Monday, May 2, 2016

Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 8th Edition 
119.1 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Salt Flats 50k
Place: Salt Flats, UT
Miles from home: 735
Weather: 50s; windy; sunny

Winning a race is something I have done a handful of times. Doing so, when you are not a world- (or even national-) class athlete is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, you know that if just some mildly talented runners had shown up, you would not win. On the other hand, they didn't and you did. Heading into the Salt Flats 50k, I knew the overall top-level quality of competition was centered in the two other distances the weekend held: the 50 miler and 100 miler. So while my chances of winning were high, they weren't, and never are, guaranteed.

I had been a thorn in the race director's side of this race since running the 50 miler last year. With 16 miles of running on the absolutely amazing Salt Flats, I asked why there wasn't a simple out and back 50k.  Mostly (I am sure just to shut me up), he finally lamented and added one.  (And here let me say something about Vince Romney, the RD and his merry band of wonderful organizers.  For the most part, I don't give a damn if a race director is nice. Get the job done properly and chances are we will get along fine. When you have a group of people who do both - count yourself lucky. Exhibit A: Someone asked about getting a drop bag when the race was finished.  An organizer said not to worry; if they left it, they would wash the clothes and mail them back to them.  Seriously?! Amazing.)

So everything seemed set for an inaugural running of an awesome event in an unbelievable place.  Then rain happened.  A lot of it. The dry lake bed in which those running the 50k would run the entirety of their race (and the other runners 16 miles of their respective races) became a sea of water four inches deep as far as one could see. As such, there was simply no way the course could be the
same as planned. Jumping into action, showing great planning in advance as well as the ability to function without sleep for like four days, the organizers had an alternate route ready for us runners. Unfortunately, it wouldn't spend 31 inches on the salt, let alone 31 miles. Hence we would be running the inaugural Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50k.

Race Morning:

In spite of the rain of the previous week, the forecast for the morning of the race called for pretty ideal racing conditions. About six hours later there might be some rain but I hoped to be long done and showered and back cheering for others by then.  Arriving at the start with my best friend Shannon, who would also be running the 50k, the weather seemed to be as forecasted. Unfortunately, the change that occurred was a very hard and very gusty headwind.  As the first 4 miles would be run directly into this headwind in an unwavering direction, we knew that already the race was going to be tougher than expected. In addition, because of a complete change of what we would be running underfoot, we knew there would be a great deal of changes to strategy, footwear, hydration, etc.  It would be entirely different than what we had in mind. Might as well get it underway.

To Mile 15 Turnaround:

From the start a pack of seven of us all went out together. It was me running the 50k and six others doing the 50 miler and 100 miler. I felt the pace was maybe a smidge slower than I would prefer, as it should be since they were all running longer than me.  But the difference was not so much that I did not mind running in a group. I was none to keen on taking on the headwind alone and these chaps seemed more than happy to run in front of me breaking the wind. However, it was a swirling wind and no matter where I positioned myself in the group it seemed like it was blowing me around. So it really didn't matter what I did.

As we ran down this long straight paved path, we chatted and either introduced ourselves or reacquainted ourselves, as the case may be.  I looked around and realized there was not another soul running the 50K. As my goal was to win, I saw no real reason to push the pace here. Since I normally have far better closing speed than a fast start, this was playing out well for me.

We mercifully turned out of the wind after 3.5 miles and made a right angle turn...into heavier wind.  Up a sloping hill we ran, leaving the pavement behind and hitting the trail. We made another right angle turn which abated the wind some, thankfully. Here we passed a self-service aid station with water and a solo porta-potty. I made note that this was located five miles from the start. With no mile markers or anything else to help realize distance, I knew these markers would be helpful down the road. Relying on any GPS system is never anything I care to do.

Our pack had dwindled to five runners now and we more or less ran in a group of two or three, spaced out by a few yards. Some pulled ahead for a bit and then fell behind. I tried my best to keep an even pace. I felt as if I could easily move ahead but if there was no other competitor around me I knew I would be running the entire return trip alone. I didn't need to add any more time to my solo running. Winning was the main goal, with me running sub-4 hours as a secondary goal.  My pace was keeping right on pace for both, so no need to change it here.

We passed an aid station around mile nine and a few runners hopped in it for a second.  Earlier around mile seven I had tried to avoid some mud and stepped awkwardly on what I thought was solid ground. I had sorta wretched my groin a bit so I just took a few second here to walk it out. When the guys caught up to me again, I began running. I looked behind me at this point and still there appeared to be no challengers to my 50k winning attempt.

I talked with Joe, who had won the 50 miler last year and was attempting to do the same here.  He agreed with me about the running alone thing and how in races we like to at least have some competitors if we can't have spectators. Beautiful vistas are great for running; when it comes to racing we need a little bit more.

As we all passed the 13 mile aid station I continued on, thinking the guys would catch me. They never did. After a few miles of running, I saw the turnaround in front of me.  Sarah Patino, who will take over race director duties next year so Vince can actually run his race, and her family sat there checking runners.  One of their small children had a pump-action air horn. I know because I have the same one from the Dollar Store. The pump, in the echoing desert sounds less like an airhorn than a distressed goose.  It made me laugh with each "HONK!"  I hit my watch at the halfway, saw I had run a 1:57 and readied myself for 15.5 miles of solo running.

To mile 18.5:

As a group of four runners came up to me, I wished them all good luck. Three were running the 100 miler and Joe the 50. I felt for them indeed as I knew the rain they would run into later would be no fun. In addition, they were undoubtedly going to run into far less runnable footing conditions further down the line. While Joe would go onto to win the 50 in a stellar time of 7:32, I was very curious if Steven Jeffs, who I had met last year, would get the course record he was shooting for.  In either case, I marveled at the speed they were taking out the first portion of the course.  I asked them about it earlier and they said that with the hills to come they were just trying to get fast miles under their belt when they could.

About a minute or so running later I passed Tom Wolfe who was in our group earlier. He told me the race was mine for the losing but I knew I couldn't be so sure. A minute or so later an unknown runner, whose bib number told me he was running the 50k, appeared. I realized I had only a six minute lead on him, which was far less than what I was comfortable with. We both wished each other good luck and continued in our opposite directions.

About a mile later I began to feel a little queasy.  My stomach was sloshing which is usually a sign of drinking too much water. As I would learn later, that was not the case at all. But for some indiscernible reason I simply couldn't push the pace I wanted to without fear of throwing up.  The problem is I had virtually nothing to throw up. As I am wont to do before races, I had consumed next to no calories. I run best running on the food from the previous evening. All of that had been digested by now so whatever was bothering me was from an unknown origin.

I passed through the aids station from before, with a handful of exuberant and helpful volunteers at the ready. They told me I was the first in the 50k (which made me laugh as I figured that being the first person period, that was a given) and asked me if I needed anything. I couldn't think of a thing so I continued on after thanking them profusely for being out here. If I could just get this stomach settled.

To mile 22:

Not soon thereafter I saw Shannon and I stopped to chat for a bit. I asked her how her race was going and she lamented the wind from earlier as well. She was excited I was in first but I said I wasn't sure if that would be something I could maintain if my stomach continued to disagree with me. We parted ways and I began again the delicate dance of pushing the envelope without vomiting on my shoes.  What was enjoyable about this return trip was the fact that I got to see every single entrant in all of the races. As such, I could wish them all good luck. In return, seeing another human allowed me to go that much further without becoming a little bored.

Around the 21 mile I came to a walk. I don't recall making the decision to walk. I just did. If a camera had been on me I am sure it would have captured my surprised face. Something was just not right. If I ran an 8:00 mile I was fine. If I ran a 7:59, I was on the verge of puking. I guess my body did not want me to puke and overrode the orders from my brain to keep running. Fortunately, the aid station was just up over the next hill.

As I pulled into the aid station I knew I should go to the bathroom. What I saw in there showed me I was severely dehydrated. But the thought of drinking water right now did not sit well with me at all.  I came out and asked for a Coke as I felt it would perfectly settle my stomach. I had thought about eating some of my trusty Shurky Jurky which I had stashed in my pack but any food at all didn't seem like a wise idea.

As I drank the Coke and began to walk away, I made the executive decision to go back to the aid station and top off my Camelbak Circuit bladder. It was there I realized that here, 22 miles in, I hadn't drank nearly as much as I thought. Perhaps that had been the problem. Pack filled, I walked out of the aid station for another hundred yards.Time to get to the finish.

Heading Home:

It is funny what runners of ultras say. As I left I must have had a worried look on my face as the aid station guys said "Just nine more miles. You'll be there in a jiff." I vividly recall thinking that they were right.  But nine miles is a full third of the total distance of the race. Plus, I was hardly feeling like it would take just a jiff. I knew it had taken me an hour and twelve minutes to get here from the start. Unfortunately, because of the numerous walk breaks I had taken in the last few miles, I knew that even equaling that time on the way home would not get me under four hours. While it should have been easier to go home than it was to get here, given there was a touch more downhill and the wind should be gone, I knew I simply did not have the chops today. So it was all hands on deck to make sure no one passed me. The overall time would be a very distant second place goal.

I had broken the remaining miles into just a 4 plus mile run to the portpotty and self-service aid station at mile 5; then a brisk 1.5 miles to the straightaway on the road; then 3.5 miles to victory.  Unfortunately, that "just" a four miler turned into a long slog.  A brief bit of just a smattering of sprinkles earlier around the turnaround had given away to a very warm and unrelenting sun. From my clothing at the end of the race I could tell I had sweat quite a great deal. I might not be running on the Salt Flats but I was creating my own on my clothing. Over the next four miles, I walked four separate
times. The elevation profile doesn't make it look like there were many hills to climb but I know I wasn't the only one who was feeling these small rises. Each time I walked, however, I would look back and see where my competition was. Each time, I saw nobody.

Finally seeing the final aid station ahead gave me a new resolve. I made it there and deiced to take a long draught from the self-serve bucket. I used a handy collapsible cup I had toted with me to take more than a few drinks. I felt refreshed and ready to go. I started running. I began to feel like I would toss my cookies. This was getting old.

Down the last hill of the course I got to the straightway with 21 minutes to make it under four hours. I knew that wasn't going to happen. But I was feeling good finally and with no more turns or hills or anything to go, it was time to point my ship due west and go get this done. I took one last walk break and then began moving.

The tricky thing about this whole area is perspective. You have none. Items which look 100 yards away are actually half of a mile. If you have good eyes you can see something substantial on the horizon from miles away. As I traversed this lonesome freeway, I could see something in the distance. Was the the finish area of sagebrush? I had nothing to gauge its size on. I began to get excited. Maybe I could break four hours after all. If I had been able to do math at this juncture I would have know that wasn't possible. But math was out the window. My pace picked up. Sub-8 minute pace. Then the governor of my stomach said "Whoa nelly!" once again. THIS was the last walk break, damn it.

Finally, with the finish line actually being in sight this time I glanced behind me to make sure no one had snuck up on me while I was in my haze. Not a single runner was in sight. I laid on the throttle, vomit be damned, threw down a 6:49 pace and crossed the finishline. I finished in 4:12:32 for my second 50k win in as many attempts Maybe I should retire from the distance.

The next competitor would not come in until 14 minutes later and only one other runner would break five hours. The course may not have looked all the challenging but apparently it was harder than we expected. When Shannon came in breaking her PR by over half an hour, it was great icing on an already wonderful day.

As I have delineated above, there were many things that caused this race to not be what it was expected. My hat goes of and all the way to the salty ground to the organizers of this race for tirelessly working to make everything workout as smoothly as possible. I can't even go into enough detail to talk about how much they had to do to just keep their heads literally above water. This doesn't even count the salt, mud and everything else Mother Nature threw at them. A major kudos goes to all that were involved in getting this race off the ground. It was well- attended but simply amazing to me that it is not filled to the brim with more runners. With an unparalleled race visages put on by the nicest, battle-tested directors, it should be capped every year.

My gear for this race included:
Karhu Fluid3 shoes:  If the race had been on the actual salt flats I would have included IceSpike.  But with 8 miles on pavement I opted out (even though IceSpike works just fine on pavement.)
Camelbak Circuit: Now undefeated in three separate races.  Hard to get a better review than that!
Julbo Race sunglasses: I have worn these for a variety of races and they worked perfectly.
Times One GPS+: This measured the courses to be 31.0 miles. Gonna say that was pretty accurate!

Now I have to get back to thinking about next year and running the 50k on the salt.  Hopefully they will never run that course again so my record will remain ad infinitum. A boy can hope!

1 comment:

Frank said...

You've been wearing the Fluid3 for a few years now. What kind of mileage have you been getting out of each pair?