Tag Archives: 50K

Maniac on Singletrack

I HAVE THREE TAKEAWAYS from last weekend’s Singletrack Maniac 50K:

  1. Never assume a water jug is full
  2. You never really know what you’re capable of until you do it
  3. Ultrarunners are the best f**king people on the planet. (I knew that already, so this race was just another confirmation.)

There’s the TL;DR version. For those of you inclined to read on after lists like these, here’s the rest of the story.

Singletrack Maniac takes place in Williamsburg, Virginia, on the trails of beautiful Freedom Park, with start and finish at a nearby middle school. It was a pretty standard atmosphere – well-stocked aid stations, enthusiastic volunteers cheering us on, and runners and families hanging out on the lawn afterward. Which made it all the more remarkable, given we’re still in pandemic mode. (From my perspective, people were protecting themselves appropriately.)

The wisest advice you can give an ultrarunner!

I started out fast to establish a place on the singletrack where I could run at my chosen pace. This meant I was somewhere in the front 20 or so. I decided to push myself a little and ran harder than my standard 50K pace. This meant I was uncomfortable much of the time, but sustainably so. During my time out there I passed a few people and a few passed me, so overall I felt I was in the right place.

The course is a little unusual in that it’s two different trail loops, each run twice. My strategy was to learn from the first time through each loop, and adjust for the second loop accordingly. The first part, held on the A trail system, went well, and I felt strong as I entered the second half of the race on the D&E trails. And as I’d heard from others, this is where things got interesting.

The back loop does not have short, steep climbs and descents like the Potawatomi Trail back home, but it makes up for it with  long, gradual climbs and a lot of gentle rolling terrain with sharp turns, all of which sap your energy without you really feeling it for awhile. It became evident the second time through, when areas I’d run through the first time became walk/run or power hike.

And then came my kick-my-rear-end moment. On this part there’s a creek crossing, and just over the bridge were two tables with water jugs. I was low on water and looking forward to it. I opened my bottle and dumped the remaining contents over my head, as I was warm from the effort and rising temps, even as a little voice in my head warned me not to trust a water jug. Sure enough, it was empty. I had a bad moment or two before I tried the other jug, which fortunately had a little left in it.

Following that episode, I got a second wind and was able to resume fulltime running pace again. Funny how quickly a race “low” can switch to a “high” (and vice versa) but that’s ultrarunning for you. I was a little bummed when two guys I’d seen off and on throughout the race passed me for what I assumed was the last time. They looked way too comfortable.

And yet, as I emerged from the trail at the mile 30 aid station, there they were. I’d caught up somehow! Just one mile to go. But the path back to the road was a long uphill. Staring ahead, I realized how gassed I was.

“See you guys after the finish,” I told them.

They were having none of it. “Come on, man!” they said. “Match pace to the finish!” And we took off together. I kept up with them until one final checkpoint exiting the park. We stopped to show our bibs, and I didn’t have the heart to start running again, so I began walking. They waved at me from ahead. “Come on, man!” they said again. Where else but trail ultras does this happen?

Well, that did it. Turn down a second challenge? Might as well turn in my card. So I dug deep and took off after them. It was godawful hard, but as we reached the top of the hill, I caught up. Still, I figured it wouldn’t be long before they took off Roadrunner style and left me in the dust with my tongue hanging out.

So I redlined it, going all out. Man, did it hurt, but I was not going to jog it in, dammit. I’ll go this hard until I can’t, I told myself. The approach to the finish is a U-shape – run on the road, turn into the school driveway, and run back through the parking lot. This prolonged the agony, but somehow I held it together. Across the line I sprinted, well ahead of the two guys who’d given me the motivation to finish strong.

I went to the refreshment tent and lay down gratefully in the shade. The race director approached. “You won second Masters,” she said, placing my prize down next to me. Second in the 40-and-over age division. How about that? And I’d finished in the top 20 overall. I made sure to thank my colleagues for pushing me.

Me with some fellow top finishers, with our award growlers. Me second from left, my motivators the rightmost two.

Was it worth the ten-hour drive there? Absolutely. And I recommend it for anyone who would like to try out a trail ultra. Gorgeous park, not too many rocks and roots, and great support. And who knows, you just might discover you’re capable of more than you thought, even if you’re an experienced trail runner. Happened to me!

The Long and the Short of Running

A couple Januarys ago I had breakfast with my running coach, going over my planned race schedule. It would follow a pattern I’d established, of a target race in late May or June (100-miler or more), with shorter ultras in the spring to leapfrog up to it. So we mapped out a 50K and a couple of 50-milers. “Now we can plug in your shorter races,” he said.

And by shorter races, we were including marathons.

Even at the time we laughed about it, imagining what a standard recreational runner (or any non-runner) would be thinking if they’d overheard us. But that’s how I think of it. There are ultras and there are non-ultras; there’s a clear line. By definition, a marathon is not an ultramarathon. (Unless you get lost. I once asked a race director if I could get credit for an “ultra-half” for running 14 miles on a 13.1 course.)

This attitude has some funny characteristics. For example, every April there’s a trail marathon in my area. (Present-year disclaimer, etc.) Anyway, I work it as part of my zero waste events gig. And before I get down and dirty with that, I run the marathon.

Thing is, there’s also a 50K option, which means you run an extra five-mile loop following your 26.2. And for me, those five miles mean the difference between a fun “short race” and an “ultra” which on those trails is, well, hard. As in automatic bonk afterward, while I can finish the marathon and get right to sorting Gu wrappers out of the water bottle bins.

Me (far right) after a measly ol’ marathon.

And after those five extra miles on the trail.

Why? Who knows? It has to be mainly mental, although you’d think someone who’s run multiple 100s wouldn’t feel that little extra. Heck, I even pitch 50Ks to skeptical folks as “just a marathon with a five-mile cooldown.” But there we are.

I’m sure none of this makes any sense to runners who’ve never run this kind of distance. This morning my run group included someone training for her first marathon. Like most folks in her situation, she did a half first, and was now trying to wrap her head around getting from 13.1 miles to double that distance. It ain’t easy. I was there once.

The good news is once you’ve done it, the second is easier. The bad news is, you just might talk yourself into an ultra. Then you’re really screwed. Trust me. I’m there now.

At least I would be, but my local fall ultras were cancelled, and I still don’t trust airplanes yet. So I’ll have to content myself with shorter races until things improve. Maybe I can find a marathon around somewhere.

Mt. Hood? Nope! Neighborhood. The Adventures of a Stay-At-Home Runner

THE BAD NEWS I SUSPECTED WAS COMING arrived a few days ago. The Mt. Hood 50, the other UTMB qualifying race I’d signed up for, has been cancelled.

It’s a July race, so I was holding out hope. But Oregon has extended its group restrictions through September, so that was that. It’s not such a bad thing, though. It meant either driving across the country and back, or risking a plane flight, something my wife was definitely NOT in favor of.

So I’m now officially committed to no races at all. I’m a stay-at-home runner for the foreseeable future, and my tales of adventure will be confined to my house and my neighborhood.

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of adventures could a stay-at-home runner possibly have? Well, here we go.

Virtually as Good

The running event companies may not be doing actual races, but virtual races are going strong. For a lot of people they are better than nothing, and they like the “bling” that comes with them. I don’t need more T-shirts or medals, but if that’s what gets you out and moving, by all means go for it.

Confession time: I did one virtual race, and because of the medal. But only because it struck right at my heart. I’ve played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) for over forty years, and this virtual 20K came with a medal shaped like the 20-sided die (the icosahedron, for you geometry geeks) which the game is famous for.

BTW, I’m still playing D&D through all this, with my regular gaming group, via the “roll20” video app instead of meeting in person. It’s nearly as good, and has saved me countless calories from binge eating at someone’s house. Something about group D&D begs for continuous eating. Less of a problem at home.

Going Streaking

RF Events, a racing company that would be going all out normally right now, is offering monthly challenges instead. May’s challenge, dubbed “50K in May” is to run at least one mile every day of the month. At the end, you’ll have at least 31 miles, which, as all trail runners know, is a 50K. Not a bad plan, and they could use the income, so I signed up. It’s a “pay what you want” challenge, with swag you could buy if you wanted to.

Some of us (ahem) far prefer to do the entire distance at once. And nothing says I can’t go out there and do a 50K run for fun. But the “run every day” part is enough of a challenge. I have never done a running streak of any meaningful kind, and I take total rest days pretty seriously. Since I decided to take on the challenge, I need to define “rest” at least for this month.

So far, so good. I’m averaging about 5-6 miles per day, with a Saturday long run as usual, and “rest days” of two miles or so. Most of it is slow and easy, but I’ve included some tempo work and hill work, too. My legs are feeling the cumulative fatigue, but that also keeps me from training too hard right now.

For those of you who don’t think this is quite enough of a challenge, I’m following a blog of someone (longruntom) who’s running 1K per number of the day. That was 1K on May 1, 2K on May 2, and so on, up to 31K on May 31. The daily distance is getting interesting for him now. Have a look at his progress (May 17), if you dare.

Ticked Off

My run club leaders continue to put out a weekly email, with suggested routes (solo) and encouragement to keep running. In a recent email, they warned us about how bad the ticks are around here, and to check carefully after a run.

I’ve seen some in our yard from time to time, but have never worried about them. Until today. I’d done some weeding in our garden beds, in blue jeans, and when I took them off a little bit ago, I found one happily attached to my calf. That was after this morning, when I removed one from my hair. How it got there is anyone’s guess. My cats profess total innocence, and perhaps I brought it in myself.

Both of them got the alcohol bath treatment, as recommended by websites everywhere.

The only good tick. . .

These little forkers are Hard. To. Kill. I even slammed a book on one (on our table) last night, and it still kept crawling along. And they can go months without food, so don’t try to starve them out, either. Alcohol or high heat is about the only thing that does the trick. So put your pillows in the dryer if you’re worried about it.

A Novel Approach

And, finally, (for now), I have been hard at work on a novel. That’s the good news. The bad news is that what takes place in it would be impossible under current circumstances. Hopefully by the time I finish it, life will have returned to a semblance of normalcy. Either that, or I’ll have to set it in 2015, or 2050.

I am now releasing the first two chapters to a select few intimates for review and feedback. Perhaps sometime soon I will expand my review audience. If you are interested in such things, drop me a private email – jeff (at) runbikethrow (dot) net, and I will keep you posted. Only if you really want to. In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog, and please stay safe out there.

The Double Dog Dare

OH, WHAT HAVE I DONE NOW.

It’s a new year, and with that comes the feeling yet again that all things are possible. And in that blithe, careless frame of mind, I signed up for my first ultra of 2020.

Make that two ultras, actually.

On the same day.

I have no excuse for this. I did it of my own free will, being of sound mind(?). I wasn’t even hungover.

A bit of history: back in March 2018, I ran a 12-hour race called the Dogwood. It’s a 3.47-mile trail loop with rolling hills. It’s a pretty course, but running it over and over tests one mentally as much as physically. It reminded me of a short roller coaster loop I was subjected to as a kid at a local carnival, the difference being I could stop when I wanted instead of at the whim of a sadistic clown holding the power lever.

I managed 16 loops in those twelve hours, and in an unexpected surprise, came in third! (My prize was a bottle of beer, which I accepted once I recovered from my bonk.)

The “podium group” of 2018. I’m in the center, being held up by the 1st and 2nd place finishers. (I’d recovered enough to stand, but not much more.)

I don’t often repeat ultras (I like variety and have only so much time and money) so I wasn’t planning a return anytime soon. But the Dogwood has changed. First, a 24-hour option was added. Makes perfect sense; just add more loops, and a psychiatrist to the medical staff. But the following feature was what grabbed my attention:

Interested in a different challenge this year?  How about running two 50k’s in the same day?  At different locations.  We have teamed up with our friends at Single Track Maniac to offer the Virginia Tour Challenge.  The concept is simple.  Start your day in beautiful, scenic Williamsburg Va.  Run Single Track Maniac 50k.  Get in the car.  Drive to Twin Lakes State Park.  Run a 50k here.  Participants will receive a special award.

That’s right. Two races in one day, totaling 100K in all.

As I made 2020 race plans it kept poking its head up. And the more I thought about it, the more intriguing it became – a You know you wanna… kind of thing. So I finally bowed to the inevitable and signed up.

I see the challenge as not so much the distance, though it sure isn’t trivial. Rather, it’s how I’ll handle the time between the two races. It’s a two-hour drive from Williamsburg to the Dogwood, which gives my fatigued muscles lots of time to tighten up and remind me how sore they are. It helps that I know the Dogwood loop very well, so I know what’s in store. Getting started will be the biggest hurdle.

But the registrations are paid and the airline ticket is booked, so I suppose I’m committed. (Or ought to be.)

Assuming I survive race day I can also look forward to spending some time with my daughter Tori afterward, who lives in Richmond with her wife and two charming pooches. She ran a loop of the Dogwood with me last time, and says she looks forward to doing it again!

Tori and I enjoy my 3rd place prize. Best pacer ever!

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P.S. I just thought of another good reason to run this event. It will be great practice for when I do a 200-mile race. Since I’ll most likely need to take at least one extended break during it (you know, sleep and all that) this race will be excellent training. Man, this is just making more sense all the time!

Oh, excuse me, gotta go. There’s some guy in a white suit outside my front door carrying a giant butterfly net. Wonder what he wants…