USATF 50 Mile National Championships: Fall 50
This year's 50-mile road championships was an event I had been looking forward to for a variety of reasons. First, when I ran the event last year, I wandered off course because a sign was removed, as well as my own negligenace. Given that the race was four weeks before the World 100k Champhionships, I made the decision to end my day early, after 50 kilometers of running, rather than push well past 50 miles just for a finish. I love the course that RD Sean Ryan has created, and I felt strong and consistent, so it was a bit of disappointment not to be able to see a result. So I was eager to correct my error from last year.
This year, the World 100k Championships came before the Fall 50. Ironically enough, that event ended prematurely for me. I felt fitter than ever going into Worlds, so I was hoping to translate that fitness earned over the summer into a solid race. Fall 50 would be my next chance.
And finally, I hadn't been back to Wisconsin since moving to California this summer, so it was equally great to see family and friends.
The intriguing aspect about this course is that it is a point-to-point course that begins at the tip of the peninsula on Wisconsin's Northeast in Gills Rock. The course winds its way down the peninsula through the small touristy towns and Peninsula State Park, which are vacation and summer home destinations for people around the world. Fall in the Midwest is one of the best times of year, with the cooler temps and colorful leaves on the trees.
This year posed to be a bit more difficult as far as weather was concerned. Rain was predicted for the whole day and a strong headwind spanned the peninsula, so I knew it would be a slower course than previous years. Based on my training, I estimated that on a flat course with great weather I could probably run a shade under five hours (just an estimation on my part, of course). Knowing the course and area well, I knew that, for me, this course was probably not typically a sub-five-hour course, but I estimated that I could probably get close on a great day. My pre-race thoughts were around 5:05-5:08. The course is fast, but far from flat. The rolling hills can slow you a bit, and if there is a headwind you will have a bit of extra work to do as it will be with you all day.
After doing a brief warm up, and considering the weather, I recognized that due to conditions the previously mentioned efforts would probably translate closer to 5:15. Knowing this allowed me to plan on seeing slightly slower paces than what my body would indicate by feel.
With that said, the day started off with an honest clip. Tyler Sigl and I moved through the first couple miles at approximately 6:00 per mile (see my Strava data). It felt very effortless, which was a great sign! In training, I had been focusing a lot more on flat and downhill running, and less so on uphill running. This made it ideal for me to push on the flats and downs and be more conservative on the climbs. I knew from my prior training data that if I pushed on the ups it would substantially elevate my heart rate as compared to exerting an equal amount of effort on the flats and downs. I used this information religiously throughout the first half of the race. Tyler would often gap me on the uphill portions, which I was fine with, but always kept him in sight as I didn't want to lose contact either.
The first 20 miles were cruisers. Tyler and I chatted a bit and got bombarded by one really heavy downpour a little less than an hour into the race. For me, I like to compartmentalize races into segments. The compartmentalization affects me differently mentally from spot to spot. For whatever reason, I have always gotten a boost of energy and excitment about the completing the segment through Peninsula State Park (approx. six miles) and heading into the small town of Fish Creek. Perhaps it is a bit of an adrenaline boost from the downhill and flat portions near the end of the park.
At mile 22 I was curious as to how Tyler was feeling, and equally as curious as to what I was capable of. With nearly half the race behind me I decided to push the pace a bit to see how my body responded. I didn't realize it at the time, but in doing so I clipped off the 23rd mile in 5:42 (flat sections) and followed it up with a 5:55 for the 24th mile (slight uphill near the end). I had seperated from Tyler a bit after this mini surge and I didn't feel any worse for the wear, so was really excited to see what I could run.
As I moved through the halfway point in approx. 2:35 and the marathon in 2:41, I began to do some mental math and estimate finishing times. My first thought was that on this course if you run a smart race you can even--or possibly negative--splits as the majority of the hills are in the first 30 miles. This got me thinnking that if all went really well going forward I could maybe flirt with a 5:10 finishing time. The thought of PRing on a day like today on this course was really motivating.
Still feeling relatively good, I would glance at my watch from time to time to see if my pace was drastically falling off from the wind. I was encouraged that, although it had slowed, I was still managing to hit paces around 6:20 per mile.
Nearing mile 30, the course opens up quite a bit as you head down the wide country highways of Door County. This is usually a nice change of pace, but on this day it presented a challenge. In the first half of the race the strong headwinds (estimated to be between 15-25 mph) were at least partly sheltered by the treeline on either side of the road, and only posed a noticeable deterrent on the more open sections along the bay. With the open areas ahead, the wind was able to flex its full strength. I definitely noticed the additional resistance heading into this portion of the race.
The course still had one challenge I had not yet experienced. Last year a slight route change in order to accommodate traffic and parking was made. This change presented a nice little uphill climb at about mile 39 leading into mile 40. I knew this would be a good test of how I was feeling. With climbing being my biggest weakness, and the relative location of when this hill came, it seemed to be an intriguing challenge. Lots of times the mile 40 mark can be when you have to really dig deep for that final push. Throwing an obsticle in at the same time could be an indicator of how you will mentally and physically be able to move through the final stretch. Fortunately for me I felt very light and smooth moving up the climb and reached the top exicited!
After reaching the top I headed into the second-to-last aid station, where my incredible crew and family continued to make the transitions effortless from checkpoint to checkpoint. My fueling strategy all day consisted of my sister, Beth, handing me a newly filled Orange Mud 20oz bottle consisting of 8oz of Mountain Dew, 8 oz of Gatorade, half a scoop of Extreme Endurance Hydro-X, and half a Vespa CV-25. It was incredibly efficient as I was wearing the Orange Mud Single Barrel HydraQuiver, so I would quite literaly toss the old bottle and grab the new one without breaking stride. I tend to be wary about tying hydration to calories, but it is one less thing to worry about when you can kill two birds with one stone.
Heading into the final aid station just after 45 miles felt great! The damp, windy environment was starting to take its toll, but I knew once I got through the final aid station I would start feeling the finish line heading into Sturgeon Bay. The final miles were pretty stereotypical. I focused on one at a time and got a little boost everytime I saw one of Sean Ryan's classic Fall 50 mile markers.
I crossed the finish line in 5:17:25, which was good for a course record, breaking my previous CR by nine minutes. Knowing the weather was much more difficult to when I ran 5:26:52 in 2011 and that the course had taken on an addtional climb, I was thrilled. In a sport where you spend so much time and energy trying to improve, there is very little more motivating than seeing actual progress. It was also gratifying to know that the work I put in this summer didn't all end up on the streets of Windschoten with that DNF.
I can't thank Sean Ryan enough for all the logistical measures he takes to put this event on and keep everyone in a great mood. With the relay and post-race party, he has definitely create a unique environment that is an absolute blast! The workers and volunteers were fantastic, and I was really happy to get to talk to many of them before and after the race. My family and crew were spot-on as always. I couldn't ask for better support.
Camille Herron, the women's champion and World 100k Champhion from earlier this year came blazing in with a time of 5:38:41. This time is actually a world best--and in less-than-ideal conditions, no less. Unfortunately, it won't count as such because the course is point to point (even though the course has a net uphill and this year had a strong headwind). Nevertheless, everyone who saw Camille navigate the damp environment and churn out sub-7-minute mile after sub-7-minute mile knows how great of a race this was. The only other performance I have ever witnessed that I consider as impressive as Camille's day in Door County was Max King at World 100k last year, where he clipped off lap after lap and eventually broke the American Record for the 100k.
Check out the course profile and in-depth analysis of my splits by visiting my Strava account!
- Altra Footwear - One2.5
- Altra Running Race Singlet
- Orange Mud HydraQuiver (single barrel)
- Drymax Running Lite-Mesh
- Athletics8 Compression Shorts