aid station to ensure that I had an irrefutable case: I had taken the lead early, as they could verify, and had not been passed, as I could verify, so the other runners must have cut the course. As a consequence I spent several extra minutes at the aid stations during the second loop, and I temporarily lost focus, and hence time, on a portion of the second loop. Nevertheless, things went as well as I had hoped, and my splits came in like this (roughly):

10 miles:         1:10
        (lap 1, 16.96):         1:58 (high)
20 miles:         2:22
26.2 miles:      3:09
30 miles:         3:37
31 miles:         3:44
33.92 miles:    4:04
        (lap 2, 16.96):         2:05 (high)

I was especially happy with my splits, even though the second loop was about seven minutes slower, because I entered the race on tired legs, having run 8 x mile repeats on Tuesday and never fully recovering. Pushing during the second half, especially during the second half of the second loop, was a great challenge but I seemed able to stay on the throttle despite the incessant discomfort.

It was a great pleasure to catch up with some of the Minnesota ultra folks, like John Storkamp, John Horns, Eric Tadt, and Eric Nordgren before and after the race. And much credit to Michael Borst in breaking my course record at the 50 mile distance by ten minutes. I was much pleased to see that since after the race last year, I commented that the course could very well be run at least ten minutes faster. I'd be interested to hear what Michael thinks, but seeing as I went through two laps in 4:04, and with the inclusion of a few competitive guys up front to push the pace, I would think that the course record could well be 6:30:00 in the future.

Thanks, in closing, to all the wonderful volunteers, to the race directors, especially Cindy Martisko, and to the good folks at RaceReady.

The 50km start
Photo: Bryan Cochran Photography
Post-race with RD Cindy Martisko


Porcupine Mtn Trail Marathon Race Report (and September Revisited)

Result: 2nd, 3:27:43

If you want to run a race in the upper midwest, look no further than those put on by Great Lakes Endurance. Great Lakes Endurance puts on races, from the 5km to the marathon, throughout the calendar year in both Wisconsin and Michigan.  Backed by Patagonia, Petzel, Atlas, Hammer Nutrition, the US Forest Service, and RaceReady, Race Director (RD) Jeff Crumbaugh showcases some of the finest trail running that the upper midwest has to offer. (alternatively, the Upper Midwest Trail Runners host a plethora of first-rate events in the region.)

The Porcupine Mtn Trail Marathon, one of the many races offered by Great Lakes Endurance, fit my schedule best, and so I ventured up to the Michigan upper peninsula for some camping and trail running. And was it ever a swell time. Despite a downpour Friday night, I arrived at the start of the race Saturday morning to cheerful participants and a hearty field of marathoners ready to tackle the 3,100' feet of ascent up and around (twice) the Porcupine Mountains. With mile markers throughout the course, seven aid stations flush with Hammer Nutrition Products, and formidable competition, the inaugural race proved to be a great success. Though the course seemed to be a touch short (as per my Garmin), and the trails proved a sloppy, muddy, wet mess from the overnight rain, the pace of the front finishers remained stout. I ran the earliest miles with Craig Hertz, a resident of Duluth whom I met at the Voyaguer 50 back in 2011, and then slopped through extremely muddied cross country ski trails and technical single track with eventual winner, Andy Warren, during the majority of the first loop (about 14 miles), before darting into the woods to relieve myself around mile 13. My stomach problems never did subside and, rather than being able to push during the second half, I could only manage to maintain a decent pace in holding off eventual third and fourth place finishers to the finish (+:40 on 3rd, +2:30 on 4th, the 4th place finisher being Craig Hertz).

Finishing the race was a quiet relief, as I know that I shouldn't have to endure any trails of this technicality and muddiness in any of my remaining races this fall. On the other hand, I was happy to have trekked through these splendid northern Michigan trails for the first time: the views, despite the overcast skies, were very scenic, and the difficult nature of the course was an excellent strength builder.  I was also happy that, upon finishing, my legs were in fine shape (given the effort), and this allowed me to run another 20+ in Lapham Peak State Park on Sunday with good friends Brian Condon and Cassie Scallon. As a result, my weekend totaled 46+ miles of beautiful trails (and 86+ miles for the first six days of October)!

September, contrary to the formidable training I managed during the first week of October, was a lackluster month: I ran very few miles (~200 miles) and I had an unimpressive 50 mile race. The only perceived upshot from this is that I was able to rest after an enduring July and August. During October I'll be back to higher mileage and some racing (the first race of the month having been completed), and plenty of workouts, in preparation for an important month of November, where I'll run two national class races in just two weeks. Next blogpost, I plan to discuss the art of tapering (link HERE when available).

Photos from the past week(end):

Beautiful foliage near the Wisconsin/Michigan border.
Atop the biggest climb on the course, the evening before the marathon.
Post-race muddiness.
Scenic Michigan shoreline along Lake Superior.
Pre-20 miles with Brian Condon and Cassie Scallon.
Refilling at the spring.
Enjoying the Ice Age Trail.
Taking in the views on Lapham Peak. 
Catching some miles with Cassie and Matt Flaherty earlier in the week. 
Gettin' our Sense Mantra on. 
Doing cider things with a good friend.