Monday, June 6, 2016

North Fork 50 Mile Race

The Trail Sisters recently posted an article about the value of race reports.  I agree with them that the value lies both in sharing potentially helpful information about racing, as well as in providing a means of self-reflection for the race report author.  Writing a race recap helps me process what went well, what I could have done better, and how I feel about my performance.  It might sound silly, but I really don't immediately know how I feel about a race.  For instance, right now, three weeks after Cruel Jewel, I'm still not sure whether I should feel happy, disappointed, proud, etc. about that race.  So here's my brief attempt to capture the highlights of last weekend's race in Pine, Colorado and do some of that mental processing.

Me and Don, at packet pick-up on Friday

The Course

The race begins with a nearly 1,000-foot climb.  From there, it's a lot of up and down, taking the 50-milers to a high of about 8,400 feet at the turnaround.  50-milers start with the 50k-ers and don't separate until around mile 16, at which time we did an 18-mile section before rejoining the 50k course.  The trails were occasionally single-track mountain bike trails, sometimes double-track, and sometimes jeep road.  There were some rocks and roots to watch for, and a few trees blocking the path, but mostly the surface was sandy and gravelly, so not technical.  Some areas were through pine forests, with little to no underbrush, alongside cold, babbling streams.  Other sections took us through burned-out areas, where you could see all the way to snow-capped peaks in the distance.  It was just a gorgeous course.

Positive Self-Talk

I've been watching the TV show Boundless, which follows a group of endurance athletes as they test their mettle at races around the globe.  I've been impressed by Rory Bosio's use of positive self-talk to get her through low points in races and turn things around.  I tried to focus on that during the race. For example, I've been having some Achilles issues, so during the race, when it was hurting badly, I said to myself, "Well, at least it's still attached."  That, plus four ibuprofin, really helped the situation.

Uphill Battles

I took the first big climb very conservatively, because I was worried about how the altitude would affect me; I've never done a race that went over 3,000 feet above sea level before, much less 8,000 feet.  But after that, I quickly realized that a strategy of hiking every uphill was not going to cut it in this race; I'd be walking half the time.  So I began a strategy of counting my steps.  I told myself I'd count 120 steps of running up the hill, and then I could walk for 60 steps before starting to run again.  I followed this general strategy throughout the race, although oftentimes I would keep running past the 120-step mark, because I'd feel good enough to go a few more steps, or because I had already made it to the top.

Elevation (Non)Issues

I don't know how much the elevation affected me during this race.  It's true that I was a bit more breathless and felt like I had a higher heart rate, especially on inclines, than I normally would.  However, there are other factors that could have contributed to this, including the heat, the fact that I just ran Cruel Jewel 100 three weeks ago and might not be fully recovered, and the fact that I've been running really inconsistently for the past month or so, due to some SI joint issues, tapering, and recovery time.  I didn't have any headache or stomach issues, and I had a pretty decent race time, so all in all I'd say my fears about the altitude were unfounded.  This makes me eager to try a higher-elevation race sometime soon.

Aid Stations

The aid stations had ample gels, in as many flavors as you'd like, as long as you only like 3 flavors.  I made use of those, as well as plenty of cut-up Paydays, Chips Ahoy cookies, Coke, water, and a purple drink that Edward later told me was Gu Brew.  Whenever I came to an aid station, I'd just ask them to fill one bottle with water and one with purple drank.  [Don't do drugs, kids.]  One time when I came into an aid station, I was a little foggy, so my request came out like this: "One purple and one [Think, brain. White? Clear? Oh, yeah --] water, please."  


Race day was picture-perfect: warm (70s), dry,with  sunny skies.  During our entire trip, Edward and I commented on how it felt hotter than the temperature would lead us to believe.  Maybe it's due to the elevation.  Anyway, it felt really warm during the race.  I was carrying two 12-oz bottles in my vest, as well as an empty bladder, "just in case."  The only time I needed more than what was in my bottles was during the stretch from mile 22 to mile 27, which I ran with Edward.  I realized I was getting low on fluids, so I started rationing.  Then I ran out, with about a mile and a half left to the aid station.  When I got there, I noticed they didn't have any cups out with soda -- they had cold, full cans set out.  I think my eyes got really wide with excitement as I greedily grabbed a cold Coke.  I chugged an entire can and then ran out of the aid station.  Miraculously, it didn't cause any stomach issues.  It was the best Coke I've had in my life.  I felt much better after that, and bonus: it made me stop and pee, at which point Edward caught up to me.  Hey Coca-Cola execs: How about this for a new slogan?  "Coke: Reuniting running buddies through diuretic properties since 1892."  Okay, it needs finessing, but that's why they have a marketing department.  

Unnecessary Signs

Between miles 22-27 and miles 27-32, the trail winds near a gun range.  It sounded like people were firing canons or Howitzers.  Signs read, "Gun range nearby.  Stay on trail."  No need to tell me twice!  It was during this stretch, on the way to the mile-32 aid station, that I lost Edward to the lure of a cold stream.  

Mountain Bikes

Being that it was a gorgeous weekend -- it sounded like it was the best weather they've had yet this year -- there were tons of mountain bikers out on the trails.  They were very considerate and even encouraging to the runners.  They were also a good source of entertainment.  Here was the best mountain biker conversation I overheard:

Dad to kid, during a descent: "Look where you want to go!"
Kid to dad: "I'm looking.  I don't like my options!"

High Point
Coming towards the mile 38 aid station, I was running well and passed 3 ladies and a guy or two in quick succession.  I sped through the aid station and enjoyed a stretch of about 3 miles of downhill running.  That felt great.  Then the trail flattened out, and the last mile seemed to take forever.  I kept expecting the aid station around every bend, but no dice.  The thing that kept pulling me along was Light-Blue Shirt Guy (LBSG), who I could see half a mile ahead of me.  When I pulled into the 42-mile aid station, he was there, getting ragged on by his friends, the volunteers, who had been at a bottle of whisky all day.  They were encouraging me to drop him "like a bad habit," and telling him to "Stop f---ing around with your vest and go already."  LBSG didn't seem too amused.

Low Point
Those aid station workers told me what I already knew from studying the course info online: the next stretch, miles 42-46, included a 3-mile climb.  I dreaded it, and headed out prepared to powerhike most of it.  Maybe due to that expectation, I felt very low in energy, and let myself hike a lot, chatting it up with LBSG until I did eventually drop him.  This was the only stretch where, looking back on the race, I feel like I didn't push myself as hard as I could have and should have.  I could have gained time here and maybe gotten 4th place instead of 5th.  (4th beat me by about 5 minutes).  I kept taking gels every 20 minutes, as is now my habit when I'm feeling low in energy, and also sucking on Gu Brew, but to no avail.  Fortunately, the aid station came more quickly than I thought it would -- I'm not sure that it was really 4 miles, or that the climb was actually 3 miles long.  But I'm not complaining! 

Home Stretch

Man, was I happy to see that last aid station!  Only 4 miles to the finish, and it was almost entirely downhill.  I left with a male runner -- we never exchanged names -- and we chatted about races for a bit.  He had done UTMB last year, and sat next to Zach Miller on the plane ride home.  The funny thing is, all he registered at the time was Zach's mustache and head-to-toe Nike gear; he didn't realize who it was -- the winner of CCC -- until he later watched Billy Yang's film of the race.  

After a while, the jeep road gave way to singletrack, and it was harder to hear one another and continue conversing.  From that point on, we silently pushed one another, not letting ourselves back off until the finish.  I'm so glad we were together; if not for him being there, I would almost certainly have let up and not pushed myself that hard.


The last 1/2 mile of the race is along a pretty lake.  I had pushed past my running buddy and was trying to kick all-out to the finish.  I was pretty gassed, and not thinking clearly.  So when I passed a sign that read "No swimming," I wondered for a fraction of a second: Do they have alligators here?  Wait, where am I?  It honestly took me a second to remember I was in Colorado, and no, they don't have alligators here.


I finished in 10:48, one minute faster than I ran Mesquite Canyon 50 and Monument Valley 50 earlier this spring.  That makes me feel good, knowing that this was at a higher elevation than both the others, with substantially more climbing than Monument Valley.  

Instead of medals, which I never keep, we got unique finisher bowls, which the artist signed on the bottom.  I also got a nice pint glass etched with 2nd place in the 30-39 age group.

The After Party

Hanging out after the race was so fun.  Don (who killed the 50k, as I expected), Helena, Edward, and I enjoyed playing around with Hudson, drinking free Avery beers (okay, I nursed mine and then tossed it), and eating free food.  The race organizers prepare food and drinks for everyone in attendance -- not just the runners.  It was great, and it stayed light out until well after 8:00, when my college buddy Caroline came to pick me up and spend the rest of the weekend with her.  It was sad to say goodbye to Don and Helena; I really enjoyed staying with them and Edward at the "Hauk Family B&B."  (I haven't decided on my Yelp rating yet.  On the positive side, Don makes a mean breakfast burrito.  On the negative side, the room service is terrible.)

I don't have to do much processing to come to the conclusion that this was a great race experience and that I'd recommend it to anyone.  I am already looking forward to the next time I can visit Colorado and explore another race there!  

Post-race selfie: The whole crew