I consider myself very lucky that for the second time this year, one of my focus races took place under great weather and trail conditions. In fact, the conditions at the Greenland 50k this past Saturday were just about perfect. A slight breeze and mild temps kept the engines cool, and recently dried trails meant no mud or dust to worry about.
My time goal for the race was 5:30, but I thought that it would be foolish for me to try to set split goals for each of the four laps that make up the 50k distance. I’d never been on the course before (so I had no idea what to expect), and I could see from the split times in prior years that there was a VERY large variation in how much different 50k runners slow down over laps 2, 3 and 4. I didn’t know where I’d fall on that slow-down-spectrum.
So rather than time goals, I started the race with a different predetermined mental approach to each lap. In the week leading up to the race I decided that my mini-mantras would be as follows:
Lap 1: “Wake Up.”
I know that the start of an ultra is always kinda crazy, and the pent-up energy makes it easy to take off too fast – especially if you’ve been bouncing trying to stay warm before hearing the starting gun. So I wanted to move gently, and almost “sleep walk” (or “sleep run”) through the first lap. That’s not to say that I planned to casually jog, only that I wanted to find the fastest pace that I could maintain without actually putting forth a solid effort. There’d be plenty of time for hard work later.
Lap 2: “Start Working.”
After the first turnaround, I planned to say to myself “OK, now let’s run.” I didn’t want to push too hard to try to get a negative split compared to the first lap, but I thought that if I opened it up a bit more and started working harder then my second lap split might turn out to be close to the first.
Lap 3: “Hold On.”
Before the race I thought that lap three might be the toughest for me mentally, because I’d probably be feeling the cumulative effort, and there would still be a lot of distance to cover. So on lap 3 I planned to focus on moving forward as quickly and efficiently as I could, trying to maintain a respectable (for me) pace, but remembering not to redline because I’d still have another lap to go.
Lap 4: “Fight.”
I figured that my pace might slow noticeably by the time I got to lap 4. But since it was the last lap I thought it would be OK to approach it more emotionally, as opposed to the workman-like mindset I would take during the first three laps. I’d allow myself to get mad and “fight” the course if it came to that. (I don’t like to think that way early in a long run because it drains too much energy too soon.) If/when things got tough on the last lap, I planned to tell myself “this is what it’s supposed to feel like after running for 4 hours; shut up and keep running.”
Things went better than I expected. I finished in 5:15 and change, and never really blew up on the course. Rounding up, my lap times were 1:13, 1:14, 1:21 and 1:26. I did take two little walk breaks on the last lap, but once I realized that it was taking almost as much energy to walk as it did to run, I got myself to shuffling again.
I liked having mental prompts for each lap rather than time goals, because it meant that I wasn’t checking my watch so often, and was able to occupy my thoughts with something other than on-the-fly pace calculations.
I found it more productive (and liberating) to think about how I was feeling rather than how fast I was running.
Gear and Hydration and Fueling:
I used the Altra Superiors again, and had no real problems. My knees were a bit sore on the steeper downhill sections of the last lap, but not terribly so. The wide toebox meant I had no hotspots or blisters or any other kind of foot pain.
Since the aid stations were roughly 4 miles apart, I ran only with a Simple Hydration bottle tucked into the back of my shorts, and a Hammer Gel in my shorts pocket as a backup. At the south aid station I’d eat a gel and drink a cup of water or two from the aid station. And over the course of each lap I’d drink everything in my bottle, getting back to the north aid station ready for a refill (and downing another Hammer gel). At some point during the last lap I ate the backup gel in my pocket. So over the course of the race I took in about 700-800 calories, and probably about 60-70 oz of water.
The Simple Hydration bottle worked really well since there are such frequent opportunities for refilling, because it meant I didn’t have to use a handheld or wear a hydration pack or vest.
This was the first long trail race I’ve done in a while where the climbing and terrain weren’t significant factors. There’s somewhere around 2,000 feet of climbing on the course, but the grades are mellow, and every part of the trail is runnable. In fact, I think the rolling terrain is probably easier on the body than a flat course would have been.
The footing is fast and clean, too. If the trail conditions are similar next year, I’d probably use a road shoe since traction and rock-protection were non-issues this year. Trails were mostly double-track or wide single-track, so I had no difficulties passing or allowing others to pass. For a trail ultra, the course is built for speed.
Race Management and Organization.
I’m very impressed with the job the race managers did. There were over 700 runners spread out over three different races,with the 25k event starting 30 minutes after the 50k, and the 8 mile race starting 30 minutes after that. Still, I never found myself feeling boxed in, or in a conga line that I wanted to get out of. (Faster or slower 50k runners might have had a different experience, though.) Plus, with the exception of the out-and-back section at the end of the first three laps, everyone was moving in the same direction, which seemed to really help the flow of things.
The pre-race efforts of race management were also greatly appreciated, given that the Front Range got some decent snowfall just a few days before the race. When they marked the course on Friday morning, they also took pictures of the trail conditions and posted them on Facebook right away. This was a great relief to those of us who might have otherwise wasted emotional energy stressing about possibly having a mudfest.
While the Greenland 50k doesn’t have an “adventure” feel to it, I can’t imagine a better race for someone looking for a PR, or for their very first attempt at the distance. I look forward to racing there again.