Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mokelumne River 50 Mile

 April, 2016.

I found out about these trails by registering for my EBMUD trail permit a few years ago, and I was always curious about exploring them.  When I later found out about this race, which seemed like a great reason to explore them, it sat on my “should run this” list for a while.  The finish times are higher and the cutoffs are tighter than most 50 milers, so I waited until I was at a place where I’d be able to finish it well.  

The race starts deceptively flattish in the Sierra foothills, following the Mokelumne River along the Comanche and Pardee reservoirs.  It also passes through a mine for a short bit.  It’s the first time a 50 miler wasn’t the key race for a “season” for me, and I pulled back the pace a lot, expecting a hot day.  After the second aid station, the course changes to trails than turn the concept of flat into a distant memory.  Most of the 10,000 feet of elevation gain is in the middle 19 miles, missing the 50k course.  It’s also the prettiest part of the course, running along the south side of Pardee Reservoir.

My favorite moment was crossing a ridge where the snowy Sierra peaks were visible in the distance.  There were also wildflowers everywhere.  And stairs.  And repeated steep climbs.  And the field for the 50 mile course is small enough and spread out enough here that you really get to enjoy the course on your own.  It was hard.  It was fun.

I reached the turnaround in about 5:45, well under my expected time, but as expected, that wouldn’t last.  The afternoon got hot.  Having learned about that the hard way, I paced down to keep my effort under control, hiking all the uphills at this point.  My GPS watch checked out for a while here, so I watched how I felt instead of my heart rate.  To keep things entertaining, helicopters were brought in to collect water out of the reservoir for…something.  Maybe a fire, but it was interesting to watch them work.  Heading out of the hills, I passed one runner who was resting on the side of the trail.  He’d drop at the next aid station.  In the next stretch, I passed another runner in the same boat, but much worse off from what he was telling me.  I had extra water, so I gave him some.  He’d later finish.  In the last stretch, I kind of lost all energy to keep moving; heat does that to me, and it’s the first time I’ve run a 50 mile race where it was this warm this late in the day.  I hiked a lot of this and had two people pass me a mile from the finish, but I was done.

I finished in 12:58:40.  Slower than my last 50 miler by six minutes, but the course was closer to 51 miles, so that’s good enough to call an improvement.  Especially with the hot conditions.  One more interesting number is the ultrasignup percentage, which was higher than the other 50 milers I’ve run.  And also higher than any 50k I’ve run.  From that standpoint, it’s probably the best ultra I’ve run, relative to the conditions/course.

Things that went well:
* Staying hydrated, eating sparingly, and managing the heat.  I went with almond butter packets to try something more natural, and they worked well. I needed far fewer than expected, they went a long way.  
* Starting out slow and staying there.  I really watched uphill effort to avoid the muscle fatigue that I often run into.  It never really happened, with one exception.
* Only easy running and mobility work in the three weeks leading up to the race, this probably also helped with avoiding muscle fatigue.

Things that didn’t:
* I accidentally downed a bottle of not-my-usual-electrolyte drink at a water drop, thinking it was water.  My stomach felt off for the next 10 miles.  It did slow me down, but not enough to stop.  Note to self: even when really thirsty, taste test the drink before drinking a whole bottle. 
* My left inner hamstring had a deep knot that acted up.  I’d had a lot of deep muscle tightness worked out over the prior month, but I was’t aware of this one.  The muscle started pulling on the back of my knee on downhills, keeping me off balance and moving slower.  This one would need serious massage therapist work.
*  Addressing mobility issues allowed for an improved running form throughout the race.  One downside is that the shoes that have been working best for ultras over the last year and a half now create a lot of blisters.  I didn't plan to change them for my next race, since it would be too soon, but I since have.