On Saturday, September 14, I embarked on my first 50K, the Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic. I set this goal for myself last January after watching JD finishing the Seashore 50K. I worked on my trail skills with a bunch of shorter trail race over the spring and put a lot more miles on my legs training for two marathons along the way. This was my goal race for the whole year. I didn't have a real time goal. I just wanted to finish, but I had a vague notion that based on what I knew about the course that I would like to finish sub-8 hours.
|Lots of pretty lakes on course|
I was a little disappointed on Saturday morning that JD was unable to run due to a plantar fasciitis flare up. It was a smart decision to rest and let it heal to get to the Oil Creek 100K which is his goal race for the year. I was still sad though because I love when we can do races together and then discuss the course afterwards. He gladly crewed for me for the entire day for which I am very appreciative because as we will learn later in this blog I am not a very nice person when I'm running an ultra. I think I'm kind of like the guys in the Snickers commercial.
|My best supporter and awesome crew!|
So we arrive at Mill Creek MetroParks which was the site of the race.
I had eaten two pieces of raisin bread with peanut butter at around 5:30, and I scarfed a Honey Stinger Chocolate Waffle right around 7:30. Packet pick up was supposed to start at 6:45. We were a little early, and there was a crusty old security guard who seemed intent on hassling everyone about parking. We finally ended up being told to park in a yard across the street from the park even though there was an enormous parking lot with plenty of parking (apparently, it was reserved for weddings later in the day).
|I'm sure those people loved the fact that we were parked right up against their house.|
We made our way down a rather steep hill to the Log Cabin to pick up our shirts and race bibs.
|Log Cabin Aid Station and start/finish|
I tried not to think about walking back up the hill after the race.
|Showing that I'm only "half crazy"|
We walked back up to the car, and I made my final race preparations. It was cool in the morning, but I elected to go with my Moms Run This Trail tank and Asics arm warmers with Nike twisty crops on the bottom and of course Run Pretty Far hair tie. I went with the Brooks Adrenaline ASR for shoes and my usual Feetures ultra light high performance no show tab for socks. I did not wear trail socks because on my last trail run I had not been happy with the SmartWool socks so I elected for road socks and hoped it wasn't going to be too wet. Then it was back down the hill where we milled around on the road for a few minutes. The race director gave us a few instructions and mentioned something about people getting lost (which I scoffed at...I never get lost during trail races...foreshadowing here). He counted us down from 10 and started the race at 8 am. Then we were off on a short road prologue.
|Runners milling around including kilt guy|
|We were important enough for a 30 second police escort!|
|I'm not really leading the race!|
A bunch of runners took off, but I elected to settle in to a nice pace. I had read that we hit a metal staircase shortly after the start so I knew that was going to back up. Sure enough within a quarter mile, staircase! At this point, I'm thinking whose brilliant idea was it to make the 50K course include a metal staircase that you have to climb three times. (I realize that it was the best way to get us out on the trail though so there wasn't much to be done about it.) After we hit the staircase, we ran by some athletic fields where there were youth football games just getting started. Some coach apparently thought he was Jim Harbaugh and was giving a rousing pre-game speech to some 8 year olds who looked like they would rather be playing Minecraft.
|Hated these things on round 3.|
Then we were onto the trail. We ran some trail and then came to a highway underpass where we had to run down some crazy steep embankment to get back on another trail section...more later on how fun that was the third time around.
|Basically a sliding board for me on round 3!|
I was running behind this guy in a kilt who was having trouble with his shoes and tripped twice within the first two miles of trail. The second time I passed him. Then we hit the dreaded Monkey Hills. These are called the Monkey Hills because you end up crawling up some of the steepest sections either on all fours or using the trees to pull you up the hill. There were lots of big trees in the path, the most prominent of which was the Love Log on the second section of Monkey Hills. Now I'm sure you are thinking, how hard can it be to step over a log. This was a big freaking log, and you were on a pretty steep grade trying to go over the log. You literally had to straddle the log and roll yourself over it. This section was difficult, but I was power hiking the hills Anton Krupicka style (hands on knees) and running easy on the flats trying to stay conservative.
|Die little monkey!|
|One of the easy sections of the Monkey Hills!|
|One more view of the Love Log!|
|Covered Bridge Aid Station|
The course is a figure 8, but you run it in a strange way. You make your way from the Log Cabin down to the Covered Bridge (running half of the top of the 8) which is approximately 4 miles. Then you run the bottom of the 8 twice. These loops are 4 miles each and drop you back at the Covered Bridge Aid Station each time. The bottom loop was awesome because it was really runnable mostly single track with about 3/4 mile road section. The road section was actually the worst part because the sun was really bright out there, and it just felt hard on your legs after being on trail. The first time around the bottom loop was uneventful, and I hit Covered Bridge for the second time at 51:08 for a pace of 12:54 for this 4 mile section...again right in my goal range since my plan for the early miles was to keep a sub-14 minute pace. This pace allowed me to walk the uphills, easy run the flats, and take my time on the more technical downhill sections. I spent about 1:14 in the aid station this time. The volunteers reminded me to drink more water since I hadn't had much in that section. I ate some more Honey Stingers, and then I grabbed a handful of Pringles, a cup of watermelon, and 3 M&Ms. Pringles were great, watermelon was OK, M&Ms got spit out because they were too sweet for me at that point. And while we are on food, could they just make some plain peanut butter sandwiches? I hate PB&J, but I really, really wanted a piece of sandwich.
|Laternman's Mill right before Covered Bridge|
|The first time through you are asking where the hell is that bridge because the mill covers it.|
|Parapet Bridge that we ran under during the nice trail section|
|Boardwalk to Covered Bridge|
I texted JD quickly as I was walking out of the aid station that I would see him back at the Log Cabin in 4 miles. I was feeling really great and positive (let's see how long that lasts!). I was hitting all of my goals, sub 14 minute average and no more than 3 minutes in an aid station. I should note that during much of this time I was running alone with the exception of a mile or so on the bottom loop. Since there weren't a lot of 50K runners, we got strung out pretty quickly and the 25K runners were moving a lot faster.
|Suspension Bridge-didn't get to run over it|
|We had to scramble up this stuff instead!|
So now I am running what was supposed to be a 3.75 mile section of trail (other side of the top half of the 8). This section was a lot rockier and rooty than the previous sections. There were also some annoying hills, and the trail twisted around a lot and was not easy to follow. I was paying close attention to the orange flags on the trees to keep track of the turns. At some point, the trail dumps out onto a road, but I don't see any markers. I figured that it was just because it was a road, and there wasn't really much choice in where to go so I kept running. I also saw some runners ahead who I wrongly assumed were racing as well. Then the road comes to an intersection, and there are no markers at all. This is when I start to freak out. I'm pretty sure that I'm off course, but I am hesitant to retrace my steps in case I'm not off course (still thinking about those other runners that I had seen). I called JD as I started to retrace my steps, but at this point I'm really frustrated because I had been making awesome time and feeling good. I have a teary phone call with him. He finds the race director who informs me that I shouldn't be on the road so I need to keep retracing . Lots more tears and cursing ensue. I eventually find where I missed a sharp right turn off of the trail. The trail markers had fallen/been pulled down and were balled up under a bush on the ground which is how I missed them. I later learned that a number of other runners had gotten lost as well.
In hindsight I think I could have just kept following the road and ended up in pretty much the same place with the same mileage which I think some people did, but I'm a rule follower and wanted to make sure I did the trail correctly. Since I'm a good trail runner, I stopped and retied the marker to the tree so no one else would make this mistake. Now I can see runners ahead of me, and I am fuming at all of the people who passed me as well as irritated by the fact that I ran almost an extra mile and wasted a lot of time. I am coming up to the Log Cabin Aid Station where I see JD waiting for me. He was trying to be encouraging, but I am not having any of it. I want to quit the race because I am so mad (partly at myself and partly at the course). I fume and stomp around at the Log Cabin for a 1:35 not really eating anything and refilling the water bottle. I covered 4.5 miles in this section instead of the planned 3.75 and took 1:05 for this section for an average pace over my 14 minute goal.
|Trail markings-this arrow would have been helpful on the turn I missed|
|Nice runnable trail|
|Pretty dam and waterfall area|
|Mama is not happy!|
Then I head back up the road trying to get positive again knowing that I have to tackle the hardest section of the course...steel staircase, Monkey Hills, Love Log...I was pathetic on this section. The only thing that made me smile on this section was that the youth football games had now heated up, and you could hear the noise down the road like it was a Steelers game at Heinz Field. I guess these peewee games get heated because they even had cops there. Not having eaten at the Log Cabin really drained me. It took me a pathetic 23 minutes to cover the mile with the worst of the Monkey Hills, and I was near tears when I rolled into the Covered Bridge at 1:11:17. Mile 20, and it was really ugly. I text JD and tell him how bad I feel...no response from him because he decided that it wouldn't do any good to baby me. I cry a little bit, and then I dig in and start repeating "Run with your heart" and "Breathe, believe, battle" which were my mantras. Sometimes I was repeating them out loud so people walking on the trail surely thought I was nuts.
When you compare the paces from the first time through the section, it was obvious that I was crashing hard. The wonderful aid station volunteers recognized immediately that I was in bad shape. My stomach was upset and nothing looked appealing to eat. One of them convinced me to try the boiled potatoes. Best thing ever! I owe my success in the race to the boiled potatoes. I ate a cup of them with some salt while I was standing there and washed it down with a Dixie cup of flat Coke (sugar!!!), and then took two cups of potatoes and walked out of the aid station with them. I was just stuffing the potatoes down like I was at a Thanksgiving dinner. I tried listening to my iPod Shuffle, but I felt like it was distracting me from paying attention to the trail. I was really apprehensive because this was the section that I got lost on before so I kept stopping to check in front and behind me for trail markers which slowed me down as well. The food hadn't kicked in yet so I was still a little fuzzy mentally as well, but I managed to get through this 3.75 mile section in 52:37 for an average pace of 14:01. I was mentally freaking out the entire time because I thought I was pushing the cutoff of making it to the Log Cabin by 2:15 pm. I wasn't really sure how long this section was since I hadn't run it correctly the last time. So I was a hot mess when I rolled into the Log Cabin at mile 24. JD basically threw me out of the aid station as I was whimpering and whining about not being able to make the 9 hour cut off and some other nonsense. That was the best thing he did for me. It got me back out there and moving.
So last time through the steel staircase, Monkey Hills mess. The steel staircase was awful. I basically had to slide down the previously mentioned embankment. I hated the damn monkeys, and I contemplated stabbing one of them with a stick. I would have stolen one as a souvenier if I didn't think there might be runners behind me who needed the monkeys more than I did. I almost got stuck on the Love Log until I basically threw myself on the ground and then got up from there. So I wasn't moving fast, but I was starting to feel more positive. My brain was working better so I knew that I could make the 9 hour cutoff with plenty of time. Since I'm a statistician I occupy a lot of my alone time on the trails with mentally calculating paces and cut offs over and over again. The math soothes me. I was mostly powerhiking at this point with little to no running. I just knew that I needed to get to that Covered Bridge. Finally I hit the beautiful boardwalk that signaled that the aid station was imminent. Of course, the boardwalk can't just be flat. There are these series of 4 steps that pop up every 10 feet or so. It's like you are in a Mario Brothers game where you have to keep hopping up to the next level. This section took me a pathetic 1:21:34 (10 minutes longer than the last time through-average pace 20:24-yuck!), but I was mostly power hiking as opposed to running so not bad. Looking at my splits, I actually did the Monkey Hills a whole minute faster than I did them the last time through. Right before I came into the aid station I saw some teen boys playing stickball on the road that we had to cross. One of the boys asked me what place I was in. I really thought that I was in last place so that's what I told them. Then they asked me how far I was running. They were pretty stunned when I told them. Then the one held a branch in front of his face and asked if I wanted a motivational high five from a random tree. I had to start laughing. Then the one boy ran with me right up to the Covered Bridge so he "could help me get out of last place." The volunteers told me that I looked much better, and that I should fuel up and then push to finish strong. I was pretty cheered up at this point because I knew that I had a little under 4 miles to go. I also finally caught up to kilt guy who had passed me way back when I got lost so I now had a hope of not being last. We both ate some potatoes and walked out of the aid station together.
|The end is near!|
|Wedding was set up in the lawn here|
I put my music in and put Sara Bareilles's song Brave on blast, and I started to feel really proud of myself. I had trained with that song and had the line "Show me how big your brave is" stuck in my head so I hit repeat on that song and used that as my mantra to get me through the last section. Kilt guy was struggling with some of the hills so I finally passed him and started to throw some running into my walking sections. I was actually feeling super strong on this section and started to think about how I could have kept going with the power hiking/slow run combo. Dreams of a 50 miler started to kick in. As I came off of the trail, there were a group of women who started to cheer for me and encouraging me to finish strong. The excitement kicked in, and I came up with a strong finishing kick to cross the line. I got my crazy little beer bottle opener medal and my car sticker. We lingered for a little to chat and have some food and then headed home.
|I ran a 50K, and all I got was this beer bottle opener. :)|
|Love my sticker! I've been dreaming of this sticker since I saw it on someone's car at an EX2 event last fall.|
Post race recovery hasn't been too bad. The only thing that is really sore is my right arch. I rolled my ankle which caused my PTT to flare up a bit again. It's much improved over Sunday. My legs feel pretty good like I could actually run again if my foot wasn't hurting so I'm encouraged by the quality of recovery. I had no chafing and only one small blister on the side of my right foot, but I had one there at Drake Well so I think this one just was from tender tissue left over. It never bothered me during the race, and I only noticed after I took my shoes off. I might lose two toenails, but one was on its way out anyway. I was pleased with how strong my core felt throughout the race so I need to keep up the core work. I'm also glad that I had done a lot of upper body work in the weeks leading up to the 50K because even a 10 oz water bottle gets heavy over 31 miles. I'm planning 7-10 full days off and then ramping back up for Richmond Marathon.
Log Cabin to Covered Bridge-4 miles: 54:39 (13:39)
AS #1: 52 seconds
Bottom Loop #1-4 miles: 51:08 (12:54)
AS #2: 1:14
Bottom Loop #2-4 miles: 55:12 (13:48)
AS #3: 2:48
Covered Bridge to Log Cabin-4.5 miles: 1:05:08 (14:34-getting lost totally screwed me on this section as I was trying to retrace my steps slowly)
(Official course mileage notes that this section is supposed to be 15.5 miles. I did 16.5 miles. Official check in time for me as 3:48:14 for an average pace of 14:44. If you account for my added mileage, I actually came in right at a 14 minute pace which is what I was going for so not bad considering the drama. )
AS #4: 1:35
Log Cabin to Covered Bridge-4 miles: 1:11:17 (17:49-note how this pace is 4 minutes per mile slower than the first time through)
AS #5: 2:27
Covered Bridge to Log Cabin-3.75 miles: 52:37 (14:01-note that I lost almost 13 minutes on this section the first time through due to the extra mileage and getting lost)
AS #6: 1:16
(Official course mileage notes that we were now at 23.25 miles cumulative. I was at 24.25. Official check in time for me was at 5:56:50 for an average cumulative pace of 15:21. With my added mileage, I was about 14:42 at this point. I had wanted to be under 15 minute pace for the overall race so still OK.)
Log Cabin to Covered Bridge-4 miles: 1:21:34 (20:24-in retrospect I should have tried to run more of this section)
AS #7: 1:48
Covered Bridge to Log Cabin-3.75 miles: 54:19 (14:29)
(Official course mileage was 50K-31 miles cumulative. I hit almost 32 miles. Official finish time was 8:14:40 for an average cumulative pace of 15:54. With my added mileage, my average cumulative pace was 15:27 so didn't hit my goal, but pretty close considering what I battled.)
Only 17 women started the 50K and 5 DNFd. I was 7/12 women who finished and 57/65 overall finishers. 78 had started the race so there was about a 17% DNF rate. Garmin has the official elevation gain as about 3300' and loss as the same for a total of ~6600' of elevation change over the 50K. By the end the downhills were worse than the uphills so you really do need to consider elevation change and not just gain.
|Course map showing the crazy figure 8 pattern|
|Elevation chart for YUTC 50K|
I am really convinced that I would have had a shot at sub-8 had I not gotten lost, but that's part of the game so the time is what it is. I'm proud of finishing my first ultra, and I am excited to try another 50K and hopefully a 50 miler next year. I am especially proud of how far my running has come. At this time last year, I hadn't even run my first 20 miler yet. Within that year, I finished 3 marathons and a 50K. Amazing progress!