Somewhere around Mile upper twenty something, the electrolyte drink in my hydration pack started tasting horrible. It was the third of the three harder climbs in the middle section of the course. I was annoyed for a bit, thinking it was the aftertaste of some soda mixing with it. But then it got worse, which really didn’t make sense. I was hiking uphill at the pace needed to hit a goal time, but it was an exposed trail, and it was warm and sunny by this point. I stopped for a few seconds to massage a muscle knot that crept up and felt a little light headed, and my stomach protested. That’s a first, and I’ve done a number of these long runs on exposed trails on much warmer days, so I don’t really know why it happened.
I found a shady spot, stopped, sat down to rest it out, and took stock. I planned to limit myself to five minutes, to cool off the immediate heat reaction and get my stomach to calm down, since I wanted to get to a place, physically, where I could keep moving well the rest of the day. At five minutes, I wasn’t there. It took eight minutes, and I got up, and kept moving. It seemed like half the people in the race passed me during that rest, and I bailed on my time goal to focus on keeping myself feeling well enough to make it back to a less exposed portion of the course. Finishing was more important than keeping up my earlier pace, which wasn’t even a hard pace, but if I had kept it up with how I was feeling, I probably would have had to bail.
Getting to the Madrone aid station, I drank a lot of water, switched to the race-supplied electrolyte drink, and ate a little, and a volunteer poured water poured over my head. I used the next section to gear back up gradually, since I still felt off. After a refill at the Wulflow aid station, I picked my pace back up for about five miles, passing a number of people. It took about 3-4 hours for everything to recover from the heat sickness, but the resulting fatigue lasted the rest of the day. I’d repeat the pattern of hike/walk about two miles, letting myself lose time, run faster for 3-5 miles until tired, repeat, for the rest of the day.
The first half of the course went great, moving from gently sloped roads to up-and-down twisting trail (my favorite part) to the first two fire road climbs. I stayed well ahead of my goal pace through No Name Flat at mile 25.2. I ran through the creek crossings on the way out, never getting completely water-logged. Keeping the slower pace of a 50 miler felt strange, since most of my running has been at significantly faster speeds lately. I haven't built the faster pace up to longer distances, so I went out deliberately slow. Relatively speaking.
Somewhere on the way back, I wondered why I was at this race. And why I run any ultras. And I told myself I should quit running ultras and just run 20-milers and under, where I am a significantly stronger runner. Running fast and finishing in a reasonable amount of time is so much more fun. And easier to wrangle with the rest of life. And finishing before most of the crowd in a short race is psychologically much more of a high than coming in at the very back of a 50 miler. Three days later, as I write this, the reason is the mental journey. There’s a certain mental clarity that comes after one of these races that lasts for weeks.
When I passed the one-mile-to-go sign, I very quickly got out of my just-finish-it mindset and into a time-goal mindset. I decided to finish under 13:30, a reasonable, but challenging goal of the 50th mile, and I picked up the pace a lot. Everything stopped hurting too. I came at 13:29:21, a half hour before the race ended. I was surprised at how many very strong runners dropped out of this race, some of whom I saw walking back while I was running out. But we all have our days.
After the fact, feet were the biggest problem, but less than expected, and I had no strength/cramping issues left at the end of the race. I actually felt better than after any marathon or ultra I’ve run before. Something tells me that most of what’s left to tackle to run these better is a psychological fear of failure. I’d rather come in late than risk dropping.
My next fifty is in eight months (unless I add one in early fall). I’ve taking some time off running to allow for some overdue longer-term recovery, and I'm planning to focus on form and strength for a while, followed by a few months of reduced volume training to do other things. There are a couple summer races planned, but each is more to finish than to race hard, since they'll each be a new kind of race for me. After that is another run of endurance training in the fall.