Monday, March 30, 2015

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile- 3 Days at Syllamo Stage Race- Back to Back Race Weekend Report

Dr Studly Brooks, Hot Stuff Hoyes, Myself, Wonderboy Breeden
I was pretty thrilled when I found out that the Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile Trail Run would actually take place on the road this year. The incredible amount of snow and rain had made the course impossible to conduct a race on and the number of runners participating in the race would have destroyed the trails. Last year the course was in rough shape with ankle deep mud for miles upon miles. The prospect of repeating last years experience left me less than thrilled, but with the course now on a beautiful stretch of road/running paths in the woods at LBL I was happily anticipating my 9th LBL race in as many years.

A road 50 miler meant less wear and tear on the body. I had a race the following weekend and I needed to recover as quickly as possible. I was also excited at the chance for a new 50 mile PR. The road course at LBL was TOUGH though and it rained the whole day. The normal 50 mile route on trails is not technical and it holds about 4000' of climbing. The actual distance of the trail route on my Garmin usually comes out to about 48 miles. The road route was a longer distance of 52 miles and the road course had more elevation gain than the trail route at 4800'! My previous 50 mile PR of 6:25 would be tough to beat with extra climbing and extra mileage. I wasn't concerned about the upcoming race just 6 days after LBL. I wanted to test the limits. Through experience, I've found sometimes to expect the unexpected. I was feeling strong.

I started the first lap at a pace I felt comfortably uncomfortable with. Ha! I was running with my friend Matt Hoyes chatting and passing the time. Matt usually starts in front of me but I felt strong and steady running with him so I stayed put. Matt would push on the frequent climbs and I would catch him on the descents. With so many friends out on the course the time passed quickly cheering one another on.

Matt and I completed our second lap in 3 hours and 11 minutes which was right at marathon distance. At that point in the race we were in 1st and 2nd place. There were a lot of guys close on heels, but no one was gaining any distance that we could notice. Matt was pushing the pace hard enough that I once again thought that this might be his day. We took turns pulling the lead, and when I was in front, I made sure to push a little extra just to show that I was feeling peppy too. When he was in front, I was trying my hardest to stay on his tail. We were punishing each other pretty good and I was loving every minute of it! I knew the road course put the advantage in Matt's court as his leg speed is really strong on the road, but my endurance/stamina is good. I was hoping that one of us would pull out the win that day. We laughed at our buddy Scott Breeden flying around the 60K course at ridiculous speeds with a giant grin on his face. I was happy to see Ron Brooks pacing himself well in his first 50 mile attempt. I pegged Ron a contender for a podium spot in his first 50 if he ran smart and fueled well. He was keeping somewhat even splits with Matt and I most of the first few laps.

Halfway through the 3rd of 4 laps, Wes Trueblood came in like a hurricane upon Matt and I. He passed us on a climb and he was cramping badly. I was already giving it 100% when Matt and I were sharing the lead, but I found extra will to run with Wes and not let him get too far. I REALLY wanted the win that day. I've come in 2nd place too many times at LBL to count. Wes and wonderboy Scott Breeden train together in Indiana so I figured he might be strong on the day. When Wes passed me, he was cramping and his formed looked a little rough but man was he a FIGHTER! He put a gap on me of at least 60 seconds but I fought to not let him get too far. I honestly didn't think he could hold his pace because his limp from the cramps looked so drastic. He was running SMART though. He took some electrolytes at the next aid station and continued to pull the lead. In the process of chasing down Wes on that 3rd lap, I somehow lost sight of Matt whom I figured would be right there in the mix. My lap splits were still within minutes of the first lap so I was happy that I was holding my "suicide" pace without falter. 

I hit mile 50 and had mixed feelings. I was really happy that I met my goal of finally running 50 miles in under 6 hours and 20 minutes. I hit mile 50 in 6:18. The course was long though and so I still had two miles to go. I was chasing down Wes up front but couldn't see him. With only two miles to go I knew he'd take it and I'd be 2nd. I crossed the finish line in 2nd place in 6 hours and 32 minutes. I was happy my body felt so great and had such a strong race. I ran the fastest 50 mile split I've ever done, and it was in a downpour after having a very busy and hectic race schedule the past two years. I was disappointed that the course was long. My official time was 6:32, but the most important thing was that I felt so strong after having such a good year. 

I raced like there was no tomorrow and I didn't concern myself with the stage race taking place the following week.

Immediately upon finishing I started recovery for the stage race which was scheduled to begin on the following Friday. My mind was focused, clean, and driven. I ate as much as I could and relaxed. 

The following week I monitored every calorie that went in to my body and made sure to get in extra calories. It felt funny to carb load two weeks in a row, but on the second week I was also getting extra protein to aid in recovery for Syllamo. 

Stephanie and I left for the Syllamo Stage Race on Thursday and I was in a great frame of mind. I wasn't anxious or stressed about the race. I wasn't worried about performance. I planned on pushing myself 100% each day, and after such a successful year I wasn't concerned about results. I just wanted to run in the mountains for a few days with friends.

Typically, I would pace myself in a stage race, but I wanted to see what I was capable of. The fact that I ran a 50 mile PR effort the week before didn't deter me. Even though I was not in to top form, I wanted to challenge myself and enter into a depraved state.

The first race was on Friday. It was 50k (that's 32 miles roughly.) The course claims 10,000' of climbing which is quite an exaggeration. It's probably closer to 6000' but it's still the most technical and mountainous 50k I've run. Most of the trails were off camber and footing was tricky.

I started with fury and tried to push hard on the first climb. I ran in the lead pack the first mile or so but my legs felt heavy and tired. I pushed harder and the lead pack pulled away from me. I realized I couldn't run THEIR race and I had a long three days ahead of me. I needed to run comfortably. I found a more comfortable pace early on and found myself alone just behind the lead pack, but far ahead of the other racers. I looked around and enjoyed the beauty of the mountains. I was shocked how diverse the terrain was. The ecology resembled much larger ranges and I was in heaven just being out in the mountains on a gorgeous warm sunny day. I even had time to decide to direct a new trail race this summer at Bernheim! I made the commitment to restart the Bernheim Trail Marathon while out enjoying the trails of the Ozarks. 
Coming into the second aid station I was informed that the lead pack was only a minute or so ahead of me. This was GREAT news. I was running easy and comfortably and the fact that the lead pack was so close meant that I would soon be with them. I knew I had the capacity to really push the pace in the final half. 

A few miles before the halfway point I was running with the lead guy. I took the lead at the turnaround and started pushing immediately. 

I opened a gap and I was thrilled to be feeling so good. I wasn't in a world of pain. I was feeling good and I was running because I genuinely wanted nothing more than to be out there in the mountains running up and over ridges and hollows in the Ozarks. The course was an out and back which always makes it fun to cheer on the runners heading out the other way. I gradually saw my friends heading towards the out and back. Mark Linn, Maddy Blue, Andrew Borst, Daniel Maddox. Every looked great! 

I grabbed my iPod from Stephanie and took my time at the aid station. I was truly enjoying each mile and I felt like I wanted to push even harder. I was almost disappointed to make the final descent to the finish line since I was really enjoying the course. Usually when leading, the finish can't come soon enough! Ha! 

I crossed the line in 1st place overall in 4 hours and 33 minutes. I ran an exact even split. My split at the halfway point was 2:16. I would say it was one of my stronger 50k runs and I can't believe it happened only six days after my LBL 50 run!

I felt good afterwards and began refueling immediately for stage 2 on Saturday choking down as many carbs as possible. It was a blast hanging in the sunshine, feeling great about how the body responded, all while watching many friends come in and finish.

Saturday mornings 50 mile run started early at 6 a.m. It was dark and foggy. I felt fresh and ready to tackle the first ascent. I was pretty shocked how good I felt after the adrenaline surge from the previous day. I led the way from the start and the miles ticked away effortlessly and I wondered when someone would make a move.

We followed the flags to the first aid station which wasn't until ten miles into the race. Descending down to the road I was glad we were right on schedule coming in. When we arrived at the aid station, the workers informed us we were at the wrong aid station. "How could this be?!?!" We followed flags all the way from the start! I asked if there was any way maybe they were at the wrong spot? Confusion ensued. More runners started showing up. 

We realized we had somehow missed a turn in the opening mile of the race. We were TEN miles off course! The flags we were following made this fact even more confusing! I quickly realized my chance for winning the day was DONE. This also meant my chance for winning the stage race was done. I felt FANTASTIC physically but my chances were blown. What a bummer. I told the other runners we only had ONE option. We HAD to go back to the start and restart the course. I yelled, as cheerily and positively as I could, "OK! Who wants to get in 70 miles today! It will be fine, we'll go slower and still get in a finish!" Come on!" No one budged though except Andy. They decided to run what they felt like to get in their 50 miles for the day. They continued to follow the flags out, and then run back the same way they came out. That wasn't the race course though.

Just running 50 miles anywhere you see fit doesn't count as finishing the race. The elevation is different, the terrain is different, etc. What is the entire purpose of a race?! Unless you run the course, you deserve a DNF. Is it unfortunate? YES. It sucks! It's heartbreaking! But to run an alternate course and claim you finished is not the truth. If you take away the risk of failure, you take away the reward in accomplishing something! We aren't entitled to say we finished just because we're too weak to accept that we failed. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We need to accept that sometimes we try and fail. Don't be scared of that. Have faith in your ability to be truly strong. To finish a race, all runners must run the same course. Anything else is just a training run. We only had one option, and that was to try to get back to where we went off course and try to start over. Andrew Borst was in agreement with me, and of all the runners that went off course, he was the only one who tried to go back to the start line with me.

In a rather positive mood considering our bad luck we talked about running and racing on our way back to the start. While crossing a road we saw a truck with some volunteers and we chatted briefly and told them our plans. Somehow, this messed up my directional senses again and went another 6 miles off course. Unbelievable!

Syllamo Gang sans Stephanie! 

Eventually we made it back to the start and found the turn we had missed. It was marked. I just missed it in the early morning light. A lot of people wanted to debate the quality of the course markings, the lack of course markings, the lack of reflective tape and ground markings since it was a dark start. The fact is that regardless of the quality of the markings, this course has a reputation for being incredibly minimal in its markings. We all knew this going into it. We still missed a marked turn. It had taken us approximately 5 hours to get back to the starting line. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 14 to meet Stephanie I had already run 40 miles and I still had 36 to go. The aid station had been broken down and everyone and everything were gone. There was no way I could make the time cuts. I called it a day and headed back to the start line. The race director and I had previously chatted briefly and came to the conclusion that unless someone ran the course their time shouldn't count. In the end, this was overturned. People who crossed the line were allowed to keep their times and were credited with a finish. It was just an unfortunate situation. I suppose I should have just ran another 10 miles that day and crossed the line? No. I was fine with a DNF on principle.  The course was very pretty though, the camaraderie was good and the night was still very fun. Even amid all this I was in good spirits and enjoyed the bluegrass concert they had at the start finish line that night. The event really is quite fun.

Day 3 was a half marathon and I was pretty fired up from the day before. I planned on giving it everything I had. I was only strong enough to finish in 2nd place among the stage runners, 3 minutes behind a strong German, and 4th overall. (There were 2 runners who just raced the half marathon on Sunday.) I couldn't have been happier with how powerful I felt after all the racing I had done in the past week. I had a blast hanging with my friends over the weekend and enjoyed the experience overall.

Now it's rest and recovery time. A few weeks off before training starts for the Western States 100 which takes place in late June.