This past Saturday I was looking for redemption at the 50K distance on trails after suffering at the Pisgah Mountain 50K two years ago. Mike Galoob had run the TARC Spring Classic last year, and talked me (and a few other locals) into running it this year. It promised to be a fast course (for trails) and nothing like the Pisgah race. I was very happy with my training coming into the race, and I even tapered to be full strength. I was confident I could finish within 4 hours.
The format of this race was five 10K loops. The start/finish area had a huge spread of food, beverage, volunteers, and spectators. There were a few races running at the same time: 10K, 1/2 marathon, marathon, 50K. I arrived with Mike and Seth about an hour early and we picked up our bibs and then met up with fellow WTACers Shira, Mark, and Mike C. It was a tad chilly, but the day promised to be sunny and warm (60's). I got in a short warm up just to avoid the long line at the port-a-potties. I was feeling fresh and calm. My plan was to check my time each lap, knowing that 48 minutes was the magic number to get to 4 hours. I decided to wear just my singlet, shorts, and a warm hat. I had a drop bag ready with a regular hat and a hand held with water and 1 gu. Before the start, I had already eaten half a pb&j sandwich with oj and black coffee at home, a egg & cheese bagel from D&D, and then wolfed down a banana, drank some Coke, and plenty of water at my car. I was fueled and ready!
At the start, I was briefly in a group of three behind the leader (Mike G). One of the guys (Eric) asked what we were hoping for today and we all were shooting for about the same thing. I recognized the other guy as Adam Wilcox, who I knew had run just over 4 hours the last two years. Eric soon left us to get up on Mike's shoulder. Adam and I chatted for the first mile or so. The pace seemed a little quick, and despite thoughts of staying with him, I decided to take it down a notch as my first mile split showed 7:01 on my watch. Looked like he was in for a good day. I was rather impatient the rest of the first lap, basically just wanting to get it out of the way. This made it seem really long. It was mostly flat with a couple of short steep sections, and then there was more technical stuff the last couple miles, including some thick mud. I was mostly running alone, but I had a silent stalker the second half of this first loop, and I was passing runners (the 10K race began 10-15 minutes ahead of the longer races). This aspect I enjoyed, as being lonely on the trail can be mentally defeating. I reached the start/finish area at the 45 minute mark (Strava has it as 45:21). I was ahead of the 48 minute target - a nice little cushion for later, but not too fast. The silent stalker jumped into a port-a-potty as I stopped quickly to grab my handheld, and I was just then greeted by fellow training partner Ben (aka Gunshow).
Ben and I ran the next two laps mostly together. It was awesome to have a friend out there to talk to. Going into the race, I thought that we might be running similar paces - he ran 4:16 here last year and was coming into this race in good shape. The pace was feeling a little fast for me during the second lap, and Ben said he was feeling good. I tripped about halfway through and fell hard on a large root. I land on the left side of my body and it hurt. I hoped I didn't damage anything, and after a few minutes, the pain subsided. No big deal, but not a good sign! Getting closer to the finish of lap 2, I ate the GU stashed in the pocket of my handheld, as I was feeling a bit hungry. This perked me up a bit as we finished lap two at the 1:33 minute mark. We were still 3 minutes ahead of the 4 hour pace. I had my handheld refilled with water and I grabbed a cookie. I had good energy for the duration of the third lap. Ben and I kept up our pace, but my legs were beginning to fatigue. Near the technical section of the loop, Ben said he was going ahead for a while. I don't know if I was slowing down, but he definitely was not. I finished lap three at 2:22. Still two minutes ahead of 4 hours, but my slowest lap yet.
At the aid station, I had my handheld refilled with Gatorade (or whatever) and grabbed three chocalate chip cookies. When I looked up ahead, I didn't see Ben anymore. My legs felt slightly rejuvenated, and I was still hopefull I could finish the race with a good time. I still wasn't seeing Ben on any of the long straightaways, and I wondered if he had to take a bathroom break at the start of the 4th lap and he was going to catch back up to me. Then after a mile or so, my legs really started to feel like garbage. It's a familiar pain I get on long hard trail runs. My legs and feet ached. I knew my pace was dropping, but more importantly my spirit was fading. If I was experiencing this pain with a few miles left, then I would just gut it out. But to deal with it for 10+ miles was not a battle I cared to fight. I guess I was running too fast for my body to maintain on this course, but to run it slower wouldn't feel like racing. I wasn't just trying to finish a 50K, I was trying to put up a time I'd be happy with. So, I made the decision to run out the 4th lap as best I could. No walking. Then I would quit at 40K. Running a fifth lap wasn't really debated. It would have been the walk/pity fest that happened to me at Pisgah, and I wasn't about to repeat that performance, and with the 5 lap format, I had an easy out. Perhaps this a drawback of a multiple loop race. I also decided on that 4th lap, that I wasn't going to do anymore long races (50K's or marathons). I don't find them fun. I'm not motivated to just finish one, I need to feel like I'm racing, and apparently my body doesn't hold up. I certainly train enough, and there's not any room for more training. Why not stick to races that I can run hard the entire time? That is appealing to me.
I finished up the 4th lap, but it wasn't pretty. Any elevation gain was grueling, and the technical spots slowed me way down. My shoes almost got sucked off in the mud. I reached the clock and stopped my watch - it read 3:15:05 (53 minute 4th lap).
I walked around to the aid station. I then saw Mike and his wife's friends lounging in the sun drinking beer. I said I was done. They tried to talk me into going back out there, but they looked like they were having a lot more fun. I was going to join them. I told the directors I was dropping out. They tried to talk me out of it. Sorry. I drank some Coke, but it took a while to have the desire to eat solid food. Mike's race also ended prematurely after 4 laps due to knee pain. Unlike me, he was well in the lead, and on his way to posting a fast time. We hoped that someone from our club would finish the entire race! Thanks Seth and Shira for seeing it through. Ben gutted out an impressive 4:04! It was a blast hanging out in the sun at the finish area - way better than running. Finally, it was time to head home. Thanks to TARC for putting on such a great event. It was well run and had a great vibe. Someday I'd like to run another one of their races, just not a long one!