Stone Cat 50 Miler Done, And Wow, Trail Running’s Hard, Man!

Andy and me right after I finished and collected my official finisher's sweatshirt!

Andy and me right after I finished and collected my official finisher’s sweatshirt!

First 50 mile run. First real trail race of any distance; Stone Cat. First time back at that total raw, scraped-out, edge-space of the soul since my very first marathon. Finished the 50 miles in 8:52:55.

Beautiful weather, perfect conditions – shorts and T-shirt from the 6:15 start. Comforting to meet up with my Ultra Midlife Crisis RTB teammate Andy N., an ultra veteran, and to see fellow Daily Mile friend Dave F. in the gym at the start!

I’d underestimated how much toll twisting single track trails, leaf-covered rocks and roots, would take on a road runner. These aren’t super technical for trail runners, pretty easy probably, but they were extremely challenging for me – especially the first hour plus in the dark running single track by headlamp!

Sprained hand

That hurt for a while…

Here’s how I know I didn’t train enough on technical trail for this race – I rolled my ankle four times and fell three times in the first 12 miles (taped the heck out of my ankle at the 12.5 aid station). Sprained the palm of my hand/thumb on the first fall, and it swelled up and got rock hard. Felt (not) good catching another five or so falls with it. I am a total klutz on trails!!! All due respect and huge props to you real trail runners! I was so covered with dirt I didn’t even realize it was bruised all colors of the rainbow…

My quads were fried by the end of the first six miles. I didn’t take that as a good sign. My buddy Andy ran with me the first two laps; he’s a veteran ultra runner and was looking for 8 hours, and we finished each of the first two laps in exactly two hours. But the third was a different story. I was starting to slow – especially on the technical sections, where I was moving so gingerly to avoid more falls that I might as well have been walking, even when I was running. By agreement, Andy left to chase his goal time and I settled into a new goal – just finishing.

The end of lap 3 start of 4 was a dark time. My right quad and knee locked up on a descent. I wanted to drop then, had to hold trees to get down subsequent hills; muscles were shot. By mile 36 I just couldn’t imagine running another 14 miles, since I was unable to ascend or descend without holding onto the foliage. But then I thought to myself, let it go. Desire for a good race time, whatever that is, pride, everything. If you’ve got to hobble the rest of this dang race, a half marathon’s worth of hobbling over rocks and roots, so be it.

Even with that in mind, it was really hard to be at the aid station at the end of the third loop and know my car was 800 meters away in the parking lot. Who’d care if I quit? I ate a cheeseburger and chugged some Mountain Dew instead of dropping and went back out for the last 12.5 miles.

Speaking of eating; a quick recap of my overall fueling strategy. I had about 8 gels with me and a Camelback with water and Nuun (electrolyte drink). The course was in 12.5 mile loops and there was an aide station with all sorts of food and supportive volunteers at the start, 4 miles later, and 4 miles after that. The race volunteers were beacons of hope and relief in the wilderness, enthusiastic, concerned and always ready to help; amazing sense of community. Throughout the race I ate PBJ sanwiches, bananas, bacon, a cheeseburger, cookies, potato chips, and chicken broth (which was super salty and really helped get me moving again every time), and drank lots of water, Gatorade and later in the race, Mountain Dew, which I chugged four mini-cups at a time. Tried to eat a Gu with caffeine between each aid station. Total calories burned on the run? About 7,835.

Anyhow, sometime a few miles into the fourth loop, my legs got better, I was able to get my groove back and God talked to me, a lot. I mean that sincerely in a way I’m not quite ready to write about. But epiphanies, man. I’d been praying on the drive in, not about the race specifically, but lots of things. And a lot of what had been in those prayers resolved itself at the end of this race. Those last 10 miles, alone in the woods, were hard – but very very beautiful – and well worth the price of the pain of the first 40. We bury our truths deep, but you can get at ’em pretty easy from miles 40-50. Grateful for that.