The day didn’t start so well. After a fitful but pretty reasonable 6 hours sleep, I got up at 4:30am to make the drive down to Lake Waramaug. It should have been pretty easy. Maybe it was too easy. Before I knew it I had missed a turn and had no idea where I was going. Car GPS didn’t bat an eyelid, and just rerouted me without even letting me know. There I was visualizing myself coming across the finish line in my first 50 mile race. Aren’t you supposed to do that? OK, maybe not while you’re driving to the race.
Fortunately, I had allowed plenty of time, and still got there early enough for my pre-race prep. It was so cold (36F) that I stayed in the car mostly, but spent time a little time talking to some of the other runners who had driven from all over to be at this race.
Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug is a historic ultramarathon. They’ve been running this race for 40 years now, and many of the sport’s old-time legends have run here. Now that ultras are trendy, and trails are the thing, attendance has dropped for the longer races. But still. 50K, 50M and 100K races around a lovely lake in northern Connecticut. At worst, it’s a lovely day out!
We were off promptly at 7:30am. My plan was just to run lightly, arms low and feet quiet, keeping somewhere close to a 9:45 min/mile pace. Through the first 4.4 mile out-and-back I did that pretty much perfectly – 41 minutes for that stretch. Now for the big stuff – 6 loops of 7.6 miles each.
I was in my Luna Mono sandals with a pair of Injinji toe socks. After the tests I did last week, I thought I could at least start the race in them, but I had put my GRUs in the drop bag for later in the race. Turns out that was a great idea because, you know, sandals and socks?!
The first real loop passed by without incident. I met a couple of people I would run with for the next couple of laps — Aaron, who was doing the 50 mile, and another guy whose name I never found out who was doing the 50K.
By the time we’d gone around almost two loops together though, we started to talk about pace, and Aaron said we were averaging 8:16 minute miles! I almost choked. I run by feel so apart from the race timer I’d see once a lap, I didn’t pay much attention to the pace. Anyway, at that point, I told them that I was going to slow down a bit. But at the end of loop 2, I was still a whopping 13 minutes ahead of schedule already! A bit before I came to the end of that lap I had decided that I was going to swap out of the Lunas because I could feel that the road miles were already making my legs very sore. I figured that with this huge cushion on my time I could take a 5 minute break and change shoes no problem at all. So, after 20 miles, I sat on the bank by the finish and changed shoes and socks. It felt so good!
Getting up after sitting down though did not feel so good. My heart rate went through the roof and it took me most of the next 4 miles to recover to the point my breathing felt normal.
One of the major selling points of this race are the aid station volunteers and the food on offer. I brought plenty of food with me, but I basically didn’t eat any of it. I’d decided to stay off the sugar train for as long as possible – at least the first 30 miles. Two egg wraps, some bacon, a few chips and water were what I ate up to the marathon distance. At my favorite aid station though half-way round the lake, I discovered my best running fuel ever – chicken broth. It was hot, so I took an extended walking break to down it, but it gave me so much energy! I fair pounded the last miles around that loop, ran the full marathon a shade under 3:58 (approximate, based on one of the very few road markers) and came around loop 3 for almost 28 miles in a touch under 4:13. I also passed Aaron for good around that point. He had apparently slowed and didn’t run with me when I came out of the aid station. I asked him if he was OK and he said yes, so I carried on.
Loops 4 and 5 were tougher. I had decided that I should walk in order to save energy for the last loop. As I was still on course to beat even my best goal, it seemed reasonable. So I walked the half mile at the mid-way aid station to drink my chicken broth, and I walked through the finish line section. Far from being helpful though, these walking breaks turned out to be such a bad idea for me. I started to feel like my legs would cramp when I would start running after walking! At first, I thought that maybe I didn’t have enough electrolytes in me, so I started up on the Gatorade — and continued with the chicken broth! Two pieces of banana and a few chocolate raisins too. I kept my footfalls loose, somehow, and my legs never actually cramped, but each time I walked, the running afterwards would suck. By the end of loop 5 I had realized that I simply couldn’t walk any significant distance if I wanted to be able to run afterwards. So although my pace had dropped significantly in loop 5, I actually started to pull it together at the end of that loop. I passed one of the old-timers (he has done this race every year since 1976!) doing the 100K race. He told me that the way I was going I could break 8 hours if I just kept a steady pace for the last lap. I wished him the best, and took off. Now that I had worked out that I shouldn’t walk, running was again easy! I couldn’t believe it. I was really going to finish. Just one more lap. I came through loop 5 in 6:45, knowing that I had to do a 75 minute lap to break 8 hours. If I could just avoid walking, I would do it. And even if I walked, well, I was going to finish, no matter what.
I didn’t even walk through the aid stations except the 3 steps it would take for me to drain a Gatorade and grab a banana piece. And coming around the back stretch it was all looking good until a couple of miles before the finish line, when I was suddenly incredibly tired. But I knew I couldn’t walk for more than a few steps before I wouldn’t be able to run again. Which was enough to force myself to get running after just a few walking steps each time. Just before the finish, Carl (the race organizer) started hopping and jumping around me, taking photos like crazy as I motored around the last bend. I had no idea, but I had apparently made it into 3rd place overall in the 50 mile race!
OK, so there were only something like 30 people in the 50 mile race. But it was a nice bonus.
An even nicer bonus was when the family turned up a half hour later (my wife had understood to be there no later than 4:30, when I had actually said 3:30). She was sporting a Big Elm IPA (a local Sheffield MA brew), from her chef friend Brian (who had said he had no idea that anyone actually did what I was doing!)
This course was pretty flat, so my quads were just fine. But my hamstrings, and whatever other muscles than run down the back of my legs to the insides of my knees. D e a d. I don’t even know how to get these with the foam roller. Two big blisters, one on each foot. Basically I never even notice blisters, so they were never a problem given that were always worse pains to think about.
All in all, a successful day’s effort. Weather was good for running, but otherwise chilly and rainy. Lake breeze was mostly welcome even though cold. The suntan I got on my face though is a reminder that a lot of different weather can happen in 8 hours! Staying off the sugar for the first marathon really worked for me, and I didn’t get sick of the sweet stuff in the second half of the race (as I have done in marathons before).
The race was well organized, and the volunteers wonderful. It’s already tempting to say that I’ll go back next year. The loop format makes this an ideal first ultra where you’re so unsure of everything. But road miles. Phew! I really have to figure out shoes that will work for the full distance. Neither the GRUs or the Lunas are completely ideal for that many road miles for me. The GRUs took a real pounding too – in just 28 miles, the sole is completely worn away over the balls of my feet (there was no significant wear before yesterday). They seem more like road->trail shoes rather than dedicated road shoes. I think I’ve pretty much trashed them and yet they only have about 250 miles in them total. The Luna Monos have more cushion for road miles than my beloved (trail) Leadville sandals, but the cushion is probably what caused the big blister on my toe, as they are less flexible because of the extra material. Flexible + cushioned + road-specific. Hmmm.
My accurate splits will be posted on the Lake Waramaug website some time, but here are my approximate splits (rounded up to nearest minute since I usually forgot how many seconds were on the clock, except for the last two laps):
1 (out and back, 4.4 miles) 0:41 elapsed (41 minutes)
2 (loop 1, 7.6 miles, 12 miles total) (missing, I forget…)
3 (loop 2, 7.6 miles, 19.6 miles) 2:59 elapsed (missing)
4 (loop 3, 7.6 miles, 27.2 miles) 4:13 elapsed (74 minutes/lap)
5 (loop 4, 7.6 miles, 34.8 miles) 5:28 elapsed (75 minutes/lap)
6 (loop 5, 7.6 miles, 42.4 miles) 6:45 elapsed (77 minutes/lap)
7 (loop 6, 7.6 miles, 50 miles) 7:59 elapsed (74 minues/lap)