Swampstomper 50K, Shelby Forest, TN – 1/13/13
|photo by Jessica Grammer|
After a soggy start to January, the trails at Shelby Forest were expected to be a sloppy, slippery mess. Somehow, they were dry and in excellent shape. A dry trail and nearly perfect running weather removed the possibility of external excuses for poor performance. I was just beginning to build my mileage so the race would be a good indicator of January fitness. My plan was to run aggressively (for a 31 mile race) and then hang on. Not ideal race strategy but I wanted to test/ push my mental and physical fitness as I head into the winter ultrarunning season. There are parts of the trail that are somewhat technical due to roots, holes and hills. There are other parts that are faster and very runnable. I wanted to survive the trickier parts and push the runnable sections.
The Start - The race begins with a half mile of paved road before hitting the trail. As we entered the woods I was in good position behind a group of four. I knew all four were faster than me but I tried to keep them in sight. By the time we hit the Red Loop, at mile 3.5, the group was out of sight. This was probably best because after a fast start it was time to focus on my own pace. Bjorn, a great training partner, had come up behind me and we would spend the next three hours running together. The Red Loop… usually referred to as the ----ing Red Loop… is a 3 mile loop with some of the most technical, steep climbs in the area. This is best approached in survival mode. Just get up the hills with heart rate under control and down without falling and getting injured.
Halfway - Bjorn and I hit the 25K mark in 2:45. That is a minute faster than I have run that loop. I was feeling good and under control. Stomach was in good shape and no problems with my feet or legs. I was on pace for a course PR but I knew I would give up some time in the second half of the race due to the aggressive early pace. I wanted to run steady, stay under control because I knew that last hour was going to hurt.
One Hour to Go – At the Group Camp aid station, if all went well, I knew I had an hour or so left to run. I had just been through my toughest stretch of the race. Bjorn and I got separated at a previous aid station and then he took a wrong turn, which cost him some time. I would run the final two hours solo and would visit the dark place a few times. I have been trying to experiment and tweak my nutrition to get rid of some GI distress that has popped up in some previous long races. My stomach was pretty good but I felt it rumble a few times. I don’t pay much attention to mileage or pace per mile in trail ultras. I try to focus on the mile in front of me. And I love the countdown. One hour to go… 45 minutes to go… 30 minutes to go… especially when I have a good race going. I was paying the price for the aggressive early pace. My legs were getting very tired and my stomach was on edge. I had to pull out all of the tough love: just keep running… it hurts because it is supposed to hurt… it’s hard because you are running your best time ever on this course… just keep pushing… what story do you want to tell? It got really hard. But it was all worth it due to an 8th place finish and an 8 minute PR for this course. I ran the second half in 3:00 for a finish time of 5:45.
- To run fast you have to be aggressive, but not reckless. I was borderline reckless in the first 30 minutes.
- I am finding that simple sugars, water and S Caps are the key to a calm stomach that doesn’t bloat and get upset. I think my GI issues stem from too much sugar at once and not enough plain water to help my stomach absorb the sugar. This is especially a problem when running at race intensity. It is not as much of an issue on my long, easy training runs.
- Walk the walk – when it got hard I gave myself the same speech I give my runners.
- Runners are awesome – the spirit and camaraderie on the trail is such positive mojo. Friends, runners I know by sight and total strangers all rooting one another on to the finish.
What’s next? Jackass 50K and Sylamore 50K in February and the Mississippi Trail 50 Miler in early March. Lots of great trail miles to come!
Run Smart. Train Hard. Race Fast.
Coach Kevin is an RRCA-certified Running Coach. National Coach ~ Team McGraw, National Coach ~ St Jude Heroes. He also writes the Memphis Fit blog