This was my second time around at the VT50 and I was excited to see how much I could improve on last year's result. Be disciplined and take it out easier in the first half then try to run strong the last 20 miles. Unfortunately I got a hard lesson in the value of ultra training, something I was lacking this year.
Logistically everything was similar to last year - we stayed with friends just up the road from the start, registered Saturday afternoon, and arrived at the start around 5:30. It was several degree cooler than last year, so cold that I was scraping ice off the windshield. Hilary was racing the 50k which started at 8am so I left solo for the racer check-in then sat in the car with the heater on as my warm up. Unlike last year, we slept in a bed, I got in my race kit and lubed up before leaving the house, and made sure to lube up and tape the nipples. All the 50 mile racers made their way to the start just before 6:30. There were some familiar faces but not much time to talk as we were started right on time.
My game plan was simple, go easier than last year for the first 30 miles. Walk a lot of the hills, drink plenty of water, eat a mix of gels and real foods, save the quads by not pounding the downhills. I think I did all of that really well. I let the lead pack of 10 guys go out of sight around mile 2.5 when I took a quick bathroom break. This helped me relax into my own pace. I came into the 12 mile aid station in 12th place and caught a couple more guys around Garvin Hill (17 miles). The one guy who I wanted to emulate this year was Eric Wyler, fellow clydesdale who got second last year running an incredibly well-paced race. He was having stomach issues and we were yo-yo'ing as a result. I was having a good race heading into the 30 mile aid station. My hip flexors were still working (unlike last year) and there were not major cramp attacks. I knew Blood Hill would be the real indicator though - winding trails rolling through the forest. It was here that Eric passed me and was shortly out of sight. I would see him for the last time in a section of the trail where you can see runners exiting the hill, and he had already put over five minutes on me. At the top of the hill I had to take a beer because at that point (33 miles), I knew this wasn't going to be my race.
At the 36 mile aid station I still thought I could have a respectable finish. The trail enters back into the woods with a few short steep climbs. This is when things went from okay to horrible. Full quad cramps stopped me in my tracks. These aren't caused by electrolyte deficiency or lake of water, it's 100% fitness related and clearly I wasn't 50 mile fit. I had these last year but only after tripping on the trail. I tried everything to calm them down - massage, walking, and even laying on my back and elevating them. When they did pass the damage was done. My legs had post-race soreness and I still had 10 miles left. Anything downhill steeper than 5% grade was nauseating. I could hold 9 minute pace on the flat non-technical terrain but anything else I had to walk.
I arrived at the last aid station around 7:17 into the race, a rough goal time I had in mind. There were still 4 miles left. With friends and family waiting for me at the finish, and expecting my arrival shortly, I kept moving but tried to control the damage. What was the point of pushing it and potentially hurting myself. It was tough walking that last section when it's beautiful wooded single track with nothing very steep. There were sections of shuffling over those last miles but most of it was walking. As I dropped down to the finish, I mustered up the strength for a jog and was elated to be done. I found Hilary and her family - she WON the 50k which was incredible. She had trained 3 months for this race and it was gratifying to see it pay off. Eric, had worked his way from 9th to 3rd over those last 16 miles. The winner and now 5 time champion, Brian Rusiecki, finished in 6:35 which seems like a time he can comfortably hit on this course.
Of course there are a few takeaways. I did a lot of things right - pacing, nutrition, gear. Everything that was in my control I took care of. Things that I'd change - I should have dropped down to the 50k. But with my limited ultra experience I had no idea that my legs were going to go. I figured with the OCC, and cramming a few long runs in two weeks out that I would do great. Looking back at my training log from last year I had more ultra-specific training (slow long runs) as well as a lot of multi-sport racing. This year I was run-down. Between the Direttissima, UTMB, and the trip to Nova Scotia the week before (I got a cold that is still with me now), I need to tone it down.
We'll see how this recovery week goes which will dictate where my training goes from here. I'm registered for a half marathon at the end of October but may want 50 miler redemption in a few weeks...