10/7 - 10/14: no running
What started as a scratch in my throat grew into 2 sick days home from work and feeling like crap for the better part of my taper week leading up to the race. I was careful to get more sleep and hydrate as much as I could stand (which probably still wasn't enough) leading up to the race. I didn't decide whether to run the race or not until I got up on Saturday morning. I felt pretty bad Thursday and Friday morning but by the afternoon on both days my cold was subsiding. I woke up Saturday morning (the 15th) feeling stuffy and a little scratchy but not quite as bad as the previous two days. I got dressed, ate some cereal, packed my running bag, said goodbye to my son (the early bird) and drove to Starbucks for coffee.
The drive out to Pt. Defiance from my house is only 20 min, one of the big selling factors in my running the race. I got out to the start/finish area at Owens beach 45min before the race started. There were a few hundred people running in the three different events (15K / 30K / 50K) but most of them hadn't arrived yet so packet pickup and the bathroom lines were minimal. I got changed in the car and relaxed listening to a podcast while I waited for the race to start.
Five minutes before the race started I collected my things (one hand bottle, four gels, some Clif Blocks, and my iPod) and headed to the start line. I jogged for a couple of minutes out along the course to warm up my legs. While I was slowly jogging I accidentally kicked the timing chip on my left foot and snapped both of the tiny zip ties holding it onto my shoe. As I looked around for the timing chip I heard "3 minutes to race start" over the loudspeaker. I found the chip on the ground, grabbed it up and practiced a little bit of speedwork as I ran the 1/10th of a mile back to the check-in table. They got some new zip ties for me and I was able to get the chip reattached to my shoe with my cold clumsy fingers with a minute to spare.
This is the first time I've used this style of timing chip (about 2/3rds the size and 5x the thickness of a business card) and I don't like them. They're too big, and the zip ties that came with them were the smallest flimsiest dainty little bubble-style ties I've ever seen. They were hard to manipulate with cold fingers and way too fragile. If people are cutting them off at the end of the race with wire cutters, why use the tiny fragile bubble-style ties instead of larger / stronger zip ties? After kicking it off before the race I was worried about losing my timing chip the whole run and kept looking down at my foot every mile or so. I remember running several marathons 10 - 15 years ago and the timing chips used back then were about the size of a quarter and required one small (normal) zip tie. They never came loose and worked just fine.
I lined up near the back of the pack for the race start. I figured that all of the 15K and 30K runners would be faster at the start but that wasn't the case. I found that my 9:00/mi easy pace still had me weaving in and out of people and passing several other runners for the first mile or two.
Pt. Defiance isn't a big place and holding a 50KM race on the trails there is quite a stretch. The race director was very creative with the route. The course consisted of three 16.6KM loops that zig-zagged and tangled all around the park. Each loop started with about half a mile of flat running along the water before heading up a big set of stairs and then snaking around the very nice trails that tangle through the park. The trails were almost all soft single track paths with damp bark and leaves under foot. There were a few road crossings every lap as well as a short section of road near the end. One nice thing that the race provided was crossing guards to hold car traffic at every single road crossing. There were a few short hilly sections and one steep 1/4mi climb every lap but it only made for ~1300' of climbing per loop. At the end of each loop there was a steep descent down a hillside with ropes provided to hold onto as you climb down to the shore and back to the start.
As a 50KM runner I had to complete three loops of the course. I wasn't sure if I'd finish all three given my cold so I started out pretty conservatively, running ~9:00/mi and trying to stay light on my feet with good form. I felt like I could have run much faster but I didn't want to wear myself out and pay for it later. The race was planned as a training run for the Ron Herzog 50K so I didn't have a "A" race mentality, especially just getting over a cold. It was tough to hold myself back and I had to keep reminding myself that it was okay to take it easy.
The first lap was pretty crowded with 15K and 30K runners but started to thin out by the 8mi mark. Just before the end of the first lap a group of 5 or 6 runners and I were mis-routed by a pair of volunteers who thought that the 50KM course had a different finish for each lap. It took us about half a mile to figure out that we were going the wrong way and we turned around and went back the right way. I finished the first lap in 1:41.
There were several picnic tables at the start/finish line where they had an aid station set up and runners could put their drop bags. I stopped to refill my bottle, throw away empty gel wrappers and fill my pockets with 4 new gels, some Clif Blocks and take off my base layer, hat, and gloves. I was feeling good after the first lap and set off at the same pace for the second lap. Over the second 10 miles my legs lost a lot of their spring and I could feel the warning signs of cramping starting to creep in. I kept up with my plan of eating something every 15 min (2 gels and 2 Blocks every hour) along with drinking my CarboPro solution. I power-hiked the one steep hill on the second lap but ran the rest of the loop. When I came down the steep descent at then through the timing mats for the finish I heard someone calling my name and looked up to see my wife and kids cheering for me. I didn't know that they were coming so it was great to see them there and take a minute to chat while I refilled my bottle / pockets before hitting the porta-potty and starting on my final lap.
The third lap was where things started to fall apart. I was still running at about the same pace but I really felt like I was on the knife's edge cramping-wise. I was taking my electrolytes regularly, so I don't know where the cramping was coming from, only that I'd have to be careful not to push too hard and stay on top of my hydration. I began hiking almost all of the uphill sections on the third lap trying to save my legs from cramping. I make it a little bit past the mid-lap aid station before the first of the cramping started causing me to stop and stretch out my hamstrings and calves. Unfortunately it happened just as three other runners were passing me and asked if I was okay as I stepped off of the trail. I told them I was fine and that they should keep going.
The last 5 miles was a combination of walking all of the hills with slower jogging to keep my central governor just under the limit where the cramping came on. I was looking forward to the end of the race and happy when I finally arrived at the steep rope descent which meant that there was only 1/4mi left to the finish line. I made my way down the ropes and out onto the waterside path where I saw my wife and kids waiting about 20 yards in front of the finish line. Both kids ran up and hugged me, probably happy that they could go home soon after waiting so long for me to show up from my third lap. I held the kids' hands and we ran across the finish line together... while no one took pictures of it. Oh well.
I finished in 5:43:02 (46th / 112), which would have been good on it's own but when you look at my lap times, you can see my decline. I ran a 1:41 first lap, a 1:45 second lap (the difference being time I spent at the aid station) and a 2:15 third lap. A steady 1:45 third lap would have moved me up to about 24th place. A sub-6hr finish on the kind of training I've had this fall along with getting over a cold (and the 50 times I blew my nose during the race) isn't too bad at all. It was a great course and an enjoyable way to spend my morning. I'd like to go back next year and try to improve my time.
I hope I can pick up the pace a little bit for my next run on 11/5/11, the Ron Herzog 50K. I don't know anything about the race except how to get there. The race website doesn't give any real information on the course or elevation profile. It'll probably be fairly cold up in Granite Falls by then as well. Tough to predict a result for Ron Herzog. I'll just say that beating my time from Pt. Defiance would be nice.
As an addendum here just over a week since running the Pt. Defiance 50K, my legs feel horrible. My knees are the worst. I have some sore hamstrings but I'm getting knee pain in the sides of my knees that's keeping me from any serious running. I've run a total of 9.8 miles (2 runs) since the race. It looks like I'll be hitting the pool and the gym for a few more days and hoping that my knees calm down before I have to decide whether or not to brave Ron Herzog. I'm not sure what the problem is with my knees, whether they're sore, inflamed, tracking wrong, or if I did some actual damage do them? I really hope it's nothing serious.