Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking a shot at the Fort Ord 50K

The last time I ran as much as 20 miles was July of 2014. Back in November I ran a 25K. Over the holidays and during the HURT trip, I had a total of two "long" training runs of 10 miles and several 5K and 10K races. Very few hills and little real distance or time on my legs.

To say I wasn't trained for a 50K was an understatement. Mrs Notthat surprised me by wanting to run the ITR Fort Ord 25K, and after studying the course maps a bit, I decided to throw my hat into the 50K. I really needed to stretch myself a bit, and what better way than what looked like a relatively mild 50K?

Simplified 50K and 25K course map. Click it to see a bigger version.
There are four distances at this race: 100K, 50K, 25K, and 10K. There were a number of opportunities for a runner to get off course, especially if they didn't spend any quality time with the course map before the race. But it really was well marked and, if you paid attention a bit, you would be fine.

The 50K elevation chart. The red arrow will be explained later.
That elevation chart looks a bit intimidating, but if you look at it closer, you see that most of the climbs are in the 200 to 300 foot range, which really isn't that bad. The total elevation gain was about 3400 feet - I've run a number of Half Marathons that had more elevation gain than that. The one thing that makes this a bit mean is that last six miles - it has the biggest climbs and it is at the end when you're the most tired.

All in all, this looked like a very manageable 50K. It does have two things that add to its challenge though - some very sandy bits and a lot of sun-drenched exposure. While it might not get all that hot, the sun beating on you can make for a long day. The sun has been my enemy in the past, and often leads to stomach issues.

But today I had a secret weapon; Tailwind Nutrition. I had never used it for this long of a distance/time before, but I had great hopes that it would stave off tummy issues.

The race starts outside of Laguna Seca Raceway. The 100K runners got the bonus of two hours less sleep as they started at 6AM. The well-rested 50K and 25K runners started at 8AM, while the 10K runners got to lounge around until 8:30. Well over 200 runners started at 8AM.

It was so clear and view-infested during this race.
Most of the first 3.5 miles was downhill. It's really tempting to go out fast, but I was determined to take it easy and save some legs for later.

Not all of that first bit was downhill.
The first miles are all on fire roads with a lot of nice views to distract you.

Eventually you make it to the 50K/25K split. And this is where the trail gets really fun for the 50K runners.

It was so weird how you would be going along on terrain that would be perfectly at home in Arizona, then suddenly be in something like this; all those oak trees with the Spanish moss and soft single-track. These bits of trail were so fun that they would make up for a LOT of the other trails that left you thinking dark thoughts about the RD.

Kram, not his real name, done with the 100K bits of this part of the course.
As we headed out to that first aid station, we were met by a few of the faster 100K runners that were done with the course in this section of the park.

Eventually we arrived at the first aid station, about mile 4.8. All of the aid stations had enthusiastic volunteers and lots of food.

Not everyone was as perky as Rimidalv (not his real name).

After a bit we hit the loop at the top of the lollipop bit of the course.

Which immediately introduced you to sand. Deep sand that hated you.

But then, just as you started wondering why you were here, you hit a trail like this. Amazing trail porn.

This intersection proved to be a bit challenging for a few runners ("Hi Annahs and Yrag, not your real names!") - the main trail continued straight, but the 50K runners got to use a shortcut up that sandy hill. Your brain would argue that the 100K trail looked much easier, but it would add about two miles to your race.

The 50K shortcut was not without its challenges.

If you stuck with it though, you would eventually end up back at the first aid station a second time, now at mile 8.4.

From there you double back to that 50K/25K split and continue on the 25K course until you hit the third aid station at mile 12.2.

At this point I was still doing great. There was a pretty significant climb out of this aid station, but not that much worse than some that we had already done.

This was a little confusing for the 25K runners, but this is where the 50K and 25K runners split up again, with the 25K runners taking a shortcut towards the finish.

In the back of my mind, I had always considered this spot as a place I could decide to cut my race a bit short if things weren't going well. I would end up going about 23 miles and could maybe talk Mr ITR into giving me credit for the 25K.

But I was feeling fine, and decided to get the 50K done.

One note about these trails; they are very popular with mountain bike riders, and who can blame them. In general, we were able to share the trails with the bikes with no issues, outside of a few that were going really fast on some of the narrow trails. I didn't hear of any actual issues, but the possibilities were there. However, everyone seemed to coexist quite nicely.

That bench looked amazingly inviting.
At about mile 15, I started to feel pain in my calves while walking up the hill. This was new to me, and I suspected it was due to my ridiculous lack of training; my calf muscles were really straining with the effort. I slowed down a bit and tried different things to minimize the issue, but nothing really seemed to help.

More sand.
The calf issue kept getting worse, and was most troubling on the uphills.

As I started going down the hill into the fourth aid station, I had pretty much decided that I would have to drop. Most of the climbing was still ahead of me, and I was really afraid that if I tried to keep going, I would risk some real damage, potentially to my Achilles, which I was not willing to risk.

I was happy to see that there was a parking lot at this aid station, which meant that it would be easy for Mrs Notthat to pick me up. My heart was light as I slogged to mile 18.

And then I saw who was volunteering there. My heart sank as I knew it would be almost impossible to convince Mas and Aynwat (not their real names) to let me drop here.

And I was right.

My screams are still echoing in the canyons of Ft. Ord.
First, Aynwat gently massaged my calves. The pain was stunning.

Next, she stretched various bits of my legs and feet. Not as painful as the calf thing, but it still got my attention.

Coach Laup (not his real name) coming in to the aid station.
After all this was over, I had to admit that my legs, including the calves that, a few minutes earlier felt like they were about to burst into flames, all felt pretty good. Tired, true, but tired I can deal with.

When Coach Laup showed up, it was decision time. Do I really follow my heart and drop or do I head back out and test my new legs? By this time I had been there for nearly an hour. What this meant was, if I continued on, and if I had to walk the rest (there was basically a Half Marathon left), I would likely have to finish in the dark.

I had my out.

It had not occurred to me to bring a headlamp, since it had not occurred to me that I would be so slow. No way Mas and Aynwat would make me finish in the dark. I was smiling until Mas handed me a headlamp.

Dang. No more excuses.

So Laup and I headed out. Between this aid station and the next, there was some significant climbing that would be a good test of my calves.

I loved this dad and son sprinting up this hill, just for the fun of it.
At first, all went spectacularly well. I was just walking, but I was moving well and pain free. But then the pain started coming back - not as bad as before, but more than enough for me to decide that the final six miles just might do me in.

Flamingos showing the way to the fifth aid station at mile 24.6.
As soon as I got to the aid station, I called Mrs Notthat and told her what was going on and asked her to come get me. If you look at that elevation chart way back up at the start of this report, the red arrow shows where I stopped. I could have likely gone another six miles OK, but not those six miles.

A brave volunteer restraining a skeleton from tackling me.
I waited for Laup to arrive and passed the headlamp on to him, since he was determined to finish this race. (He was jilted out of last year due to some course vandalism that led him off the trail.)

Coach Laup bizarrely having a great time.

And that's about it. It's never easy to "do the right thing" and voluntarily drop from a race. "If the bone ain't showing, keep on going" doesn't always work. I've got a bigger goal in my near future and I really didn't want to risk it.

I got eight hours and 24.6 miles on my legs. That was much needed, and gives me a base to build on. I made it to all of the aid stations and saw most of the great views. And slogged through most of the sand. And climbed most of the hills.

Except that bit at the end. The hard bit.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see a lot more of my pictures here.

PPS: What about Mrs Notthat and her 25K? She managed to finish, but for the first time ever, ran out of water in her hydration pack between the last aid station and the finish. On that hilly bit. But she hung in there and finished well. And managed to find her way out of the park even after they had closed the main gate.

PPPS: I had forgotten that ITR uses Tailwind at their aid stations. This meant I didn't actually have to bring all those pre-measured bags with me. The Tailwind worked marvelously. I ate nothing else outside of some watermelon that Aynwat tried to distract me with as she was thinking of other ways to get me to scream, and I never had any stomach issues - this was a race that classically would have caused me lots of issues. I can't tell you how great it is to get through something like this feeling good, tummy-wise.

PPPPS: I cannot thank Aynwat and Mas enough for putting up with my whining and getting me back out on the trail. I may not have finished, but getting that next 6.6 miles and crossing the 20 mile mark did me a world of good. You two were awesome!


deX said...

Great race report! It's always a hard decision to drop, but if you still had to despite being worked on by (not her real name), then I'm sure there were real issues going on there.

Maybe you should have stopped at 26.2, so you could say that you did a marathon! ;-)

Great job at any rate! Makes me want to do the 25K at the very least next year.

Beth said...

Nice post, Allen. And those trails...such a wide variety! Any chance of seeing you and Mrs. at Quicksilver 50K??

Tawnya Dozier said...

Torture is free anytime Allen. I was proud to see you off. Next year you'll knock that one off your list.

Lia said...

Wow, that's a lot of sand! Bravo for the miles you got in. Love all your pictures as usual. I've been wanting to try Tailwind and had no idea Inside Trail offered it at aid stations...very cool!