Author's note: for some reason, I am unable to upload photos on this blog currently. To read this recap with photos, go here.
My goal for this year’s Frosty 50k was to beat 4 hours. More specifically, I was trying to take an hour off my previous 50k PR (4:57:59) which was set at the same race last year. A 4 hour 50k calls for a 7:43 minute/mile pace over the course of 31.1 miles. Given my average marathon pace for the most recent couple of 26.2’s was in the low-7’s, I figured the pace would not be the problem. Not bonking on the last few miles was my main concern.
With the Frosty races (50k, 25k, and 50k relay options) being so close to home, many of my running friends often make it out to get in a nice ultra to start the year, or try their hand—er, feet—at tackling the ultra distance for the very first time, much as I did last year. So it was a very social event, albeit freezing at the start. Running the 25k were Dave Munger, Chris Joakim, John Richards, and Garry Fee. Running the relay were Allen Strickland, Laura Gray, Chris Lamperski, and one of their running friends. Running the 50k were veteran marathoner Bobby Aswell, Katie and Jason Rose (who met each other at this race two years earlier), veteran ultra-runners David Moore and Chad Randolph, ultra-newbies Kara Vincent and Johane Hirshfield (both of whom Chad was pacing), Mike Vance, and Emily Hansen, who had been running a heck of a season already with several marathons and halves within just a few months. Bobby had hoped to run a 4:00-4:05 today, so we informally planned to run together. Dave, who was out to get a good run in but not necessarily race all out, figured he would run at about our pace as well.It was very cold at the start, hovering around freezing with some cool air coming off of the lake. I was ready with my layers. I did some pre-hab drills with my running jacket on and shed it atop my drop bag a few minutes before the start. We would not feel the cold for very long. At the start, it took almost no time to settle into my mid-7’s pace. My tapered legs felt great, and the pre-ordained race pace was about the same as my regular easy-run training pace as of late, so I took off on auto-pilot for the first few miles. Bobby locked in with me, and Dave gradually pulled ahead.
Four hours is a long time when viewing it from the start of the race, so I just focused on setting a routine. Cut the tangents, keep drinking water, and eat a gel every 22 minutes. Since I was carrying my own water, I breezed through all of the aid stations, and Bobby only slowed down briefly to grab water cups on the go, so we maintained a 7:30 pace +/- 5 seconds for the entire first leg (12.5k, 7.75mi). Our split at the first leg was 58:11, nearly two minutes faster than a 4-hour pace. We maintained the same, consistent pace throughout the rest of the first half, save for a slightly slower mile 9 due to a switchbacked climb on the greenway. After passing through the Linville Road aid station at the far eastern side of the lake, I spied Dave ahead and within reach. He evidently had backed off of his low-7’s pace from the first few miles. We caught up with Dave at about mile 13, and he confirmed that it was taking some time for him to feel 100% after a recent running hiatus.
I pushed ahead (with Bobby not far behind) in order to bank a little time for a brief transition at the halfway point, which was the Start/Finish area for all of the races. The race clock showed 1:56 and change for the first 25k, so I had banked a good bit of time. I ran through the chute and immediately bee-lined for the facilities, after which I shed my gear vest and tech shirt, grabbed a fresh bottle from my drop bag, and hit the trail for round two. The race clock read exactly 2 hours as I started the second half. There goes all the banked time…
Bobby had continued on ahead while I made my stop, so I was accountable for my own pace now. The third leg went by much the same as the first, with continued even splits, and more ground made up on those ahead of me. With the 25k racers coming in to finish, the field ahead of me began to thin out. At about the 21-mile mark, I saw the 50k leader on his final inbound leg. With only about 6 miles to go, and looking as good as he was, I reckoned he was on his way to a potential course record. [Edit: Ethan Coffey did in fact set a new course record with a smoking time of 3:00:10!] He was dozens of minutes ahead of the next 50k racer. At the final turnaround, I saw that I was no longer that far behind Bobby. Allen, whose team had just handed off the baton to anchorman Lamperski, cheered us on, and then more subtly urged me to catch Bobby! We’ll see…
Starting my final leg, I cruised along the greenway keeping Bobby in sight, and gaining inches on him here and there. Dave was near the spillway at the 22/24 mile mark to cheer us on. Bobby was 100 feet ahead of me. “I’ll catch him,” I informed Dave. Climbing the switchbacked hill on the greenway, I made my way up to Bobby, and we ran a couple more miles together as before. At five miles from the finish, I glanced at my watch. So far I had run a marathon distance in 3:20 and still had gas in the tank. I figured that anything faster than 8 minute miles at this point was money in the bank. Nearing the last aid station at Linville Road (3.5 miles out), I started to pull away once more. I was feeling a bit worn down from 3 ½ hours of hard running, but I wasn’t bonking. Whenever I spotted Bobby across the fingers of the lake trail, I cheered him on. I passed a few more 50k’ers in the final few miles and low-geared my way up the final hill. From there, the last mile was an exercise in maintaining pace and finishing strong. I ran the last 200 at full stride and finished with a gun time of 3:56:43. Goal accomplished.
Bobby came in shortly after with a 3:58:11, also ahead of his goal. At the time I am writing this recap, the official results are yet to be posted online, but I’m fairly certain that both Bobby and I made the top ten finishers for 50k, and Bobby’s time is likely in the top three for course records in the grand masters’ division. [Edit: According to the results, I was 7th overall and Bobby was 8th overall among 156 50k racers.]
Shortly after Dave snapped some photos for us, I started to get hypothermic, so I layered up and started drinking hot chicken broth, which did the trick. I stuck around to cheer on all the other DART finishers, especially Kara and Johane, who were now officially ultra-marathoners, and Katie Rose, who set a 15+ minute PR with a sub-4:25 50k. It was a great day at Salem Lake. Now I have a respectable 50k PR to try and break next month at the Charlotte Ultra-Run.
Shoes: La Sportiva Vertical K: Low profile, and great traction and surprising cushion for a lightweight trail shoe.Socks: Smartwool full-length compression with Balega crew layered over. This worked at the NYE Half five days earlier, so I went with the same formula to repeated success.
Race clothing/layers: RaceReady compression shorts with pockets full of gels, Reckless Running Singlet, Umstead Marathon tech shirt, Manzella ear warmers, cotton gloves with chemical hand-warmers inside, Nathan arm warmers, and Nathan HPL 28 gear vest, also full of gels. I ditched the tech shirt, chem hand-warmers, and the Nathan vest at the half.
Hand-held hydration: I carried an Ultimate Direction 20oz handheld water bottle so I could breeze by the aid stations without stopping and take gels whenever I needed. I had a second bottle in my drop bag so I could switch out at the half and not have to worry about refilling.Nutrition: I’m fairly confident that I carb-loaded appropriately for this race, but what likely made the difference was the 10 gels I consumed at regular 22 minute intervals throughout the entire run. Honestly, I’m surprised I did not get sick. I went with a mix of Clif and GU, with about half of the gels being caffeinated.