Fall 50 Door County 2011

I am very pleased with my performance at this year's Fall 50. I ended the day with a first-place finish and a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes and 52 seconds, which was a course record by over 38 minutes.

Preparation

I went into this race with a solid pre-race fuel plan in place. By “fuel plan” I basically mean I ate a lot more than I needed to in the days leading up to the race. I believe this aided in recovery over the final days of my taper, as well as storing a little extra energy for race day. I slept well the week leading up to the race, but I only slept 5 hours the night before the race. This was an hour longer than I had ever slept the night before a race of marathon distance or greater, so I was not concerned about lack of sleep. I have come to expect it, and understand it is more vital to sleep well the days leading up to the night before a race than on the night before a race itself. My race-day fuel plan consisted of a cream cheese bagel and Clif bar for breakfast (700 calories), approximately 170 ounces of sodium-enhanced gatorade and one strip of Clif shots (1200 calories). I was blessed with an awesome race crew that supplied me with nearly all of this fuel along the course.

Race

My thoughts about projected race pace were that if it was flat the whole way I could break 5 hours and 25 minutes (6 minutes and 30 seconds/mile pace). Upon careful analysis of the race elevation map I reassessed and decided that the rolling hills across the first 30 miles would make 5 hours and 30 minutes a more realistic goal time. The course had a point to point outlay and we had a slight head wind (meaning any wind would be in my face the entire way). I still wanted to get out fast, so I started at a 6:30 mile pace. I decided to not wear a satellite watch, so I planned on taking my splits every 2 miles.

As I approached the 2-mile marker I experienced a minor setback: My watch screen was blank. Apparently my battery had died sometime after the start. At this point a began to prepare myself on a pace based entirely on feel. When I rolled through the first aid stating at mile 4.8 I asked my crew if anyone had a running watch. They did not, but I caught a break when someone in a van of spectators overheard my request and provided me with a watch at about 6.2 miles. I began to take mile splits from mile 7 onward, going with my original plan of splitting every 2 miles.

My mindset was to only think about the first 20 miles at the start of the race. Wrapping your head around 50 miles can be very intimidating and often lead to frustration, worry and fear. I picked 20 miles because I have had a lot of training sessions in the 30-mile range and knew that if I had a positive outlook with 30 miles to go I would be able to mentally break down the remainder of the race. The first 20 miles were filled with rolling hills with one really steep climb at mile 12 with the wind at its strongest right in my face.

I came through mile 20 at a pace that was slightly faster than 6:30/mile. This was a good feeling, because it allowed me to focus on a distance I was quite familiar with, all while being ahead of pace. The next 5 miles really cruised. I crossed the halfway point at 2 hours and 41 minutes (on pace for a 5 hours and 22 minutes finish), and I crossed the marathon distance (26.2 miles) in a time of 2 hours and 49 minutes. I continued a pace of right around 6:30/mile for the next 4 miles before I encountered my first major low of the race.

At about mile 30 I started feeling pretty rough. I knew I needed a good dose of fuel and a strong mental outlook in order to power through this phase of the race. Fortunately, I was able to put down about 20 ounces of gatorade and a strip of Clif shots in a five-minute timeframe. I gutted out the next 4 miles trying not to think about the number of miles I had left—just under 20. Around mile 34 I began to feel optimistic again. A fresh feeling of energy and confidence began to lighten my legs. I coasted past part of my race crew at mile 35, grabbed a new bottle and began the final 15 miles of the race feeling confident about the pace and outcome.

When I went through the halfway point and entered the low point in my race, I kept telling myself that if I could maintain pace until mile 40 even if I slowed to a 7 minute/mile pace for the final 10 miles my time would still be close to 5 hours and 30 minutes. This mindset was encouraging, and was one of the mental strategies I effectively used during the race. As I approached mile 37 I began to get excited because I was starting to convince myself that slowing to a 7 minute/mile pace for the final 10 miles would be too conservative if I wanted to walk away from this racing feeling like I left it all on the course. I relished the thought of maintaining a sub 7:00/mile pace until mile 43. Basically, I maintained this mentality for the rest of the race. Each time I got 2 miles closer to the finish line I convinced myself I could go a little farther without slowing down. At mile 45 I checked my splits and had maintained approximately 6:45/mile pace for the previous 10 miles and was on pace to finish in under 5 hours and 27 minutes. At this point I just took it one mile at a time. I would pick out a landmark about 300 meters in the distance and just work on getting to it before picking a new landmark. This did wonders for making the final 5 miles not feel twice as long as they actually were. As mentioned earlier, I crossed the finish line in a time of 5 hours, 26 minutes and 52 seconds. I was thrilled, despite the grimace on my pace from the scorching leg pains I was experienced upon completion.

Reflection

Logistically, I couldn't ask for a better race. I only had to break stride three times. Twice to use the bathroom (once for each kind), and once to fill my bottle and grab some Clif shots. This was mainly due to my superb support crew who kept the fuel coming and the optimism high. I easily saved 3 minutes because of their hard work and support. My original plan was to run JFK 50 in 4 weeks, but I am trying to be smart about recovery, so I will take the next few days to see where my legs are at before I fully commit to the trip out east. If I don't race JFK 50 I will certainly get out for another bout with ultra distance racing before the close of 2011. Stay tuned for more stories of training, racing and ultra running philosophy!!!