This isn’t about search but is my race report about my most recent running endeavor. I signed up for my first 50K last fall. It is called the PHUNT race and is scheduled in mid-January so who knows what kind of weather you are going to get. Last year there as a steady sleet and rain for the race. When I signed up I had plans of my first 50K in May at the Grand Canyon and I thought this would be a good training run as you can run 25K or 50K. It is a loop that you run twice for 50K. I had thoughts of maybe doing 50, but figured 25 was fine and if the weather was challenging at all I would just do 25K.
PARDON THE DOUBLE SLIDER AT THE BOTTOM. I COULDN’T FIX THAT
Then the NYC marathon happened. I had a nightmare day there. Every runner seems to have that nightmare race story and mine happened at the 2015 NYC marathon and I got a DNF. My wife’s also happened in New York, at the 2013 NYC marathon, that we ran together. We finished together, but she had an injury, so the NYC marathon doesn’t bring wonderful finish visions to our heads, but we have at least finished it. That being said, having a DNF this past November, plants that seed of doubt in your head. I couldn’t finish. I dehydrated. I couldn’t take in any fluids or calories and it just went all bad.
After a few days of recovery, I looked at that PHUNT trail race as a second chance. It was a few months away and I already had trained up the mileage. I was a little burnt out and December through February is usually my fattening time to take off from running, but I figured maybe I should get back on the horse and give it a shot and I made plans to run the 50K in my head, if not outwardly sharing it with everyone. It also helped that the PHUNT is in Maryland, and I have some thoughts of doing at least a marathon in every state. This would add Maryland to PA, NY, TN, and DE on my list. A nice group of five. As I get older, that may drop to at least a half marathon, but we will say marathon for now.
So because burn out is definitely an issue for me and I would be running through my offseason, I had to make some deals with myself to handle this mentally. The goal was to finish. I ran a trail marathon in Delaware last spring, and though I finished really well, I ran it like a road race and it was a very painful second half. I didn’t want a repeat of that. I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and take it at a manageable and fairly easy pace. That is easy to say in theory when nobody is passing you out there or pushing you from behind. The other deal I made with myself was just to do the long runs and some basic mid-week runs, but no speed or hill work during the week. This is the hardest part of the training,and by not doing it, I knew I wouldn’t be trained for a fast day, but I also told myself that mentally that would force me to accept slowing down a bit. It also would avoid burning out. To that end, I mostly avoided burn out, though the last couple of runs before the race I was ready to be done.
Race day came and we went down the night before and had a nice dinner with my cousins, who live in the Newark, DE area, a few miles away. The race director loves PBR, so I grabbed some PBR to bring to the finish area. Trail runners tend to have more of a festive party atmosphere during races. It is fun. I didn’t actually drink any beer after the race, but I wanted to contribute. With my troubles taking in food and water while running, I was lucky to get my energy drink in .
For January, it was actually a beautiful start to the day. Up until about two days before the race, the weather was calling for rain on Saturday. It ended up showing up the night before, and the first half of the race was actually sunny and warm, with the wind blowing in the clouds and cold in the second half, but no precipitation. Karen, as always, was there for moral support, and helped me get in the right frame of mind before the race. I wanted to just go out slow and easy and try to maintain. Not sure if I have answered this yet, but wonder if you start nice and slow if you can maintain, rather than starting fast and finishing slow. With that being said, I immediately ruined my early strategy by standing with the people up front at the start, and after they led us around about a kilometer worth of a circle, we started the race and I was up with the leaders. (Bad move)
The first part of the race is downhill on a road before turning in to a field for a bit and then in to the deeper woods. I was already going too fast. I’m very bad at pacing myself and tend to go with the people around me, even if I spent two months planning on taking it slow and easy right from the start. When we first turned in to the field, it was covered with mud and we got our first introduction to the crazy mud that would cover most of the course. We had to hop back and forth to miss the deep mud and the actual trail (much of this is single or double track trail) was mostly deep mud with the optimal footing coming from running just on the edge of the actual trail.
Now trail runners are a very friendly and polite group. Not to say road racers aren’t, but they aren’t forced to interact quite as much. When you are on single track, the only way to pass is to interact. With my polite PA upbringing, it also makes you want to make sure you aren’t slowing people down behind you when you know it is difficult to pass. I got caught up in this a little. My mind was saying you need to slow down. You are ruining everything you planned, but at the same time, I felt like I needed to keep the pace of everyone on the singe track in the woods. I did my first mile at about 8:30 and I had promised myself I would stay over 10 minutes. Not good.
I had to get serious or this was going to end very badly. I promised myself I’d slow down. So my whole strategy the rest of the day was intuitively the opposite of any race I’ve ever been in. I kept telling myself to let people pass you. Slow down. I actually set goals to let people pass me to force me to slow down. My competitive nature would pull me forward and then I would argue with myself internally and a few times even shout to slow down. People are so polite that they would move over to the side and tell me to go through and I actually said a few times that I shouldn’t because I was going too fast and needed to slow down. Yet I kept going. I at least slowed to the 10 minute mile pace I had promised. But on this course today, that was even fast.
The mud made it tough running. It was quite deep and difficult. There were three aid stations on the loop. The volunteers here did an outstanding job and were unbelievably nice and supportive. It is great to come upon that cheering support out there. However, on the first time through I ran right past the aid stations. This was actually part of my plan. I had all my fuel in my vest. Shortly after the second aid station, you cross a bridge and go up a fairly steep hill in the mud and run around a bit before coming down another steep hill. This is probably in the mile 7 or 8 range and then again at mile 23 to 24ish. This was the worst mud on the course, though much of it was like this. Coming down this mud trail I almost felt like I should have just slid down on my butt. The second time through, when I was forcing myself to slow down more, I took this picture, but then immediately fell down putting my phone away.
You had to be very careful, watching every step on the trail. It was very technical, with a lot of rocks, roots, and of course mud. However, I only fell that one time. At my trail marathon last spring, it was much less technical, but I fell a number of times. Perhaps this was because I was going faster, but I like to think I’m getting a little better at this stuff.
So the second half of the loop, though hilly and muddy, doesn’t feel quite as tough as the first 8 miles or so. You can kind of find a mental spot and just run a bit. There were enough people out there, especially on the first time through, (435 runners ran the first lap, but only 105 ran the second) that you were never completely alone, though you spend a lot of time alone in your own head. I came out of the woods at mile 15 or so and started to head up the long steep hill back to the start/finish and chatted with a woman that I had been running near through the woods. She had just gotten diagnosed with shingles the day before and was planning on doing the full 50K. Amazing. She actually took off on that hill and left me behind.
I got to the start/finish area and had to go to my car to get two new bottles for my vest and change my beanie to a hat and lose my sleeves, etc. I thought my car would be right close to the course, but I actually ended up having to walk a bit out of the way to go to it. Karen was there when I got up there so it was nice to see her face and get her support. We took a few minutes. I forced myself to eat a couple of orange wedges and then tried to down a couple of cookies, but that wasn’t as good of an idea.
I did the first half in about 2:45, but I told Karen that the second half would likely be much slower, maybe even an hour slower. I planned on walking the up hill sections and stopping at all of the aid stations. Despite my hopes to go slow on the first half, I still went a little too fast and was a little too competitive. Now I would pay for it a bit. I actually grabbed my headphones and listened to podcasts on the second loop. At my marathon last spring, I literally didn’t see a soul on the second loop, so I was prepared for that. This time out I was within view of someone either ahead or coming from behind probably 90% of the time. The course was so well marked that the few times I felt a bit alone and got nervous, I would see a marking, and then usually see someone ahead weaving through the trails shortly after.
The first mile on the second loop I found myself going too fast again and touched under 9 minutes on pace on my watch again, but I knew that wouldn’t continue. That was partly the hill. Nevertheless, I was finding myself catching up to people in the early going. One person pulled over and let me pass. There was an older gentleman wearing mostly red ahead of me about 50 yards on the trail. He stood out and was doing a decent pace. I decided I wanted to settle in behind him. I didn’t want to pass him, just stay behind a bit. If I found myself catching up, I’d slow down. If he stopped to walk, I would stop to walk. I think it helped me a bit and was a low stress situation. I think for him though, it was probably more stressful, knowing there is a guy just behind you pushing you (unintentionally), and pressing you to hold pace. He eventually pulled to the side and stretched, but I think he just was tired of listening to my heavy breathing behind him. I understand. I’m still recovering from a three month cold and I feel like people thought I was closer to them when I was behind than I was because of my breathing noises.
Anyway, he let me by as we went up a hill and I passed him for a bit. He was a great help for me for several miles during that race though. I would also like to say that he eventually passed me again and then took off and left me in his dust, or mud, on this particular day.
I stopped at all of the aid stations and drank the cold water and had orange slices. I made a point of gathering myself before continuing on. I’m not one that usually does this, but it was nice, and I will do it again.
Once I got in the 20’s, I started not feeling great. My legs were ok. Tired of course, but nothing I hadn’t felt before, but I started to get that feeling you get right before you pass out. I once passed out in a restaurant after doing a long run. I was alone and I woke up to lots of strange faces staring down at me on the floor. It was a strange feeling. Anyway, right before I passed out, my vision started to get a little blurry on the edges. I could still see forward, but it gets a little hazy on your peripheral vision. Not sure if this is how it hits everyone, but I recognized it and knew I needed to probably eat or take a minute at the next stop. The next aid station was the final aid station, right about at 26 miles. So I had basically finished a marathon. I stopped for a while there. I didn’t tell them what was happening to me internally, but they were very supportive and helpful and I think noticed I was there a little longer than was normal. I ate a few bananas and drank water and just waited until that vision feeling went away.
The good news is that it didn’t come back but the bad news was that from waiting so long, it sort of started my legs seizing up a bit. My body thought I was done, but I still had 5 miles left. I ended up getting passed a lot in the last five miles and at that rest stop. I wasn’t going to be a top finisher anyway, but I probably lost at least 1o spots from that rest stop out. I walked all of the uphills after that and my legs were really tight. I was able to run the downhills ok and there were a few moments where I thought I was feeling ok again, but then would hit a steep hill and have to walk again. Then it would be tough to get the running going again. When I got to that last hill on the road, I knew I only had a bout .7 miles to go and that I had done it. I mostly walked the hill and saw Karen standing at the top. She told me it was about 3:15. I sprinted the last 100 yards of flat land and finished my first 50K.
I had hoped to possibly break 6 hours. My watch, which auto-pauses when I stop. (half way mark, rest stops) had me at exactly 6 hours. With a 3:15 finish, my clock time will be close to 6 hours and 15 minutes. I never saw my official finish time. Karen went to the board and saw I was listed as 49th but didn’t see a time. We were told later that 105 finished the 50K, so I was smack dab right in the middle, with a mediocre, but happy time. I definitely felt the difference in not doing speed and will work, but I also know if I had, I would have burnt out and I may not have even tried the second loop. I have a faster 50K in me somewhere down the road. It won’t be the Grand Canyon. That race is all up hill and I plan on stopping and taking lots of pictures and really enjoying it at a slow pace. Hopefully I actually hold myself to that. It is much more fun if you don’t start too fast.
I finished feeling much better than I did after my better time finish marathon last year. I was sore on Sunday but not too bad. I was able to go to the gym and work out this morning, two days later. Trail running is easier to recover from for bad knees, etc. as long as you don’t fall and hurt yourself. Just wanted to share the experience of an average Joe, or Jeremy, running his first 50K and some of the thoughts and feelings that come with it.
Great race put on at the PHUNT. I would recommend it. I lucked out on the weather. It could be much, much worse. The organization behind the thing is great though and it is a great community. Check out the Trail Dawgs here. They also put together the Triple Crown marathon in Newark I ran last year. Both of these races are less than 2 hour drive from central Jersey, straight down 95.