Exactly one year ago, I made my first attempt at running an Ultra-Marathon at the TARC Spring Classic 50k in Weston, MA. As I documented in a subsequent post on this blog, the attempt was a spectacular failure in which I withdrew and DNF’d after only 15 miles because of Plantar Fasciitis. So as you can imagine, I’ve been eying this year’s race so I could return to the scene of the crime and get some retribution! (which basically just means that I fully intended to just FINISH the damn thing this year!) Although I was completely sure I would finish, a couple of X factors made me unsure of how I would feel or perform. Firstly, I would again be running without my custom orthotics. Even though I had success two weeks ago at the very tough Traprock 50k without them, I wasn’t overly confident that I was completely in the clear. Next, as I just mentioned, my last 50k was only 2 weeks ago! It was the toughest long-distance race I’ve ever done, and I wasn’t sure if I was completely recovered from it. Lastly, I’ve been feeling like crap for about a week. Texting back and forth with my running partner Mark all week, I was not feeling optimistic at all about a strong performance at this race. Having fun and enjoying the trails and beautiful weather would be the name of the game!
As with all TARC events, the pre-race scene was great! As you do more and more of these races, you begin to see the same faces over and over. Hanging out and chatting with friends before the race is the main reason why I always try to get to the race site early. An added incentive this year was that, for the first time ever, the race organizers were giving out FREE race t-shirts on a first come first serve basis! Needless to say, that got me out of bed nice and early!
After hanging around chatting and getting our drop bags ready, the race got started a little after 8am.
Several Greater Framingham club-mates and I toed the line this year. Mike Sawyer would run, and place 2nd overall in the 10k. Jen Fields, Kendra Howard, and Carolina Villerreal all ran the half marathon. And once again, Mark Brown and I would be running the 50k. Mark and I have a tendency to stay together when we run. It was actually pretty funny at the TARC Spring Thaw in March when several people came up to us afterwards and commented on it! (We both had decent legs that day and placed fairly well, so people noticed that we were always together.) Anyway, that being said, Mark is actually a lot faster than I am. Particularly at shorter distances. So this time I made sure to tell him (over and over again!) that he should run his own race and not slow down to my pace! He agreed, wanting to test himself and see what he was capable of.
The race started and very quickly split with the marathoners and half-marathoners going straight while the 50k runners took a right. Mark and I said goodbye to Carolina, who had started with us, and took a right onto the 50k course.
The 50k course is actually a 10k loop that runners must complete 5 times. In comparison to other 50k’s I’ve done, it is fairly flat and fast. There is really only one hill that, although very runnable, runners may want to strategically walk. The rest of the loop consists of fire road, double track and a healthy dose of singletrack with some slightly technical sections. One very wet, muddy and rocky 50 foot long section encourages runners to walk and carefully pick their way through. Other than that, it’s run, run, run!!
Mark stayed with me for the entire first loop, which surprised me. Quickly into the 2nd loop however, he took off like a shot and I figured that would be the last I’d see of him all day. I did my normal thing and kept a nice consistent and easy pace, not letting my heart rate get too high. My strategy was to just keep it in cruise control, take a gel and some endurolyte caps in between every loop, and see how it went. Things stayed nice and comfortable with the only real problem I had being that my wife wouldn’t stop texting me! (Love you honey… ) I keep my phone on me so that I can take some pictures and listen to music during the race. In truth, I never end up taking any pictures because I’m too focused on the run. I did end up breaking out the tunes sometime during the 3rd loop though!
At some point late in the 3rd loop or early in the 4th, I realized that I was actually feeling pretty good! I had stuck to the gel and electrolyte plan, and things were working for me. I decided to start picking up the pace a little bit and see how long I could hold it there. With the tunes helping to push me, I started clicking off some quicker miles. I felt great coming into the aid station between the 4th and 5th loop.
As I was sucking down a gel at my drop bag, Mark tapped me on my shoulder. I was shocked! My first thought was that he was already finished and that I wasn’t running as strong as I thought I was. I yanked out my earbud and asked him if he was finished. He shook his head and “Cramps” was all he said. I could see on his face that he was struggling and wasn’t about to take off with me for a hard last loop. Not wanting to loose my momentum, I gave him some sort of conciliatory groan, threw my ear bud back in, and took off.
Happily, my mental and physical energy continued to hold out and I pushed hard into the last loop. I have to admit though that I kept looking over my shoulder hoping that Mark was coming up behind me. With less than 6 miles to go, I thought that if he rebounded, caught up, and pushed the pace, he might be able to lead me to a PR. Actually, at one point I thought he WAS coming when I looked back and saw a runner with a grey shirt a short way back. The runner turned out to be Colleen Murphy and her pacer. I was shocked by this because they had been ahead of me all day, typically coming out of the aid station just as I was coming in. I didn’t realize I had gotten ahead of them, but it must have happened somehow during the final aid station transition between laps 4 and 5. The downside was that when I looked back again I saw that they were gaining on me FAST! Looking back again and seeing that Mark was still nowhere in sight, I decided to latch onto them and see how long I could hang on. I managed to weather the initial shock of the pace picking up again and ran with them. After about a mile or so, it looked like Colleen needed to back off a tiny bit but encouraged her friend to push on. I’m basing this assumption on their body language, because I had the tunes blaring at this point and couldn’t hear a word they were saying! I did hear Colleen scream some kind of encouragement to her friend though which made me laugh. I would have probably passed out if I had tried to scream at that point in the race!
Anyway, I kept pushing as much as I could. My new goal became to try to keep the pacer in view for as long as possible as he inevitably pulled further and further away. With only a couple of miles left, I managed to stay strong and pushed hard to the finish.
At the finish line, Colleen’s friend (I never did find out his name), gave me a high-five and told me that my being on his ass kept him pushing hard to the finish too! I love it when that kind of stuff happens! Two people are using each other to be competitively motivated, but in a completely positive way!
My hard work during the last two laps rewarded me with a HUGE PR in the 50k distance! I finished in 5:00:30. Good for a 25 minute personal best! I was absolutely elated! I couldn’t believe how good I had felt all day considering how crappy I had been feeling coming into the day. Just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen at an ultra. Just get to the starting line and see how things shake out!
Unfortunately, Mark’s day would not have a happy ending.
I became concerned after I had been done for 15 minutes or so and he still hadn’t finished yet. His drop bag was still sitting next to mine, so I was pretty sure he hadn’t dropped out of the race, but I still went up to the timing tent to check and see if he had indeed gone out for his last lap. He had. I went back to chatting with friends and anxiously waiting for him to finish. Another 15 minutes or so later he came in looking pretty ragged. He had really blown up sometime during the 4th lap. He had cramped up in both calves and his face was crusted in salt. After sitting down for a little while, drinking water and eating some food, he still seemed pretty out of it. I think he dehydrated on the course and never really rebounded. He pinpointed his mistake as having gone out way too hard way too early. In classic Mark style, and like the great running partner that he is, he would perk up every now and then and tell me how awesome I did and how happy he was for me! I could tell though, that he just wanted to get out of there and have this day be over with.
After he left, I hung around for a few more minutes and was surprised to see Brenda Morris! I knew she was registered, but I had heard that she couldn’t make it to the race. I obviously had missed her at the start, but there she was, having just finished the 50k. Another Greater Framingham friend, Wendy Akeson, had run the last two loops with her. I gave them both hugs and chatted for a bit before heading home.
Another great day on the trails, and a PR that I won’t likely top for a long time!
Gear used: Inov8 TrailRoc 255’s, Orange Superfeet Inserts, Ultimate Direction Handheld water bottle, iPhone and Bose ie2 headphones, Hammer Huckleberry Montana Gels, Hammer Endurolytes, Garmin Fenix.
The results were quickly posted the day after the race to ultrasignup.com. I placed 26th out of 108 finishers. Here’s a link to the results.