Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn Leaves 50K

A year ago, in my search for a last-minute Western States qualifier, I found this race.  Located at a state park outside Portland, it was a convenient location for my first ultra run.  And the course and race organization made it a terrific experience in 2010. 

At summer's end, I registered, with the idea to return and run the 50K option (five x 10K laps, instead of eight) as a workout for a possible late-fall marathon. While those marathon dreams (at least for 2011) have dissipated, I was looking forward to doing an "honest effort" on a flat, fast, yet "honest course".

Going in, my condition wasn't optimal.  It's been a busy month: a 50M run around the Sisters, and 56+M on the WS trail just one week ago.  I wasn't all too concerned about dead legs; however, my left achilles was irritable all week preceding race day.

Britt and I drove up, leaving just before 5AM for the 7AM start.  It was a long week for lus both, so the wake-up was tough.  But I was happy to have her come, not just to spectate, but also to race the 10K that would commence at 10AM.  We arrived around 6:30 (cutting it a bit close for my liking), but with just enough time for me to check-in, suit-up, and get in a quick stretch.  I chose to run in a new pair of Mizuno Ronins; however, I slipped in a heel lift into each shoes for the achilles'.

It was dark, foggy, yet surprisingly warm as we assembled at the chip mat.

For fueling, I decided to take a minor risk and go without any hydration device - no "sandwich-carrying jet pack", not even hand-helds.  Instead, I decided I'd try fueling with disposable bottles filled with Coke: I filled four bottles and kept them by the start/finish AS, with the idea I'd drink one after the first four laps.  I've done well with Coke -- and I've been doing better with "less" recently: it has water, sugar and salt.  With that as a base, I'd then augment with anything else I might need from the two AS'.

First Lap
Without any significantly speedy competition, it was me out front at the 7AM start.  Very dark, quite foggy.  I made my way down the "start/finish grade" and onto the paved path for the start of the first of five-10K loops, donning my Sprinter headlamp to cut the fog.

Just the day before, I connected with Mike Baum at Oregon Neurosport Physical Therapy, to work on some mechanical issues.  Mike is one of the pre-eminent purveyors of Functional Manual Therapy and PNF techniques.  He did significant work on my right lower quarter, then gave me some exercises and areas of focus going into the race -- primarily designed to get my right leg doing its share, and overall, to get me to engage my lower abdominals more effectively for propulsion.  We also worked on breathing.

As such, my primary areas of focus were: 1. Deep breathing (which functioned as pace control), and 2. lower abdominal engagement (plus right leg push-off). 

I felt very relaxed, so I was a bit surprised to hit 5:50s for the first mile.  I eased off slightly, passing the 2nd AS and heading on the path along the Willamette.  The 2nd mile split was at least 100m short, as I  passed it in around 11:40, despite slowing.  Mile 3, into the woods and gentle, speed-bump rollers, was more accurate (~18:10).  The turnaround was at the end of a fairly significant (by "road" standards) upgrade of about 150m, then right back down the hill, back-tracking on the course until AS 2, before forking right to the trail segment to the finish grade.

It was quite dark until the trail; the oncoming headlamps at the turnaround were almost disconcerting, reminding me of running against traffic in the dark.  I was happy to have usable daylight when I emerged from the woods to complete the first lap.  I ran up the grade and handed-off my headlamp to Britt.  The wooded segment is a bit slow; as such, my 10K split slowed to 39:05.

Second Lap
This loop course, while comforting in its routine, can be monotonous.  As such, the little issues I would encounter over the rest of the day made me think of "Fred", the nerdy guy from Seinfeld who, by ignoring and forgetting about Elaine, attracts her:

Jerry: "  foot's falling asleep..."
Fred:  "At least you have something to do!"

After clocking in, I rolled down the grade into lap two, grabbing my first bottle of Coke.  Drinking out of a non-squeeze bottle at 10mph was more challenging than I remembered, but I choked it down within the first mile, then got back to work.

About midway through the 2nd lap, I began to get a significant "pre-cramp" in my right upper abdomen.  Away from the AS and without any fluid, I focused on breathing deeply and managed to keep it settled through 8K before grabbing a half-glass of HEED at AS 2 on my way back in.  Legs felt great, but because of the cramp, I slowed a bit: 39:16.

Third Lap
Same routine for the third lap: another bottle of Coke.  It wasn't tasting particularlty good, and by mid-lap I began to feel some significant gut-rot.  Uh-oh.  I had a "fussy tummy" the night before, as well, which likely didn't help.  I made it to the wooded section before making an impromptu "pop-squat" in the woods.  Thankfully there were these damp, mega-huge maple leaves that made for easy clean-up.  I lost maybe 20 seconds from the deuce -- and probably several more from the general malaise -- and was back on my way, feeling much better.  At the check-in, I got my visor from Britt, and ready for the "toughest lap": 40:14.

Fourth Lap
Despite the set-up: a long month, the 56M last Saturday, and the cranky heel, I was still gunning for the CR.  Matt Lonergan clocked at ~3:18 here a couple years ago, and my thoughts were on that time and what I need -- 39ish 10Ks -- all morning.  Going into #4 my legs felt great and energy solid; however my stomach was still iffy.

Then, I had something else to think about: cramps!  Mid-third lap I began to feel some soreness in my right calf.  This was a nice change; I've been overloading my left leg for over a year, so to have any loading-issue on the right was a nice change.  But, again, I found myself pastt AS 2 with mounting pre-cramp sensations in my right (then left) calf.  And, without fluid, I had to "think them away".  I managed a respectable pace to the 5K turnaround, but then the gut-rot came back again!  Shit!  So, without wanting to deal with it, I stepped right off the trail and squatted quickly, got going again, and made it back to AS 2. 

I wasn't sure what I needed, but I knew I'd had no real salt all day, so once there, I pounded water and asked for some S-Caps...but they couldn't find them -- they weren't out!  So I took three fingers and shoveled table salt from a paper plate, pounded some water, and was off.  The last mile went fine, and the calf better.  But I knew I was still low.  So at the penultimate start/finish I obtained water and two S-caps.  40:16, with a clock time of about 2:38 for 40K.

Fifth Lap
Despite the issues, my energy and overall leg-feel was awesome.  I was excited, because I hadn't been breathing hard all day, and I knew that if I threw down even an "OK" last 10K, I'd sneak under the record.  So, I relatively hammered the first mile, splitting a 5:55 and feeling great going past AS 2.  I grabbed a single water (and no salt, having just taken my third S-cap); I got some cheers from LB, working AS 2, as well as Meghan, who helped pace Pam Smith in the 50K. 

As I cruised NE along the Willamette, I used a lot of positive self-talk: "Running strong!  I feel great!".  Then...not so much.  Out of nowhere, the right abdominals went into a near-full cramp, reducing me to a half-hunched shuffle.  F!  Not again! 

Back in 2010, I got into big trouble with cramps in-between AS' and had to beg water from fellow runners.  As I shuffled along, I scanned for runners in- and out-bound for fluild.  A half-mile later I came across two women and asked if they could spare; I took a good three pulls of a random concoction and shuffled up to the last turnaround.  The turnaround officials had a Nalgene bottle, but I didn't ask for any, unsure if it was "illegal" to take aid outside the AS. 

On the in-bound section, I was doing slightly better but was still 3K from the AS, so when I came across another woman, I also begged some Gatorade from her before finally rebounding.  I pushed fairly hard to the AS, where I pounded two HEEDs and took a water from LB before taking off for the last 2K on the trail.

I pushed about as hard as I ever have at the end of an ultra, knowing I needed at least a <40min 10K for the CR.  Runners yielded the singletrack when I came by, and I pushed as hard as I could on the trail before it spit me out on the road for the last 400m to the finishing grade. 

I crossed the chip mat at 3:18:45, happy with the effort but immediately disappointed, knowing I'd just missed the CR of 3:17:59.  My last 10K was 39:55 - respectible for being even-paced, but stymied by the cramps.  Bummer! 

The Grades:
Pacing: B+.  I paced well, but I could and should have run a faster last 10K.
Mechanics: B+.  Pretty good: I felt like I got more out of my right leg, and I was able to "use the abs" to keep the legs going near the end. Not cramping on the left was nice.  But I still had some negative feedback, postrace:
  • A sore back - I finally realized, with Mike's help, how poorly I engage my abs, and how often I go into lumbar extension. 
  • While improved, I'm still landing on the outsides of my feet too much.
  • Left quad is more sore than the right, so still overloading left, a bit. 
  • Right medial knee soreness: still some knee valgus with the poopy push-off on the right
Hydration/Fuel/Electrolyes: B-.  Not great.  I like how I was able to go minimal (three bottles of coke, forgoing the last due to stomach rot; two gels, maybe 12oz of HEED and gatorade), but I was clearly short on water and salt.  Who knows how much faster I could've run if I "nailed it"?
Mental Toughness: B+. Fine. This course plays into my strengths.  I can't say I did anything amazing, but I was happy with my last lap push.
Post-race, I hung out with Meghan, who gave me my winners swag, and shmoozed with RD Bret and stood by the fire (nice touch!) and stayed warm while the 10K runners rolled through.  I timed it well to be off the main course just as the 10Kers got on.  Britt came through in 49min and won her age group.  We cleaned up a bit, hung out and chatted more, then took off.
Overall, I was really happy with the effort - to be able to run relatively fast without having hard-core marathon training.  My rough marathon split was about a 2:45, which is pretty solid!  But the recurring thought I have is, "If someone held a gun to my head and made me run three more laps, what could I have done for 50M?"
I was on 5:20 pace for 50M. While it would've taken a monumental effort to maintain that pace for three more laps, I do feel that (if the cramps were resolved) I could cut back to 43s and still run 5:30, which would be, as they say, "a stout time".  :)
Thanks to friends and family for all the well-wishes, and to Bret and Co for another great Autumn race.  Congrats to Pam Smith on breaking her own CR.  We both agreed that Autumn Leaves makes for a great "fall marathon-plus"!


  1. great read. what was chosen as the post-race recovery/celebratory brew?

  2. @Jake: It occurred to me during my last lap that, once again, I'd forgotten post-run brew. I had to wait 'til McMenamin's in Portland to have a pretty solid nut brown ale.

  3. Nice run. Never fun to battle with the stomach and cramps but you kept a smokin' pace while doing so!

    For the record, On loop 2 Meghan was running back to the start finish from AS#2 right as I was running that same 1.5 miles, but she wasn't pacing me. Sheesh, don't get me DQ'd!! ;)

    Good luck at TNFEC.

  4. @Pam: Oops! Didn't mean to insinuate illegal pacing...although that Meghan IS a trouble-maker... :)