Up until now I had drifted through 2015 without any marquis long distance event in mind. I spent the winter/spring building up mileage again after last fall's knee injury. I continued to up mileage through the summer, hitting a nice groove of 50 mile weeks. But I was running without a goal in mind and my long runs were sporadic and usually topped out at 14 miles. I was running more than ever but date conflicts and nervousness about the state of my knee kept me from committing to a long fall race. As we entered October I began to think about Bob Jackman's RI 6 Hour Ultra. The idea of running a 2.7 mile pavement loop for six hours sounded terribly masochistic and was not my cup of tea. Ultimately I decided to pull the trigger a week prior. I was feeling good about my fitness and liked that I could go into this race with no real goal other than to just run and see how everything felt. With the short loop format I wouldn't have to worry about fuel or clothing, instead relying on the aid table and a nearby drop bag.
Of course I had think about a distance goal. Based on last year's Pineland 50k and my current mileage, forty miles seemed a reasonable distance to cover in six hours. I figured if I could cover 50k in around 4:20, that would give me an hour forty to cover nine miles - a reachable goal no matter what state I was in. I didn't have any doubt I'd cover the time, the question was how long before the suffering began. I had run 2 hours 45 minutes of trails with Muddy two weeks prior. The last half hour of that had been tough. I had a couple 2+ hour runs back in August but you had to go back to April to find another 3 hour run. How long would my legs hold out?
It was cold when I arrived but was forecast to get up to the 50s for perfect running weather. I arrived with plenty of time to set up my own chair/race bag next to the aid station. The nice thing about this race was that with the short loop format I'd have plenty of opportunities to change clothes/shoes or patch up my body if necessary. I was able to just dump a bunch of everything into my bag and not worry too much about the particulars. I decided to go with the Hoka One One Mafate Speed. They had been serving me well lately but I brought the Asics Cumulus as back-up.
|My green chair sits quietly next to the aid station.|
No, I didn't sit in it until afterwards.
Race Director Jackman called us over and went through the pre-race spiel. Then we were off, moving along the bike path at a reasonable pace. I was determined to keep the first mile over 8 minutes. I started running next to a guy and we chitchatted for much of the first lap. I finished the first lap in 21 minutes. The loops continued and I was in the 20-22 minute range for the first ten loops. These first couple hours felt good. Pace was in the 7:30-8:00 range for the first 25 miles. I was grabbing water/heed and bananas every loop. Salt tabs at miles 15 and 27. A couple port-o-john stops as well.
I had never been to Warwick Park and was surprised how large it was. As the loops accumulated, I mentally separated the course into three sections. The first was along a series of baseball fields. These fields seemed to go on forever and mentally wore me down. The next section was along the rolling road and gave you a chance to see up ahead. This was followed by my favorite section of the course, along the water. This part was the hilliest with some fun rollers. They weren't much at first but as the loops wore on, the hills began to slow me down. By mile 34 or so I started walking some of them. These hills made it hard to pin down the distance to the finish. I kept thinking I was farther along than I was.
After mile thirty the going got tougher. I was now four hours in and my legs were feeling pretty sore. I hit my goal of a 4:10ish 50k so I knew I was in good shape. I caught Jackman around this time and he told me I was third. Not long after I was passed the woman's leader Maddy Hribar along with another guy who wasn't racing. She's won this race several times and has 100 milers and such under her belt. I hung with then for about a mile. I enjoyed the conversation but it was hard to keep that pace and I finally dropped back.
From here my pace fell slowly and surely. I was really feeling the work and forward momentum felt more like a shuffle. I appreciated having so many people on the path. I would latch onto runners and have them pull me along for a minute before passing them and moving on to the next. In addition to the runners, there were plenty of folks just out walking. I was friendly with them early on but by the later loops I began to ignore them. Just obstacles to avoid. By mile 35 I was five hours in. A true shuffle began. There were short periods of walking, especially as I exited the aid station. I passed Crutchley for the last time and I felt beat.
|I really like this breakdown by lap as it gives a good overview of the race.|
The first ten laps were consistent. Then the slow decay began...
Let me say at this point that the aid station crew was great. They greeted me by name on every lap and were most helpful, always willing to fill my bottle (I began to carry it and sip constantly for the last couple hours). I probably should have known their names so I apologize for that. They all were very encouraging, especially towards the end when I wasn't in great spirits. As I shuffled into the aid station for the last time I was tired but feeling positive since I had 45 minutes to complete one more lap. I downed a couple cups on Coke. Normally I don't go for soda but I needed a jolt. That seemed to help and I didn't feel so bad on the last lap. I was moving pretty well considering how I felt and in fact I finished 70 seconds ahead of the previous lap.
I finished with 17 minutes to spare. I'm thankful I didn't have enough time to consider another lap (I watched poor Mr. Crutchley come in a minute after the race ended - he had put in a hard fought effort on that last lap!) For third place I got a cool stick guy trophy and some cash. Can't beat that! By the time the awards were presented I was already starting to hobble around and it would be several days before I could walk down the stairs unassisted.
I'm really thrilled with how everything unfolded. I wasn't sure how the legs would hold up but they got me to the 50k only a few minutes off my Pineland time. The knee wasn't an issue at all and I never thought about it. The narrow Hokas began to aggravate my pinkies with two hours to go - I ignored this and it never became an issue. Overall this race gave me a lot of confidence about my endurance and now I can start thinking in earnest about a big spring race. Thanks to Bob Jackman and all the volunteers but putting on this event - it's a fun time and the six hours goes faster than you'd think!