If I had to pick one word to describe today's ultrarun.....it would be MUDDY.
I drove up to the Finger Lakes National Forest last night and camped out at the Potomac Camp Ground. The Finger Lakes Fifties features a 50 miler, a 50K, and a 25k. I signed up for the 50 miler, but was told I could opt to quit after 50k since the course was made up of 15.5 mile loops.
The course itself was incredible. Not a lot of elevation gain, but over 90% of the running was on single track trail. There were a couple of ridge-top pasture areas that had me running along with view across the Finger Lakes Region. It was stunning. The weather.....couldn't have been better for a July 4th. It was mid 60's, overcast, with a nice breeze all day. I never got hot. The aid stations: Plentiful. There were 4 stations on the 15.5 mile loop, which meant 12 stations for 46.5 miles. In order to make it 50 miles, a 3.5 mini-loop was tacked on at the end, and there were no aid stations during this loop (obviously).
The downside.....Mud, mud, mud, and more mud. I didn't mind the mud as far is it being sloppy and nasty, I minded it because it made the running very difficult. Running 50 miles with heavy shoes, and sliding all over the place, makes for a nerve-wracking day. I was constantly worried I was going to slip and break something.
Lap one was the best of the three. I started off slowly, but confidently. the 50K and 50M runners all started together, which made for a starting pack of about 60+. Early on the single track trails were very congested. It made it hard to get a decent stride as everyone was packed very tightly together. The mud was not too bad the first time through....but still nasty nonetheless. Most of the course ran North/South...which meant along the ridge lines. Only at the Northern and Southern ends did the course cut East/West and involve some steep climbs. I made my way around the loop, not spending very much time at the aid stations, and coming in to the finish at 3 hrs, 5 minutes. This was great. At this pace, I could feasibly finish a 50 miler in under 10 hrs! Unfortunately, each lap got progressively worse, and was not able to maintain that pace.
By the time I started up on Lap 2, the crowds were completely gone. I spent most of my time running alone in the woods. While it's nice to have a running partner to act as a motivator, I also prefer to run alone. I worked my way through the second lap exactly the same as the first and managed to finish only slightly slower in a time of 3hrs 12 minutes (only 7 minutes slower). When I crossed the line, the staff asked me my plans. I was given the option of calling it a day, and receiving a 50K finisher award. I looked at my watch and it wasn't even 1 PM yet....so I made the command decision to go on and shoot for the 50 miler.
By the time I started into my third lap, I was starting to really feel it. My legs were sore, I was walking a lot more, and I was overall just feeling exhausted. My heart-rate was still in a good range, so I wasn't worried. I was also a bit nervous up to this point because I hadn't had to go the bathroom yet, and was worried about possible kidney issues. Those worries subsided quickly though as I finally had to go around mile 35...and then about every 5-7 miles after that. I guess I broke the seal. When I made it to the final aid station, I was really starting to struggle. All I kept thinking was, "How in the HELL am I going to run 100 miles in 2 weeks, when I can't even finish 50!" I'm still not sure how to answer this question. When I was about 2 miles from the end of the third lap, I caught up to another runner who was finishing up her 3.5 mini loop to finish the whole race. The mini loop was set up so that it shared the same last 2 miles of the course. This was extremely deflating knowing that she was about to finish, and I still had to cross the finish, AND run another 3.5 mile mini loop. grrrrr. When I got to the finish, people were cheering for the other runner and I was quite jealous. Even though I only had 3.5 miles to go, it seemed like 35. I ended up finishing my third loop with a much slower time of 3hrs 28 minutes. This put me at 9hrs 45 minutes overall. Any hopes of a sub-10 hour time were now out of the question.
Final 3.5 Mile Mini-Loop
I headed out of the start/finish one last time, to finish the small 3.5 mile mini-loop to complete my 50 miles. Most of the mini-loop shares trail with the main loop, so it was familiar course. Only about 1 mile of it was new and acted as a cutover trail. My hopes of a sub 10 hour time were scrubbed, but I could still PR and get a sub 11 hour time (possibly 10:30). I tried very hard to "push it" for these last 3.5 miles...but I just didn't have much left. I found myself walking a lot, even on flat spots. Everything was sore at this point, and I was a filthy, muddy mess. All I wanted to was to cross the finish line. I worked my way up the last climb towards the finish line, having not passed a single other runner on my last loop, and saw the finish chutes off in the distance. As I approached, people started to cheer and for a brief moment, the pain was numbed by a burst of adrenaline. I sprinted across the finish with a final time of 10hrs 34 minutes.....and new 50 mile PR. (beaten by 44 minutes). I finished 15th place overall.
So all in all....it was a good day, and a good race. Had their been no mud, I'm certain I would have had a sub 10 hour time. I am not complaining though, and will gladly take my 10:34.
As soon as I get official results and pics, I will post them.