"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Friday, April 20, 2012

Winona Lake 50 Mile Race Recap

New Experiences and Running Naked

Back in 2010 I ran the inaugural Winona Lake 50k.  The race started at 2pm on a Saturday in the middle of June.  It was HOT and humid which then turned into thunderstorms.  Needless to say, it was one of those races where you learn something about your own toughness as well as how to adjust your pacing strategy in response to things you cannot control. 

Now back in 2012, I was excited for another crack at Winona.  The race has now moved to the middle of April, which has dramatically reduced the heat, and coincidentally, allowed for faster finishing times.  After several solid winter months of running, mostly staying above 100 mpw, I was interested to see what would happen in a 50.  I followed my typical pre-race strategies of cutting my mileage down the couple days before the race and staying away from eating fat and protein and concentrating mainly on eating carbohydrates.  I also tried my best to hydrate well, but had a long experiment going in the lab so it was not always convenient for me to step out into the hallway and drink a bunch of water.  Because the race was down in Indiana, Jason and Arden were also running and kind enough to let me stay the night at their place.  It was nice that Winona starts at 10am, I was able to get a solid nights sleep and have breakfast of two tortillas (200kcal each) slathered in nutella (~400kcal) which is similar to my typical breakfast.  It was sometime during the car ride when I went to turn on my Garmin that I found out it had not charged properly two nights ago.  So I was without a GPS, but more importantly I hadn't raced a 50 miler without using a HR monitor to gauge my effort level.  I felt, naked, for lack of a better word.
Introductions and arm sleeve comparison.  Ryan (left), me (center), Jason (right)

Fast forward about 12 hours and we have arrived at the race start, parked close the to start/finish area so that we can use the back of the van as a large aid station.  The race consisted of five 10 mile loops on mountain bike trails that run through the park.  Arden was running the 10 mile, but planned on going out for another loop after her race, just for fun.  There was also a large contingent of Fort Wayne runners at the race, including Eric, Fabiano, Danieli, Aaron, Ashley, Mike and Vickie.  I asked around and Eric was nice enough to lend me an old timex so that I would at least have a stop watch to keep a consistent fueling schedule.  Also there was a fellow I had met on the Poto just weeks earlier, Ryan Case, who was running several races that Jason and I had also signed up for (and today was his first 50 miler!).  We all said our hellos, gave words of encouragement and cheered on the starters.  The 10 milers started 10 minutes ahead of the 30 mile runners who started another 10 minutes ahead of us, the 50 mile runners. 

It was funny, for the 10 mile, all the runners were up at the starting line, with a clear hierarchy of who was going to get to the single track first.  This trend still held somewhat true for the 30 mile.  But the 50 milers just kinda milled about, no one wanted to stand up at the front until finally someone stood closer to the front, but still 10 feet behind the starting line.  I had done my homework and scouted out the runners who had signed up, and knew that Peter Hogg would be the man to beat, with Neal Butler from the area and having won the 50k in 2010, I suspected he would try to hang with Hogg.  I also saw Melanie Peters name on the starting list, and I had heard from S.B. that she had great leg speed.  At the very last minute Joshua Wopata (if anyone was going to keep up with Hogg, I thought it would be him) sauntered up to the starting line, said hi, and then took his place near-the-front-but-still-10-feet-back. 
The starting line is up near the metal pole on the left.  Everyone is a little shy today I guess
Um, go!

The race started, and we were off.  For me, this was going to be the first 50 mile race I had run since Woodstock nearly 7 months ago.  I was...  interested to see what would happen, but also felt totally naked without my HR monitor.  We passed a few people early on, but soon it was Ryan, Jason and I running together taking turns setting the pace.  We cruised through the first 10 miles in 1:20, which felt a touch on the fast side, but not too close to the red line.  I did the math and mentioned to Jason that this pace would land us with a finishing time of 6 hours and 40 minutes, much faster than either of us had planned on running. 

I sipped my early race concoction called rocket fuel (a combination of flat Coke and Ultra, which gives a good glucose:fructose ratio) for the first loop, then switched to water during the 2nd lap.  Still running with Jason, I occasionally checked in with him to see where his HR was, in order to try to gauge mine.  Again, I felt like I was running a little faster than I normally would be, if wearing a HR monitor.  I am pretty sure I told Jason that I intended to run the second loop slower than the first loop, in an attempt to conserve some energy.  I think about 6 or 7 miles into that loop, just as I thought "oh man I'm finding the zone" Jason vocalized that he was going to slow down a touch and soon I was running on my own.  I saw Ryan, who had passed me while I was taking a leak, ahead and tried to match his pace while I continued to fuel.  

Food consisted mostly of gels with a mixing of clif bloks thrown in for good measure.  I like the margarita bloks as they provide more electrolytes than the regular ones do, so I made sure to eat a packet of these.  Soon I was at mile 9 of loop two, and realized I was going to finish this loop a touch faster than loop (1:20ish).  Doh!  Whatever, I thought, just keep running and we will deal with the consequences of this pace later.  At the car I grabbed a second bottle, which seemed kinda silly since we were running 10 mile loops with 3 aid stations positioned throughout.  But, I had realized how close the front 5-10 runners were together and had decided I would skip aid stations to save some time.  I also wanted coke in one bottle and water in the other as the Coke was tasting great.  
End of loop 2

I came up on Ryan during loop 3, and we ran together for a while.  He was cruising.  There was more than one moment when I wondered whether he intended to run this pace for the rest of the race, then he would say something like "whoops, getting a little excited there" and the pace would become more comfortable again.  Together we worked on moving quickly through the trails.  It was raining now, and the occasional roots and rocks were becoming slick.  Soon we ran up behind Melanie, who was also running her first 50 miler.  We formed a line and ran together for a good long time.  Turns out we were all from Michigan, so here I was in the middle of the woods, in Indiana, talking to Michiganders about other Michiganders we knew who were running races throughout the midwest that day.  I even got an update on Kai's status as he was tackling the Poto150 mile race in Illinois. 

Soon my consistent fueling strategy was paying dividends and on a small hill I pulled away from Ryan and Melanie, although we would give each other encouragement when we ran by on the switchbacks.  The rest of this loop went by without a hitch.  Soon I was done with loop 3, about 1:18, and I was starting to think 6:40 was possible.  Doing the math I came to the conclusion that 6:40 meant 8 minute miles for the entire race.  That seemed...  OK, impossible, but weren't there at least 3 other people ahead of me? who I could no longer see on switch backs.  So maybe this pace wasn't too impossible. 

Beginning loop 4 I saw Arden who gave me a quick update that I was in 3rd place, apparently one of the 3 ahead of me had dropped out.  I figured it was Joshua Wopata and Peter Hogg who were ahead of me, and although it would be unlikely, I was going to stay strong in case one of them faltered.  The only thing of consequence here was that I grabbed my ipod to keep my brain company as I figured I would be doing a lot of running alone. 

I stayed on top of my salt (2 scaps up to this point), kept eating gels and did my best to maintain a consistent effort levels.  I ran all the hills, except a couple, which I chose to walk up, allowing myself to pee at the same time (awesome, right?).  Somewhere along the way, I think I lost track of my fluid intake and began getting dehydrated.  I blame it on the rain, because I was already wet, I didn't realize how much I was sweating.  Finished loop 4 in 1:21, so I guess I was maintaining a consistent pace.

Starting loop 5 I chugged a red bull and was just feeling generally excited and tore out of the start/finish aid, ready to get the race overwith.  I started imagining sub 6:40 if I could just keep it together for this loop.  About 2 miles in I decided to take another gel.  This is when things started to get interesting.  I slurped it down, but then it immediately wanted to come back up.  Overcome with nausea I sipped on a little water and hoped it would pass.  Still feeling a little less than 100% I came into the mile 3.5 aid station and decided my stomach probably wanted solid food.  They had something advertised as Pa potatos which were cold boiled potatos.  It sounded perfect at the time.  I grabbed a handful and shoved them in my mouth.  Mmmm salty.  UGHDKFSLA buttery.  Yuck.  After swallow a little bit I felt myself begin to salivate similar to the prebarf salivations.  I spit out the entire mouthful of potatos and cursed whoever put butter on them.  Realizing I must be dehydrated and overfueled, I continued to run on burping fairly consistently.  I tried another gel around mile 6 and tiny bit made me gag.  Not good.  The last 10 miles of a 50, its really important to keep the fuel coming in.  I felt myself starting to slow a little bit.  I tried putting HEED in one of my bottles, hoping the light taste would let me get some fuel down.  Nope.  Soon I was feeling pretty sick, wondering if I should just get it over with and get the puking out of the way.  I continued to force down water, hoping that I could dilute some of the sugar I could feel sitting in my stomach.  I could taste the gels everytime I burped, leading me to think that my digestion had shut down.  Somehow I continued to run, but noticed my mile splits were now more like 9-9:30.  I was relying almost entirely on fat metabolism and was starting to get light headed when I ran up to the top of hills.  I tried a salt pill to see if it would help clear my stomach up.  Nope.

The misery continued until about mile 49.  I knew Ryan was not far behind me so that if I slowed down too much, he would make me pay.  At the mile 49 marker I decided to run with whatever I had left and if I was spewing as I crossed the finish line, so be it.  I think knowing that there was only a mile left shut my stomach up, or I was finally getting things back online.  I cruised it out and decided to be elated with my finishing time, despite having set a new goal for myself before starting loop 5.  I finally crossed the finish line with my arms raised up and a huge grin on my face.  Its hard to describe the feeling that accompanies seeing a time that you once thought would be completely unattainable.  Honestly there was not a single part of my mind that thought I could run a sub 7 hour 50 miler.  Maybe that shows lack of  determination, but part of my personality is setting what I believe are realistic and attainable goals so that I am satisfied.  But I guess those goals can be adjusted when you have fast trails, perfect temperatures, and legs firing on all cylinders.

Final time was 6:46.47, 22 minutes behind Wopata (6:24.46), and 55ish minutes behind Hogg (5:53).  Both those guys ran incredible races, and I realize now that they are also 2 of the 3 guys who finished ahead of me at Woodstock 50 mile (Ben Vanhoose being the other).  So it looks like I had better get used to seeing their names on the starting list for local races and seeing there backs at the start of the race.  I think I liked running without a HR monitor, at least for a 50 miler.  Its still going to be a must during a 100.
Pretty thrilled with my finishing time
2nd place finisher Joshua Wopata

Ryan came through the finish ~7 minutes after me, as I had figured he was looking strong and had a huge smile.  What an accomplishment, to run sub 7 hours for one's first 50 miler.  Jason also ran a great race and finished 5th in a huge PR time of 7:19.  Melanie also showed some gutsy racing, dominating the women's field in 7:32.  Likely, she will learned a lot about running 50s from this first 50, and have a very successful day at Ice Age.  I think everyone I know had great times, which speaks loads about the trail system and the weather.  Looking back, I think my nausea cost me 7-10 minutes, my legs were firing on all cylinders all day which is a great sign for the coming 100 milers, and I was even jogging around after the race.  I guess I was due for some stomach problems as I have not experienced many GI issues during my 3 years of ultrarunning.  now, to just learn my lesson and not let it happen again.
Congrats to Ryan and a great race
I think he is happy

I wore the Asics Gel Fuji Racer's for the entire race, and never had to change socks.  They handled the growing mud well.  The only downside was that they let in a moderate amount of sand and grit when it was dry out, as the trails were relatively sandy.  Overall, the race was fun, but I felt sort of...  unchallenged?  Like I could have used a few more big climbs and descents to really feel the stress of running 50 miles at a quick pace.  I don't want to take away from my own, or anyone elses performances, certainly this race required staying power and mental toughness, but the lack of climbing/descending, minimal technicality, and perfect temperatures did not really destroy me as I have felt during a couple other races (namely OPSF 50 and the MS50).  On the otherhand, maybe I am the only person who feels this way and should just shut it. 
Congratulations - now here have this piece of wood.  kidding, great "natural" plaques
 All photos are compliments of Planet Adventure

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