Saturday, July 04, 2015

Black Hills Endurance 50

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of running my first 50 mile race in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Prior to the race I had my doubts about being able to call this a pleasure as running a new distance is always a difficult thing to do. How do I pace it? Do I have the musculoskeletal endurance to keep going the whole way? Can I maintain my fueling strategy that long? The race was hard and the distance took its toll on my legs, but I was able to execute as well as I could have expected and was able to hold on for a 2nd place overall finish in 8:47:10.
One of Kasey's views on her way to meet me.
The morning started out like all other races, with my body and mind full of nerves. The air was cool, but ready to warm up as soon as the sun rose. The race was point to point and a bus shuttle was provided from the finish area to the start south of Sturgis, deep in the Black Hills. Luckily I had my wife, Kasey, there to support me all day so she drove me up before the bus. That turned out to be a good idea because there were limited bathrooms available for the obligatory pre race bowel evacuation. We realized how much of a tradition this is when the busses arrived and the people streamed off straight to the bathrooms in a nice orderly line. Eventually the line subsided and the race director called us to the start line. 
Starting on the road.
After a few basic instructions, we were sent on our way. We had a short stint on the road to let the field thin out before hitting the single track that took us around the lake and straight up our first climb into the forest. I wanted to start slow, but I could see the thick forest that we'd be running in to and knew the course would be narrow so I didn't want to get caught too far back in the pack. I settled into the second spot behind a young kid that looked like his last race was a high school cross-country race. I would later learn this was a 17 year old David Hedges from Chicago. After a few minutes I checked my heart rate and it was at least 15 beats per minute faster than I wanted to see in the early miles of my race, but I was on a steep climb and my breathing and legs both felt good so I went with it knowing that I needed to re-check myself once the terrain leveled out. When we finally hit the top and started down the other side of the hill I checked my heart rate and it was still high. I have run hard efforts downhill in training many times and knew that this high of a heart rate never happens so I knew that this must be a race day anomaly and threw out the plan to use heart rate as a measure of pace and decided to just run by feel. A few miles in David took the wrong fork at a confusing intersection. I questioned him on his choice and then a runner right behind us confirmed that he believed the other fork was the correct one. In that shuffle I somehow ended up in the front of the pack. I really didn't want to be in the lead this early, but went with it. After a few minutes David asked to pass and I was happy to oblige. I followed him to the first aid station where I was able to see that there was still a pack of at least 4 other runners right behind us. This gave me some confidence that I wasn't going out way to hard for a 50 mile race.

Coming in to the first aid station
After that aid station I decided to let David go, he was still running strong and I felt that I was pushing my limits trying to keep him in sight. As I reached a flat spot after the climb out of the aid station I settled into a comfortable pace with a couple of other guys. I met Jim Ellis and found out that he lives in Littleton, just a few miles south of me. He, Greg Loos, a local to South Dakota, and I chatted for a few miles. Later on coming up a slight climb I was surprised to see David wandering around, he had lost the course and was looking for markers. I was pretty sure that I was on the right trail so I told him to go straight ahead and a few feet up we saw a marker to confirm we were on the right track. I was feeling good and the terrain was smooth so I settled in behind him. I stayed with him for awhile dropping the rest behind me, but eventually decided that I was pushing too hard to match his pace so I let him go again.
Finishing a bottle to get a refill at aid #2
Now I was alone and just thinking about holding on. I still felt good, but how long would that last and how close was the pack behind me? All I could do at this point was stick to my plan and run my own race, which is the way it should be. I was alternating between taking a bottle with 2 scoops of UCAN and taking a Clif Organic Energy Food for my fuel. All the while sucking on water from my Nathan VaporAir pack and trying to remember to take a SaltStick cap every 20 minutes. That plan kept working hour after hour. According to my Garmin I passed the half way point in about 4 hours, which was right on pace for my 'A' goal of 8 hours.
Somewhere after the aid station at mile 33 I began to feels some chinks in my armor. I had forgotten to refill my supply of SaltStick caps so I ran out not far into this leg. This is where I first noticed it starting to get hot and I was feeling some fatigue setting in. I was now into new territory having only once run further and that was many years ago on a flat course. More importantly it was the longest time I have ever run in a single stint. I kept looking for the next aid station hoping it would be around the next corner. I finally made it to that aid station which did not have crew access so I didn't have Kasey to cheer me on, but at least I got a fresh supply of water and some ice in my hat. The wonderful aid station volunteers sent me on my way and I was just looking forward to seeing Kasey again at the last aid station.
Coming in to aid at mile 33
On the last big descent that would take us out of the forest I was really having problems with my quads and was nearly walking the downhills. I made it to the bottom as the scenery changed from trees all around to wide open fields with the sun shining down. I was able to jog on this flat section and got a big surge of energy when I saw that final aid station. I think that my mind was pretty clouded at that point thinking that the final five miles would be like a victory lap. Shortly after the aid station we hit the hill known as "Bitch Pitch" a short, but very steep climb. I was fine with the climb as it allowed me to power hike which is less stress on my sore quads. The problems returned with the downs on the other side. I kept pushing my body as much as I could knowing that I was still in second place and didn't know how far back any other runners were. The heat did start to get to me and I ended up walking quite a bit on the bike path in the final mile to the finish. As soon as I saw Kasey waiting for me at the finish I began to run again making one final push to look good for the waiting crowds. I was so happy to be done and just lied down on the grass to take it all in.
So happy to be done!