I finished Surf the Murph - a 50 mile footrace through the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage MN. And the day after I was far less sore than I was last night.
The race started oddly enough. My wife and I, with friend in tow in a separate vehicle, left our apartment at 5:05 am. The race started at 6 am. Her directions took us (correctly) a different way than the directions I had pulled up the night before (mine were also correct). End result: We pulled into the parking lot at 5:55 am or so. Quick! Get my bag! Pin my number! Head to the start! Return to car for dropped headlamp! Start!
That morning I had a few goals, in order of importance: 1) Finish; 2) Finish in the daylight; 3) run even/negative splits; 4) run sub-9 hours; 5) bomb the downhills; 6) finish in the top 5.
The race was three 16.8 mile laps around the park. The course was generally wide horsetrails with some singletrack that went through fields and woods where there should be no trail. This latter part would cut up my shins and make my wife cringe when she put antibiotic ointment on them post-race.
Each lap was split into three sections because of the terrain. The first five or so miles were walk uphill, bomb down hill. There was an aid station at mile 3 of each lap, and it essentially marked the halfway point to this first section. The first section ended at the second aid station, a parking lot for the horse camp at the park. This aid station was complete with restroom facilities (necessary on the first lap to cure intestinal issues). The second section is more or less flat and carries the runners through fields of tall grasses. There is one gnarly spot, where the trail goes through what looks like knocked down thick vegetation. There is soft ground underneath, so the runners are forced to be light on their feet and run on the knocked down plants like they are planks over a peat bog. This section is about 7 miles long and there is a third aid station at about mile 9. This section ends with a return to the horse camp, al beit coming from another direction, at mile 12.4. The final 4.4 miles are a return to the rolling hills that must be walked up, and then the lap ends and the whole process starts over again. Sounds, easy, right?
The first lap started easy enough. There was a crowd, and we were all eager to get going. I was mindful one lesson: start slow. I had intended to run even splits and wanted to come into the first aid station at about 30 minutes - 10 min/mi. Instead, I came in at somewhere between 27 and 28. That's when I took put one of my racing strategies into play: skip aid stations. If I didn't need to stop, I didn't. End result? I would spend less time not moving, carrying more fluids than necessary, or ingesting things I didn't need. The strategy worked, and I ended up skipping four of the 14 aid stations on the course and only spent 15 or so seconds each at the remainder.
I figured that I had put myself in about 7th or 8th place once the race really began a few miles in and the crowds thinned out. I was bombing down the hills and passing people in the process. Lots of folks did not run the downhills and I used the hills to get a few seconds on them. I then slowed down to my normal cruising speed (essentially the same speed as anyone behind me) and maintained my edge. As more and more hills came, I added more and more distance between me and the person behind me.
I came into the horse camp at about 56 minutes. I had slowed down enough to get into a comfortable pace and manage the nausea and intestinal distress that had been affecting me for since 5:30 that morning. When I pulled into the horse camp, I was behind three runners: a woman in a purple tank (a lot more on her later), a gut with forearm sleeves, and a man with a bike jersey on. I ended up using the facilities at the horse camp and lost a few minutes on those folks, but it was worth it. I loaded up my bottle with a 50/50 mixture of HEED and water.
I then started the flat section, and I turned my headlamp off at about 7:15 am. I intentionally skipped the third aid station (at mile 8.2 or so) and plunged into the singletrack-where-there-was-no-trail-before.
I caught my first runner, the man with the bike jersey, at about mile 15, just after the horse camp, round 2. I had seen the runner leave the camp and I was eager to catch him. He had passed me a while ago in the darkness. I worked hard to catch him, pushing the flats and working the downhills and finally passed him on a downhill about half a mile from the end of the first lap. I would never see him again. As a bonus for working to pass him and having fast transitions in aid stations, I also passed the man with the forearm sleeves. He was standing in the aid station while I motored out.
At the finish was my wife. She loaded me up with Pringles and a homemade chocolate chip cookies and I filled up with 75/25% HEED/water. I again pounded down a class of Coke and was off. I had finished the first lap in 2:50 and based on information I obtained later in the race, I was running in 5th place.
The second lap started out the same as the first, only this time I could see the daunting hills I had run down with more clarity. Some of them were downright scary, reminiscent of the hills at Afton State Park and the race that is run there in July. I once again skipped the first aid station and plugged along the best I could with the hills. I was still running the downhills well and felt comfortable even though I was 20 miles in.
At some point, I had caught on the woman in the purple tank. I don't remember where it was, maybe at an aid station or when she was using the facilities, but either way, she caught me and passed me somewhere around mile 25 or so, right around the third aid station. And I panicked. All systems went haywire, adrenaline pumped through me, and my right hamstring, which had begun to give me problems, had relaxed. I came through the half-way point at 4:27.
I was so perplexed by her presence that I needed to pass her again. So I motored along and tried to drop her on the downhills. I was successful in that I passed her, but she did not go away.
When I pulled into the horse camp for the second time on lap 2, I was worried at how long I could keep up my strenuous pace. I had just killed the flat section and had 20 miles to go. I knew she wasn't going to go away and my confidence faltered.
She and I would go back and forth like this at every aid station until the final trip to the horse camp. The situation would go as follows: I would come into the aid station having been passed anywhere to one-half to a mile back. I would get Pringles, a cookie, HEED and drink some Coke like it was in a shot glass and blast out. I would pass the woman in the purple tank on a downhill, and try to drop her. The sugar and caffeine from the Coke would power me for about 3 miles and then I would slow down and I would get caught.
On the final lap, I came into the aid station still panicking. My wife told me that I needed to put on new socks, and I refused. I didn't want to take the time and besides, neither my shoes nor socks were broken, so I refused to move them. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. She withheld Pringles unless I changed, so I loaded up on HEED, slammed some Coke and left without them. I had finished the second lap in 5:50 - I had slowed down only 10 minutes from first lap to second.
I came into the first aid station knowing that I needed to get something. A cookie, anything. I grabbed a store-bought chocolate chip cookie and met the woman in the purple tank once again. This time, I relayed some information to her: there was a man in a white shirt in front of us, about a hundred yards up. The aid station workers said he was 18.
I set my sights on him and took off down the hill out of the aid station. I passed him a mile or so later when I bombed passed him on a downhill. Unfortunately, he didn't go away.
I entered the horse camp in 4th. My wife was there again and the issue with the socks was over. My routine stayed the same and I entered the flat section. Here I suffered. I slowed down and got caught by the 18-year-old on a long flat section before we entered a field, and then by the woman in purple 1.5 miles from the horse camp. At this point, I was gassed - there wasn't a whole lot left in me.
I came into the horse camp and crouched to ease the muscles in the thigh. I got water from a bottle and gave my wife my gloves (which had lived in the waistband of my shorts since 8 am) and my bottle (in an effort to increase speed by decreasing weight). I took two cups of Coke and went out. When asked how I was feeling, I told my wife that "I'm dying." A better word choice would have been to say that I was fading, and fast. She told me that the next four miles were the easiest of my life.
She wasn't entirely wrong, though. I started to sputter on the hills and my mind lapsed a time or two in that last section, but I kept going. Another woman caught me shortly after I left the aid station and I fell back to 7th. Strange things happen during those long minutes. I turned onto autopilot, just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I couldn't zip down the hills anymore - my hamstrings were too shot handle the force.
Finally, I came down the final hill and saw my wife. She jogged in the last 100 yards with me and I had finished. Unofficially, I had come in at 9:04:00. I went over to the woman in purple, shook her hand, and told her that she ran a fantastic race. I then went and sat on a bench and tried to recover. The longer I sat, the more pain I experienced, until I said enough and told my wife that we had to go.
In the car, I drank water and coke, and ate what I could. That night the muscle soreness started to show and I tossed and turned throughout the evening. As the days passed, my soreness subsided and I was back at 100 percent five days after the run.
Going into the race, I had put in about 10 weeks of training, counting 1.5 weeks or so of solid tapering. I ran about 50 miles per week, with one to three hard workouts a week. I did long runs on Saturdays, semi-long runs on Sundays, and I tried to fit in a speed workout on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
I built my training program around the work in Dr. Jack Daniels's Running Formula. It is the same text that my high school CC coach trained me on back in my 5K days, and it worked beautifully then. Why not now?
I credit my success to a few key workouts. To quote ultrarunner and coach Matt Hart, "You can have excuses or results. Not both." I wanted results, so I knew I had to put the work in. First, I put in my time on my long runs. I did 22+ mile runs for three consecutive weeks before the race, starting six weeks out (week 4 in my log). Second, I did lactate threshold workouts. I did three of these, starting on about week 3 and another one every two weeks or so. Finally, I did treadmill walking as training for walking the hills. In short, I set the treadmill to a 15% incline and walked it for 25 minutes at speeds between 2.5 and 3.5 mph. I also did other miscellaneous workouts. Very early I did 16x200m repeats, a favorite workout of fine for early-season strength building. I also did gobs and gobs of lunges, plank-style ab work and participated in the One Hundred Pushups program. Biking 15 miles a day, five days a week to and from work helped, too.
I don't have anything planned at this time. My next race will likely be the Superior Trail Races 50K in May and I intend to crack 5 hours. The big hairy goal for next year is to finish the Supeior Trail Races Fall 100 Miler.