Race recap from Helen Klein 50 (51.5).
Flew out to Sacramento for the HK 50 on Halloween. Before the race they announced that it would be "a little bit" long due to construction that they had found out about 2 days before the race, causing a last minute course re-route. I'm pretty sure I had heard someone say that it was supposed to be .25 miles long, but I was in the bathroom when they were announcing stuff, so I never heard the official scoop. Anyway, talking to 6 or 7 people with GPS watches at the finish, everyone had it between 51.24 and 51.8x, so it was probably around 51.5.
Anyway, the race started out and Chikara Omine, the Japanese-American 50-mile superstar just took off at somewhere just a little above 6:00/mile, IE a totally ridiculous pace for 50 miles for anyone other than him. No-one else wanted to go fast so I settled into 2nd for the first couple miles. The race was on real trails for the first 2 miles or so and we hit the first aid station when my watch said a little over 3 miles (though their splits were instantly off and it said something absurd like 2.2 miles).
After doing 7:30s for few miles, a couple guys caught me and passed me, which kind of made me feel a bit relieved, since I was kind of worried about being a fair amount ahead of everyone other than Chikara. After 5 miles, I went off course for .1 miles, which really pissed me off. There was a ribbon going into the woods, but I guess it was from another race or something. I had been pretty sure that the race never touched "trail" trail after the first 2 miles, but I knew there was some sort of construction, so I had guessed it may have been a detour. Anyway, when I got back to the correct parkway, a couple other guys had caught me, one of them being Sean Lang, who apparently had run probably just slightly ahead of me for a good chunk of Cascade Crest 100 until I totally blew up at 76 and he continued in to finish in the low 21s (me barely surviving my way to a high 26s). Sean had done 6:50 at American River, and I thought this course would be faster, so I figured running near him seemed smart. We continuned to go around 7:30s for awhile and eventually we found ourselves running in a pack in 4th to 8th with Sean, 2 guys he knew, and Adrian Shipley, a recent college grad who had run some totally sick 10k times collegiately (31:40 PR). After maybe 15 miles, Adrian and I decided that Sean and crew were pushing slightly too hard so we let them go and continued at 7:30 pace or so.
The aid stations mileages continued to be horribly off, fluctuating between too long and too short (for example, at one point, the markers between stations stated somewhere right around 3.0 miles, but my watch put at nearly 5). On the other hand, the aid that said 21.1 or 21.2 to the turnaround (which was supposed to be at 24.7 due to an extra .6 miles run past the beginning of the course on the way back) took around 15 minutes to run, so it was only 2 miles or so. In total, though, the marker came up as 25.55 on my watch instead of 24.7, which mentally did not help things. When running at a relatively decent pace for many many hours, each extra mile tacked on to the course mentally hurts quite a bit, so I was not excited about the fact that it would be 51.1 total just to get back to the start plus a bit more after that. I don't recall the exact time that Adrian and I hit the halfway point, but after standing around eating for maybe 2 minutes, we went back and hit the marathon in around or slightly under 3:20.
Still feeling pretty good, but certainly hurting somewhat from running a marathon in 3:20 (which is over 1:00/mile off my PR, but still not like a totally easy jog), we soon caught up to Sean, who was starting to suffer. I believe one person had passed us in the first half after Sean and crew took off, so when we re-passed Sean, we were running 7th and 8th.
Coming up to about 30 miles, I started to let myself think about how much it was going to suck to do 20+ miles more at this pace and I just started to mentally unravel. At mile 31, I had believed that I was within a quarter mile of the station due to the faulty markers, so I told Adrian I was just going to walk it off to the station to stretch my legs and he said he'd be at the station for probably a few minutes, so I'd just catch up to him. I'd forgotten that this was the supposed 3 mile station-to-station section that was actually way too long, so I ended up walking a mile before I got there since I kept thinking I must almost be there. When I got to the station, I was mentally starting to break, so I sat down for 12 minutes and drank a couple cups of sprite and a can of mountain dew. Sean came through the station still running (just a bit slower) and left before I did, leaving me in 9th place. Leaving the station, I still felt totally mentally down about the rest of the race and walked another 1/2 mile or so, at which point I just suddenly flipped out on myself. I literally started screaming at myself while walking down the parkway and got so pissed at myself that I got running again.
Realizing that an extremely hard effort for the rest of the race could still get me under 7 hours for 50 miles, I started to push once again. I knew I couldn't hit that 7:30 pace for the remainder and it would kill my race if I tried, but I settled into an 8:30 or so pace, which I held for about the rest of the race.
Despite slowing, I started to catch other runners soon. I eventually passed Sean and 2 other guys, getting me up to 6th by mile 40 or so. By mile 40, since I had started to take a little more time in the aid stations (maybe 2 minutes or so every few miles) I had to do 10 miles in 80 minutes to go under 7 hours. I realized this probably wasn't going to happen, but kept pushing to see what I could do. Everything after 31 was pretty painful since I had mentally broken for a little while in there, but by mile 40, my legs were starting to hurt and my feet were just getting tired of the continual pounding on pavement.
I caught back up to Adrian somewhere around 45 or 46 since he had apparently just crashed after 42 miles or so. I knew Sean wasn't far back, so I didn't really get to stop to make pleasentries. From about 40 on, Sean had been running slightly slower than me, but not really stopping in the stations for much time at all and he would repass me when I would stop for a minute or 2 to eat salt, food, etc. By mile 48 or so I thought I had him beat and 5th place secured, but a long hill from 49 to 49.5 got the best of me and I walked a bit at the end. Turning around at the top of the hill, I saw him jogging up and I saw that he saw me, so I took off as fast as I could (at that point about 7:00 minute pace). I kept running hard, but he had seen me walking and realized he could catch me, so, shortly after my watch said 50.00 miles in 7:08, he passed me.
I was pretty pissed at myself for allowing that to happen, but I knew 6th was mine and just didn't care what kind of time I ran for 51.x miles since I had split out the 50.0 on my watch already, so I just slowed down and jogged in to the end, finishing in 7:21.
When I finished, I found out that Sean had won the 18-29 category and gotten a really sweet hand-made clock with an award plaque on it while I got the 2nd place age group award very similar to the generic finisher award (cool, but definitely nowhere near the clock...).
All in all, the big problem was that I went out too fast. 6th overall and 7:08 for the 50 split isn't terrible, but if I had gone out slower, I probably could've gone at least 30 minutes faster if I hadn't been so stupid about my pace at the beginning. I lost 23 minutes just between 31 and 31.5 when I walked 1.5 miles in 11 minutes slower than it would've taken to run it and sat down for 12 minutes, so just chopping that out would've put me at 6:45, just 5 minutes from the coveted 8:00/mile 50 mile.
Karl Meltzer, my coach, had encouraged me not to be so aggressive as to go out in 7:30s, but I figured that the smart plan to be able to hit around a 6:30 was to go out at 6:15 50 mile pace since I'd have to stop a bit more in the 2nd half undoubtedly. However, I think that if I had gone out in 7:50s, I probably could've held on. If things had started to come undone around 40-41instead of 30-31, the prospect of only 10 miles remaining probably wouldn't have been enough to mentally break me down to the point of walking. In my marathon PR, for example, I started feeling pretty crappy 10 miles from the finish, so I know it's doable to hold on for 10 miles at the end of a race without sacrificing much of the pace at all.
I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to do another fast 50 miler (probably not until this same race next fall since I probably won't be able to run either the Jed Smith Road 50 or American River 50 next year), but I'm pretty confident I can run a fair amount faster the next time, especially if it is a year from now. Maybe at that point, 7:30/mile pace will be a feasible plan...