Monday, August 9, 2010

The Two Hour PR - Tales from Grand Ridge 50k

Trail runs and 50k's are a funny thing with respect to personal records (PRs) - the trail conditions, elevation gains, altitude and even distance can vary widely from race to race. But when you get a two hour PR on a trail 50k it's more than just a difference in course conditions - it's a reason to be proud.

Happy to be finishing!
Grand Ridge is one of my favorite parks to run - it's just outside Seattle so it has a bit of altitude and quite a bit of up-and-down and is really good single track.

The Grand Ridge Trail Run is put on by Evergreen Trail Runs. The 50k course consists of two loops with a double lollipop and an out-and-back to cover the distance. One aid station near the start of the out-and-back provided four stops while on course plus aid (and drop) at the halfway point (and finish).

From a "race" perspective I feel like I'm starting to nail down my plans headed into a long run like this - with what and how much to fuel, what gear to wear and carry, and how to pace early and late in the race. I was not at all nervous going into the race - after two marathons, one 50k and a four week training cycle in the nine previous weeks I knew I could cover the distance and was strong and ready for the run.

I had the following goals in the following order:

  1. Finish (iow "be safe")
  2. Finish under 7:00 (iow "have a fun race")
  3. Finish under 6:25:29 (checkout White River to know why I chose this time)
  4. Finish sub 6:00 (run really, really well for 30 miles)
I honestly had no idea how I'd do given my previous effort at Grey Rock but figured 6:15 - 6:25 was a reasonable time given that I'd run 11 1/2 miles out here at an 11:30 pace.

  • Gear - I chose my Inov-8 212s + Inov-8 Debris Gaiter 32s + Injinji Outdoor Toe Socks. This was the only tough decision I made as I'd not put a really long run in on the 212s and they are approaching minimalist shoes. But they are super comfortable and have great traction so I decided to start with them. I dropped my other shoes and extra socks at the halfway point but didn't need them during the race.

    I did spend some time pulling up my socks during the run so I need to look into that with the socks. But overall I had no feet problems especially compared to Grey Rock where I had blisters on every toe and the outside of my heels - nary a hot spot with this gear.

  • Fuel - stuck with Hammer Perpetuem for fluid and Clif Roks for solid fuel. Brought some Sport Beans. Took some light aid on course which mainly consisted of Clif Bloks. I carried one bottle which was slightly risky but this worked out great. I had extra perpetuem to refill on the 2nd & 4th trips through the aid station. Swapped out bottles at the halfway point rather than having to refill manually. Also had my fuel for the 2nd half ready to go so I could just grab and stash.

    The only problem (my own fault) was that I thought there was aid at the turnaround point which was not the case. First time through the out-and-back I was about 2/3 through my fluid so I had to be mindful and conserve on the way back. Not coincidentally this was probably the worst part of the run for me. I was able to plan better the second time through and made sure I drank water at the aid (v. just refilling) and topped off my bottle.

  • Training - going into Grey Rock I had run only about 15 miles of what I would consider trails. I was also coming off a good marathon effort just two weeks before and I had some tired legs. I did about 45 miles of trail running before Grand Ridge (which just about doubled the total amount of trails I've run!) and with help from Coach PRS started throwing in back-to-back long runs and great core work. So, I was stronger, better rested, and had done far more skill training than for my previous race.

  • Scouting - I cannot overstate how much difference this made. Sure, by the four loop we all know the lower loop of Grand Ridge like the back of our hands but having run out here several times I knew how the course would run. There was a bit of confusion about the route for some people but this was not an issue for me so I could focus on running versus having to worry about missing a turn. I also knew how rough the climb back up to the ridge on the out-and-back was so knew not to bust a move on the way out. VERY VALUABLE TO SCOUT THE ROUTES.

  • Pace - still working on this. I was a bit fast through aid #1 but held a really great pace on the out-and-back. Started to slow down coming into halfway and then was amazingly consistent through the second half. Overall I took what the trail and my legs gave me so I don't think I executed poorly but need to think about how to hold a consistent pace longer.

The Report
The race started a bit late as there were a lot of runners who had shown up - great, great turnout but more than expected. There were three races - five miles, half marathon and the 50k. The five milers would be on the same track until the out-and-back turn. The half marathon and 50k shared the full out-and-back but we turned for a 2nd loop at the end of the out-and-back while they headed for the finish. 50k was loop, out-and-back, loop, repeat.

Grand Ridge 50k Elevation Profile
I started near the middle so I would not take off out of the gate. I hit the single track behind a group of eight or so runners and was content to hang back and let the pace be dictated by this group. Near the top of the climb another runner and I got around a group of folks and settled in before the first downhill. I got clear on the downhill and caught up with a group ahead of me. As we started the uphills I hiked the uphill parts while others were running - and I lost no ground! Great learning lesson.

I came into aid #1 (~4.2 miles) at 45:17. I filled up my bottle (not sure I topped off thinking there was aid at the turnaround) and continued on. Those around me did not refuel (it's always interesting to note others' aid station usage) but I caught up soon enough. This part of the out-and-back is pretty flat / downhill and I had some legs here. One of the half marathoners broke off here and I stayed with him as we dropped the others. I ran with him through the out portion but took off after the turnaround. This was also the point where I realized that there was no aid at the turn so I would have to conserve my fluid. I'd been fueling ok to this point but took out the Roks so I'd have enough for the climb back up the ridge which in my estimation is the toughest part of the course - up, up, up with such varying terrain it's tough to get in a groove. I was alone this whole stretch save for meeting runners on the out part of the trail ("good job!" "good job!" "good job!").

The weather was great to this point - overcast and in the low 60s. It was humid though - Grand Ridge is all canopy - and by the time I got through aid #1 I was a sweaty mess. This really caused me no bother for the run other than having to mess with my shirt from time to time as it stuck to me. Just one of those things you have to deal with when you run for several hours at a time.

I came into aid #2 at 1:57:34 (~10.85) so was holding a pretty good pace (10:50 as it turns out!). I was totally guesstimating the mileage on course but figured sub 2:00 here was keeping me in the hunt for a sub 6:00 run. As I got through the aid three runners caught me. I took off and started the 2nd lower loop before the halfway point. This group caught me on the uphills of the lower loop as I started to loose a little steam (this part while the same elevation gain as the out-and-back ridge has longer flats and longer, hikeable hills). Once I got back to the downhill which takes you to the finish I recovered a bit (overtook a half marathoner on the way down) and came in pretty strong.

At some point after the turnaround my right sock had kind of started bothering me and felt like it was slipping. I'd stop briefly on hiking uphills to pull it up. I didn't feel any hot spots but considered if I'd change shoes or socks at the halfway point. Ultimately I decided not to - it was not bothering me other than being inconvenient. My shoes felt really good and I didn't want to have to swap out a pair of toe socks (note to self - bring non-toe socks for swaps next time).

Still feeling good at halfway!
I came into the halfway mark at 2:50:17 so was maintaining a 10:58 pace but had run the last ~4.7 miles at an 11:17 clip. I traded bottles, refilled my pockets with fuel, drank a couple of glasses of water and grabbed some grub at the aid station and then set back out for loop #2 (one thing I definitely try not to do is waste time at aid - learned this while doing centuries on the bike). I definitely was on my own for this portion - some half marathoners were still finishing but us 50k'ers were settling into our place in the long pace line. I had met only two of the leaders coming down so knew I was doing well in the field (not that I care that much - but it gives me something to occupy my brain). Saw some more runners as I made my way up but once I was into loop #3 on the lower trails I was by myself and would be for the next 4-5 miles.

Other than the occasional "sock pulling up" I had to deal with the entire race I had to loosen up my shoes a bit on this section as my feet swelled. The only part of me that hurt at all on the run was my right calf and shin (calf was sore coming in) and loosening my shoes helped relieve the pressure on the front of my shin. I popped a couple of electrolyte pills (I had no regimen on that this day - took them as I felt I needed them) and was good to go.

It also started raining at some point during the 2nd half - not sure when and since I was drenched in sweat anyway it didn't really matter. It was nice to clear some of the humidity out of the forest though.

I got to Aid #3 in 3:45:45 (~mile 19.7). The gal working this aid station was great and told me "wow you got here fast!" I thanked her for her optimism but knew I was at least eight minutes slower than the first time. I made sure to top off my bottle this time and drink some water. She joked for me to hurry up because she was getting wet in the rain and I was feeling good enough to reply "how inconvenient for you" in a friendly, if sarcastic, tone. I told her I'd see her soon and she told me it was 12:30 so I hollered "see you at 2:00" as I disappeared back into the trails.

I caught up to the two guys ahead of me enough to see them as we made our way up onto the ridge. I ended up stopping to loosen my shoe again in here as I was getting close which was good because I didn't want to pass them and feel pressured to push a pace. From here I started to see the leaders coming back - #1 at 4:04 and #2 at 4:07 (who was keenly interested in how much time he was back so I was glad I could report). By the time I got to the turnaround (4:27 so leaders were 46 minutes ahead of me!) I'd seen six runners in front of me so was pretty happy with that. Knowing I was in the top 10 was good fuel to push the last few miles home. The three in front of me were within 10 minutes and the next two behind were eight minutes back. We were all in our very long pace line.

The pack of runners at the start
On the first loop it was hard to tell the difference between half and 50k'ers. But with so few people meeting me on the way back I knew there was some confusion on course from the other runners (I had passed four runners on the 3rd lower loop that I knew were behind me and helped them out best I could). I certainly hoped everyone was ok but also was very happy I'd scouted and previewed the course so I didn't have to worry about this during the race.

As for the "back" portion I ran it as strongly as I could. This is the portion of the course that is up, up-up, flat, etc. so it's really hard to get a rhythm but I did what I could to run when it made sense and hike the rest of the ups. What kept me going here was something one of the other runners said after Grey Rock. I was saying I was so tired that "I was walking any uphill no matter how gradual it was" to which she told me "that's why you ran 8:19." I'm not sure that's entirely true but it was good enough to keep me moving during this stretch! I also was figuring that while I may not break 6:00 I was surely capable of running 6:15 which meant I'd have a two hour PR on my hands. So I certainly had enough motivation to keep me moving!

I got back to Aid #4 in 5:13:58 (~26.37 miles - w00t!) at 1:58 pm. Unfortunately the aid station was unmanned so I didn't get to quip that I had made my time as expected. I had slowed considerably during these two legs (13:17 miles to Aid #3, 13:14 on the out-and-back) but was running consistently and had not overdone it through this tough part of the course. At the turn getting back to the loop I found two runners (one of which was one of the two guys just ahead of me, another was a gal that had gotten lost on course) so as I ran past I told them how to make the turns coming up. Figuring I had just gained a place I took off now that I was moving downhill (and by "take off" I mean "run 11-12 minute miles). 

I sure was not hammering downhill like I had the first two times through this part of the loop but I remember thinking as I descended that I could not believe how great I felt at mile 28 or so. Nothing really hurt which was amazing. I had put a gap between myself and these two runners as I reached the bottom and started back up. I still had enough in me to run up and walk the two steep parts on this part of the loop and by the time I was turning back onto the ridgeline they were not in sight. I eased off a bit on this part which is a winding uphill (not steep but deceptively long) and walked on the steeper pitches. I kept my running legs moving best I could knowing I was about done. Once I hit the out-and-back junction I knew it was all downhill so I relaxed just a bit to enjoy the run to the finish.

Which is when I got passed. And I mean blown by. The gal who I was eight minutes ahead of at the turnaround was blazing. I said something like "wish my legs had what your do right now" and she said "I smell the finish!" It was pretty awesome actually - I felt really good and was moving pretty decent but she was flying. I tried to pace her on the downhill but I was right at the edge of "faceplant" speed so I backed off and took it a little easy on the winding downhill. She was of course gone in a hurry. 

Amazingly the .69 miles of flat fire road to the finish was about the toughest part of the race. Not sure what my pace was here but I was running well but man that was a long 6-7 minutes. The tough part about this stretch is it curves just enough that you don't see the finish until about 200 yards out. But I ran it in and crossed at 6:12:42. I ran the last leg at a 12:34 pace and was only six minutes slower than on loop one so was happy to finish strong.

The course preview said 5000' of elevation gain but I clocked 8400' on my watch. All I know is it was a lot and spread out and somewhere in the realm of "hilly."

THIS is what the end of a fun run looks like!
I hung around a bit - most of those ahead of me were gone already. I chatted with the gal who blazed by me and the other folks I'd been "running with" for six hours. This is the fun of ultras and trail runs - no big (and fairly mechanized) finish line. Roger and Yumay are great RDs and put on a good race. We chatted about feedback others had given about starting the various races at different times (I lobbied for no headphones - this was an issue on the first loop trying to pass people with their music too loud). One of my running buds Jen was there and had had a bad day so we caught up. I grabbed some food for the road, slugged some water, changed out of my sopping shirt, then hit the road.

Two days later I'm really happy with how I ran. I have not yet peaked on my endurance and need more strength for the hills later on in the race. My fueling and gear plan worked out well and my training coming in was right now. I am still recovering but don't feel anywhere like I did after my last three races so I'm adapting well to the long miles.

Give me a couple of more days of rest - but after that it's back to the training and on next to the Cle Elum 50k!


Erik said...

Congrats on the good run!

felog said...

Nice job on the PR! That elevation profile is sick.

Lisa said...

great race report!! Congratulations on an outstanding PR. You really ran a smart race.

Good luck in your next one!

@irun2befit said...

I'm jealous of your trail run, I can't seem to find anything like that near me.
Great job on the PR!

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Dawn said...

Awesome race report! I hear you about hiking the hills and not losing ground for doing so.
Sounds like a beautiful trail I'm really going to have to do one day. Love Love your finishing picture. Whatasmile:D

Dawn said...

And why are you not writing in this space anymore??

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