I waffled too many times about this race. Both whether to sign up and then whether or not to run it. In the two months leading up to the race I was fighting hamstring injuries and general fatigue from IMLou/Savageman/Chesapeakeman Relay. It got so bad I dropped out of the Baltimore Marathon at the halfway point.
Then, I went to IM Florida, got a massage, re-read my Trigger Point Manual and had a couple solid runs of about ten miles. For the first time in 3 months I actually enjoyed running again. With new vigor in my legs, my biggest remaining hang up was that I hadn't run on trails in over 6 months. On the way back to MD I talked to Steve Levickas about the actual course. Talking to him I gained confidence that I could probably finish even if I wouldn't make my original goal of under 10 hours because I wasn't able to train for the race. Somehow I decided that 10.5 hours (roughly the average finish time) seemed reasonable. Then 5 days before the race I reaggravated my hammy doing unwise & unnecessary speedwork.
The race start was pretty mundane. You park at a school and walk to the center of town. I noticed it was 43 degrees at the start--perfect. From there you run about a mile through town to the the start of the mountain. Then another mile or so up the mountain on pavement. Then some single track, more pavement, but always uphill. Finally, you enter the Appalachian Trail. It's been over ten years since I've been on the AT so I was excited. When there weren't boulders & rocks you could look up and enjoy the scenery; it was stunningly beautiful. Totally energizing.
But then there were more rocks. Except for the last two miles or so I wouldn't say the AT was very technical. I got cocky and starting having fun dodging the rocks and talking to people. Then the boulders really picked up. The last mile or so before the Weverton Cliffs was brutal. For that entire mile I don't think my foot landed flat once. It's downhill so you keep accelerating on bad footing. My thoughts alternated between me tweaking my bad knee and how tired my ankles/feet/calves were getting. I knew from previous trail races that when your 'feet' get tired that's when you trip or fall. I stopped twice for about 15 seconds just to gather myself. Luckily I ran into even slower people on the switchbacks of the cliffs. I tucked in behind them and enjoyed the reasonable pace.
Those two miles extracted a heavy toll. Before them I was only a minute behind a 12:00 minute pace. After them it had ballooned to over 8 minutes and my legs, quads, calves, ankles & feet were totally destroyed. I made a stop at the aid station at the beginning of the towpath and walked the next half mile or so eating & drinking. Then I started running again. After a mile I was 11-12 minutes behind my 12 minute pace. So I started hammering out 10:30 min/miles noticing that my heart rate was way too high--about 170. No matter what I tried it would not come down. Walking was about 140 bpm. I decided I was just gonna have to run with a high heart rate. Every few miles I would walk a minute and walked out of every aid station eating/drinking. So while at mile 16 I was 11-12 minutes behind 12 minute miles, by mile 25 I was less than 2 minutes off pace but working hard. That felt great.
I had dug a big hole making that time up and was only able to maintain 12 minute avg miles until mile 31. That's when it all came down on my head. I was exhausted and this was now officially the farthest I had ever run. The path was boring. I could only manage to run a minute or two at a time and was being passed alot. Furthermore, I was surrounded by other really annoying racers that I couldn't get away from. My Garmin died. I was dehydrated. I had to stop to pop blisters twice. I kept getting rocks in my shoes and within 100 yards after stopping to empty my shoe a new rock would find its way in. The averages were around 15 minute miles for this stretch. I was totally miserable.
About mile 36 things started becoming easier. So I would set small targets like run 3 min walk 1 min. I tried to never go below run 2:30 walk 1 once I got my legs back. It might not sound impressive but I was back to passing people again. I started enjoying it again. I don't think I'd say it was fun but it did become enjoyable again. The key was just to manage myself. Don't get too high or too low and keep a smile on my face. Since the garmin died I used mile markers on the path to gauge splits. I was pulling in 11 minute splits again, except when I had to stop to pop blisters or excavate rocks from my shoes.
Finally, we turned off the tow path and onto the road. I bumped into Claire and ran with her for about a mile/mile-and-a-half before dropping her. With hills available again the strategy evolved into walk uphills, run everthing else. I was now working hard and passing quite a few people. But the pavement was brutal through my trail shoes. With 2.5 miles to go the pain in my shoes was so unbearable I had to do something. I took off my shoe and realized my toe had swollen so much that my injinji sock/toe hole was acting as a tournaquet. Not a good sign. I finally got my sock off and noticed half my big toenail had fallen off due to the blister pressure. The only choice was to pop it (using a safety pin from my bib). I spent about 4-5 minutes at the stop--enough time for Clair to re-pass me right as I was finishing up. The immediate pain was too great to give chase. After 5 to 10 minutes the pain had subsided and I was able to kick it again. With my goal still in sight I gave everything I had and averaged just under 10 minutes for the last two miles.
Conclusions: While I would have liked to go under 10 hours it's always good to meet a reasonable goal. Glad to have done the race but I don't know that I would classify it as fun. I will think long and hard before trying another 50 miler. The trail part was fun but I wouldn't have made 50 miles there. The tow path was uber-boring and the roads destroyed my IT band in trail shoes. If I did this race again I think I'd take road shoes.
Nutrition/Hydration: No idea. I took all food (PBJ, pretzels, chips) and most fluid (coke, gatorade, water) from the aid station. Used my one bottle back holder. I took 1000 mg of Ibuprofen and 6 Endurolytes. This was my first long distnce race without salt pills.
P.S. So what did Steve tell me that convinced me to do the race? It's not really a trail run or a road race, or very hilly. The 'hard' parts are front loaded but overall the course isn't that challenging.