Sometimes I Run
I’ve been a little antsy following my recent DNF at the Umstead 100. So early last week, I tried to come up with a tune-up event that I could do before the San Jan Solstice. I considered the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run (25 miler), the Dirty Thirty 50k, and the Sage Burner 50k.
I decided to go with the Collegiate Peaks race and registered on the Tuesday before race day in large part because (unlike the Dirty Thirty) I’d never done it before, and (unlike the Sage Burner) I could make a day trip out of it. I’m glad I chose as I did, because my overall impression of the event was overwhelmingly positive.
Start to Aid 1 (Mile 0 – Mile 5.7):
After the starting gun — which seemed particularly loud, and gave a good startle to all children (and a good percentage of runners) in the immediate area, and sent dogs cowering and scampering in various directions — we made our way though the parking area. There was plenty of space for everyone to find their own pace, and even when we pinched down to a double-wide trail (only about a third of a mile in length), it never felt frantic. I didn’t see even a single runner giving off that unexplainable OH MY GOD I NEED TO RUN SLIGHTLY FASTER RIGHT NOW PLEASE LET ME PASS vibe.
We had almost 4 miles of running on paved and dirt roads, and it was still early enough in the day that the traffic on the road was light. After a stretch on narrower trails, we hit the first aid station. The volunteers were very fast and efficient. The weather was cool and crisp, but not cold. I was wearing a pair of old socks cut into disposable arm warmers, and another pair of old socks as disposable mittens. I’m glad I had them, but it wouldn’t have been disastrous to have been without.
Aid 1 to Aid 2 (Mile 5.7 to Mile 11.7):
After a fast downhill, we got into some serious climbing. The trail ranged from dirt/jeep roads to something slightly more rugged, but the feel was always open and fast. This section was nice for exploring the area, seeing some of the campsites, and taking in the views. My mindset was to run with a solid effort, but not run “hard.”
Aid 2 to Aid 3 (Mile 11.7 to 14.6):
This is a pretty quick segment, and mostly downhill. But the long climb up to Aid Station 4 begins almost immediately out of Aid Station 3, so it would be a great time to take an extra moment to top off your bottles or hydration pack if you’re low on liquid.
After thanking one of the volunteers for being there, he thanked me for running. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten that response before! It reminded me that there’s something really satisfying about participating in an event that exists primarily to benefit a local charity or public interest organization, rather than simply being an afterthought.
Aid 3 to Aid 4 (Mile 14.6 to Mile 17.9):
This is almost certainly the crux of the course for most 25 milers, and it made me work to find a balance between moving upward at a respectable pace while not blowing out the legs so much so that I couldn’t push it on the downhills later. I actually enjoyed the infamous “sandbox” section (perhaps recent weather conditions kept the sand more packed down compared to recent years?), because it gave me a good opportunity to practice working on my uphill shuffle jog in a race context, where I already have some time on my legs.
I’ve found that it feels easier and more sustainable for me to adjust my running stride a bit and shuffle up long moderate inclines at 12-13 minute per mile pace than it is to try to walk or power hike at a slower pace. There were only a couple sections that felt like “mandatory” walking grades to me, but they were all relatively short.
Aid 4 to Aid 5 (mile 17.9 to Mile 21.8):
After Aid Station 5 the course heads downhill in earnest. Much of this terrain invites the runner open up their stride and fly down, but there were more than a few sections that felt so steep that they were a bit beyond my ability run aggressively. (This was confirmed just before mile 20, when my concentration wandered for just a second, and I took a fall. Thankfully the trail wasn’t rocky there, and after staying down for 30 seconds to assess the damage, I got up and started running again. There were some ugly scrapes and some bruising, but nothing that would slow me down too much for the rest of the race.)
Aid 5 to Finish (Mile 21.8 to Mile 25):
I stopped at Aid 5 for a few seconds to wash out the wounds from my tumble. I still had half of a water bottle full of Tailwind, and I figured, based on past race reports, that the rest of the course would go quickly. The next two miles were downhill road, so I pushed the pace a bit to try to make good time without redlining.
We eventually turned off the road onto a narrower and steeper trail, and how had less than a mile and a half to go. A few twists and turns (and a few little uphill bumps for good measure), and I can finally see the footbridge. Cross the river, run a quarter mile through the parking area, and hit the finish.
I’m not one to savor the finish when it comes to running events, so my thoughts almost immediately turn to “hmmm…. what if I were running the 50 miler and now had to run that loop again in reverse?” I eventually determined:
1. I would not have wanted to bomb the 7-ish miles of downhill I had just run. Moderating the pace and pounding would be key to being able to head back up and still stay ahead of the time cut-offs.
2. The first 7 miles of the second lap would probably feel like the toughest miles of the 50 mile course, and I wouldn’t want to be caught off mentally by the challenge.
3. I might consider switching to a hydration solution with greater capacity for the second lap. I ran the 25 miler with a single bottle (via HydraQuiver), but with the temps rising I would probably need more than a single bottle for the climb back up to 9400 feet, even with the aid station at mile 28.2.
4. I might switch shoes if I were running the 50. The shoes I wore for the 25 (Montrail Rogue Racer) were nice and nimble and got me through the distance just fine, but I suspect they wouldn’t give my feet enough protection or comfort to go 50.
* Some people might prefer a wide open post-race buffet over the lunch-line sack lunch that the organizers have here. (After you finish, you can go into the community center, get your name checked off the race roster, then choose one sandwich, one bag of chips and one soda). But I LOVED this approach. The volunteers made many different kinds of sandwiches, and the way they did things here made sure EVERYONE gets a lunch (and only one lunch) at the end. I’m in the back of the pack often enough to know that it can be frustrating (and almost depressing) to finish a race and find only a picked-through buffet that’s out of many types of food. I was glad to know that there’d be a lunch for me when I was done running this race, regardless of when I crossed the line.
* Using the GPS data from my watch, and one of the plug-ins on SportTracks, I discovered that my fastest 5 mile stretch during the race (beginning at mile 17.9, with a net 988 feet of loss in elevation) was at 9:36 pace. My slowest 5 mile stretch began at mile 13.02, was at 11:51 pace, and had a net 519 feet of gain. These numbers are particularly interesting in themselves, but it got me wondering about approaches to running a race. Before the race I would have assumed that the maximum difference in pace across any two 5-mile stretches would be greater than that. I was trying to maintain a reasonably steady effort throughout, but do those 5-mile times imply that I ran the fastest section too slow, or the slowest section too fast?
Ultimately, I do look forward to doing this race again…. and I can’t believe it hasn’t already joined the ranks of Colorado trail runs that reaches its participant limit far in advance of race day.
I think, despite what I assumed I was doing in my preparation for the Umstead 100, when it came time to actually RUN I was really treating it like longer version of a 50 mile run. I got a great lesson that that’s not the case. In the few days following my DNF, I read a blog post that said something along the lines of “a 50 mile race is a lot more similar to a marathon than it is to a 100 mile race.”
But even if I had come across that piece of wisdom before Umstead, I wouldn’t have understood just how true it was. Perhaps the only way to really get a handle on the notion of running 100 miles is…. to try to run 100 miles. Thankfully, having seen and experienced Umstead, I now have more to go on as I start planning my next attempt at 100 miles.
Take Care – One of my lessons from Umstead is that the standard advice of “take care of yourself” should be interpreted much more broadly than what I’ve done before in 50 mile races. I think it needs to start from the very first mile. I ran my first 25-30 miles at Umstead at what I thought was a relaxed pace, but in hindsight I wasn’t walking enough or eating enough to get myself to 100 miles. Next time, I’ll set more appropriate time/pacing goals to make sure that I’m not spending too much energy too early in the race.
Eat More – I fueled myself for the first 30-35 miles on Tailwind (about 200 calories an hour) and perhaps a half dozen gels. Tailwind works very well for me, but I think I need to supplement it with more calories to get all the way to 100 miles. I need real food – particularly in chilly conditions where I hope to continue moving for 24-30 hours. I had a burger, chicken sandwich, and a couple cups of soup during my 62 miles at Umstead, but I could have used a lot more. During my next 100 I will try to eat real food at every aid station.
Stay Loose – I did NO proactive stretching or loosening while running Umstead. So by the time my hips tightened up, I think they were too far gone for me to do anything to remedy the situation. Since I haven’t developed a good intuition as to when to start doing a little bit of stretching to keep myself moving efficiently, perhaps in my next race I’ll have a 30-60 second stretching protocol that I’ll make myself do every 45 or 60 minutes.
Embrace the Suck – I thought I was prepared for the level of discomfort, but it still caught me off-guard. And I wasn’t prepared for the depth of the cold that I felt when I dropped out of Umstead after lap 5. I knew there would be low points, but I hadn’t ever felt that low on a run before. Now I have that experience and that context, so I can (hopefully) be a little better prepared for it next time.
Have Some Imagination – My running mindset at Umstead was so much about staying in the moment, not getting ahead of myself, etc., that I lost sight of the bigger picture. I wasn’t able to stay open to all the possibilities of how things might progress for me as the hours wore on. I didn’t allow myself to imagine (or perhaps I wasn’t capable of imagining) how my low point would feel, so I wasn’t well prepared for it. Next time I’ll allow myself to look a little farther ahead down the road.
Now I just have to find that next 100 miler to try.
I probably went out too fast.
So, I re-read the words I wrote the day before the race, and apparently I forgot to be patient. Perhaps coming down in elevation from Colorado to North Carolina lowered my perceived effort, so that even though it seemed like I was taking it easy, I was still putting too much wear and tear on my legs on the first few laps. I think my engine outran my chassis, and I eventually broke down.
Here are some of the gory details.
Lap 1 (2:22): I spent this lap looking around (but trying not to expend much mental or emotional energy in doing so), and making note of particular portions of the trail that I’d want to pay extra attention to on later laps (extended hills, any mandatory walking sections or portions of trail that would be tricky at night, how far it was between water stations, etc.)
Lap 2 (2:17): I felt good, the temperature warmed up a bit, and I just decided to run and continue not really thinking about much. At the end of this lap I re-lubed a toe that sometimes blisters up, but I did this only as a preventative, as my feet were free of hot spots.
Lap 3 (2:31): I was still feeling good, but near the end of this lap I took a look at my time and realized that I was well on pace to getting a 50 mile PR — by a quite a lot. So I added in some extra walking, in the hopes that I could bring my average pace down a little bit and preserve my body for the later laps.
I realize now that I should have been doing this from the very first lap, of course.
Lap 4 (3:21): Just before Lap 4, I made the mistake of taking off the tights I had worn during the first three laps, figuring that this would be during the warmest part of the day and I didn’t want to get overheated. (Ha! As if….)
Over the last half of this lap the soles of my feet started to get sore. Not that I had stepped on anything pokey or sharp, but just from the wear and tear of having covered almost 50 miles. At the end of this lap, I put the tights back on. That was good, but I should have put on a thicker jacket, and maybe an extra shirt or two as well. And two more hats and another pair of gloves.
Lap 5 (3:50): This was a difficult one. At no point during the race did I blister, or chafe, or throw up, or fall, or cramp.
But I did get cold.
By the time I got to the end of lap five, it was all over. I was cold to the core, and had the shivers that started in my belly and radiated outward in waves, causing my arms and and legs, then my hands and feet, to shake uncontrollably. Even the slightest breeze during the last few miles made me grit my teeth, and it felt as though no amount of clothing I could put on was going to keep me warm overnight on the trail. (I was still having shivering fits back in the warmth of my hotel two hours later, and had a bit of trouble staying warm lying in bed under three heavy blankets throughout the night.)
More importantly, I knew my hips were done. I felt something that was beyond fatigue – like warning flags going up. My body seemed to be telling me that it might be able to handle three more laps, but that the cost of doing so could very well be significant.
Just a couple miles into that fifth lap, I simply couldn’t get my hips to open up enough to actually run. Even on the smoothest, most inviting down hills, where the running would have been easiest, I was reduced to walking. (It’s a bad sign when you can’t even shuffle jog the downhills anymore.) And the pace of walking got slower as the lap progressed, due to the hips getting progressively tighter.
I think the moderate pace I tried to maintain during the first 50 miles was just too darn fast for my body and my level of fitness.
It’s very pretty. I didn’t have to pay too much attention to the course markings or getting off track, and that freed me up to just run.
It’s been a while since I’ve run on the East Coast. I’d forgotten about the trees… so many trees! There are trees in my part of Colorado, of course, but things are different here. It seems like in North Carolina, when a new residential development goes in, the builders would have to cut down trees to make room for the houses. Here in the Front Range (at least in the flat parts), the trees are brought in from a nursery and planted around the new houses as they’re built.
While I didn’t try to plan the running itself, I did want to be confident that I could respond to different weather and body conditions. The race was cold, but that didn’t come as a surprise. I just failed to accurately translate the temperatures into how they’d make my body feel after 50 miles of running. I brought lots of cold weather gear, and thought I was doing a good job in staying warm, but it turns out…. no.
For example, by the time I came around to finish lap four, I knew that the next lap was likely going to be finished after the sun went down, so I added some clothing. But what I didn’t plan for is how cold it would get in the 90 minutes before sunset.
The vast majority of my calories came from Tailwind (supplemented with a couple hamburgers, a couple cups of soup, and a few gels and sugar waffles), and I had no stomach or cramping problems at any point.
I think the thing I miss most now is the potential of the race. I’m not particularly disappointed that I didn’t finish, because I’m confident that I did the best I could on that day without putting myself at what I consider to be too great a risk.
But now I don’t have a 100 miler in my future to think about when I’m running the trails here at home. I don’t have any race reports to research, or planning to do. And that feels like a bit of a gap in my running mind right now.
I’d recommend the Umstead 100 to anyone looking to make the jump from 50 miles to 100. The volunteers were all great, and every volunteer pacer that passed me on the last lap asked how I was doing and whether I needed anything. The Umstead staff and volunteers genuinely care about the participants, and really do provide the ideal environment for someone to reach that 100 mile finish.
I learned a lot, and feel like I know so much more more now that I’ll be better prepared for my next attempt at 100 miles – which might turn out to be Umstead again!
My name is Jake, and sometimes I run. Sometimes I jog. Sometimes I power hike. And sometimes I walk with very little power whatsoever.
I don’t know if that makes me a “runner” or not, but I don’t think the classification matters much. Whenever I’m moving forward I’m happy.
This is a largely incomplete list. I did a fair amount of running in the pre-Internet era, but have no record of my times from races back then. The only forgotten race I’m curious about is the Mountain Masochist 50M – I ran it in the fall 1991.
I’ve done the Triple Bypass and the Copper Triangle, as well as a few bike races (including the Leadville 100 MTB and the Mount Evans ascent) in which I finished solidly near the very end of the field. I also did a couple adventure races in the late 1990’s, and DNF’d a few as well. (I really thought adventure racing would take off more than it did…)
• 3/28 – Umstead 100 mile (DNF @ mile 62.5)
• 12/8 – CMRA Cross Country State Championship 12K (55:59)
• 8/18 – CMRA Elk Meadow Trail Race 5.75M (46:56)
• 7/12 – Tahoe Rim Trail 50M (14:14:14)
• 6/30 – Rollinsville Rail Run 10M (1:21:13)
• 5/12 – Quad Rock 25M (5:09:32)
• 4/21 – Mt. Carbon Trail 1/2 Marathon (1:54:18)
• 3/24 – CMRA Spring Spree 10K (43:29)
• 1/7 – CMRA Lake Arbor 5K (20:59)
• 11/12 – CMRA Stone House (2x) Triple-Cross Trail 8.5M (1:06:58)
• 10/9 – CMRA Coal Creek XC Challenge 5.72M (43:01)
• 9/17 – CMRA Hildebrand Ranch 6.6M (50:14)
• 9/4 – Breck Crest Marathon (5:54:27)
• 8/10 – CMRA Fairmount 5K Trail (22:11)
• 7/16 – CMRA White Ranch Trail 10K (56:52)
• 6/18 – CMRA Sand Creek 5 Mile (39:17)
• 6/4 – Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k (8:03:47)
• 6/16 – Mt. Evans Ascent 14.5M (3:16:04)
• 4/29 – Boulder Distance Carnival 15K (1:20:11)
• 6/30 – Finger Lakes Fifties 50K (6:13:43)
• 10/26 – Marine Corps Marathon (4:56:13)
• 11/5 – ING New York City Marathon (3:57:37)