Put this one on my calendar a few months ago. Seemed like the right time to go a little farther and see how that goes. Race director is none other than Van "Pigtails" Phan. If anyone would know how to put on a low key race it would be her. Cost is minimal, two cans of soup (one to eat post race and one for the food bank).
How far is 50K? I got that question a lot. Sometimes I would say "about 73 miles" just to see peoples reaction. It is in fact 50 kilometers. My running friends who can do some math should know that it is ten times a 5K race, or 31.1 miles. This race has a little bonus mileage and the real distance is closer to 31.6 miles. Course is paved wide trail for 10 miles "upstream" the Cedar River Trail followed by 5.8 miles of gravel trail. Turn around and head back on a very gentle grade downhill.
For weeks I calculated and plotted out a racing strategy that would end with a finish of about 5 hours, a little over would be OK. I will spare you the details of the plan, because the weather threw a wrench into everything. Three small snow events and sub freezing cold in the days before the race. Very icy roads. Email from Pigtails said "no wimping out" but only travel if it is safe to do. Bigger snow Thursday evening made it very hard to get out of my neighborhood. We did get a short break in the weather from Friday till later Saturday when the very big storm is due to hit. I considered not running, but then Jody suggested I go up Friday afternoon and take my time driving, stay in a hotel and not have to stress the very early morning drive on Saturday. With one swipe of the credit card my cheap race became about the price of a big city marathon. Quiet night at the Quality Inn, then I could sleep in till almost 6AM and drive the half mile to the start line with ease. Feeling a little sore throat and some stuffiness, nothing a run of 31 miles in the cold and snow won't cure.
Start - Dark and frigid. 17 degrees F. The race starts and ends under Highway 405 in Renton. I pick up my number and get my gear ready. Three shirts and a jacket, long pants, hat, head band, head band around neck, gloves, cell phone, cereal bars (Odwalla), camera, head lamp, fuel belt with two bottles, 3 GUs, extra bag with polar fleece, second pair of gloves and hat. I wait in my car till five minutes before the start to stay warm. There are about 15 of us taking the early start. Originally there were 93 registered for either the marathon or the 50K, but I think that many could not make it due to the weather. Great to see RW and Mike are here. The plan is to stick with RW longer than usual. They are pinning their numbers on when I hear Pigtails say some number of seconds till the start. Didn't hear the number, but it must be soon. I look forward to moving and generating some heat. And then we are off.
Mile 1 to 31.6 - one to two inches of snow, either packed down some or fluffy on top of either pavement, ice or gravel. Most of the trail has footprints and because it is so cold the footing us uneven. I am not afraid of slipping, but with every step there are minor adjustments. Small slips back hinder the power of forward progress. Not a problem if I was just running a few miles, but not what I was hoping for when I signed up to run five miles farther than I ever have.
Mile 1 - 9:50 or so. I feel like I am running 9:00, but we just are not moving at usual pace. Didn't need that head lamp. I'll stick it in my backpack when I get a chance.
Mile 3 - Day is getting lighter. May see the sun before long. String straps on my back pack keep sliding off my shoulders. I have never run with this bag and it is annoying to have to keep adjusting it. Most runners have Yaktrax or spike/screws in their shoes. I am doing fine with my regular running shoes. I did not want to try something like that for the first time on this long run.
Mile 5 - My face feels tight in some way. The feeling is hard to explain. I touch my beard and realize that I am growing icicles! Other than that I feel good about my clothing choices and how I feel temperature wise.
Mile 8 - Nice sunshine, no wind, just cold. A couple of snow angels on the trail. Also some animal tracks. Little bird tracks. A couple sets of mammal tracks going directly across the trail and down toward the river. Its me, RW, Mike and another Mike. RW says that this may be the craziest thing she has ever done.
Mile 9.1 - Second "self serve" aid station. We stop and fill up and walk a bit. My Odwalla bar is frozen.
Mile 10-12 - Worse footing. Frozen solid bumpy.
Mile 12.5 - Staffed aid station. Thank you volunteers! Drop bag station. I ditch my wretched backpack. I can always grab it on the way back, otherwise, they will drive it to the finish for me.
Mile 13.1 - Marathon turn around. With the two races and three different start times it is impossible to tell what place I am in. Two really fast guys blew past us a few miles back. I was amazed at their speed on this surface. Meanwhile we have hit about a 10:45 average pace what with walk breaks and all.
Mile 15 - I would love to see that 50K turn around. This is getting to be a little trudge. Mike has dropped back some. RW and I are step in step. She was downright chatty (for her) a while ago, but now it is mostly quiet.
Mile 15.8 - There is the turnaround and aid station. Hot chocolate!! Pose for a picture to prove that we made it all the way (well halfway).
Take a close look at RW's hair. The white spots are fine white frost on every strand. I think it looks like feathers, but she says it is gray hair and that this race is aging her. Race? Well really we are not racing. This is the least competitive race I have done, not that I am not working hard. There is so far to go I just want to conserve strength for the end. I have hit the wall at mile 18 before, if that happens today it will be a long 13.5 miles to the end. Hopefully the walking breaks and hot cocoa stop will enable me to finish strong. As we leave the rest stop and start running back I glance at the watch. 2 hours 49 minutes. If I do hit the wall, I may not finish in under six hours! The longest time I have ever been out running was 4:24 and that was eleven years ago.
Mile 18 - Oh so gentle downhill, very slight wind at my back, heading in the right direction. Feeling good and making good progress.
Mile 19.1 - Back at the aid station. They have hot chocolate too!! Linger for a while before resuming the run. Not hard at all getting back in the groove.
Mile 20 - Bob Dolphin sighting.
Mile 22 - Back on the snow covered pavement. 3-4 mile runs with longish walk breaks. Getting cloudy. Seems like the sun is about to set. Still wearing gloves and everything else. Happy with my wardrobe choices. Feet are fine and dry. Being so cold there is no melting or wetness getting to my feet. I'd rather have this than have it be 20 degrees warmer and raining.
Mile 26.2 - 4 hours 40 minutes. My slowest marathon by 16 minutes and a good 40 minutes slower than what I could do this year. Perhaps this slow pace has allowed my energy reserves to be sustained. I have a few points of fatigue and a little right foot discomfort, but overall am in good shape. Only 5.4 miles to go.
Mile 28 - Before the race I figured RW would make her move around here and leave me. But she seems fatigued and in no mood to compete. When I suggest a walk break, she is quick to agree. I could go faster if I really wanted, but there is still a ways to go and I have no need to "beat" her either. Neither of us are really fading, but neither of us have much inner drive. I have been looking at my GPS watch only to learn the distance traveled, not the time. There are very few other runners to give me any incentive to pass or avoid being passed.
Mile 30 - One last short walk break. We start again and if we did not deserve them before, now we are earning our medals. Little bit faster and it is really tough. I can see Highway 405 in the distance. Ah the final stretch to the finish. Very very hard but good effort.
Mile 31.6 - Make the turn across the river and decide to finish together. A little group cheering for us and we cross the line in step. Some day I would like to compete with her and drive each of us to faster times, but not today. Finish feeling fresher than many a marathon. Quick change of clothes and get home just as the big storm starts. I would like to run this course again on a nice day. I think it could be a marathon PR course if the weather is good.
On the way home I reflected about my 2008 running. Best year yet. Most miles (over 1,600) most races (27) most marathons (12 plus an ultra) first ultra, PRs in the 8K, 12K, half marathon and marathon. Also my streak of hundred mile months goes on at 49 months. I'll think of some goals for 2009, but in many ways I do not feel a need to keep outdoing myself. I am so blessed and grateful to be able to run like this.
5 hours 36 minutes 41 seconds
tied for 11th place of 22 finishers
2 minute negative split