|My cool finisher mug!|
A Cinderella Story Without The Cinderella EndingEven though everyone had told me he wasn’t that far ahead and that I could catch him, I was not prepared for the kick at the finish. Honestly, what are the odds that in a four plus hour race it will come down to who has a faster kick for the last quarter mile. The chances are pretty slim, but it happened. It was the type of ultra finish I had dreamed of witnessing and to have been more than just a spectator to it and to have had the honor to share it with the caliber of athlete that I did left me downright giddy for weeks. This is my story of the inaugural Rat Race 50k!
The Rat Race trail runs have been an annual event for awhile; I only became aware of them last year. I ran it for the first time last year, opting for the longest distance offered, the 20k. This year the RD decided to offer a 50k option. I happily partook. In the past, both the 10k and 20k distances used the same 10k loop to reach their total distance. Until arriving at the race, I was expecting this to be the case with the newly offered 50k distance. To my surprise and satisfaction the RD had altered the course a bit for the 50k runners. Rather than five laps of the 10k loop, he added a longer 20k loop which was then followed up with three laps around the original 10k course. If you want a more in depth description of the 10k loop, go to my race report from last year on the 20k. As happy as I was to hear that I wouldn’t be running five laps of the 10k course, the added 20k loop to start was not 20k of completely fresh trail. In fact, about half of the large loop was the same trail as the 10k loop (see Strava map). And all of the added distance to the large loop was either fire road or powerline cuts, no new single track. I’m not trying to complain here, just making it clear that the 50k is for the most part achieved by running the 10k course five times.
With this being my first race of the year, my primary goals were to test out my fitness level, get adapted to those pre race jitters before my “A” races, and have some fun of course. If everything went well, I hoped to set a new 50k PR (4:54:29) for myself as well. Why did I have such high hopes for my first race of the year? I went about training over winter completely differently in this past offseason than I have since I started running ultramarathons. I got myself a gym membership and started building up my mileage and doing some speedwork on the treadmill in January after light mileage in November and December. I’ve found that I enjoy a couple months of lower mileage to allow the body to recover and to avoid burnout after heavy training and racing. This year I increased mileage and intensity more quickly with access to the treadmill. I wasn’t sure how well all of the treadmill miles would transfer to trail running, but I was excited to find out and hoped for the best results, a 50k PR.
|All set, ready to race!|
As we all took off from the start the course started off following the same unpaved road that the 10k loop starts on. I was following Rich and one other runner when early on, probably a quarter to half mile from the start, Rich hops of to the side and begins retying a shoelace. I passed him at that point and expected to see him passing me within a couple minutes. To my surprise, I ran with the other lead runner for a couple miles at what felt like a pace that I could maintain for the entire 50k and there was no sign of Rich. We were doing around eight minute miles and it was feeling good so I tried to maintain it knowing that the 10k loop was more technical than what I was running on this bigger loop. Other than some sandy sections, and even those were runnable, it was all easily runnable. I figured to meet my goal I only had to average 8:30 miles so I was trying to bank some time for the loops around the 10k course which I figured would be a bit slower paced. The 10k loop was a bit more wet than it had been last year and the wet spots were a bit sloppier and more treacherous than I recalled. Regardless, I made it around the large 20k loop and back to the start/finish at about 1:34 with only another 30k to run.
|A Strava Flyby screenshot of just before the final lead change of the race!|
As I passed through the last time I was surprised at how encouraging the few people hanging out were. They were excitedly telling me that first place wasn’t far ahead and that I could catch him. One person even said he was only ahead by maybe a couple minutes. With that information and knowing it was my final lap, I ate my last Honey Stinger gel (I believe my sixth of the day) and pushed as hard as I could for the last easily runnable section of the course before the single track. I thought to myself that maybe I’d catch a glimpse of him on the long straight road, but nope. I held on to a bit of hope running the single track, but by the halfway point with only about three miles to go I had pretty much lost hope and started comforting myself by focusing on the positives. I was going to be able to pretty much cruise into a second place finish. I was going to set a new 50k PR with a finish time of easily under 4:30. From then on, my main motivation to not totally just coast in was to improve my PR by as much as possible and hang on to second place. I had lost all hope of catching up to first.
|All I need for a 50k.|
I was proud enough to at least continue to run it in as hard as I could even when I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch him. And amazingly, from the point just after my fall to the finish line was all caught on video by a spectator. In the end I finished in 4:15:24 just 10 seconds behind Rich. After congratulating one another on a ridiculously exciting ultra finish, I had to find out how it came to be. As it turned out, Rich had missed a turn about a mile from the finish and did an extra half mile or so. Sometime during that extra out and back he did, I unknowingly passed him. In retrospect, I can’t be disappointed with how the day turned out. I improved my 50k PR by almost 40 minutes! I raced a world class ultrarunner for much of a 50k to finish only 10 seconds behind him after a sprint to the finish. I mean, I could be super disappointed that I didn’t manage to sneak in with first place, but that wouldn’t be as much fun so I’ll stick with what has worked best for me in the broader scope of ultrarunning and be happy about all the positives.
|Photo at the finish.|
April 8, 2019