Happy July 4th everyone! We’re officially halfway through the year, and as of this past weekend, I’m also officially halfway through my season of racing ultramarathons. This time it was the Finger Lakes Fifties ultramarathon, held in Finger Lakes National Forest in between upstate New York’s scenic Cayuga and Seneca lakes.
The race takes place on a 16.5-mile trail loop. The FL 50s ultra is unique in that runners are registered for both the 50k and 50-mile race distances. You don’t have to decide which distance you’re doing until you’re actually running. 50k competitors complete two laps, for 32.9 miles. 50-mile competitors complete a third lap, plus a baby 0.5-mile loop to make an even 50.
Also unique about this race is that it’s first ultra I’ve done where you weren’t permitted to have a crew. Apparently, they had problems last year with interference and confusion at aid stations between race volunteers and family/friends. Kelli has always served as my crew, so this presented an extra challenge.
As a gluten-free athlete, I like to be self-sufficient with my race nutrition. I don’t like relying on aid station offerings. In fact, based on the race info, I knew ahead of time that I couldn’t eat most of what they’d have at the aid stations: PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, Fig Newtons, etc.
I contacted the race organizer, explained my predicament, and fortunately they were more than wiling to accommodate my needs. I packed two aid station drop boxes that I’d give to them the night before, when I showed up to pick up my race bib, and those boxes would get shuttled out to aid stations at miles 5 and 10, where they’d be waiting for me. I’d also have my own drop bag at the start/finish line.
I’ve written about my race nutrition before, such as in the preview of the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain. But this time I decided to make a video diary, since everything was laid out on the kitchen table at my in-laws’ house in Ithaca as I prepped the day before the race. Here’s a narrated look behind the scenes at my latest nutrition plan for ultramarathon-distance trail racing:
Temperatures were due to reach the low 90s on race day this past Saturday. That’s brutally hot to be racing 30 to 50 miles. Nine days earlier I raced well despite similar heat at the Minnewaska Summer Solstice 14k, but that was a much shorter race and historically I haven’t performed well when the mercury starts to climb. How the heat would affect me in this race was a big unknown variable.
Temps were in the 60s when the cowbell clanged at 6:30am, and more than 160 of us were off and running. Even within the first mile or two of the race, something felt off. My quads were tired, my legs seemed heavy. They should have felt fresh, but they didn’t. Kelli was the first to realize the problem several miles later: “Do you think the mountain was too much too close to this race?” she asked me.
Kelli was referring to our ascent of Mount Monadnock seven days prior. The climb involved 1,800 vertical feet of steep ascent and an equal amount of descent. Kelli carried Charlotte most of the way in a backpack carrier. Marin climbed the mountain all on her own, but I carried her down the mountain in another backpack carrier … mostly so we could move a lot faster since we were racing a thunderstorm back to our car at the trailhead. But Marin’s bodyweight, plus the inherent weight of the pack and a few things in it, left me with an extra 40 pounds on my back. That weight—and the challenge of the ascent and descent—took its toll on my legs.
Had I given them enough rest in the few intervening days leading up to the FL 50s race? It suddenly appeared that I had not.
As the race went on, the heat rapidly climbed. I would dump cups of water over my head and body at aid stations, and I was drinking as much electrolyte fluids as I could without getting a stomach cramp. But managing the heat was a constant challenge. I thought I could handle it better than I actually did.
One other factor conspired to put a kink in my racing plans: twisted ankles. In the course of the race, I rolled both ankles (including my right ankle twice!). The culprit wasn’t gnarled roots or jagged rocks. It was cows. Yes, cows. In two places the trail left the relative comfort and shade of the forest and traversed active cow pastures. Cows, it turns out, make for horribly uneven footing. When the ground is muddy, their steps leave all sorts of deep depressions. With the hot, dry weather we’ve had, those depressions all solidified, often obscured beneath the grasses of the pasture.
None of the ankle rolls was very bad—I have no discoloration, and swelling is minimal, but four days later, my right ankle still feels decently tweaked.
I had intended to run the 50-mile distance, but by mile 25 or so it was clear to me that I’d be calling it a day after 50k. Most of the runners made the same decision. Based on preliminary race results, of 164 finishers, 116 opted for the 50k option. Check out the second video, directly above, to see footage from the race! I hope you enjoy the video, a new feature here on the blog.
Also based on preliminary results (final, accurate results haven’t been posted yet), I placed fairly well: 13th out of 116. (UPDATE 7/5/12: Final results are in with updated standings. I placed 11th!)
I should be happy with that result, and to some degree I am. But there’s also a touch of disappointment. I know that if I ran the kind of race I’m capable of with my current level of fitness, I should have been in contention for a Top 5 finish. But that’s not the race I actually ran. And so I take it as lessons learned, focus on recovery, and look ahead to the next race, which is coming up at the end of this month: the Escarpment Trail Run in the Catskill Mountains.
Finally, I’m happy to report that the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge is back on track, with donations coming in once again. We’re currently 42% of the way toward my goal of raising $5,000 for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. We’re also less than $1,400 away from bringing the three-year total to $10,000. Woohoo!
The GF Ultra Challenge giveaway winner for the month of June is the Wilson family! Congratulations! Please email me with your mailing address and book of choice.