Monday, February 4, 2013

Recap of Charlotte Ultra Run 50k

2013 has been a busy year so far.  It's 35 days into the new year and I have logged well over 300 miles of running, including two 50k's and a 13-mile trail race.  The last of these--the Charlotte Ultra Run 50k (CUR)--was two days ago.  I had to give myself a little time to think about this race in hindsight.  I learned a lot about myself as a runner from this race, and from the weeks leading up to it.
Exactly four weeks prior to CUR, I ran a very successful (according to my goals at the time) Frosty 50k at Salem Lake.  Logic, and most training plans would have it that I take three to four weeks to recover before resuming my regular training, or at least set up a modest recovery/taper pyramid if I had another upcoming race, as I did in the form of CUR.  I did neither of these things.  Instead, I ran my regular pace and mileage beginning the day after Frosty and resumed 20 and 30 mile runs the very next weekend.  Part of it was the fact that CUR was not a focus race, and that my real focus was keeping my training volume high for Umstead without interuptions from a taper/recovery cycle.  I also wanted to experiment a bit and see what I could do without a taper...ya know, to see if all this ultra marathon training was making me tougher, weaker, or some functional combination of the two.
With the early February weather placing the starting tempurature in the mid-twenties, I was glad the race HQ was at a Montessori school with a heated gymnasium.  I was also glad to have picked up all my new Reckless Running race gear and warm up clothes from Fam and Karen the night before.  Fam even lent me his RR arm warmers.
Keeping warm before the start.
CUR took place on Mallard Creek Greenway.  The course consisted of five out-and-back laps with a double turn-around spur near the 5k mark.  There also was a 10k race option that consisted of a single out-and-back on the course.  The pancake-flat course was built for speed. 40% of the surface was unpaved dirt road with some gravel, and the rest was smoothly paved asphalt.  There was water and food at the start/finish and the turn-around, as well as an additional water station about halfway down the path, so we were never more than 1.5 miles from water or aid.  In addition, medical personel were patroling the course on four-wheelers throughout the race.  One could get pampered at a race like this.
As with Frosty, I carried my own water and nutrition and resolved not to waste any time at the aid stations.  When the race began, a handful of people shot out ahead, most of whom I assumed were 10k'ers.  I fell in with a conversational group including last year's female champion Meg Hovis, Bill Shires (who was pacing Meg for much of the race), Jamaar Valentine, and ultra-running guru Jonathan Savage.  Savage could dust most of us if he wanted, but he had raced the mountainous Sultan 50k the previous week and logged over 100 miles of training runs in the brief interim.  He was on another level altogether, although I figured his cumulative training stress might give me a chance to keep him in check.  Soon enough, I realized I was getting caught up in the social front-running pack and establishing too quick of a pace.  I had to force myself to back off.  Jamaar and Savage did the same not long after me, because I caught up to them before we completed the first 10k. 
One more lap to go...
It was easy to get into a rhythm on this course because of its predictability, but this would prove to be a double-edged sword; I was too comfortable running too fast.  In fact, I ran much of the first half at a sub-7:20 pace.  I ate and hydrated at regular intervals and just let the miles pass by.  A couple of regretable restroom stops ate up a few minutes, but I was still on pace for a sub-4 hour 50k, which I guess was my goal.  February 2nd was an appropriate day for this race, because the repetative out-and-backs gave me a Groundhog Day kind of feel.  At 35k, I started to feel the fatigue coming on, and I tried to adjust my pace accordingly, but I could tell I was going to reep what I had sewn.
At the start/finish turn-around (40k), I was happy to hear a couple of familiar voices.  Heidi, my wife, was there to cheer me on, as was fellow ultra-running DARTer Chad Randolph.  With the race clock at 3:11:xx, I muttered that a sub-4 finish was going to be very hard as I passed by Chad.  10k at slightly sub-8 minute miles doesn't sound too hard unless you already have a hard 25 miles on your legs, which I did.  When I got to the 42k mark--which is about as close to a marathon split as the course markings had--I checked my time.  3:20:xx, about the same as my marathon split four weeks earlier at Frosty, but I was feeling a lot more broken down this time.  I think it was here that I started bargaining with myself, which is when paces start to spiral downhill.  I gritted my teeth through two more 8-minute miles and resolved to make it to the 5k mark (45k cumulative) before I walked.  90 seconds later, I started running again, but my 8-minute miles were over.  When I came to the 4k out mark, Savage ran by me, still on his outbound leg.  That meant he had 6k to go, and I had 4k.  Okay, at least I can keep Savage at bay.  Easy does it.  In those last 2 1/2 miles, I threw in two more one-minute walk breaks, but I would rather slog the last couple of miles and come across the finish line strong than drag myself across with a glazed-over facade for want of keeping up a plodding jog.
A bit battered, but finished.
I finished with an official time of 4:03:27, about 200 seconds slower than my goal.  But, I finished in the top ten (9th overall, 8th male), which was another informal goal.  Savage finished about five minutes later, still with an impressive 4:09:xx.  The man is a machine.
So what have I learned?  I learned I can be competitive at a fast 50k even in the midst of over-training, so I'm tougher than I thought...though still not as tough as Jonathan Savage...not even close.  I also have been thinking about this competitive monkey on my back I've been feeding for the past few months.  I've raced A LOT.  If I could channel that competitive energy into just training for Umstead, then I can stop worrying so much about running 100 miles and just know that it's there for me to take.

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