Periodically, I do some half-brained things. Some with good results. Some with not-so-good results. And then there is the just plain crazy. This past Saturday's race falls into that last category.
Three reasons: 1) I wasn't training for a 50K. 2) Had no plans to do another long race after the 30K a few weeks back. 3) Three hours of driving each way is not something I like to do.
Crazy ended up with my 'decision' to run the Rosaryville Veterans 50K down in Upper Marlboro, MD. I use 'decision' lightly because on the night before the race, I had not committed to running the 50K. Simply the notion of leaving the house at 4am for three hours of driving was not appealing. So, when I went to bed, I told myself, if I sleep past 4, I'll run something else closer to home.
Low and behold, I woke up at 3am giving myself plenty of time to leave the house at 4am. It is pretty amazing driving on major interstates at that hour. Hardly any traffic so I could hit cruise control and enjoy some Graveyard & Killers on the drive. (A drive I actually enjoyed.)
After arriving at Rosaryville State Park, I registered, had time get any drop bags in order and relax. Since I was running an ultra, there was no warm-up. Before, I go farther, I should tell you, the course primarily consists of three loops of a 9.8 mile trail with an out and back section at the start and finish of the race. This last part was lost on me because I thought we ran three loops going through the start/finish each time. So I had expected a drop bag at 4.5 miles into each loop and a bag at the start/finish. Yeah, I blew this. But more on how that plays in a few.
Promptly at 8am, the field of 135 runners took off on what started out as a chilly morning. (If you weren't running.) I gingerly strode to the front. Being that it was my second ultra (and first 50K), I wanted to take it leisurely and see who wanted to take the pace. Apparently, that guy ended up being me. As we entered the first loop, I just did my best to get into a grove and get away from second. Not too fast but enough to slowly open a gap so I could just run my own race in the woods. This was easier said than done. Part of it is the course, while very runnable, there are a ton of switchbacks. I do not have a loving relationship with them. So as a result, times I thought I was gaining space, it would be swallowed back up. But I was not running dumb as I had my watch keeping me honest. At the 1st aid station, I briefly stopped and grabbed a gatorade before heading back onto the trail. (I didn't see drop bags, so I didn't bother with anything else.) My yo-yo relationship with second continued all through the first lap. As I came out of the first loop, it hit me. Hit me hard. We were not passing the start/finish each lap as I came right out to the parking area where on the opposite side, we entered the woods. This was bad. I had chosen not to run the first lap with a handheld bottle so I could get a rhythm. So this meant, my handheld was way up the road and I would not be running with it at all. Thankfully, the aid stations were stocked with gatorade as I chugged a few more while stripping out of my gloves and armwarmers at 1:05.
Into loop two....I thought I had a sizable lead on second by now but not far into the second loop, who do I see? Yep, second place not far behind. I felt I had to push my pace a bit more at this point so I began to up my tempo. Knowing the lay of the land was helpful because I knew how to benefit from the course for here on out. I slowly began to open up some space but as I approached the loop's 4.5 mile aid station, I had a choice to make: Do I stop for gatorade and stop momentum or do I risk it by putting my foot all the way down on the accelerator. I chose the latter. I blew past the aid station knowing it was my make it or break it moment. Without my handheld, I had no gels or fluids on me making the move even bolder. But I was flying now. Since I had not yet passed anyone still on their 1st lap, I had no obstructions to pace other than the course. I was in command. I came out of the 2nd loop feeling much more confident as I had not seen second place since I upped my pace. At the aid station, I chugged two gatorades and dumped a cup of water on my head. This was it....I was at 2:07....time to put up or shut up.
Lap three on the trail was not going to be easy. I expended a good effort to build a sizable lead and I had no fuel on me. Not only that but now, I was going to be taken out of my rhythm by passing people. With the trail being single-track, I had to call out each time that I was passing, thus, expending more energy. This was going to be a mental war. I did my best to not let my pace slip too much but it did some. Every so often, when I hit a bad stretch, I would tell myself, just need 3 1/2 minutes up on second to have this. Why I chose that figure, I'm not sure but it didn't change throughout the loop. Until, I got out of this trail loop, I was going to be weary of my lead.
But finally, I was out! Second was still not in sight. Now, it was time to run on the park road with some slight incline. I wish I could say it was easy but it wasn't. I kept looking over my shoulder for someone to catch me. As I looked back as I crested the final hill to where I could see the finish and a good ways behind me, I knew I had the race won. I felt relieved but still pushed a bit because I had a shot of going under 3:20. That became my goal. In my final approach of the finish, I had it!!! I crossed the finish line in....
My time smashed the course record (only the third year of the race) by nearly 17 minutes! (It was 3:35:03).
Second place finished in 3:31:32 also going under the old mark.
My pace was 6:24 which would have translated into a 2:47:41 marathon.
Lets say, I was very happy about my performance. Now, I just had to drive 3 hours home with the hope I-95 was not going to be congested or gridlocked. (Thankfully it was not.)
In the end it was long day. Out at 4am. Home at 4pm. And in there I ran one of the best races of my life despite a big mistake.
Guess, I'm an ultra guy now.....