Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lake Waramaraug 50k Race Report

This Sunday I returned to New Preston CT to run the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultramarathon.  I had signed up for the 50 miler, but during the race I decided to drop down to the 50k distance and see if I could get a PR.  Here is what happened.

Doing the race was a last minute decision after realizing that it was only 35 miles from my brothers house.  After figuring out the logistics, I signed up for it on Friday night.  I was planning on using the race as a training run.  But it wasn't long before I was doing research on splits, times, etc.  Of course, I decided that this flat paved course might provide a great opportunity to try to break 7 hours for 50 miles, which I have never done.

After spending the weekend visiting my brother and his family, and not getting back to the hotel from NY city until midnight, I was pretty tired when the alarm went off at 4:30 Sunday morning.  The family rallied and I drove to the race.  After my usual 5 million nervous rest room stops, the race began promptly at 7:30.

Freedom tower in NYC

Side note:  You will be hard pressed to find a cooler atmosphere than at this race.  From the incredibly enthusiastic RD, to the aid station workers and all the runners in the field.  Everybody just seems to be happy.  This race has been run for almost 40 years and is one of the oldest Ultras in the country.  And it has that old school feel.  It's awesome.

The course itself is a flat paved 7.6 mile loop.  It has almost no elevation, just a few small rollers, but it offers very nice views of pretty houses and of course the lake.  The race starts with the entire field doing a 2.2 mile out and back (4.4 total) in the opposite direction, then followed by either 3, 6 or 7 full loops depending on what distance you are running.  There are 50k, 50 mile and 100k options.  The 50k'rs do a final 3.8 mile out and back to finish, the 50 milers finish after their 6th loop and the 100k'rs do 7 loops followed by a 4 mile out and back.

Course Map

As the race started, two runners jumped out front, while I hung back with Joe Lasky and Billy Preston.  We were going nice and easy (7:40ish pace) and having some great conversation.  Somewhere around 2 miles I just felt like I was going too slow and needed to run my comfortable, but aggressive pace.  At this point I was still planning on racing 50 miles and I knew that in order to break 7 hours I had to be below 8:30 pace.

I felt excellent.  I was listening to tunes, and running very comfortable.  My plan was to just run comfortable all day long, paying attention to my exertion level.  I finished the 4.4 mile out and back in 36:27 (7:50 pace).  I grabbed my bottle with 3 scoops of Heed Sustained Energy, put a lara bar in my pocket and headed out to start my first full loop after only spending about 30 seconds at the finish line aid area.

I actually started to pick up the pace, because that is where I felt comfortable.  I knew it would be very aggressive to try to maintain that pace for the full 50, but every time I reminded myself to slow down and relax I ended up just running the same pace.  At this point I could see no reason to try to slow down more than I was.  I felt good and started to get excited at the prospect of what I might be able to accomplish.

Being that it is a loop course around a lake, it was no surprise that there were parts of the course where the wind was directly against us.  With gusts of up to 30 mph, I kept reminding myself to just relax.  If my pace slowed with the wind, then it would surely pick up when it was on my back further down the road.  Again, my pace never really slowed, and I finished loop one in 57:42 (7:36 pace).

At the finish line aid, I grabbed another lara bar, but I only added water to my bottle.  I figured that I could eat the bar and get a few hundred calories over the next loop and that should be all I need.  My strategy was to avoid making stops unless absolutely necessary.  I had one hammer gel in the pocket of my bottle holder just in case.  I never ended up using it.

Loop 2 was much the same as the first.  I continued to hammer, but at a pace that was just starting to get a little bit uncomfortable.  I tried to slow, really I did!  But again, I felt pretty comfy so I decided that it was just the day to go for it.  I finished the second full loop in 57:32 (7:34 pace).

I refilled my bottle with 3 scoops of drink mix and headed back out.  I was probably stopped for only about 45 seconds or so.  It was in the middle of this loop that I started to get a dose of reality.  If I kept this pace up I would do a low 6 hour 50 mile.  Considering that my 50 mile PR is 7:35 I was pretty excited.  But that excitement was tempered by the increasing stiffening of my hamstrings.  Even more concerning was my left heel.  I have been battling what appears to be a bruised heel bone for about 2 months.  It was starting to hurt.

Whether it was a cop out or a smart move I'll never know, but I made an agreement with myself.  If I could drop down to the 50k distance, but still be an official finisher, I would.  If the RD told me that I wouldn't get an official finish I would continue on and hold on as long as I could, heel be damned.  This put my mind at ease as I made a clear black and white decision for what to do at the end of the loop.  Somewhere near the end of the loop I hit the marathon mark in 3:13.  My current marathon PR is 3:15:10.  I was flying.  And I was really really enjoying running fast and strong.

I finished the third loop in 58:34 (7:45 pace).  Luckily Carl, the RD was right at the line so I asked him if I dropped would I be an official finisher.  He said that I would and many people do that at this race.  I was 3 hours and 28 minutes in and I knew that if I hauled ass I might be able to do my first sub 4 hour 50k and set a huge PR (my current PR was 4:35 from VT50 last year).

Ok, so now this is what I was gunning for...

Since I had entered the 50 miler, I really had not paid much attention to how far out the turn around was, but my Garmin had me at around 28 miles so I knew I couldn't mess around.  Now it was game on and I took off to run the last out and back as fast as I could.

Shortly after leaving the aid station the first 50k runner was coming back, almost at the finish, and he was hauling ass!  He ended up setting one of the fastest times in the history of the race with a 3:30:40.  Solid!  I knew that I couldn't win now.  And I remembered that he had taken off at the start of the race with another runner whom I had not seen yet.  Maybe I could get third today!  But...another runner then cruised by me headed towards the finish. Damn.  Maybe I can get 4th today!  But...yet another runner went by me again.  Funny, but he didn't look like he was moving that fast.   A few more miles go by and the other runner who took off at the start went by me.  I hadn't hit the turn around yet and although he looked like he was slowing, he was quite a bit in front of me.

There was nothing I could do but just run as fast as I could.  As I ran back towards the finish line I passed a ton of runners still on course who were all super supportive.  I was an arm swinging drooling mess as I went by them, but they stoked my fire to finish strong!  Within a few minutes I saw the other runner.  Although he was still quite a bit in front of me I saw him actually stop for just a few seconds and stretch.  I smelled blood and ran as fast as I could, cranking at a low 6 minute pace.

I blew by him and finished in 3:54:36!  I ran the last 3.8 miles at a 6:49 average pace and ended up with a 7:34 pace for the entire race.  As I finished I asked the starter if I was 5th and he said that was about right.  I was kind of bummed, but very excited to have a new PR.

After showering and eating I returned to the race to do whatever I could to help my friend Ron finish his first 50 miler.  I casually looked at the results board to discover that I had actually finished second!  It turns out that the other runners I saw coming back towards the finish line were early starters that had started an hour before us and they were just finishing up.  I was psyched! I was first loser for the day, and I was totally cool with that.  Considering that this race was a last minute decision and that I ran almost 30 miles last Sunday, I was happy.

Yes!!! Second place!

And it turned out that Ron didn't need my help at all.  He rocked his first 50 miler with a time of 9:07 and got his VT100 qualifier.

Ron and I post race celebratory beer!

It was an awesome day, enhanced by the laid back atmosphere and awesome people.  I highly recommend that everybody do this race at least once.  There is no corporate BS, just a bunch of super friendly people encouraging people to test their personal boundaries.

Race stats:
Food Consumed - 2 Larabars and 6 scoops of Heed Sustained Energy (about 1000 calories).
Shoes - Skechers Go Run Ultra 2 prototypes.  Similar to the current GRU with a few new test features.  Click here for my GRU review on Runblogger.
Blisters - zero.  ZERO!!!!

50k PR Footware by Skechers (Go Run Ultra)