Monday, April 29, 2013

TARC 50k Spring Classic

It was finally time for the Trail Animals Running Club 50k Spring Classic taking place in Weston, MA.  31 miles that takes place on a fast trail loop that you run five times.  Going into this race I felt that I could run a 4:30 time and maybe even as low as a 4:15 if I felt good.  Additionally I hoped to finish lap 4 before the frontrunners finished thus avoiding getting lapped.  We had chinese food the night before which I doubt is on the list of approved ultrarunner meals but I have a hard time saying No to teriyaki beef sticks and lo mein.

Jonny picked me up at the ripe hour of 5:20 (thanks Jonny) and we went and picked up Mike Galoob.  We got there with plenty of time to spare and registered, listened to the pre-race meeting and saw fellow WTACers Mike C, Shira and Mark Fuller as well as Gunshow who was nursing a busted ankle. All the runners are assigned different snacks to bring and the aid station at the start/finish is filled with all manner of cookies, candy, chips and treats, along with staple running aids like gels, salt tabs and drinks.  Almost as soon as the pre-race spiel was over, the 10kers took off into the woods.  We had 15 minutes to get ourselves together and then we lined up and were off.

Every treat in the world can be yours.

Lap 1 - 49 minutes
I took off at a pace which wasn't too fast and didn't feel like work.  In addition to the 10k and the 50k, there was a half and full marathon and those runners quickly peeled off down a different trail and it was just the 50kers for a while.  They weren't kidding about it being a fast course - the trails were wide open and very clear of obstacles for the most part.  There were a few muddy sections to navigate but they were the exception.  I settled into a pace behind a couple runners which proved trouble as we ended up going off course.  By the time we realized our mistake we had pulled several other runners along with us.  We quickly found the right trail and continued on.  I finished the first lap in about 50 minutes which seemed right on.  If I could keep this pace up I'd be cookin'.  Coming into the aid station, you're greeted by cheers and applause.  There were plenty of spectators on the hill next to the aid station and the crowd would grow with each lap as the shorter races finished up.  I didn't stop at the aid table since I had gels in my pocket and most of my water bottle full but went right into my second lap.

Lap 2 - 50 minutes
The 50kers were pretty spread out by this point but now there were half-marathoners in the mix.   I was still running by myself for the most part though.  I kept the pace the same as the first lap - roughly 8 minute miles.  A couple halfers caught up to me around mile 3 and I rolled my ankle somewhat badly as I stepped aside to let them by.  Grrr.  After a few moments the pain subsided and the rest of the lap proceed without incident.  This lap was a few minutes longer than the first but I still felt good.  At the aid station I had my water bottle filled by a wonderful lady with a pitcher, grabbed a cookie, more Gu and some twizzlers and was off.

Lap 3 - 57 minutes
This lap started off well.  My pace was still consistent and strong.  The variety of race lengths meant I was still catching up to halfers which helped to break up the monotony of running alone.  Around the halfway mark of this lap I began to feel it - I was at about mile 18 and my pace began dropping.  I thought about the two more laps I still had to run and wondered how I was going to manage it.  This aid station visit was much longer than the last.  I probably spent 90 seconds there, grabbing watermelon and blueberries, twizzlers and more Gu gels.  Then off I went.  But it was tough to get running again.  The fun was over.

Lap 4 - 66 minutes
Immediately I felt tired and more sluggish.  My pace was noticeably slower.  I had already begun walking the steeper hills on the last lap but now for the first time I actual took walking breaks on flat sections of course.  I would only walk for 30 seconds or so before starting up again but it still felt like a big surrender.  About halfway through this lap some people started to go by me at a decent clip.  I assumed these were the front runners.  I kept looking back waiting for Galoob to fly by me but he never came.  Nearing the end of this lap I was in full-on grunt mode.  Any mud or stream afforded me a moment to walk and it was tougher and tougher to get going again.  I tried not to think about the fact that I still had to run another lap.  I managed to run out of water with a mile to go because I had dumped some on my head earlier (dumb.)  Reaching the aid station was a victory in and of itself and I took even longer to nosh on berries, twizzlers and salted potatoes.  I looked over at the happy folks drinking and relaxing on the hill and I spied Galoob.  I threw a piece of watermelon at him and found that he had bowed out with knee trouble.  He chided me for lollygagging and I dutifully trudged out of the aid station for one more lap.  The final lap.

Lap 5 - 69 minutes
This was it.  6.2 miles to go.  My legs were dead and my pace was still dropping but I tried to just keep moving.  After about a mile I ran into Mike C walking in the wrong direction.  He had bad stomach issues that had put an end to his day.  He gave me some words of encouragement and I continued on.  Someone would occasionally pass me but not as often as I was passing others.  Thinking about how these people still had at least another lap to go gave me a bit of strength to soldier on and finish this thing.   Ezri and I watched Charlotte's Web last week and with three miles left to go this goddamn song got stuck in my head.

I can TARC?

In a way it helped having Wilbur sing in my ear while I trudged along, nibbling on twizzlers I had pocketed.  Kept my mind off the misery at hand.  With two miles to go I misstepped and my left calf seized up completely.  Just total stabbing pain.  I fell on my ass and massaged it until it eased up.  After a minute I was able to get up and start jogging again.  There were a few more times when I could feel the calf wanting to cramp but it never did.  When I finally approached the finish line I was more relieved than happy.  I was so exhausted that I was more or less emotionally numb.  But I had done it.

I finished in 4:48.  18th out of 108 finishers.  I didn't come close to my goal time but I finished and that's the important thing.  I joined the spectators on the hill (really I just collapsed on the grass) and enjoyed some snacks and a cold brew.  Learned that Gunshow finished 5th which is pretty impressive with a busted ankle.  Saw fellow WTACer Shira finish up the 50k and watched in amazement as she ran around the parking lot in order to hit 31 miles on her GPS.  Ha!

So what did I learn from my first 50k?
  • Well it's probably not a great idea to eat a mountain of chinese food the night before you run 31 miles.  My legendary iron stomach did its job and I didn't have any intestinal distress during the run but I'm sure a better dinner couldn't have hurt.
  • I think my lack of a really long training run was a detriment as it had been awhile (NipMuck) since I had spent 3+ hours running in the woods.  It would have been helpful to have had that under my belt.
  • I need to learn more about proper fueling during long races.  Popping gels and gobbling junk at the aid station is not ideal.
  • Ultimately, my main problem was that I was running at a pace for the first two laps that exceeded my training.  This course was billed as fast & flat and I've recently had a lot of success at shorter distances.  I extrapolated what I thought I was capable of at this distance but it was just too much too soon.  More weekly miles over a much longer period of time is necessary to do what I was attempting.
Overall though this was a successful race.  I completed an ultramarathon which seems weird to type.  It was brutal and miserable near the end and I didn't think I'd ever want to do it again but a few days removed and I've already began to romanticize it.  I'm sure one day I'll attempt another one but for now I'll be content to just run and enjoy some shorter races.

Kudos to the Trail Animals and all their awesome volunteers who put on a great event.  As a side note, I left my drop bag at the Classic and didn't realize until I was home unpacking my stuff.  Luckily the race directors have it and are going to get it back to me.  Righteous folks, one and all!


  1. nice write up Seth and congrads for finishing - well done

  2. Great writeup, Seth, glad you made it through unscathed...great job, now we can all enjoy some shorter distances and fun spring/summertime race action!

  3. I'm glad you didn't see me at the end of lap 4. I felt guilty lounging in the sun while you had to go back out for another 10K. Awesome job gutting it out.

  4. I couldn't agree more with all of your race points!!! I feel like I had a very similar race experience, good first three loops with high expectations, and pretty grueling last 20k. I also had lots of weird stuff going through my head, especially towards the end. Nice recap, and really great finishing time (and place). You should be so proud of your race, and not giving up even when it wasn't fun anymore.

    I know I am a crazy person for running through the finish, but the whole time on that last loop I was counting down tenths of a mile to get to 31 and even though I know there is error on trails with the Garmin, mentally I just had to get there.

  5. Congrats on a job well done. Way to hang in there.