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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


  1. Eric. Fanatic run. Congratulations on your 50k CR. It WAS a fantastic day and the conditions were very good. You are a great runner and belong racing "some of the best ultrarunners in the country". I look forward to hearing those race reports.

    1. thanks, Dave! looks like you had a a great 50 mile race, well done.