Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 Vermont 50 Race Report - A Truly "Perfect Race"

If I were asked what I thought my best race ever was, I would probably say this year's Leadville.  I worked harder than I ever had during a race, and it paid off.  I improved almost 4 hours on my 2009 time.  So in this sense, my "best" race would be somewhat of a measure of how much grit, determination, and effort I put into it.  If however, I were asked simply, which race went the most perfectly or which race did I achieve my best peak performance....I would say this year's Vermont 50.

I went into this race very well prepared and trained, but also with no real set goal.  I just wanted to have fun.  I sit here on Monday, not even 24 hours after running, and have absolutely no pain.  I simply cannot believe how well yesterday's race went.  Here's what I can tell you:
  • I ran almost the entire 50 miles.  Seriously....I ran almost the entire course.  Even most of the uphills.
  • I never bonked, never got tired, never got sore.
  • I felt great for the entire run and had NO discomfort, or nausea.
  • I managed my hydration and salt intake perfectly despite the hot/humid weather.
  • I implemented what ended up being a PERFECT nutrition strategy (will discuss in a bit).
  • I crossed the finish line and could have kept right on running.
  • I feel zero pain and soreness today....very weird (I'm always sore the day after).
  • ...and, I had a smile on for all 50 miles
First off some numbers:
I didn't really start checking my watch until about mile 30, when I realized I was on PR pace.  Sometime about mile 40, I realized that I was on pace to break 9 hours and so I started pushing a bit.  When I got to the finish, I stopped my watch and gazed at it in disbelief.   FINAL TIME:  8 hrs 42 minutes.  Somehow, on a much more hilly course, on a much more hot/humid day, and in muddy conditions, I managed to beat my 50-mile PR by 40 minutes.  I managed a 10:30 pace for the entire race.  I still have a hard time wrapping my head around this.  The added kicker, is that the course was actually closer to 51 miles with the reroutes...meaning I was actually closer to 8 hrs 30 minutes for 50.  So, how the hell did I manage to do so well?  What did I do differently?  How could I improve 40 minutes on a time that I never thought I'd beat? Especially at a muddy race with so many hills and very high humidity.   

Here's what I think:
I think there were several factors that went into my great race yesterday.  I do also think that some of it was just luck.  We all have good days and bad days, and for whatever reason, all my stars were in alignment yesterday.  I think the biggest controllable factors were my strong training and a strong nutrition plan during the race.   During my Leadville race this year, I finally was able to identify when I actually am starting a dreaded bonk.  There are always times in races when I feel "tired", but I came to realize, that these "tired" bits, were actually due to low sugar.  Thankfully, at Leadville, my pacer began feeding me quickly to get me back in the game.   For Vermont, I decided that rather than focusing on aid station nutrition, I would carry more on-the-go food, and limit my aid station visits to VERY short stops.  My goal was to spend less than 30 seconds at each aid station just filling my water bottle, grabbing some chips, fruit, and PB&J wedges, and getting out.  For nutrition, I decided to try a strategy of what I call "slow-intake".  So instead of cramming down a gel every hour, or putting down shot blocks all at once, I kept a constant, and steady stream of sugars coming.  Before the race I bought three packets of Powerbar Gummies.  These worked great at Leadville and I decided to try them again.  I also had two packets of shot-bloks, and several gels.  Throughout the race, every fifteen minutes or so, I was eating a couple of gummies, or a shot-blok.  I would hit down a gel here and there as well, but never ate too much at once.  I wanted to caloric intake to be constant, and regular.   I did grab some additional snacks at the aid stations later in the race, but still never spent more than 30 seconds at any one station.   For salt, I used S-caps again, and took 1 every hour....religiously.  I never had any nausea, or problems or obvious puffiness.  My heart-rate stayed 150 bpm for the entire race.  It never dropped very low, or peaked very high.  I managed it exactly as I wanted.  Truly....everything just "CLICKED" yesterday.  Good hydration, good preparation, good salt monitoring, good trail, good people, and great fall colors.  It truly was a "perfect race"

Quick Race Report:
After the massive waves of mountain bikers all got on their way by 6:30 am, the runners lined up at the start for a 6:35 gun.  We were told that there were significant changes this year due to hurricane Irene.  Most of these changes were in the first and last 10 miles.  The middle part of the course, which has my absolute favorite single-track trail of any course, was to remain the same.  A quick "3-2-1-GO!" and we were off too.  I started out quick, but not fast.  After a mile or so, I looked back and realized I was in the "lead group".  Not good I thought.   WAY too fast to be starting a 50-miler.  Somewhere around mile 3, Dan Larson and Serena Wilcox passed me slowly and I thought, "Holy crappola, I am going way too fast and will definitely burn out".  For those of you that don't know, both Dan and Serena placed in the top 10 overall at the Vermont 100, and Serena won it for the women.  Both of them are way out of my league.  I decided to tone it down a notch as my heart rate was starting to push 160 (way too high for a 50-miler).  For several miles I tried to find a comfortable groove and watched as some people passed me and I passed others.  I was worried the course would be super muddy, but most of the mud was manageable.  I was having a hard time recognizing places along the course, and a lot of the aid stations were moved.  At some point early, I started getting worked up a bit about where I was, how many miles between aid stations etc...and then I realized for a moment that I was no longer smiling.  That's when my whole attitude changed.  I took a deep breath, and told myself that I was there to have fun, and to stop fretting.  Just enjoy the scenery, the people, and the beautiful course.  So I did!  From that point on, the race was fantastic.  When I got to my favorite long section of the course around mile 30, I was practically giggling along the trail.  The single-track from mile 30 to about mile 45 is some of the best I've ever run. It's incredibly serpentine, and winds its way all around through the beautiful woods of Vermont.  It really doesn't get any better.  It was during this section in 2008, that I became hooked on ultrarunning.  Miles began ticking by faster and faster and I was simply amazed at how good I was still feeling.  I had been running up-hill sections all day and was just waiting for the wheels to fall off.  But, they never did.  I was still running up-hill sections at mile 45.  At around mile 40, I began to realize that I was not only on pace to break my 9:20 PR, but I was looking break 9 hours.  I tried not to get too excited, but I starting doing a lot of math.  I was trying to figure out how much I'd have to run, and how much I could walk to break 9.  By the time I made it to the last aid station at mile 47, after having run nearly all 7 miles, I knew I was going to do it.  I had almost 50 minutes to go 3 miles, so I could have literally walked all three outright.  But, I figured I still fell good, why not see how far I can take this.  I figured I'd begin to fall apart during the last bit, but I was still chugging away.  When I hit the final mile on the Mt. Ascutney ski slope, I was nearly sprinting.  I full-out ran this final bit, passing 5 people in the last half-mile down to the finish chute.  When I finished, I could have kept right on running.   Today, I sit here at my desk, and wouldn't even know that I ran 50 miles yesterday.  My legs feel great.  

I just don't get it....but I'll take it.  A big thank you to all of the amazing volunteers and race coordinators.  You put together a spectacular race in spite of Irene's aftermath.

I'll post pics, official times and place once they become available...


Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

With that time you must have been close to being top 10. People are going to start making sure they start out behind you as in, "You know you've gone out too fast when Lakewood is behind you..." I love your attitude about having fun and I did have fun on my last race although those "fretting" thoughts did try to take hold a few times. Good luck with your "poster" presentation.

Unknown said...

It's that Vermont Magic, bro! That's awesome. Congratulations on the running. I'm also glad that the race happened at all, with all that happened to Vermont in the last month. It's good to see things are going well.