My first 50 mile race was almost 3 years ago, right after the new year in 2009. It was the Running from an Angel 50 Miler in Henderson, Nevada.
In the year leading up to that race, I ran 2614 miles, averaging about 50 miles per week over that year which included a lot of speed work and peak training weeks that topped 100 miles per week for the first time since I had been in college. I ran those roads in 7 hours, 47 minutes and 27 seconds.
Fast forward to 2011, when I signed up for the Stone Cat 50 Miler. I am a much more experienced marathoner and ultra runner than I was 3 years ago. Before my first 50, I’d only run 12 marathons and 1 ultra. I know what my body can handle much better than I did in 2009, and running 50 miles isn’t so much of an unknown like it was then. Going into Stone Cat, I had run 15 marathons or ultras since Running from an Angel, 8 of which were run in 2011 alone.
So this means that I should be able to run much faster this time, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not.
The Stone Cat races are on trails, not roads. The hills aren’t as big as last time, but the course is way slower and much tougher. It is a 4 loop course on undulating single track and double track, and this year included a few hundred yards of toe-numbing flowing water that wasn’t much above the freezing point and could not be avoided only a few miles into each loop.
I am also not in nearly as good shape as I was 3 years ago. In the year leading up to the race, I ran almost 1000 miles less, only 1655 miles, averaging less than 32 miles per week for the year. Even in the training barely months before the race, I had seriously strained my ankle in another trail race and if I twisted it wrong when running over rocks and roots could still feel where the bruises had been.
Despite the lack of training, I felt that better experience would win out and I was confident that unless something went terribly wrong, I was going to have a better race at Stone Cat. I might not PR, but I thought that setting a goal of 8 hours would require a PR type of effort and made the math much easier to figure out how far on or off pace I was each loop.
My strategy for the race was to go out really slow, hopefully as much as 2 minutes slower per mile than I did the first time. If things went well, then I wouldn’t slow down nearly as much towards the end of the race as I had the first time, and ideally might even be able to pick up the pace in the last loop.
I had previewed the loop back in September. I knew about what to expect. I thought that running between 1:55 and 2 hours on the first 3 loops would put me in a great position to do well in the race, finishing off with whatever I had in the 4th loop. If I slowed down under that pace in the first 3 loops, then that would be okay as long as I maintained the same effort and still felt like I’d have something left to make a run for it in the last 12½ miles.
I also wanted to avoid spending as much time in the aid stations this time. A lot of time can be wasted when you aren’t moving; I had my gear stashed near the start and finish line and would try to avoid spending any time at the other stations unless I absolutely had to. I’d be carrying my own water, with a hydration pack for loop 1, a belt with 2 water bottles for loop 2, and a hand held for loops 3 and 4. I’d also carry most of my own nutrition, enough for each loop, and only stopping for food at the aid stations if I felt like what I was carrying wasn’t going to cut it for me.
I brought extra socks and shoes, but honestly didn’t expect to use them. The shoes I use drain pretty well, and with the bog that we had to run through about 3½ miles into the loop my feet would be pretty dry by the time I finished and wouldn’t stay dry for long anyway if I did change them.
Getting to the race, I carpooled with some fellow Trail Monsters. We had a huge turnout; probably the largest that we’ve managed for any race that we weren’t hosting. Some friends collected our bibs and glow-in-the-dark race t-shirts, and 9 of us met for dinner the night before the race. The rest made their way down on Saturday morning and our cheering section would get bolstered as more friends and family made their way down from Maine throughout the day.
Do you think that my strategy was a good one? Do you think that my experiences over the past 3 years outweighed the handicaps of not being as well trained and choosing a slower course? Do you think I was able to follow through on my strategy, or do you think that it blew up in my face and led to an epic failure?
Tomorrow I’ll share what I did, what went right, what went wrong, and what I thought about the Stone Cat 50 Miler.