Well the Pinelands 50k has come and gone. What a great race. I'm still on Cloud 9 after my performance but I'll try not to make this report too long (okay, so that didn't work out.) Suffice to say it was a great day and I couldn't be happier with my race.
I drove up to Portland on Saturday to stay with my college friend Mike and his family. I went and saw Mike's band at the Portland Lobster Company and enjoyed a clamcake burger and Maine beers before hitting the hay at a reasonable hour. Up at 5:30 and enjoyed my usual breakfast of eggs and toast. However, these were duck eggs fresh from Mike's neighbor! What a treat! I've never had duck eggs and enjoyed them. Perhaps they gave me an extra boost?
It was about a half hour to get to Pineland Farms which is a beautiful campus out in the middle of nowhere. I scoped out the Start/Finish where people were making preparations for music and food and then spent the next 45 minutes getting ready, powdering up all my various nooks and putting together a drop bag. I wore my New Balance 890 v3 since I heard the course was very non-technical. I carried a handheld water bottle and stuffed five gels in my pockets. Ready to go!
At 8:00 AM everyone got into the Start corral but nobody was interested in towing the line so I was up front. After the race director's various announcements, cowbell's filled the air and we were off. The first mile sloped downward and I tried to reign it in, keeping the pace in the high-7s. I tried not to get pulled along as others went by me. There were several open sections that afforded good views of the expanding train of runners. I guessed I was around 15th place at mile 1.
Their website describe the rolling hills of the course as unrelenting and that sounds about right. Even during those initial downhill miles there were some steady climbs and I made the decision almost immediately to go into a power-hike on any decent hill. I'm really happy with this decision. I wasn't working hard yet I wasn't losing that much ground to those ahead of me. In fact, I gained on a lot of people.
|The yellow box of miles was nearly my undoing in Lap #2|
We soon entered open pastures of grassland with stunning views. The farmland allowed them to mow their own paths and there were a couple instances where the various parts of the course intersected with people running in both directions. It was always clearly marked which way to go and even in these early miles we began to see the 50 milers who started at 6:00 AM.
I would glance at my watch (somewhat obsessively) and was keeping my pace in the 7:45-8:15 range with no issues. The open pasture portions were beautiful and a wonderful change from the woods but the ground was uneven with clumps of grass and mud. The going was slower here. Overall the course was thankfully mud free but what sloppy sections existed were concentrated in the grassland miles 3-8. Everyone else was skirting the mud but I figured I'd be getting messy sooner or later so I just charged right through the muck. I pushed past a group of four on one of these charges. Gazelle would be proud.
I avoided stopping at the first few aid stations, opting to wait until mile six to make my first pit stop. I didn't have a fueling plan in place beyond taking a gel every 45 minutes. Upon scanning the aid table I quickly decided on my additional foodstuffs - bananas and fig newtons. I grabbed a couple and continued on. This would become my fast in-and-out routine at most of the stations. It worked well and helped avoid lingering.
Past stop #3 at the Yurt aid station, the course began to climb. I was making good speed with the power hiking and these hills were tough but manageable. I had overtaken a few more people at aid stations and could see two more up ahead on these long open uphill stretches. Finally the climbs relented and I could hear the crowd of the festival.
|A few miles into the 2nd lap|
The course comes out of the woods and skirts the edge of the festival. I was now 78 minutes into the race. People were cheering as I ran by. There was a band playing on the stage. Under tents, people relaxed at picnic tables but clapped when I passed. The organizers made a great decision to put the aid station just up the road, rather than at the start/finish. It kept you moving past the crowds, not giving you a chance to stop and lose momentum.
The last five miles of the course included a lot of gentle downhills and smooth singletrack. I realized that I was on track to finish the first lap in two hours which would put me on track to hit my A Goal of sub-four hours. Not that I thought that I'd actually be able to maintain this pace for a second lap. But if I could pass the Start before the 25k began at 10:00 AM, that would be ideal. As it turned out I passed at 1:59. All the 25kers were lined up for their announcements and they gave me a nice applause as I went by.
About a minute later I heard the cowbells and cheers - the 25k had begun. Another minute and their race caught up to me. The first couple guys flew by and then a steady train of runners passed me until equilibrium was reached for a while and my pace matched theirs. It took some work to avoid getting pulled along with the faster pace of everyone. Otherwise it was great having a new contingent of runners on the course. Once we reached the farmland people were running in every direction. The 50 milers, the 50kers and the 25kers were overlapping and the open fields allowed for the Yurt aid station to be used three times per lap. It was an awesome sight and a welcome change from the traditional isolation of a long trail race.
|6 total stops at the Yurt in the 50k|
Most everyone around me was a 25ker with the occasional 50 miler. However there was one 50ker who was close on my heels. He was drinking only from the aid stations so I would put distance on him but then he would reel me in before the next aid station. As I left each one he'd offer me encouragement. He finally caught up for good around mile 23 when I finally began to feel the effects of my pace. The trail began to climb again and sudden fatigue hit me. My legs felt like dead weight. I watched him and other racers put distance on me as I battled these hills. I wasn't powerhiking now...I was barely walking!
This was the hardest part of the race. I felt completely exhausted and was afraid that I'd be death marching the rest of the way. The encouraging 50ker was long gone and I had no idea if the other runners passing me were in my race. I didn't really care. I just wanted to be able to salvage things. I knew sub 4:00 was a pipe dream to begin with but after the first lap a sub 4:15 finish seemed likely. How quickly things change! Negative thoughts clouded my mind as I struggled up these hills.
Finally the climbs subsided. And just in time. I don't think I could have taken much more. The crowds grew louder and I passed the festival again. Their cheers helped push me on towards the aid station just beyond. The volunteer seemed to take forever to fill up my water bottle but maybe those few extra moments were just what I needed. When I started moving I felt a reserve of energy that I thought had been lost on the hills.
This was where running with the 25kers really helped me. I'd latch onto one and let them drag me along for a while. Then I'd eventually pass them or they'd gap me. But soon enough some one else would come up from behind and I'd have a new target. One thing I love about these long distance endurance events is the We're all in the bullshit together mentality that happens late in the race. Everyone's in the weeds, trudging up the next hill. Almost no one has any pep at this point and whether you're passing or getting passed, it's a slow slog for everyone.
With the worst of the hills in the rearview mirror and some much needed easy downhills ahead, I began to put together some sub-9 minute miles near the end. With two miles to go my hamstrings began to ache something fierce and I was sure they were going to seize up. I massaged them for a moment before moving on and the cramps subsided. My legs were completely shot but I knew I was looking at a great time and it helped me push through the final muddy grassland section.
I came back into the festival grounds for the final time. People were lined up, cheering. The band was playing. The finish line had clocks for all three events - I saw 4:05.x x and charged forward as best I could. A massive PR over last year's 50k by 42 minutes! It had been a wonderfully overcast day for most of the race but now the sun was shining. Perfect!
I got a big silver cowbell for my troubles along with some trail socks and a water bottle. I chatted with the Rowland, the other 50ker who got the better of me around mile 24. We were both very pleased with our performances. I hung around and stretched as I watched Bob Jackman finish 2nd in the 50 miler with an incredible 6:29. Then I shuffled over to the YMCA and took a shower before returning to the festival to enjoy my free beer and food with the Jackmans. I finished 2nd in my Age Group but wouldn't you know it - the age group awards only went one deep so no maple syrup for me.
So pretty much everything went right on Sunday. I trained enough and tapered well. My fueling choices seemed to work - other than the bananas/newtons, I grabbed a cup of Gatorade at two stations (I also took an S-cap at mile 18 as I was sweating up a storm.) Powerhiking the hills from the get-go was the smart choice and I think helped me keep my pace consistent up to mile 24. And then after the dark times of miles 24-25, I'm really pleased that I was able to pull it together and finish strong. A great race and a great festival! Highly recommended.
The one blemish is that just like last year at the Spring Classic I completely spaced and left my dropbag at the race! There was nothing too important in it - it did hold my Cascadias but they have 650 miles on 'em so I'm probably due for a new pair anyway. Whoops! Considering that I never even used the bag maybe it's time to reevaluate this strategy.