The couple weeks leading up to the race the weather was looking to be all over the place as it usually is in Kentucky. There is a saying, and I am paraphrasing, if you do not like the weather wait an hour – or is that a few minutes. Well that was the case as one moment it was calling for rain then snow then snow and rain then clear but in general always in the low 30’s or so with maybe highs up at 40. Come the day before the race the news was that it looked like no rain or snow till late in the day but it would be coldish, in the low to mid 30’s to start then maybe hitting 40 around mid day. So what did we awake to dark and early Saturday morning – snow and not the dry fluffy stuff but it was a little damp but it could have been worse as it was not a mix of snow and rain so that was a relief. So we all stood around for the 6:30 start on March 11th, 2017 and as with many trail races it just sort of started and we worked our way down the main road to the trail about 1.9 miles away with snow falling and the anticipation of what the trail would be like ahead.
Having not run the course before I was not exactly sure what was ahead but did know that it was a pretty good trail with roots and leaves but not excessively rocky. The day before the race with snow looking unlikely, were we in for a surprise, there had been rain during the week so the course was to have “some” puddles and “some” mud. Then came race day and the snow, wet snow at that, starting early in the morning and continued for an hour or so into the race leaving a muddy-sloppy mess. In many places it was like running on a slip-and-side with many having stories of falling numerous times. I was fortunate enough not fall but came very close a few times but all the sliding played havoc with my right ankle as it was fairly swollen the next morning and still is slightly days later. Thankfully during the day of running with the rain and snow stopped some sections of the course did dry out so there were times of reprieve from the slop. I am not sure if people will truly realize how fast Matt Hoyes’ time of 6:28:06, 6th fastest over the years, really was considering the conditions.
The course is made up of a 2 mile road run to an approximately 11.3 mile loop, consisting of single-track, and when done with 4 laps you run 3 road miles to the finish and the final accumulated miles according to the course map is 50.65. This year due to cloud over most everyone’s GPS showed up as short but in talking to others that have run this before the course is indeed the 50.65 miles. There are aid stations every 2-3 miles with the main drop bag area at about halfway through the main loop. The first half of the loop consists of mainly rolling trails with the second half containing 4 climbs of about a quarter mile each. The total climb according to the race map is 4200FT total with my GPS getting about 4500FT. It is easy to see how this can be a fast course on a dry year but still being runnable even on less than ideal years as this one.
The Race, well Run
As this was my first 50 miler the plan was to run conservatively from the start while still hoping for a
sub 9 hour time. As part of my training has been to burn fat for fuel one of the key aspects is, in longer races and runs, to start at a speed that kicks off fat burning before starting to work a little harder. To warm up correctly and work to burn fat I started in the first quarter to third of the pack which had 600 runners registered for all 4 races (23k, Marathon, 60K and 50 Miles) that took off together. The good part was I kept my HR low but the bad was that with a stop for a nature break at the start of the trail I got behind a lot of people on the mostly single track course and then spent the next 11 plus miles working to pass a lot of people. I need to think about the start more as I may have been able to use less energy starting a little faster so as not to be so far back and have to expend short burst of speed to get around people on not so level embankments on the sides of the trail. The danger with a faster start may have been that I would start burning carbs way to early and thus not have fueling, more on that to come, as I wanted to do.
Once past the first lap it was a matter of just working to stay in a heart rate zone that did not put me over the edge. In looking at my Strava data my average HR was at 138 and in looking at the actual data I did a fairly good job of not going too high and that included running all the hills. It may be just me but I feel way more efficient when running hills unless they are very steep thus I kept a good pace on most the hills. Over the next three laps I slowly caught those that started out much faster and for once in a long race can say no one ever passed me for good during the entire race. Well that is except for Matt Hoyes who lapped me on my third lap, his fourth.
As I expected the third lap was mentally the hardest as I had just finished about a marathon and had another one to go and as 31 miles was the farthest I have ever run I was also close that realm of the unknown. I was also finding it slow going in the aid station where I had my drop bag as over the course of three stops I probably lost 20+ minutes there. I also find that stopping at an aid station was not as restful as it could be as it was hard to get started up again.
Once I got to the fourth lap I was able to pick it up some for the first part on the rolling hills but as I was feeling a little tightness in the hamstrings I dialed that back a little. Once hitting the main aid station for the last time I worked to not slow too much on the last hills and be able to get to the last road section with the ability to get under 9 hours. As the GPS had been off I was thinking for some time that I would not be able to get under 9 hours but when I got to the final 3 miles and feeling good I was able to pick it up a fair amount so as to get a final time of 8:44:52. So the run was done and while there was some soreness and later an ankle issue all in all I felt good and energy was good. Did I want to run more, no, but could probably have done so if I needed to do so.
The final results were that I got 10th overall and 1st in the 50-59 age group. For my first 50 I was pleased and can see where I can improve, such as at aid stations and knowing my limits better may have been able to pick it up more in certain areas.
This was an area that for me was a concern. I had tried some fueling trials in training runs but how this worked for 50 miles was an unknown. I have been working on Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM) so needed to make sure my fueling worked to benefit from my training where in general I eat little, to nothing, as compared to racing. So here is my fueling:
- Before the race I had a Modified Bullet Proof Coffee – See recipe here
- About 1 hour before I had two scoops of UCAN to preload some carbs. Actually put in 3 scoops but did not mix well so probably left a scoop at the bottom
- About 20 minutes before the race I took one Vespa CV-25
- I carried a hand help water bottle with Tailwind’s Green Tea flavor but did not drink from it but for a sip till after 2 hours
- At 2 hours I took another Vespa CV-25
- At about 2:20 I took a 33Shake Chia Gel – first food in race - then took one per lap after that
- After 2 hours I started to sip on a 20oz water bottle per lap of Tailwind. Near the end I was replenishing it with some water at the intermittent aid stations and refilled with Tailwind at the approx. 19, 30.2 and 41.5 mile aid stations
- I took another Vespa CV-25 at 4.5 hours and 6.5 hours and then took one at 8 hours just because I had one and wanted to push the last 1.5 hours but probably did not need it.
- As far as other food I did try an Almond butter at 19 miles but as it was cold it was harder to eat so did not have any more
- One of the key advantages of OFM is not needing to us your standard carb laden gels endlessly during the race. Instead I ended up using 3 GU Roctane Sea Salt Chocolate gels at specific times. One before the hills after aid station 30.2, one before the hills after 41.5 then one last one about a mile from hitting the last 3 miles on the road to the finish.
- During the race I also took 3 S!Caps salt capsule during the run.
So that was my fueling. Probably sounds more complicated than it really was. Also, realize this is what worked for me and I did a number of trial runs to see how the extras worked on my system as again I train with very little in the way of fueling. One thing I noticed was that while I did have a few low energy sections, not sure how much was due to lack of energy and how much was mental, I never really just felt spent. Even at the end I was not famished as I have been before. Take it from me OFM works. I want to thank Peter Defty at Vespa as I messaged back and forth with him the month leading up to the race to work out some fueling strategies and it helped greatly.
The final outcome was good for where I was considering my training and experience at running that long. My training up to the race included a 50K about month before where I ran right at 5 hours but that is a long way from 50 miles as while 20 may not seem like much more, it is when you already have 50K in your legs. So I think I was in good 50K shape and I guess decent 50 Mile shape based on my results. Will I run this race next year, not sure yet, will I run it again, absolutely. I also would advise this race to anyone wanting a good trail race to start with as you have 4 choices of distances and while loop course have their disadvantage in that you can be tempted to drop out each lap and as the race allows you to drop down a distance and that may increase the temptation for some it is also an advantage for fueling and also for those wanting to try something new they are not sure of. This is great race even if the weather is unpredictable because that is all part of trail racing and especially trail ultras.
Added 3/16/17: Should not have missed this but wanted to also add that the aid stations were very well run and want to thank all those that came out to help in the less than ideal conditions.
Land Between Lakes Ultra