A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 4th Edition
109.7 miles raced in 2009
Race: USATF 50K Road Championship
Place: Huntington, NY
Miles from home: 1991 miles
Weather: 30s; windy
When I was changing the header for this race from my last one, I laughed thinking what a difference removing the word "Beach" from Huntington and moving from CA to NY made.
I had really been looking forward to running this race for quite some time. You see, some of my personal bests bother me. I know they are no where close to being in the realm of what I would be happy to call my best for that distance. Without a doubt, up close to the top of that list was my 50k time. I have run two previous 50ks, both in 2007 and both with pretty disastrous results.
The first was the Seneca Greenway Trail 50k. You can read the recap HERE. However, I think the race can be summed up with this picture to the right. My time?
Later in the fall of 2007, eager to avenge this horrific day, I signed up to run the North Face 50k in DC. In August. In 99 degree weather. On Trail. That recap is HERE.
Once again the picture tells the story. At least I set a new PR in 5:06:22.
You can see why I was itching to run a race in better conditions!
I started off the weekend by being in Fort Worth, Texas for the Cowtown Marathon Expo. While I had enough brains to not try and run the marathon the day before an all-out effort in the 50k, I was on my feet for two straight days. I flew out of Texas and got to La Guardia airport Saturday evening and was fortunate enough to be able to have a chauffeur and host (as well as fellow running friend) Rich Burgunder as my guide. He had been monitoring the weather and said it looked like it could be nasty.
The race was to take place in Caumsett State Park in Huntington, NY on Long Island. Nestled right on the water, we had predictions of 20-30 degrees at the start with possible snow and ice. I told Rich I would take the cold over the heat any day and if the road was clear I couldn't complain too much.
Fortunately, most of the snow held off. By the time we arrived at the entrance to the park, the temps were pretty cool but I could tell if anything was going to be a problem it was going to be the wind off of the Long Island Sound. In addition, the course was changed slightly than what was advertised on the website. Instead of ~ 12 laps of a 2.6 mile course it was going to be ~13 laps of a 2.3 mile loop. The change (made for whatever reason) eliminated a little dog-leg part of the course and suited me just fine. While loops like this sound awful to many runners and non-runners alike (guessing by the sour-lemon faces anyone made when I told them what the course would be), I actually don't mind them at all. (Proof: the 84 miles I ran in the 12 Hour Presque Isle Endurance Classic in 2003 which still stands as the farthest distance ever run there).
Before the race I was fortunate enough to meet up with running friend, and course record holder, Michael Wardian. I knew he would be crushing me on this course but it was nonetheless good to see him. I also had the pleasure to meet Kami Semick, a legend in the ultrarunning world in her own right. As we were hustled from one place to another in a slightly disorganized way, I also was able to meet Rich's friend and a guy I would also come to know during the day, Jeremy Shearer. Jeremy and I figured to be around each other during the race, so it was a pleasure to get to meet him while we stood shivering in the wind. I only notice now that his hat and shoes matched my jacket. Twinsies!
We quickly gathered to the line, there was a very brief speech which concluded with the official timer saying "Seven seconds until we go". Why 7 and not 10 or 5, I haven't the foggiest idea but it made me smile. We readied for the figurative gun. The snow started anew.
Lap 1: 16:08 (7:01 pace)
The course was set up as follows: about .3 or .4 of a mile from the start of the timing mat (and eventual finish) there was a mile marker situated a mile from the mat and another situated a mile from the first mile marker (about 100 yards from the start of the race). It was confusing at first, especially when I was going to do my best to keep nice even splits, but after a lap or two, I had it down. Regardless, as we started off, Wardian flew away from everyone and a pack of about 3 runners fell in behind him. I fell into another pack a little bit behind that pack and settled in. After the first lap I knew I was going too fast and pulled back a touch.
Lap 2: 17 ish
I could not figure out where exactly I wanted to hit my watch to try and keep my splits on schedule so I am not 100% sure of each lap (results have yet to be posted with split times). Either way, I felt like I had slowed down a bit and was pleased with that. Rich snapped a picture as I passed through the second lap confirming this.
I had a man on my tail as we began the 3rd loop. I really don't like people right behind me so I altered my stride a little bit to see if he would pass me. He had been using me on the windy side of the course and as we went through the timing mat and onto the side shaded from the wind, took off. I was more than fine with that.
As I neared the end of this lap, I saw Jeremy up ahead. He had taken off with the pack that was behind the lead pack when I had stayed back. But here I had reeled him in. I caught him right along the top of the hill right before the timing mat and we began to run in step. I am not sure exactly what his pace or desired goal was but at least here we had someone to keep each other company, if even for a lap or two.
About half of a mile later, Kami Semick strode by. We shared a few words of encouragement with each other and made some introductions. Soon thereafter she took off and Jeremy said: "Well that was nice to run with a National Champion for about 100 yards".
On the back half of this loop we began to encounter some more people. I had been running virtually alone but was beginning to lap some of the slightly slower competitors here. What was confusing was there were also people out for, seemingly, a stroll, just for the heck of it. Unfortunately, they were taking up the side of the road that we would use to pass runners and really did not seem to care that they were in the way at all.
Near the end of the loop, as Jeremy and I began to navigate through some people, one of the runners (wearing headphones) veered to his left directly in front of my path. I had to jump out of his way and off of the road. I could not just run in the dirt next to the road as in this section there were some rocks placed at juncture of the road and the grass and I assuredly would have twisted an ankle and fell. Slightly pissed and with a surge of adrenaline, I pushed myself back onto the road, shot an ugly look at the guy and went up the hill to the mat.
After crossing the mat together, Jeremy fell back a little bit, said he was going to hit the aid station and would catch up soon. The snow started anew. So did the wind.
As I started the lap I saw Kami had also pulled off to the aid station. I was doing my best to try and figure out what place I was in and Rich also was trying to tell me. But with so many people stopping and starting at aid stations there was definitely some confusion. With eight laps to go I was feeling fine, and was just about where I wanted to be timewise.
I had been eating nothing and drinking only the water at the one aid station opposite from the timing mat every loop. I continued on doing the same with this lap. After Wardian had lapped me about 100 yards from the beginning of this lap, I saw him quickly disappear into the distance. He was going for a new course record and I knew he was going to be close.
My fuel intake might be criticized but this is what sit best with me. I didn't know exactly what the energy drink was at the aid stations and the water seemed to be suiting me just fine. It definitely was cold enough.
I began to play mental games here and there knowing that after the conclusion of this lap, I could then look forward to being halfway done in the middle of the next loop. It is little things like this that help me get by during looped courses that I think other runners can utilize as well. I had run one of my faster loops in the past 3 or 4 and felt very much in control of my race. I knew I was barely halfway done and no long distance runner should make judgments this early in a race but I could tell I was doing well.
As I pulled over to use the bathroom, Kami sped by. I had been wondering when she would arrive behind me and here she was. My planned pace for each mile was 6:45. I nailed the entire lap perfectly using Kami as pacer even as she drew steadily away. It is nice to have a rabbit even when you are virtually running alone.
At the top of the lap, I saw one competitor who I had not seen since the beginning and he looked to be tiring. I decided to try and follow him and eventually take him down. (2013: note: His name was Dave James and Dave and I would cross paths many times in the future.)
At the beginning of the lap, I asked Rich to get a definitive statement on where exactly I was ranked. I was right on pace to get my sub 3:30 goal but now I also wanted to know where I was placing.
Meanwhile, the entirety of this lap was spent chasing down the one runner who seemed to be faltering. He passed some people who evidently knew him who were also running the race and they cheered him by name. When I passed by about 10 seconds later I held my finger to my lips and said: "shhhh!" in an attempt to not let the runner ahead of me know I was right on his heels They all laughed. Too loudly damn it!
I finally caught the runner at the top of the hill and readied for the final 5 laps.
Rich was always asking if there was anything I needed and here I wanted a Vanilla Bean gu. He snapped another picture and quickly handed me the only thing I would take in the entire day besides water.
As I looked over at the aid station I saw I was once again passing Kami. At least I thought it was Kami. My mile splits were again right on and I hit the end of this lap knowing if I averaged a 16 minute loop for the remaining 4 loops, I would have my sub 3:30.
Rich told me he thought I was in 6th place or so but I knew that was not possible unless some people had dropped out.
As this loop wore on, the wind seemed to get a little stronger in places. I am sure it was just me tiring but it seemed to be in our faces longer than usual as if it had shifted some. I soon heard some footsteps and was quite surprised to see it was the guy I had passed earlier who had really looked like he was struggling. Then another set of footsteps revealed Wardian lapping me for the second time. I was hoping to make it to the end of this lap before he did so (just a little personal goal) but it was not too be. I couldn't figure out if the other runner (Dave) was sorta of pacing him, (as he seemed to really be flying) and then would die off so I tried to keep them both in sight.
The previous lap had been a little slower than I had hoped making a sub 3:30 a little tougher than I would have liked but I figured I would be ok. As I started this loop, the runner who had shadowed me earlier, appeared ahead and he looked just about done. I was wary of making the same mistake twice and passing him too early as I had done with Dave but half a mile later I easily slid by.
This entire lap I kept wondering if he would catch up to me and where Kami was.
Two laps to go. I began to fatigue for the first time all day. A marathon was now in the books (in a time of about 2:57:50) and I knew that put me a little over 3:30 if I kept the same pace. However, while I could still see Dave ahead, he appeared to be getting stronger and I was definitely tiring.
No worries, it was going to be a huge PR nonetheless. Now all I wanted to know was what place I was in.
As I went through the timing mate for the final lap, I could see I was not going to get a sub 3:30. I was pretty sure I did not have a 12 minute loop in me after having just done an 18 minuter!
Rich told me he thought I was in the top 10 but could not be sure. Oy. Now the question in my head the entire final lap was whether I was in or out. On the hill on the backside of the course, I took a 10 second break to walk briskly to call up any energy stores I had left for the final 2 plus miles. As soon as I started running a guy I hadn't seen all day passed me. I could not tell if he was a racer or just a guy out for a jog. I decided I was not going to take any chances and immediately fell in about 10 yards behind him. If it was going to come to a final sprint, I wanted to make sure I was in striking distance to do so.
One mile left and we sat in the same place. We hit the final downhill before the last up to the finish and I decided that here was my shot. I used the downhill to pass him and quickly looked over. Yep, he was wearing a bib and was in the race. Man this is going to hurt if he pushed back! "Good job, man!" he said which threw me a little. If he was finishing as well I didn't think he would use his energy to say good job. But I wasn't taking chances.
Up the hill I pushed and the timing mat and clock appeared. I cruised through the finish in 3:37:15. Or a personal best by 89 minutes.
I quickly turned around to see the runner I had just passed. He kept on running. He had at least another lap to go. Geesh! I turned back around as a gentleman put a medal around my neck.
I would soon learn that I had indeed finished 10th overall in my first ever USATF national championship race. I was very pleased.
Wardian just missed his course record by less than a minute or so and I was quite impressed. He had no competition all day and really was out there pushing against nothing but himself and the wind.
Kami had somehow either snuck by me when I was in a daze or had not been the woman I saw pulling over later in the race as she finished in an awesome time of 3:29. It was really a pleasure to meet her.
The gentleman who had shadowed me earlier was none other than William Emerson, a multi-time high-placing master ultrarunner. To be able to best him was indeed an honor.
Jeremy had a tougher day than he expected, just finishing over 4 hours. He has apparently lost count of his loops and had stopped for a few seconds after his 12th, just a few minutes after I had finished. The fact he was able to start running again was a testament to his mental strength. We posed with our medals afterward (as well as a copy of my book that Jeremy got!)
A hearty thanks to all the volunteers who braved the cold that day. I did my best to say thank you every lap but I am sure it was unintelligible most of the time.
All told, I was extremely pleased and see this as just the beginning of a great year for me.