Monday, March 4, 2013

Caumsett 50K

The Caumsett Park 50K was my first 50K distance event and given my training (or lack thereof) this year, I was excited to see how I would do. I really should have made a better point of race strategy beforehand. I was bouncing back and forth in my head about how to run it the week leading up to the race. Should I run/walk it with 1 mile run / 30 second walk intervals? Should I go for a big negative split starting with a 8:30 or 9/min mile pace and get faster as the race goes on? In all honesty, all of the race plans I had in mind were exactly the opposite of what I ended up doing, and I should have known better!

Do as I say, not as I do. . . As a Coach for Team in Training, I've given race advice to hundreds of participants. When people don't listen to the advice, they tend to have a bad day and they say that the day always starts out good with the thought (wow, I feel great, if I can keep this up I can go faster towards the end of the race and have a great day). Of course it never works that way. Even if you're having a great day with weather and conditions to run and things fall into place, going out too hard (and knowing it's too hard a pace) will cause other issues as well. But before I get to what went wrong with me, here's what the race course and day was like:

The race is run all on paved road on the inlet of Caumsett on Long Island. It consists of 10, 5K loops (10 * 5K = 50K = 31 miles). There are two small inclines that occur in the first two miles. One aid station is right at the start of each loop that has food and fluid, the second aid station with just fluid is about 1.25 miles later. The weather was much chillier than I was expecting. Starting temperature was about 28 degrees if that high with a wind chill in the teens. It may have gotten up to the mid 30s by the time I finished.

Here's what went wrong:
1) I was underdressed for the weather. I should have worn my thin tights and a slightly thicker t-shirt. I felt cold most of the day. While at some points I did feel a little hot, that changed at certain parts of the course where there was no tree cover and the headwind was chilly. I felt like my legs were frozen during the latter part of the race.
2) Nutrition wise, I screwed up. I assumed that they would have gels (it is a 50K USAT Championship event) at the aid station. They did not. Instead, they had cut up protein bars (CLIF builder, clif bars, Luna Bars, etc.). They had the sweet trail mix, bananas and oranges, pretzels and chips.

At the end of my fourth lap, I was starting to get hungry. The Generation UCAN I took an hour before the race worked, but would have worked longer if I was going slower. So towards the end of that fourth loop I knew I had to start getting in some carbs to trigger the sustained use of fat as energy. Unfortunately, no Gels. So I grabbed the cookies and cream and peanut butter Clif Builder Protein bars. Because it was cold, it was very hard to chew these bars and I probably didn’t chew them thoroughly enough before washing it down with water (I carried my hand held bottle the entire race). The fifth lap went ok but I was getting hungry again and took another two bars as well as a cup full of the trail mix. I finished the trail mix by the mile 1 marker of loop six. But after that point, the food just wasn't settling good and I would occasionally feel like I should throw up. Maybe I should have made myself go, but I just slowed down instead. Every time I tried to pick up the pace I would feel a little sick.

3) Pacing - all the problems probably still stem from this initial mistake. My goal pace in all honesty should have been an 8 minute mile and if I'm having a great day, I can lower that at the last 25-30% of the race. So I should have started off no faster than an 8-minute mile. I probably should have began at :30 or slower to feel out the course and properly warm up. But I just ran by feel and felt comfortable. The problem is I should have felt like I was going uncomfortably easy, rather than just a comfortable pace. My first 5K loop was completed at a 7:36 min/mile pace. Loop 2- 7:42, Loop 3 - 7:37, Loop 4 - 7:42. At any point during these loops I should have (and I did tell myself but didn't listen) just slowed down to an 8 minute mile pace or slower. But maybe, just maybe, this was the right pace for me and I could sustain it and go faster later on. Loop 5 - 7:54 (spent extra time getting food at the aid station).  Loop 6 - 8:06. Ok now I can tell my pace is suffering. Yes, maybe it is just energy related from the food but I could see the wheels starting to come undone. The future was not looking as bright. Loop 7 - 8:22, Loop 8 - 8:53. I was now walking parts of those uphills and just suffering in my own misery. I was feeling sick, tired, bored of this course, cold, hungry for real hot food, and pissed off at myself for feeling the way I do because it was a result of being stupid in my lack of sticking to a good race plan. There were points when I thought about just dropping. I got to the marathon mark in just under 3:30. I was happy with that, but pissed that I felt so terrible passing that 26.2 mile mark in the condition I felt. I should feel like I can now start to race the last 5 miles! It was just a race to the bottom.  Lap 9 - 9:25. Lap 10 - . . .Initially as I started the last lap I was going to do a lot of walking here. I started out refilling my water bottle right at the start of the lap and walked about 100 feet before starting to run again. When I got to the first hill, I walked it. Right after the aid station I met a guy named Jay who ran a number of ultras (5 or 6 Vermont 100s, an attempt at Leadville twice but DNFing due to altitude problems - he arrives Thursday for a Saturday race). So the talking we were doing, even though we walked half of the second hill really helped take my mind off my misery. He had one more loop to do compared to me and told me that I was making him go a little faster than he probably should be going at that point. And I told him I'd probably be walking if I wasn't running with him and having some good conversation. I think it is apparant to me that on some boring or long races, I do much, much better in spirit when I have a running buddy to help keep my mind from negative spiraling. So my last lap was 10:03 min/mile but it felt better than the prior two laps and would have been even slower if not for talking with Jay.

My overall time was 4:18:59. My time at the 25K mark was 1:59. The good news from this seemingly bad race? I learned once again to be smart. Stick to a plan, go slower in the beginning of when it's called for and make sure I have my own nutrition just in case.  Basically, this race was pretty much the same exact thing that happened to me on my first ultra experience 3+ years ago at the Knickerbocker 60K in Central Park; a 9-lap course all on pavement.  I started off that race at I think the same type of pace and I was doing 11 minute /miles at my slowest lap there.  So sometimes you have to take the hard way to remember those lessons that you know that you know!  As this was my first (and shortest) race of the year, I hope I got all the kinks out and my next races are going to be run as smoothly as possible, with only normal hardships one would expect in ultra-endurance events.

I think I'll come back and do the race again next year and do it smart and break 4 hours.