Thursday, January 8, 2015

Race Report: Recover from the Holidays 50K

Looking UGLY at the beer mile finish.
Photo: Mark Eisenhandler
Ack!  Haven't blogged in a month.  I've been thinking about blogging a lot, though; "New blog post" has been on my to-do list for several weeks now.  I wanted to throw up a post (haha, I just saw that pun while I was re-reading this, now I'm totally leaving that in there) about our recent beer mile, but there wasn't much news to report: I was sick, felt terrible the whole way, blew chunks at the 1200 mark and wound up running the extra lap, coming in DFL in 16:31.  A really horrendous showing.  The four-man race was won by Dr. Mike in 8:05, pretty excellent for a debut beer mile!

I had one last race in 2014 after the Wagathon, which was the Rockland XC Alumni Race, a 3-mile cross-country race I've run every year since 1993.  This turned out to be a big year, as my CHSN Rams won our record ninth men's team title.  But I also maintain the blog/website for that race, so just go there to check it out.  It's a fantastic race with a great tradition that I've tried to capture/enhance with my site.  But it didn't seem to make sense to post about it here too.

2014 Alumni Run Champs!
Photo: Brian Marks

I have some really exciting sponsorship news as well, which is going to be popping up on the blog in the next few days.  And believe it or not, some food stuff too, which we haven't seen here for quite some time, will be coming from both myself and (hopefully) Lexi as well in the next couple of weeks.

So I've been kind of putting things off on some of these posts, but it's a new year, and I'm ready to get back into it, especially because I've been feeling pretty good physically and I'm getting excited for running and racing in 2015.  I kind of unofficially kicked off my season with the Recover from the Holidays 50K last weekend, so I'm kicking off my blogging season as well.

Calling this a "Race Report" might be a bit of a stretch; RFTH is definitely fat-ass style.  You can start whenever you want, and run as many of the ten paved out-and-back 5K loops as you care to; of the seventy or so folks who turn up, maybe one in four are planning on finishing the whole thing.  But I'd argue it's less of a Fat Ass than a no-frills, minimalist race.  Sure, there's no entry fee, no numbers, minimal aid, no t-shirt.  But Pete Colaizzo and Charlie Sprauer count every lap and log every split; there are race results and records that go back twenty years.  Full results get published in Ultrarunning magazine.  A glance at the past champions reveals some true giants of the  ultra world: Bob Sweeney, Byron Lane, Brent Backus, Rainer Koch.  And yes, you can start early if you want, but if you plan on competing, you show up at the 9 am start and get ready to roll.

Stupid watch...
Photo: Charlotte Kopp
In my first two attempts, I had run to basically uncontested wins in 2011 and 2013, but I knew this year would not be easy.  I lined up with two good friends and training partners who I knew were ready to run.  Brian Hickey is a two-time RFTH champ himself (1998 and 2012) who has been logging some big miles and strong hill climbs as we gear up for Mount Mitchell in February; and Phil Vondra, despite this being his first "official" ultra, is a triathlon stud who regularly makes me hurt on our long weekend runs.  In addition, three-time race winner and former US 24-hour team member Byron Lane would be putting in an appearance.  This would be no cakewalk.

We started off on a fairly frigid morning in a pack of five, including me, Brian, and Phil; Byron hung back, but we had two people with us immediately, one chatty and one silent.  It's tough when you're not sure who is racing and who is just out for a Saturday morning run, so I was a little more aggressive than I would've liked.  Brian and I wanted to run about 7:30 pace, and Phil figured he'd hang with us through halfway and see how he felt.  But the presence of the other two spooked us a little bit, and Brian and I alternated leading the opening couple of miles in the 7:15-7:20 range.  Right at the start of the second lap, Phil and our chatty companion dropped back just a little bit, and our silent partner made an enormous move, suddenly running near six-minute pace.  Brian and I let him go immediately; by the turnaround halfway through lap two, he had already put over a minute on us.

At this point we figured he was either just doing a workout or was going to run near the course record of 3:21, which neither of us were prepared to do, so we didn't feel particularly bothered either way, just kept clicking off 7:20s.  Brian stopped to use the facilities after the second lap, and I slowed down to 7:30 pace to have him catch up.  Halfway through lap four he had caught and passed Phil and his shadow, and had closed within 30 seconds of me or so; I stayed relaxed and looked forward to him catching up so we could run together.  But he needed another pit stop shortly thereafter and fell further behind.  I was finding the 7:30s very comfortable and just continued to run them very evenly, coming through halfway in 1:53:50; with a pre-race target of 3:50, I was very pleased.  By this point, the breakaway leader had finished, after running three or four laps at 6:00-6:30 pace, and Phil's companion, who apparently was prepping for an upcoming marathon, finished up at 25K as well.  Suddenly I was in the lead, by about two minutes over Phil and maybe 3-4 over Brian, with fourth place another few minutes back and being stalked by Byron in fifth.  I asked Phil to catch up with me in the middle of the fifth or sixth lap, but he said he wanted to ease off the pace a bit, so I kept running my solo 7:30s.

It didn't look like I was going to have too much company, so I needed another mental game.  I decided I'd run 7:30 pace through lap seven, then run two hard laps and jog the last one.  Starting lap six I grabbed my Orange Mud handheld and focused on taking in some fluids over the next 10K, which worked well; finishing lap seven I was a bit tired but ready to try some hard running.  I dropped the bottle, grabbed my iPod, and immediately dropped down to sub-7:00 pace.  I put my external game face on, hoping to convince my brain that it was time to go; instead of smiling and exchanging high-fives with my friends as we passed each other on the laps, I simply grunted and gave them my best "I'm focused" look.  And it seemed to work!  For the eighth lap, at least, my legs responded quite well, and I banged out a sub-21:00 5K; following it with my second-fastest split on the ninth lap, though that was certainly a struggle.

By then, though, I had a ten-minute lead, and I was happy to go into cool-down mode, feeling as though I had really put a good effort in; I ran the last lap in about 24:00, finishing up in 3:48:05, right in line with my goals/expectations, and happy to run almost perfectly even splits (1:53:50/1:54:15).  My GPS screwed up something awful, so I needed to reset it during the first half of lap 3, but you can see my data for the last seven laps here:

Overall I was very pleased with the effort.  I accomplished my time and place goals, I ran a decent enough time with a well-controlled effort, and I confirmed that my fitness, while not up to the 3:32 standard I set two years ago, is at least where I need to be two months away from the big date with Mount Mitchell.  Mentally, I didn't really have any opportunities to go into the tank, so it wasn't much of a test from that perspective, but I felt like I did a good job holding my focus over what turned out to be a mostly solo effort.  Brian unfortunately struggled after his second pit stop as the effects of running on three hours' sleep took hold (that's another story), and he dropped after 40K, but Phil did a fantastic job keeping his pace pretty steady and running an excellent 3:56 for second place in his first ultra.  The race has been going for twenty years now, and Phil popped the #17 performance all-time on his first attempt.  As they say where he's from, "Good on ya!"  Or is that Australian?  I forget.

Quick gear report: I ran in the Salming Distance A2, a new road shoe that I'l have a lot more to say about in the coming days.  Clothing-wise: an old pair of tights; a long-sleeve base layer from 32 Degrees, which I think is technically long underwear but is my favorite running base layer; and an Orange Mud tech shirt and super-hipster trucker cap.  Hydration with the OM handheld; more details on that stuff coming as well.