Friday, January 11, 2013

Recover from the Holidays 50K

Training has been going pretty well recently.  After a decent race at the Blues Cruise 50K in October, I was able to recover quickly and build up my mileage; I ran just over 500 miles between Thanksgiving and the new year, with a few decent if unspectacular workouts mixed in.  This stretch of solid training gave me some confidence heading into the Recover from the Holidays 50K last weekend.

The RFTH is a fat ass-style event hosted by Pete Colaizzo and Charlie Sprauer of the Mid Hudson Road Runners.  The course is ten laps of a 5K paved out-and-back with two short climbs.  It's been held the first Saturday in January for the past 18 years and is a great test of early-season fitness in a nice low-key, low-intensity setting.  In 2011 I ran 3:53 for the win, which set me up for a pretty successful first half of the year.  This year I thought I could run closer to 3:45, maybe even under 3:40 if everything broke well.

Things didn't start well though, as I wound up stuck with a shift at the hospital Friday night which I couldn't get out of. The shift ended at 3am and I was finished with my work around 4, so rather than drive home and then back to Dutchess County just a few hours later, I grabbed one of the unused OB/GYN call rooms and snuck about two and a half hours' sleep. Not an ideal race prep! But by the time we lined up for the 9 am start I was feeling more awake than asleep, at least.

I took the lead immediately at the start and knew within two minutes that unless I completely crashed, I'd be able to secure a win; the only person with me was my friend Ian, owner of the excellent specialty store Finger Lakes Running Company. Ian was in town on business and was staying at my house for the weekend; I knew he was only planning on two laps and that I'd be on my own pretty soon. By the time we reached the halfway point of lap 1, we already had close to a minute on the chase pack.

Look out!  Heel strike!
Photo: Bob Kopac

My initial plan was to run 22:00 per 5K lap, which works out to a 3:40; this seemed pretty reasonable. Ian was feeling good though and we fell into a nice tempo while we chatted, coming through 5K in 21:30. No panic, but I made a conscious decision to try to slow down on lap 2. Didn't work: 21 flat. Ian was nice enough to tack on a third loop, and we came through the 15K after another 21:30 in 64 minutes, two minutes ahead of schedule.

Photo: Bob Kopac

As Ian peeled off, I let myself ease off the gas a bit and settled into what felt like a nice sustainable tempo. If I could find 22 minutes now, and settle into a rhythm, I'd be set. I was definitely feeling good, though, because the laps just kept coming in the 20:45-21:30 range. The second 15K was a 1:03, good for a 2:07 30K split, a full five minutes ahead of 3:40 pace. By the middle of lap seven, though, I was starting to feel a bit of strain, and knew that my effortless day was about to get much more difficult.

People think an ultra on a multi-loop course is boring, or demoralizing, and though it can get repetitious, I kind of like it. Laps make it very easy to find your rhythm and gauge your progress. Mentally it can actually feel easier to run a lap course; rather than think about how long you have to go, it's much easier to focus on each lap individually. You can do this on a single-loop or point-to-point course as well--"Just get to the next aid station"--but it's very comforting to know exactly how long each lap is and how far you have to go at all times. The out-and-back made this even easier, with the added benefit of being able to track the progress the competition.

By the start of lap 7 I had about 15 minutes on second place and nearly 20 minutes on third. I didn't know either runner, but both looked pretty strong, and they were both still on pace to run close to, or under, four hours, an excellent time. At this point I started playing some mental games to try to keep myself focused on the pace. By now I was committed to holding 21:00-21:30 per lap for as long as I could. I drew motivation from the prospect of my iPod. I wouldn't turn it on, I promised myself, until either I ran a lap over 22 minutes, or I had lapped second and third place.

Ten minutes later I lapped third, starting to strain a bit but still feeling pretty smooth. Another 21:15.  Lap eight, 40K, almost a marathon now. Tightening a bit, but still strong; another 21:15. Finishing up the eighth lap I saw second place resting at the aid station for a few minutes and breathed a sigh of relief. I was finally able to fire up the iPod.

Starting to feel it a bit.
Photo: Bob Kopac
Over the final two laps I started to struggle, especially on the hills, which were not terribly long but after the eighth or ninth time through were getting pretty annoying.  My ninth lap was my slowest of the race (only by about 20 seconds or so) and, powered by Springsteen's "Better Days" and Titus Andonicus' "Ecce Homo" over the final circuit, I finished with a 21:30  for a 3:32:08, sixth-fastest in race history.

Overall I was very pleased, holding extremely even splits (1:45:45/1:46:23) during a basically solo effort on limited sleep and taking in just three GUs over the course of the race.  All in all, a great start to the season and a solid confidence-booster for my next race, the USATF 50K Championships at Caumsett Park in March.

Much thanks to Pete and Charlie for a great event.  Not many folks would give up a Saturday to take splits in the cold for a free fat-ass race every January for 18 years.  This is a great event to have on the local calendar.  Only 16 finishers of the full distance this year (about the norm), but over 100 people showed up to run at least a couple of laps and get their weekend long run in.  Also thanks to Jason Bellamy, who again provided long-sleeve t-shirts to all finishers--a nice perk for a race with no entry fee!