It was a day for Course Records and PR’s! This year Max King had a 3:35:42 finish, setting a new course record by four and a half minutes. Temperatures in the upper 40s Fahrenheit, overcast skies, no precipitation, and tacky trails made ideal conditions. I ran the course with a 6:33:55 finish, setting a new PR by 54 minutes! If you have to run in the windy weather, it’s not too often that you only contend with a tailwind. But, I definitely enjoyed the boost that I received when the wind blew on my back for the last leg of the course. It was a great day for racing with only four participants with a DNF.
In the endurance sport like a 50K race, a catch-22 situation for amateurs is the issue of going too fast too early. You want to go fast to keep up with your goal pace, but if you go too fast too early you will pay for it at the end of the race by not having enough stamina to finish strong. This catch-22 is also referred to as the “too early too fast danger” in endurance sports. Elite athletes train hard to address this factor and are able to use their experience to cope with the stamina factor, rendering the catch-22 situation less of a detrimental threat. I fall into the amateur ultra runner category, and consider myself a beginner with three 50K races under my belt now. My stamina level for a 50K race is like a jig-saw puzzle without the corner pieces in place yet. But, I know in time, I will have a good framework in place for my racing experience.
What was my game plan? I decided not to monitor my pace or times this year. Just let my training carry me through the course. I decided to monitor my nutrition and timing of nutritional intake as close to schedule as possible. I monitored both course times and nutritional times during my training runs; but I wanted to free myself up as much as possible from things that would hold me back on race day. So, I only wrote down my timed intervals for when I would refuel, and I kept the timed list in my pocket as I ran the race. However, I found it interesting that I did not once refer to this list during the race. Apparently, with that singular focus on my nutritional timing it simplified things enough that I was able to glance at my watch throughout the race and keep track of when to refuel. My fueling never got out of control and I did not make the mistake I did last year by neglecting my nutrition. I actually felt strong and nutritionally vibrant all the way to the finish line this year. As I reflect back on things, I feel my game plan was successful and I will be able to fine-tune this strategy to incorporate other simplified factors in my game plan for future races.
In the course of the race, I reached the midway point in three hours. I wondered if the midway timer was working correctly. I was a good 15 minutes ahead in my quick calculations of where I should be. I felt good about my perception on how the race was going for me and it spurred me on as I continued along the Lost Lake Trail. This section of the course is where I was able to pick up my pace and the terrain is less technical, which allows for the opportunity to maintain a consistent running pace.
As I drew closer towards the end of the Lost Lake trail, the hills became more challenging to me. It was at this section of the course last year that devastated my overall race pace. This year was a much better race for me. The same hills that handicapped me last year felt easier for me to ascend this year. I noticed that I was making better time than some of the other runners on the hills. I could see that I was shortening the distance between myself and those walking the hills ahead of me. These types of gains spurred me on as I pushed through the mental challenges of this endurance event. While my muscles appreciated the short breaks that I gave them along the way, the monster of acids taking over my muscles resulting in fatigue was still the inevitable enemy to conquer on the course ahead.
Fatigue prominently showed its ugly head when I ascended Chinscraper/Double Black Diamond trail and began my descent down the mountain. This is the steepest section of the course that required me to power hike the majority of the 1.1 mile stretch. After cresting the summit, I looked forward to some downhill running. I have acquired the technique of opening up on downhill runs, but my breathing became labored and I knew that my heart rate drastically increased. I made the decision to slow down my downhill pace, and it wasn’t too long after this decrease that others started to overtake me and pass by me. I knew that this more conservative approach with my heart rate would reserve some heart beats for the 6 mile stretch that lie ahead leading to the finish line.
The final aid station is located at the base of the mountain at the Fragrance Lake trailhead. When I reached this station, I did a quick mental/body/system check. How was I feeling? I realized the muscle cramping indicators were beginning to show-up. I wasn’t cramping yet, but I knew that somewhere along the 6.5 mile home stretch, I would most likely feel the impairing cramps in my hamstrings. So, I asked for salt or sodium capsules from the volunteers, grabbed some Red Vines, refilled my water bottle and was off running again. I purposely started out at a very slow pace. I mentally knew that I could easily poise myself for a quicker pace down the trail but wanted to make sure that I had the capability to do so especially during the final couple of miles. Some of the more athletic runners were beginning to pass me. I stuck to my plan and kept my pace under control. When I did a time check, I realized that I was a good 5 – 10 minutes ahead of my estimated finish time. I had a scheduled rendezvous with my wife, daughter and friends at different points between the last 3 miles of the course. I calculated that I would pass these points outside the window of time I’d given them, so I decided to incorporate some intervals of recovery walks and slow jogging paces. Hindsight on this decision tells me that I would have been better off if I didn’t have to slow down. The walking segments slowed my circulation and oxygenation rate down and this allowed the acids to capacitate my muscle stores. Fatigue is the only option at that point. Note to self: if I would have scheduled each rendezvous with a wider window of time, I could have kept my pace and not slowed down and would have been better off. I still made sure I thanked my friends and family for supporting me during those last couple miles. I finished strong and felt elated with finishing close to one hour before my previous year’s time.
I know now what I can do for next year to make the same kind of gains and improvements. Every race teaches me something new, and the 2014 Chuckanut 50k definitely taught me a few lessons. If you are an endurance athlete who races, what do you do to improve your running and finishing times?