Sunday, August 5, 2012

Elkhorn 50K Race Review

Doing a 50K is a new experience.  It’s a combination of heaven and hell, feelings of euphoria combined with misery.  The only way to get through one of these is to have determination, a long view, way too much training, an amazing support crew, and a lack of sanity.
The night before the race, I do the obligatory race check in / dinner / meeting about the course.  We follow orange tags to continue, make a version of a figure eight and head back.  I see a few familiar faces from HURL, and a few unfamilar faces who came in from out of state.  I’ve done the 23k component of the course (even seen coyotes at play for it), haven’t had a chance to do the rest of the course.  I end up not winning any unnecessary swag, had back to town, and head back to bed far too late for a 5:30 wake up call.  I’ve got stuff packed, including the reliable Vasque shoes, the Nathan water pack, and a bunch of Hammer Gels / Justin Peanut Butter packs.  I make a huge mistake, and decide not to put an extra pair of socks in my pack.  Next time, I’m going to carry another pair of socks, with negligible additional weight, but pounds of additional comfort when switching from a beat up pair to a new pair.  I’ve got the charged Garmin, and I’m otherwise ready enough.  I discover that my fat iPod touch does in fact, fit fine in the side of the Nathan pack.
My strategy is to do the initial ascent nice and slow, and then get everybody on the downhill.  We get there early in the morning, while it is still cold in Montana.  At 7:10, we are off, running up four miles of road.  Because I knew the course, I decide rather than fly up the fast part, I would hold back.  This was actually the best part of my strategy, and I was actually at the very back of the pack for a little while, talking with a cool runner who came up from Mississippi.  I started moving ahead of people even during the initial section, despite just hiking for the first four miles of road at about a 15:00 pace.  I caught up with Dave, and kept bouncing around with him until we hit the trailhead.  Coming up the trail, we passed a gal from North Carolina and enjoyed the switchbacking path.  Right after passing a pair of ladies, they commented about ‘how pretty the view is,’ which I had to take as a compliment.  Yep, even during a long race I’m having a good time.  I passed another gal with a ton of Skittles in her pack before hitting the nice downhill section of Casey Meadows.  When I’m running around the Meadows, I talk to the cool Albertan couple (in the sense of two people who know each other, since the male half of the couple was waiting for his wife to finish the 50 miler at the end) who comment on following my nice orange shirt.  I end up at the back of a conga line of four people at the creek crossing, but manage to get across the creek nice and dry.  At roughly the pinnacle of the first section, I move past the conga line, and run along with another cool local guy for awhile.  I’m feeling super good on the downhill, and manage to roar along until I hear the fastest of the 23kers coming up behind me.  Since I’m feeling the pull of the downhill, I roar into the aid station.  I’m feeling fine, grab some misc food (fig newtons are what I remember, along with pretzels) and move along toward Elk Park aid station.  I get the important idea to retighten the shoes and socks.
Heading up to Elk Park is a bunch of uphill power hiking across a few streams.  I manage to get myself wet but keep moving uphill strong.  I look on over, and think how this will be nice to head back down and even pass a few people going up.  I get wet on one of the stream crossings, also use the opportunity to wash the face and get the hat nice and wet.  Wetting the hat in streams along the way is a great trick.  The path up to Elk Park is mostly on the east side of the ridge, so I’m getting some sun exposure.  Also, after going a half an hour without seeing another human being, I decide to fire up the iPod, and listen to some classic ZZ Top.  ZZ Top is great for doing some good hiking, nice riffs.  I keep heading up, and hit the Elk Park aid station in style, where I talk in some more food, and have some experts tackle the water pack situation.  The aid station volunteers (along with the rest of the volunteers on this course) are an amazing bunch.  I take in some pretzels, but the watermelon is not yet ready.  Also, having someone else futz with the water pack while taking in food feels great.  I’m feeling ready to rock heading out of here and toward the Elk Park area.  I actually get in a bit of jog on the rolling downhill sections.  Once I get onto the road, I start to see large muddles of mud, and I see an awesome frog in the middle of one of the muddles.  I talk to the frog (who doesn’t talk back), run through some grass, above some grass, and manage not to see another human being for nearly an hour an a half, before running into a decent amount of the race field at the turnaround.  There’s a section of roughly 2.5k in and 2.5k out and back where everyone gets to see everyone else.
Once I hit the aid station, I make the decision to pull back the socks and shoes, and do a reapplication.  It helps a little bit with the blisters, which I’m starting to really feel.  In retrospect, I should have asked for help at the first aid station, and probably just gotten them duct taped.  Yes, next important lesson, apply duct tape to blister, and no longer worry about it.  Possibly apply duct tape to blister prone area before setting out, as it instantly bonds to skin creating a thick barrier to rubbing.
On the way back, I’m getting back into the zone when a guy yells, ‘hey, you’re going to wrong way’  so, I head back to the intersection, and follow him the right way.  I manage not to go the wrong way, which is a good thing.  I get to do a nasty (and seemingly endless), climb back up to Elk Park.  My legs are just aching through the mess, and I’m starting to do the hallucinatory thing.  It feels like it should level out, but it’s a major uphill hike of over 2k feet.  I guess it’s not so bad when I think of it being less than a klick.
I get to Elk Park.  Unfortunately, all that downhill I looked forward to has become difficult, as my ankles are not flexing anymore.  In addition, I’ve got blisters on the back part of my heel and my toenails are completely jammed.  So, I being a very long, slow, and painful descent back to the finish line.  I suspect I’ll end up getting left large toenail removed, along with the three largest right toenails.  Yeah, it’s a miracle that I’m still in the walking phase, but I’ve had them all come off before anyway.  I limp back to the finish line, in time that can be formally summed up as way too long, or all day.  But, even without a skinny little blond to deal with a the finish line, I can say that I’ve had fun.

So, there’s some great lessons.  First, the Vasque shoes showed great potential of being completely ruined by the end of the race, and are now retired, as they broke up during the race.  So, I’m probably buying a pair of special shoes for each of these long races and using them just to train for the race and a single long race.  I guess I got multiple marathons and a 30k out of the Vasques so they did properly get the hell beat out of them.  Second, socks are cheap and light, I should carry more of them in the Nathan pack.  Third, toebox matters, I get to get used to running with splayed toes.  I’m not used to it, but it beats heading out to the podiatrist to get toenails removed by professionals.
Rock and roll, debating doing the 50 miler next year!