There are a lot of first timers signed up for the 50 miler. I'm sorry say that many of you will not finish it tomorrow. -- Dennis Bisnette, Race Director
At no point did I consider doing the reasonable thing and attempting the 50k distance. That's "only" five miles more than a marathon, right? In my mind I already knew I could do a 50k, so the only choice was to sign up for the 50m. As has become a pattern of mine, I underestimated what I was getting myself into and was too overconfident. I neglected to consider how much of a factor running on trails would be, and that five miles was a hell of a long way after you've already done 26.2.
|L-R: Dorothy, Me, Bamarunner and SweetDaddyD!|
Up at 4:00 and out the door by 4:45, we made it to the race with about 45 minutes to spare. We checked in at the officials tent, got our dry bags loaded up and staged (Thanks, Hil!), and after a last-minute bathroom stop went over to the start line. We ran into Mark and Doug again, and a few minutes later were off into the twilight with an unceremonious start.
Although the weather conditions were almost ideal (50°/84%), it quickly became apparent the heavy rains from the night before were going to be a factor. The word of the day was mud, and it got tossed around like a baseball at spring training. It was around every turn and had the consistency of margarine. When you planted your foot not only would it slide and you'd have to steady yourself, but it clung to your shoes. Every time I exited one of the muddy stretches my feet felt like I was ready to sleep with the fishes. There were also a number of creek crossings, some of which came up to the middle of my thigh. They weren't as technically challenging and were good for rinsing off the mud from the exterior of my shoes. Unfortunately, that luxury was typically short lived with more muddy sections awaiting.
The first time I went around the big, 12.5 mile loop it a blast. We started around the middle of the pack and everyone was chatty. We struck up a conversation with a woman named Wendy the first couple of miles, and also talked at length with another guy who was a beer distributor. After Dorothy and I cleared the first aid station at mile 6 I became impatient with the pace. I didn't feel like I was running that fast, but kept pulling away from her. Finally, she told me to go ahead and I stupidly did. A rookie mistake, this turned out to be a huge regret. In hindsight I should have stayed with her, measured my pace and stuck to my original plan of running together. Instead, I let my natural pace lead me around the rest of the loop. I hopped, skipped and jumped around obstacles and felt like a little kid at the playground. Too bad the rest of the race didn't go the same way.
The second time around the big loop started out well. A few minutes before I arrived at the start/finish area the 20K race had started, so I got to fly past some of the walkers. I was still having fun until I again ran into the mud, which was now even worse having had over 250 people trample through it. It was becoming more difficult to skirt the edges, as the pits had grown in both length and width. Still, I kept pushing on and felt strong until about mile 23. At that point, however, my splits started to slow some. I finished the second loop and completed 25 miles in 4 hours flat. I was a little surprised when I saw that number on the clock at the check-in station.
When I started the big loop for the third time I was dreading the mud I knew awaited me. Sure enough, it was somehow worse than the second time. There was no getting around it, and every step was getting more and more painful on my quads, who weren't used to all the extra time my feet were contacting the ground. In a road race on solid footing my foot touches the ground for a fraction of a second, but in the mud I had to plant and then fight my shoes as they slid around underneath me for an extra second or two. It all was starting to add up and take its toll. It's hard saying what my splits were when you figure in the time I stopped at aid stations to eat, drink and collect myself, but the Garmin data suggests my last moving miles were in the 13- to 14-minute/mile range.
|L-R: Bamarunner, me and SweetDaddyD|
|Shoes, socks and inserts. They actually|
felt "clean" compared to most of the day.
|50m. Tough. As. Nails.|
As I already mentioned, one of my regrets for this race was not staying with Dorothy and managing my pace better. Although the rolling course and abundant mud certainly taxed my legs, I wonder if I could have squeezed out the last 12 miles with a disciplined partner and a smarter approach.
"It hurts to a point and then it doesn't get any worse." -- Ann Trason
A second regret that ate away at me a couple of days after the race was my decision to drop. I knew going into the race it was going to be mentally taxing and painful, but I wasn't prepared for the degree. Hindsight is 20/20, and thinking back on that moment at the check-in station I wondered if I truly was done for the day. Could I have kept going? Did I sell myself short? There's nothing I can do about it now, so the only thing to do is learn from the experience and apply those lessons next time. Yes. Next time.
Things I was happy with included my fueling. I didn't experiment with eating real foods prior to the race, and threw caution to the wind when the time came. I ate pretzels, chips, M&Ms, gummi bears, Saltines with peanut butter and bananas, and never had GI issues. I made sure to consume just a little at each aid station so as not to overdo it, and that seemed to work for me. Another thing that turned out well was taking Hammer gels. I'd never tried them before, but they didn't give me any trouble, either. Even better, at no point did I feel like I'd hit the wall. I had decent energy throughout.
Hydration wasn't a problem for me, either. Most of the time I stuck to water, and I popped an S!Cap every hour or so. And when I got tired of water I'd let the aid station volunteers (Awesome!) fill my bottle with Heed. Between these two tactics I was able to fend off the sensations of impending cramping I felt in my hamstrings every once in a while.
Finally, for a couple of months leading up to the race I fretted about what shoes I should wear. I tested out a pair of Adidas adiZero XT 3 (admitted Adidas fan boy here) back in January, but ended up returning them. I then tried some Brooks PureGrit that were designed with input from Scott Jurek. I didn't fall in love with them immediately (35 miles total), but race day was fast approaching and I decided to at least put them in my bag. When faced with the decision to use them or some old Brooks Adrenaline ASR hybrid shoes I figured they were the best option for the conditions. They ended up performing well for me, offering adequate lateral traction under the conditions and I came away relatively unscathed. I'll continue putting them to the test on future runs to see how well they perform on dry trails.
As we ate our dinner Friday night I shook my head defiantly when Dennis said many of us wouldn't finish the next day. As it so happened, he knew what he was talking about. Of the 114 people that started the 50 mile race the next morning, 36 didn't complete the entire distance. And I was one of them. It may take me a couple of years to get back to the De Soto National Forest, but I fully expect to redeem myself one day. Maybe next time there won't be quite so much mud.
Postscript. Though you won't find the same amenities as you would a road race, the MS50 delivered in every way. I was thoroughly impressed with the course, volunteers and how well organized and executed everything was. Kudos to the race director and everyone that made it all happen behind the scenes. Carl Touchstone must have been quite the man to have a race like this held in his honor.