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Setting race goals can be tricky. One of the biggest challenges for me is trying to balance outcome goals (i.e., finish time) versus process goals (i.e., pacing). In this past weekend’s Bear Chase Race 50 miler, I had set an 11 hour goal for myself. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to crank out a steady pace over the entire distance, so also set a pacing goal by breaking up that 11 hours into the following target lap times: 2:25, 2:35; 2:50; 3:10. After all, having a course comprised of 4 x 12.5 mile laps made it easy and natural to try to build a pacing strategy.

I was able to run a 10:53 and meet the finish time goal, but the process for getting there was a bit ugly, and I was pretty far off from my pacing goals. I ran both of the first two laps about 12 minutes faster than my goal times. My third lap was turned out to be eight minutes slower than my goal pace. And my fourth lap, for which I originally had a modest goal of 3:10 (which works out to be over a 15:00/mile pace), was run a full nine minutes slower than target pace.

The night after the race I was feeling a little frustrated with my inability to stick to my goal paces, but then I realized that I just pulled those goal times out of the air. Sure, there’s a certain attractiveness to the mathematical progression of the lap targets I chose: slow down 10 minutes from the first lap to the second, 15 minutes from the second to the third, and 20 minutes from the third to the fourth. But those goals weren’t based on my body, my heat tolerance, my level of fitness going into the race, or the countless other real world factors that would impact my ability to run on race day. That realization made me less bummed out.

Having a goal is important, but unless that goal is actually based on something solid it’s probably not fair to beat yourself up too much for not meeting it.

The Course.

The Start

(All pics from RunningGuru.com)

There’s something inherently unappealing about a multi-loop course, particularly when multiple events are being contested simultaneously. But surprisingly, I never really felt bored or mentally challenged by running the same trails four times. And the course never felt crowded or clogged.

The loop course did make it possible to get a good handle on what to expect throughout the race once I’d done the first lap. After the first lap I knew where the faster and shadier parts of the course were, and where the slow and deceptive parts were. This made the task at hand seem much more reasonable.

Besides that, running 12.5 mile laps was good practice for the Umstead 100 I’m signed up to run next March.

The Aid Stations.

Racers from past events have universally praised the aid stations for this event, and I have to agree that the adoration is entirely deserved.

I only carried a single water bottle, so I stopped at every single aid station (15 total stops) even if it was just to top off my bottle and grab a gel. Each time there was a volunteer who came out onto the trail to meet me, offering to fill my bottle and get me food. As a result, I don’t think there was any instance where I spent more than 15 or 30 seconds in any station.

The enthusiasm of the volunteer stayed constant throughout the event. Even on my last lap, there was an energy and enthusiasm at each aid station that helped keep my own energy and levels of enthusiasm high. I think it also must have had the same effect on other racers, too. Over the course of the day I saw precisely zero instances of rude or inconsiderate racer behavior.

What I Learned.

  • I’m getting older. And I’m getting a little thinner… up top. My hair is apparently no longer enough to protect the top of my head from sunburn, as this race left me with some red scalp. Visors are no longer going to cut it for me. I need to wear a full on hat from here on out.
  • The heat of the day led to some nausea on the third lap, and that led to me reducing my calorie intake. It probably slowed me a bit more on my last lap, but it could have turned into a significant problem if the race was longer.
  • I wore two different pairs of shoes during the race (two laps each). The first pair fits pretty true to size, and I experimented with tying them a little looser than normal, just to give my feet a little extra room to breathe. This was pretty successful, as I didn’t have any blister or hotspot issues, although the looser laces meant that more sediment came in through the tops of the shoes on the creek crossings. This is worth further experimentation.

Interesting Internal Chatter.

During the first few miles of that last lap I’d begin walking on flat sections of trail, and my logical brain kept reminding me that walking at 18-20 minute mile pace wasn’t really any more comfortable than shuffling along at 13-14 minute mile pace. And it wasn’t helping me recover to be able to move more quickly later in the lap. The only thing walking was doing was keeping me on the course longer. I had to keep reminding myself of this in order to get the legs back to running pace again.

On the last 6 miles of the race, the negotiations began. I’m not sure if this is something that anyone else ever has to face, but there’s a part of my internal dialogue that went like this:

You didn’t have any good or logical reason for choosing an 11 hours finish goal… why are you going to suffer more just to try to get it?

and

What’s the difference between an 10:59 finish time and an 11:06 or 11:15 finish time? No big deal…

and

Hmm…. that left pinky toe feels like it’s blistered. Maybe you should stop at the 47.8 mile aid station and take a look. Maybe get some Vaseline on it…

On the whole I was able to overcome most of this negative/unhelpful thinking, but not entirely. In any case, it was good to experience this “Logical Brain” vs. “Ahh… Screw It Brain” chatter, so that I can perhaps be a little better prepared for it when I attempt my first 100.

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