Friday, April 15, 2016

2016 Zumbro Midnight 50: in a race without expectations, complete satisfaction obtained

This is not a report about suffering. Or injury. Or haste. My Zumbro was none of those things. 

My Zumbro was not a race. It was a run. A run without expectations other than to finish. 

My thoughts on pacing were low going in Zumbro. I had less than 400 miles on the legs year-to-date, and only about 700 miles season-to-date since I started running again around Halloween 2015 post-ankle sprain. I hadn't done many long runs - no trail runs over 20 miles or four-ish hours, and I did a single ~25ish mile pavement run with a friend a few weeks before the race. That run was about her, at her pace, and for me the benefit besides the company was the sheer time on the feet. Normally, I would have liked to have done a 50K trail run as prep for a 50 mile race. That didn't happen this year.

By comparison, when I started 2015's Zumbro Midnight 50, I had ~1,030 miles on the legs, my miles and number of runs/running days was much more consistent. Last year, I considered myself in the best ultrarunning shape of my life when I ran my first sub-five-hour 50K at Afton during a training run three weeks prior to Zumbro. I thought a finish between nine and 10 hours was doable last year, this year I was shooting for something between 10 and 11 hours. 

I got to Zumbro late Friday morning and helped out at the start/finish aid station and as-needed throughout the day. The temps floated around freezing, and it had been snowy, windy, and cold. I walked around camp with long underwear on under my pants and four layers on top: long sleeve top; sweater; puffy vest; puffy hooded jacket. The evening drew near, temps dropped another five or so degrees and I threw on my softshell jacket on top of my jacket - to hell with compressing the insulation, I thought. I was also thankful I had my mukluks in the trunk of my car. The inside of my old inov8 Gore-Tex-lined boots were wet with sweat and they're really too narrow promote good circulation and foot warmth. So I put on my mukluks (still stored in the car from winter) and my feet were pleased. Several others were walking around in winter boots, too. 

After the sun went down, I was glad I was not running the 100 miler. As I worked the aid station Friday night, several of the runners that came in finishing their third loops started to look haggard and broken. They were cold and exhausted, their minds - and therefore bodies - beaten by the course, wind, and temperature. I told the race director that I expected carnage from the 100 milers at about 1:30/2 AM due to the cold temps. 

The carnage started earlier than I expected. Once it was dark, three or four 100 milers walked in and immediately turned in their bibs. They could not be convinced. They could walk straight, talk coherently, and ingest food and fluids, but they refused to continue and offered up their numbers and bibs to someone, anyone, who would take them. I happened to be there.

My pre-race jitters started at about 11 PM. I paced around the dirt roads of the horse camp full of food, a warm-up of sorts. 

Once the race started, it was uneventful. With a couple exceptions, I spent less than 15 seconds in each aid station. That time was spent deciding what to eat (answer: real, (solid) hot food of quesadillas, grilled cheese, noodle soup and non-hot food of lots and lots of PB&J's), deciding what to drink (answer: soup broth; Coke; coffee; and a single ginger ale, each as necessary), and walking out of the aid station food and cup of some liquid in hand. I drank less than a bottle of water on the first loop, but wasn't concerned about dehydration due to the cold temps. 

Lap one was done in 3:20ish; I was out in less than two minutes after re-loading my pack with Clif blocks. The effort on this loop was consistent. I was constantly thinking about the small inclines throughout the course: Can you run this on the third lap, I asked myself? If the answer was "no," I wouldn't run it now. Occasionally I lead a train of runners, but mostly I ran alone. I passed numerous people as they loitered in aids. 

Lap two was significantly colder - we were getting to the heart of the morning, and the loop took four full hours, despite feeling that I was traveling at a consistent effort. I wore my hat, a buff around my neck, and gloves plus mittens for most of the entire lap. Temps hit the mid-to-high teens, I estimated, and I only occasionally felt cold in my forearms (where I had a single long sleeve covering; my core temp was never an issue).  In reality, the pace was so much slower in the first three quarters of the lap, as I started to see the light of the sun under the horizon as I ascended to the overlook after aid three. The pace started to pick up when I hit the road. It was full-on daylight now and there was just four miles between me and the final lap. By now, the necks and tops of both of my bottles had long-since frozen, and I was forced to get my fluids only at aid stations. I was not concerned about this; it just is, I told myself. You can run for a long time without fluids, and you'll make it to an aid eventually and be able to fill up. 

I came into the start/finish at around 7:20 AM. I contemplated jettisoning my frozen bottles, but decided to melt the ice and go from there. I was glad I did, as the last four miles from the road to aid four to the finish was done under a warm sun. I swapped to two dry shirts (again, one short sleeve and one long sleeve, but the long sleeve was thinner here) and turned my wet fleece skull cap inside out. I still had the mitts, but the hat and mitts were soon bundled up and permanently placed in my vest. It was still cool, just above freezing for a long time, and I rotated with my gloves on and then off, and my buff on and then off, each as temps dictated. 

I pushed hard on the that last lap, going as hard as I could, and not wanting to succumb to the distance or to any sufferfest. So I ran the flats and downs and as much of the gentle ups as I could, knowing that I needed to leave it all on the course. I passed Mark Smith and the 100 miler he was pacing as I ran down into aid two, and for the most part ran every runnable step of the race, and especially the last lap. Due to running hard, the elements of the course - I have now done 12 laps there - came quickly and without my constant gazing into the distance wondering when, for example, Carlton Peak would show up - something that I often look for when running the 50 or 100 at the Fall Superior races. I knew I had the race in the bag when I hit the road, and I pushed the pace to the pace where I was breathing hard.

I was passed by only a single person on that last lap -  the winner of the 17 mile race - and finished in 11:02:31. I had done the last lap in approximately 3:40. I took 26th. 

I was most pleased with the effort my body was able to put into the event itself. I was, from my perspective, undertrained. But I used my now-eight years of experience running ultras to run a smart, conservative race and push hard for an extended period of time (really, the last 20 miles). These things don't get easy, but they do get easier once one clears the learning curve that is running for hours and hours on end and dealing with sleep deprivation. 

Stray observations

Starting a race on a looped course in the dark and running about one-and-a-half loops before sunrise does weird things to the mind. When I hit the pine tree tunnel on the third loop between the start/finish and aid one, I realized that while I had run through the area twice before (because I remembered what the dirt looked like), I had no idea on laps one or two that I had gone through the tunnel. Headlamp-induced tunnel vision. 

My iPod gave out at the last aid station, and I didn't start it until about 10 minutes into the race. I listened to podcasts from NPR (Fresh Aid; Dinner Party Download; Radiolab; Embedded) and one decidedly not (Dan Savage), and the intellectual nature of them was a nice way to keep my brain focused on something else other than the running.  Last year, the iPod was filled with rock and thrash metal and it gave out when I hit the road on the third lap (with about four miles/one hour to go).

I have now done 12 laps of the 16.7 mile Zumbro course. 

The Ant Hill did not suck on any loop, and I did not break a toe going down it this year. 

Five of my toenails have evidence of trail running. Five do not. 

The toenail on my right big toe was not injured, a rarity for races of 50 miles or more. The toenail on my left big toe did have blister underneath it, and it may have partially separated from the bed. I pulled it off today. 

I was going to use Atra's removable rockplates in my Superior 2.0's, but decided not to about an hour before the run started. Nothing new on race day, I thought. I'm glad I didn't. The course is not rocky, save the Ant Hill, and the plates, however thin (<1mm) take up valuable vertical space in the shoe. 

I ate a lot of cheese during the run via quesadillas and grilled cheese. I don't think I've ever eaten dairy during a race (maybe once on a hamburger?) prior to this. 

My stomach was mostly solid, save one time coming into aid 3 on loop 2. I had been putting lots of acidic things into it - Clif Blocks, mostly, plus Coke and the jelly on PB&Js - and needed to eat something that wasn't acidic. Ended up grabbing some M&M's and a quesadilla and walking out. 

Bacon, eggs, and sausage at the finish line hot off the stove was the most amazing immediate post-race meal I've ever had. Kuddos. 

  • thin fleece skull cap -> put in pack during loop 3
  • RSR buff (x2 or x3?) (used one as neck gaiter loops 1 and 2; used dry one as primary headgear loop 3)
  • Patagonia Capilene 1 short-sleeve shirt (loops 1 and 2)
  • Patagonia Capilene 2 Quarter zip long sleeve short (loops 1 and 2)
  • Patagonia Forerunner short-sleeve shirt (loop 3)
  • Patagonia Capilene 1 long sleeve shirt (loop 3)
  • Patagonia Houdini windshirt (in pack not used, but glad I had it)
  • Timex Ironman watch
  • iPod shuffle
  • Craft winter running boxer briefs /w strategically placed windproof panels from TCRC 
  • Patagonia running tights
  • Fitsox Isowool Trail Cuff socks x3 (wore one pair throughout; had two more in drop bag)
  • Altra Superior 2.0 (2016 model)
  • Black Diamond lightweight fleece gloves
  • Scott winter running mitts, size L/XL (for over gloves)
  • Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 vest /w UD bottles
  • ~8 sleeves of Clif Blocks
  • Tic Tac container /w Endurolytes (only had one)
  • Black Diamond Spot headlamp (original model) /w extra (4x) AAA batteries
  • Body Glide
  • In drop bag at start/finish and not used (and not already mentioned above): Altra The One's; Montbell synthetic insulated hooded jacket; Patagonia Strider Pro running shorts; Patagonia Capilene 1 stretch long sleeve. 

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