Over the past few months, we have seen the elite and professional runners along with amateur runners make a return to in person racing. While virtual races and time trials have helped to keep us engaged in our training, and feel those competitive juices flow, getting back to in person racing has been a breath of fresh air for many. Even for those that have not been able to race in person, simply seeing the elites take on the London Marathon, Big’s Backyard Ultra and track events around the world has been incredibly inspiring.
I made my return to in person racing at the Greenland Trail 50k on August 30th. The event did a great job limiting the size of the field, spacing individuals out at the start and taking the necessary safety precautions. The down side of not having a mass start is you don’t get a chance to feel other individuals out and find others running a similar pace. Runners tend to be a humble group and so when the starter called individuals up to start the race, most stayed back and so I ended up starting second on the course. Individuals were started in 10 second increments and so I was 10 seconds behind the leader on the course and 10 seconds ahead of the person behind me. The leader started out way faster than I wanted to be going and so I elected to ease up a bit and wait for the next person to catch me as I was not interested in running 50k by myself. However, when the third person caught me, he was also going faster than I was interested in going that early in the race (he would go on to win the race), and so, I ran the majority of the race on my own. The course was 4 X around a 7.5ish loop in Larkspur, Colorado. The loop was mostly single track and featured some sections on a wider flat dirt road as well as a tough half mile of switch back climbing and some rolling sections of hills. There were aid stations at the 4-mile mark of each loop and then at the turn around near the start/finish. I felt fantastic at the start, the temperature was in the 50s and the miles ticked off quickly.
Around mile 12 I was passed by another individual who had started well back of me and had been picking people off throughout the first half of the race. At the turn around he stopped to collect something from his drop bag and so I headed out on lap 3 before him. He caught me again soon after and we ran together for a few miles. Getting to run with another individual was fantastic and gave me a big boost of energy. While he was running a bit faster than I waned to run, I knew that I was over half way done and wanted to get competitive for the 3rd overall spot. My mindset going into this race was to shoot for a PR, under 4:27, and to get competitive for a place if I could. Letting the 1st and 2nd overall individuals go early on was a calculated risk, I knew that I could have kept up with them but I also have seen many individuals blow up by going out too fast and was hoping that I might be able to have a strong push in the second half to catch people that might have made this mistake. My A goal was sub 4:00 and I was on pace for that until mid-way through the 3rd lap. The temperatures had now climbed into the 80s and the course had minimal shade from the sun. I was not able to keep pace with the guy I was running with and so I was again running on my own. I found myself struggling to take in enough fluids and calories as I had cramped up when I drank too much too fast. I was faced with the decision of either trying to take in adequate fluids/calories and deal with cramping up or reduce my intake and potentially go into a deficit and hit the wall. I made it through the 3rd lap and headed back out on the 4th lap knowing that a sub 4-hour 50k was not looking great based on how I was feeling. I readjusted my goals to prioritize having a positive experience. I knew that other individuals might catch me but I really just wanted to have a fun day. If I ran scared of those behind me and was worried about the suffering ahead, I knew that it was going to be a mentally unpleasant experience. This shift to simply enjoy my day helped a lot. I caught up to an individual who was on his 3rd lap and I stopped and walked up a hill with him, it was nice just to connect with someone and share the suffering with them. This gave me a boost of energy to push the last 4 miles to salvage a PR. Those miles hurt a lot! I was pushing as hard as I could, my legs were struggling to turnover my energy was gone and I could feel the dehydration impacting me, but I was struggling to go any faster than 9-minute miles. I did the math and knew that I just had to keep running and limit my walk breaks and I would PR and so that is what I did. I managed to hang on to 4th overall and finished in 4:25. For a race that I had not trained specifically for and my first ultra at altitude, I was happy with the result.
One big takeaway for me from this race was about how I managed to recover post-race. Luckily my girlfriend Nicole, came to cheer me on and was there to support me after the race. I was in rough shape. I have only felt this terrible once before after a marathon in the high 80s and I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemies. I was very much considering calling over the EMT’s to evaluate me as I was very sure that an IV might be necessary to rehydrate me. I was not interested in food and even drinking seemed like too much in that state, but I forced myself to take in Gatorade, chips and watermelon. I sat in the shade and questioned my decision to run ultras and doubted if I would ever do anything like this again. An hour car ride and a shower later, I was fully recovered. My body hurt but my mind felt clear again, my energy had returned and I passed the big test, I knew that I wanted to compete in ultra-distance events again! What I take from this is that no matter how crappy you might feel during or after an endurance event, you will improve. It takes time and fuel but you will recover no matter how awful you feel. Your body will often tell you what it needs but my tips would be to take in electrolytes, take in salty foods and try to move a bit. Sitting or lying down after a hard effort may seem like the only thing you can do but getting up and moving around is good for you both mentally and physically. For me it was the drive home that I think really snapped me out of the post-race funk. I knew that I needed to be alert and aware to safely drive an hour home and so I did not allow myself to wallow in the pain cave. There are always lessons to learn from each training session and race/event/objective. The path to continued progress is by learning from these experiences for future endeavors.
It felt incredible to return to in person racing and have the opportunity to test myself physically and mentally against others. It would be all of 2 weeks before I would be back out competing in another ultra, this time in a 9-hour, 11-minute timed event!! To be continued…