I decided to make the Baker Lake 50K my second 50K this year and an "A" race. I trained well and hit all of my benchmarks. I was thinking I'd have an easy 5 hour finish with the possibility of a 4:30. According to the website, the elevation gain/loss for the course was "insignificant" and the event was classified as a "lake" not a "mountain" run. The course is an out-and-back from a campground SE of Baker lake, around the bottom of the lake, up the East shore and over the top to the NW shore of the lake and back. The first (and last) 2 miles are fire roads and it's forest single-track the rest of the way. I was expecting a relatively easy trail but found it much more technical than I'd planned for. I also didn't expect it to be so humid out in the middle of fall.
I got to the starting area about 30 minutes before the official 8am start. I had just enough time to get changed, check in, use the restroom and set up my drop bag. I missed half of the pre-race briefing and lined up in the back of the pack just in time for the count-down. The horn sounded and we were off. I started out at a slow pace and stuck with the back of the pack (of maybe 75 runners.) I was feeling pretty good so I slowly picked up the pace until I was in maybe 10th place as we snaked our way over the dam at the southern end of the lake and up a fire road toward the trailhead.
Once we got onto the trail there wasn't much position swapping because there wasn't really room for it. There were no other trails branching off of ours and not much of a shoulder. The way the trail was cut out of the side hill there was little space off of the trail to get out of someone's way. I kept pace with some pretty strong runners and came through the first 5 miles in mid-8 to low-9 minute splits. It was at about the five mile point that I started to notice how humid it really was. I could feel it sapping my energy as my shirt and shorts were soaked with sweat. I Also noticed that the course was much more technical than I expected. I thought it would be relatively easy footing on dry trails. Instead it was narrow, leaf covered and often wet. There were several small stream crossings and quite a few wooden bridges (about half of which were mossy and slippery as well). On top of that there were plenty of downed logs to step over and large rocks jutting out of the trail hidden under the fallen leaves. You could barely see the rocks until you were right on top of them. My feet would occasionally slide off of of kick a rock and I was lucky enough to resort to flailing my arms to keep my balance and never taking a fall.
Most of my training has been either at the Bridle Trails (fairly flat, wide, fire-road type trails) or on the local roads and their gravel shoulders. I haven't done any real technical trail running in some time. I wished I had. I started to notice my energy waining after a few more 9-10 min miles. By mile 10 I slowed down enough that I gave up on my time goals and started walking up all of the longer uphill sections. People were passing me fairly regularly now but at the same time I was starting to pass some of the people that started in the two early waves 30, and 60 minutes before me. I lost all track of my place in the race and any desire to track it as well.
One of the hard things about this race that I knew about going into it was that due to the nature of the course there would be a 12 - 14 mile section with no aid, not even water. In planning for this I ran all of my long training runs with two 22oz hand bottles. I found that I was able to easily make it 14 miles with the two bottles. I learned the hard way in the race that I hadn't solved the water problem at all. With the humidity and the extra effort the trails were taking out of me I went through my bottles much faster than I'd trained for. I put myself in a bad position of rationing half a bottle of water with about 6 miles to go until I would have a chance to refill. I think the water rationing was what started to derail my race. I didn't notice it at the time but dehydration was beginning to set in.
I also noticed that my hamstrings and one of my calves were starting to get sore, another thing that had never happened in training. I continued to walk the hills and run the rest at a 9min pace but my splits were coming in around the 12 - 13 min mark every mile. Both of my bottles were empty about a half mile before I saw 3 big jugs of water along the side of the trail at the 13.5 mile point. I filled them both and praised the volunteers I saw a few minutes later carrying in two more big jugs. It felt great to have more water than I needed for a change and knowing that it only had to last another 2 miles to the turn-around aid station.
Another thing that started bothering me was my stomach. I was on top of my nutrition all day, I was eating a gel every 30 min and drinking Carbo Pro in my bottles to eat between 275 and 300 KCal/hr as planned. I was also taking one S-Cap every hour to keep my electrolytes in balance. Both strategies worked very well on my last 3 long runs. At the race howeer, my stomach was getting quite sour (a side-effect of dehydration) and I knew what that would mean for my GI tract soon.
I made it to the turn-around aid station in 2h 39m and immediately set off for the facilities. After using the restroom (just like at Mt. Si 50K earlier this year) I thought I had everything handled. The two Immodium tablets that I'd taken before the race should have plugged me up tight but my body just laughed at them.
I actually debated dropping out at the aid station because it was the only place that a runner really could drop. Quitting anywhere else on the course meant that you'd have to walk to which ever end of the trail was closer anyway. I wondered if I had enough in my legs for the return trip. I picked my my drop bag, threw away my 5 empty gel wrappers (don't litter, kids) and refilled my bottles with new 150 KCal doses of CarboPro and a Nuun tablet for flavor. I also took off my shirt and wrung it out. The humidity had left it absolutely soaked. My stop at the aid station took about 10 minutes and I was back on the trail for the return trip. I hoped that I could keep up more or less the same pace walking the uphills and running the rest.
It didn't take me long to abandon that plan when the head of my right Quad started cramping. I had to walk for a minute to calm it down and took an S-Cap immediately to try to calm things down. I didn't have much luck as time wore on. My mile splits with all of the walking and now cramping were in the 13 - 15 min range. I kept yo-yo-ing with a few other runners who were using the same basic strategy of walking up the hills. I started taking S-Caps every 30 minutes instead of every hour but the cramping kept getting worse. I started to realize that I was getting dehydrated but that there wasn't much I could do about it. The 12 mile gap between water stops had me rationing water again with 8 or 9 miles to the finish. I decided to just drink at my normal rate and when I ran dry I'd stop and walk if I couldn't keep running and ask if any of the other runners had water that they could spare.
I guess I looked pretty bad after a while another runner asked if I was okay. When I told her that I was out of water, she offered up some of hers. She still had close to 3 liters o water in her bladder pack and filled one of my bottles. This improved my spirits and I was off and running again. In addition to my cramping, my stomach troubles worsened. On the return leg I had to stop four times to find a secluded spot to "take care of pressing business" so to speak. I don't know what happened to the Immodium but it worked like a placebo. With 7 miles to go I caught up to a woman competitor and struck up a conversation with her. She was a little bit slower than I was but I was having so much problems with cramping, stomach, and dehydration that I decided it was better to run with her and keep talking to make the distance go by faster. We walked the hills and ran the rest at a slightly slower pace. I could have gone faster but the trade-off was worth it.
The miles went by slowly (15-17 min mile splits) and my legs were hurting more and more. I started having to ration water again with 4 miles still to run. Luckily someone had brought in water jugs about a mile before the trailhead and I was saved once again. When we finally reached the trailhead itself there were volunteers waiting with more water and plates of cookies. I took a chocolate chip cookie and filled my bottle again. I thought the cookie would taste fantastic but my sour stomach almost rejected it.
It was a mile and a half from the trailhead to the finish along mostly-downhill fire roads and back across the dam. Sadly my legs were so sore that even slowly jogging down the fire roads hurt too much and I was reduced to mostly walking. I walk-plodded along until it flattened out to cross the Dam and then shuffled down to the finish in a shocking 6h 37m. That's a 2hr positive split and over 2 hrs slower than my first 50K race.
I felt that I controlled most of what I could control, namely my food and my electrolytes but there were several things that I either couldn't account for or underestimated. For instance:
- the high humidity, I had a much higher sweat rate and thus needed to drink more water per hour and take more electrolytes from the start.
- didn't bring enough water. In good conditions (on the roads, no humidity) I can make 2 large bottles last 14 miles. At the race with the extra effort that the trails required and the heat, I needed to run with a Camelbak type bladder system.
-I forgot to drink enough at the turn-around aid station. I refilled my bottles but I didn't drink anything when I was there. I should have chugged an entire bottle to try to catch up a little bit in my hydration. It wouldn't have fixed everything but It definitely would have helped.
- I never trained on technical trails. I get into a rut with my lack of local trails and just end up running on the shoulder of the local roads instead. I need to go out to Cougar & Tiger mountain, Mt. Si, or even Pt. Defiance for some technical trails to build up my stamina. At the same time I'd make the point that these trails would (and probably do) make great hiking trails but don't make good running trails.
- I had breakfast at 5:45am but I should have eaten more before and during the race. Especially starting at the aid station. I wasn't prepared to deviate from my nutrition plan when things started going badly for me.
- A few miles into the single-track I was starting to regret my shoe choice. I did all of my long runs in the Brooks Defyance which is a road shoe. It's a great shoe and it's the pair that fits my feet the best currently. I didn't think about how helpful even a lightly lugged sole would be. I saw quite a few people running in Brooks Cascadias and wish that I'd worn mine despite their narrow fit. I need to start looking at more serious trail shoes for future races and stick with road shoes on the roads.
Overall there were many things that went wrong and/or unplanned for. I had a pretty bad race and didn't have a lot of fun out there. My legs are still quite sore and will be for another few days I'm sure. I'm torn on my thoughts of the race overall. The R/D is very nice and accommodating, but the course description doesn't do the race justice. Some of my perspective could be due to being a trail racing neophyte with a whopping 3 ultras under my belt and not reading between the lines or having the experience to know what to expect. Would I do the race next year after yesterday's experience? Possibly if I could train better for it.
So the stats looked something like this:
Avg: 12:46/mi (!!)
Alt: no clue. The Garmin didn't register altitude for the first half of the race for some odd reason. The second half of the race it registered 14,770' of Ascent. Given that the highest climb was maybe 100' - 150' and most were < 30' I'd be hesitant to even divide that number by 10 and get 1,477' each way or ~2950'. The satellite signal was extra poor in the woods I guess.