Weather: cloudy, 80 deg., high humidity
Course - Out-and-back on gravel/ dirt forest service roads. The course has almost no flat sections. It is a series of long, gradual rollers. There was nothing terribly steep nor technical.
I entered this race with the warped perspective of a runner 45 days out from the Leadville Trail 100. After a steady diet of long runs, 50Ks and 50 milers since November, I looked at the Full Moon 50K as a good "fitness test". It offered one last benchmark on my way to Leadville. My training has gone very well. I needed to trust my fitness, push the pace and see what happens.
The Full Moon 50K is a true grassroots event put on by the folks at the Arkansas Ultra Running Association (AURA) and was the kick-off for their "Ultra Trail Series". There was no entry fee, just a donation box. The course was very well marked with glow sticks and the aid-stations were as well stocked as any I have seen.
The Start: We started at 8pm and did not need headlamps until closer to 9pm. The first 5k is a steady climb. The lead pack was ... gone. I settled in behind the second pack. The early pace felt fast but I was all in! After a few miles we reached the first steep pitch. In most ultra races, all but the leaders fast hike the steepest hills. No one else was walking.
"Am I in the wrong group? Are all of these people running the 25K? Did I screw up?
I swallowed my ego ... and walked a few hundred yards to the top of the hill to keep my heart rate under control. I still had nearly 5 hours to run! "Stick to your plan, stupid"
The 25K Turnaround: Yep, almost everyone in my group turned around and headed for home. No worries. Feeling good and confident. I would run the rest of the race solo and that would be a great test of night running and focus. It was very humid and I was sucking my water bottle dry within an hour. As much as I was drinking I still felt a few twinges in my calves and quads. "Uh oh, let's keep an eye on that!"
The 50K Turnaround: Finally, out of the dark, the aid-station appeared. I was feeling strong but knew I was out near the edge. I hit the halfway in 2:31. Wow! I was at least 5 minutes ahead of my target and set a 25K PR. I filled & drained my water bottle and refilled it again. Leaving the aid-station I grabbed a banana and a bite of PB&J sandwich.
"Self-assessment: Legs are good, stomach is ok... if you can stay hydrated enough to ward off cramps you are on your way to a big PR. Don't blow it now! Let's do this!"
The trail was very, very dark and I was running solo. With the rolling hills you could not see anyone in front of or behind you for long stretches. All alone, in the middle of the night, in the woods, in the middle of nowhere! Just. Keep. Running.
I pushed the pace steadily all the way back. I went to the the edge of the dark place where you must go to reach your goals. My stomach got a bit fussy mainly due to the exertion level. I was running hard in the last hour. I had not felt that level of discomfort since my last marathon PR. The effort, the heat and the darkness played a few surreal mind games with me towards the end.
I had to have a few stern self-talks near the end. Some were out loud...
"Stop looking behind you! Your race and PR are in FRONT of you!"
"I said STOP looking back. This race is you vs. YOU"
"Let's go. That big PR is there if you want it bad enough"
"Why are you looking at your watch? Just RUN."
"It hurts because it is SUPPOSED to hurt"
And finally, in that last mile...
"Yes! You crushed it dude! This is the runner you ARE because you have worked your butt off this year!"
As I turned the corner back into the campground the course volunteer said "I can see the clock and if you hurry you will break 5:05." I hurried. 5:04:49. A 35 minute PR over 50k. Elated. Satisfied.
The lessons are the same as always:
- Ditch the GPS and learn to run off of "feel". Especially in a trail ultra, pace and exact mileage mean nothing. Focus on effort and get to the next aid station.
- Stick to your fueling plan. I set my countdown timer to go off every 45 minutes. I took a "GU Gel" and an "S Cap" on schedule. I made sure my water bottle was emptied every hour.
- Stick to YOUR proven race strategy. Don't let your ego ruin your race.
- Running near your peak performance level is hard and will get uncomfortable. Get familiar with that level of discomfort and embrace it as a necessary part of endurance success.
|Pre-race with very fast Los Locos teammates & sponsors from Breakaway Running.|
Coach Kevin is an RRCA-certified Running Coach. National Coach ~ Team McGraw, National Coach ~ St Jude Heroes. He also writes the Memphis Fit blog