Tag Archives: 50 miles

Run Woodstock: The Big Five-O! (Miles)

I CROSSED THE FINISH LINE AT RUN WOODSTOCK around 4:30 p.m. Saturday (thrilling photo on order). After ten and a half hours on the trails I was tired, sore, and thoroughly sick of looking at trees and dirt. But when I emerged from the woods the campers lining the road cheered me on, and a burst of energy carried me across at a full sprint. My first 50-miler was in the books!

Stylin' it.

Stylin’ it!

Woodstock happens every September at Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney, where runners take over the campground on Friday and run, hang out, and get their hippie on until Sunday. It’s a fascinating mix of hardcore effort, laid back attitude, live music, camping, and tie-dyed spectators clapping and yelling encouragement for every runner that passes.

At the center of it all, however, is the running – lots of running. While there are fun runs and short events throughout the weekend, the main events are the ultramarathons Friday and Saturday, ranging from 50K to 100 miles on the set of singletrack trails and gravel roads around Hell (MI) and Hell Creek Ranch. Although 50 miles would be 16 miles longer than I’d ever run before (the 50K in 2012), I was ready. More than ready. Nervous? Hell, no. Sound that horn!

Saturday, 6:00 a.m. Hard to complain considering the 100-milers have been out for 14 hours already.

Saturday, 6:00 a.m. Hard to complain considering the 100-milers have been on the trails for 14 hours already.

The horn sounded Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., after the traditional Hendrix-style national anthem from local rocker Lemon James. As it was still pitch dark, I donned my headlamp. My backpack held a jacket, energy bars, camera, and the mandatory cell phone (on the trails you can “fall and not get up” a long way from help).

At first there was some serious congestion, as several hundred runners squeezed into single file on the narrow trail. But after just a few miles we’d spread out enough that I was able to run my chosen pace the rest of the way. And by the final few miles, with the shorter races done, it got downright lonely out there.

I followed a 16-mile loop on the trails, marked with flags and signs, that all the ultra races used. The 50K runners did two loops, 50-milers three, 100K four, and the 100-milers six. Aid stations were set up every four miles, fully stocked with sugary and salty snacks, sandwiches, drinks, soup, and coffee. 

Rather than go into a lot of narrative on the race itself, here are a few photos with highlights – some good, some less so.

One loop down! Change shirt, ditch headlamp - good to go.

One loop down! Change shirt, ditch headlamp – good to go.

At the halfway mark with my "shadow" Carolyn. (More about that in my next post.)

At the halfway mark with my “shadow”, Carolyn. (More about her in my next post.)

Oh, look, some mountain bikers. Cool! What's that - there's 200 MORE COMING? Oh, @&$@*!

Oh, look, some mountain bikers. Cool! What’s that – there’s 200 MORE COMING? Oh, @&$@*! (Unfortunately true – there was a scheduling conflict that never got fixed.)

At the finish, with medal and age group award. (After 50 miles this was as close as I could get to a smile. Sorry.)

At the finish, with medal and age group award. (After 50 miles this was as close as I could get to a smile. Sorry.)

All good things...(sigh). Helping with takedown on Sunday.

All good things…(sigh). Helping with takedown on Sunday.

Next up: Lessons learned, some tricks I used to stay mentally focused, and what’s next on the agenda.

Countdown to Woodstock: 50 Miles, Ready or Not

ONE WEEK TO RUN WOODSTOCK and my first 50-mile ultramarathon.

This weekend is my final long-mileage prep. Saturday was a 59-mile bike ride at an easy pace, and Sunday will be one more long-ish run of 13 to 15 miles. Then it’s a few days of rest and carbo-loading with just a couple of short, easy runs to tune up.

I feel ready. Fired up. But have I really prepared enough? A summer of long runs and bike rides makes me think so, but only the race itself will tell.

The course will be the same as last year’s 50K, only that it will be three laps on the trail instead of two. That third lap, however, makes all the difference. The strategies for running a marathon don’t work for a near-double marathon. Here are just a few things that require a different approach.

Pace. After the Crim race last week, I was talking to a PR Fitness runner who also does ultras, and has run the Woodstock 50-miler before. His advice on pace: Start slow. Keep it slow. Walk the uphills. My last marathon pace was just under 9:00 per mile. My 50K pace last year: 12:00 per mile. Part of the difference was dry road vs. muddy trail, but the rest was about preserving enough energy to finish.


8:28. Dagnabbit! Too fast!

8:28. Dagnabbit! Too fast!

Fuel. For a marathon, I can get by on water, Gatorade, and fast sugar like Gu or gels. For longer distances, however, regular fueling with real food at regular intervals is necessary. This is not always easy. Running shunts blood away from digestion and can make eating uncomfortable. And too much salt or sugar can make you sick, but so can too little. There’s general guidance out there, but I won’t really know what my body can tolerate during a 50-miler until I run one – another reason not to push too hard on my first.


My best friend during the 50K last year.

My best friend during the 50K last year.

Gear. For most races, one shirt and one pair of shoes is enough. For Woodstock I will pack at least two pairs of shoes, and make sure I have tape, bandages, and ointments. Stuff like chafed nipples, wet socks, and sand/gravel in the shoes are minor irritants in short races; for an ultra they can cause a DNF (*) if not dealt with quickly. The weather from the 6:00 a.m. start to my likely 3:00 p.m. finish can also change quickly, so warmer clothes and dry spare outfits may be needed.

Nathan race vestI’ve been training with my Nathan race vest, which can be used either as a small backpack for running errands, or a hydration pack for long trail runs. Among its handy features are front pockets for cellphone, camera, and running gels. The back compartment can hold a jacket, sunscreen, or other light gear. It’s amazingly light and comfortable. (It’s also designed to be a hydration pack, but there will be aid stations at Woodstock.)

Motivation? Nope – why I’m running 50-miler is the same as why I ran my first 5K. Because I thought it would be fun and a personal challenge. And while I believe the first will be true, the second definitely will be. So bring it on. Rock and roll!


(*) DNF = Did Not Finish. Also sometimes expanded (humorously) as Did Nothing Foolish or Did Nothing Fatal. Regardless of the reason for a DNF (including sensible ones) dedicated runners consider it a personal failure and will do just about anything to get over the finish line.

Doing My L.S.D.

Me and Other Wild Costume GuyEight weeks to go before the Run Woodstock weekend and my big running event of the year. This means despite the statewide sauna that has been Michigan this summer, I’ve gotta train for it. And what better way to prepare for a Woodstock weekend than by doing a lot of L.S.D.?

Okay, I’ll end the suspense right here. It means Long Slow Distance. And it’s an essential part of training for marathons and beyond. And this year, I’m going beyond.

How far beyond? Last year as part of my “year of being 50” celebration, my signature run was a 50K (31.2 miles) on the trails around Hell Creek Ranch. The ultramarathons at Run Woodstock are based on a loop of about 16 miles, and thus I ran two loops to complete my 50K. And as I walked around recovering afterward, recovering, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. Why, I thought, I almost feel good enough to run a third loop. And this spring I acted on it, signing up for the “Peace, Love, and 50 Miles” event. After all, why run just one marathon in a day when you can run two? (*)

This guy paced the 100-milers in 2012 two weeks after completing an Ironman. I need to know what he smokes.

This guy was pacing the 100-milers in 2012 two weeks after completing an Ironman. I forgot to ask what planet he’s from.

Last year’s training for the Ann Arbor Marathon and the 50K at Run Woodstock involved long slow runs of up to 20 miles. That got old fast. For me, the biggest challenge of a long training run is the mental fatigue. After about 15 miles, my brain starts the equivalent of “Are we there yet?” and I have to promise it ice cream. Fortunately, I do enjoy long bike rides, and with my coach’s blessing, I designed a way to work them into my training as a substitute for some of the running. (I’m keeping the ice cream part, though.)

A scone and a good cappuccino also works. (Espresso Elevado in Plymouth.)

A scone and a good cappuccino also works. (Espresso Elevado in Plymouth.)

So far I’ve tried out a couple of different sessions. A “5-25”, which is a five-mile run followed by 25 miles on the bike, is something I can get in after work on a weekday. For longer training on Saturdays, I’ve been doing a “10-50”, working in some stops at small towns like I did last year. Riding keeps my body working at a steady rate for several hours, without over-stressing my legs or causing me to hate half my workout. And I don’t want that. After all, if you’re doing L.S.D., you should at least enjoy the trip. Man.


(*) For those of you shaking your head right now, I wish to point out that you can sign up to run as many as 100 miles, which is six loops. And people do. So I’m not quite as crazy as them. Yet.