Monday, January 20, 2014

Batona FKT Recap

Wow, the layer of dust on this blog is much thicker than I expected. Apparently, in my mind, I thought I did an entry in November. Wrong!  In fact, it is almost 3 months! Well, don’t you worry, I am alive. The stress fracture did not send me to my doom.

As a matter of fact, the fracture is healed. So much so, I have run an ultra distance 3 times. Back in the beginning of December, I participated in the Rocky 50K. As it was not a race, it was a good test of my healing and fitness. I ran with a small group and had a heck of a time. On the first weekend of this month, I participated in the Phunt 50K which was all sorts of distances for people due to issues that resulted from snow coming down two days before. As that also was not a race, this was another training run.

Both of those you could say set me up for tackling one of 2013’s leftover goals: The Batona Trail FKT.

Oddly enough, a ‘fat-ass’ race was organized for Jan 19 to run either a 50K or 50M on this route. Due to some trail re-routing, both of those were 3 miles longer.  Of course, I was going to do the full distance as that was the entire trail!

Knowing, the trails through the Pine Barrens (in NJ if you did not know) are a variety of substances, I know it was not going to be easy. I’d be running through pines, bogs, sand, on some road and dirt. But it is a relatively flat trail. So in the few days prior, I was loading up my belly and stocking up on both GU’s and Clif Shot Blocks. Only uncertainty was how to carry all of it. My plan was to load as many into the pouch on my handheld bottle and pin the rest to my shorts. With the distance, I also went with my larger 22oz handheld. Thankfully to having aid stations on the route, I did not have to use a pack with a bladder.

In terms of attire, I was going to run in shorts and a pair of tech shirts. (One long and one short). This was based on the forecast. That changed come the morning of the run. You could say this was the biggest change made. I’ll get to that in a few.

This tale would be empty if I did not mention how creepy it is to be driving in this portion of South Jersey at 5am. Lacking signage takes the creepy factor up a notch when one has not driven to a particular spot before. Amazingly, I made it to the ’50 mile’ designated parking spot with people still there! This was big considering volunteers were waiting to give rides. (This fact is why doing the FKT was possible. Normally, I would not be able to get from one end to the other.)

It was at this point of arrival prior to transport to the start that I realized, it was much colder than I expected. I would need an extra shirt layer. This was something I did plan for even if I did not want more clothing to shed. However, I made the best of this. I wore track pants to stay warm on the trip and figured, I could use the pack I now needed to carry my nutrition along with storing clothing. Luckily, the pack I got from the Big Elk Marathon was perfect. I use it to commute to work periodically so I knew it would not bounce much.

Just before 7am, our shuttle pulled into the start area. (I will say 4 people in the back seat of a Jeep Wrangler is impressive.) There was a good turnout. 30 people? Maybe more? I do know a good number of people showed up to run a trail in the Pine Barrens in January with other crazies. One person who I saw on the ‘50K’ list that I hoped to run with unfortunately was not there. This meant I knew if I wanted a FKT, I was likely doing it all alone when it came to the running portion. Having 7 aid stations was going to be where I got my mental boosts and refueling of my handheld.

Once, our organizer Angie, told us to follow the pink blazes and be careful about missing turns as it happened to her (which was the most important bit of information on the day), our lot was off.

In order to document the run, I did run with my GPS watch and was trying to shoot for 7:30-8:00 pace. I knew if I hammered hard, I could go under 7. I’ll save the suspense now. Didn’t happen. Mainly, two things: a lot of early stops and starts to navigate some really wet trail (like walking on small tree limbs that had fallen) and the aforementioned trail checking. A fair amount of this happened early enough that the start/stop wore me down more in my pacing after I hit the 50K mark. I’d say it was a prolonged bonk that I really did not snap out of.

Denis, Angie and Paul were my rocks out there loading me up with fuel.

It was when I saw Angie around 35 that I knew sub 7 was not happening. (if you look at my splits you’d see.) I told her under 7:30 would be good. This was still a bit 8 pace on some various terrain. Also, it was here at 35, that I finally started to feel warm and removed two layers. I could have done it sooner but was moving well. In hindsight, the extra layers longer might have helped slow me.

After hitting Paul around 43, I did rebound a bit. I will say he had some lovely chairs out I eyed up coming in for aid.

Denis gave me the biggest scare when hitting him at nearly 52, said 5 miles to go. In the end it was just 1.5 more. The trail re-routing impacted the mileage markers at the aid stations.

Seeing Angie those 1.5 miles later felt like another spectator stop as I just ran by her. Turns out I had finished the end of the trail. Thankfully, she shouted out to me to stop. Better yet, she gave me a ride to my car about a mile away.

In the end, I completed the trail in 7:18:24. (8:13 pace) Around 19 minutes slower than I hoped but I accomplished what I set out to do, establish a fastest known time on the Batona Trail. (And under the 7:30) Having left so much time up for grabs out there, I hope others will take on the challenge and go for it.
While my pace was slower, I do feel this will have served me well come April when I go to tackle my big goal for the year. My 100K debut. Not only that I want to run it at US 100K consideration pace. It is going to be hard but I want to tackle it the best I can. Between now and then, my training will have a focus on this goal.

Next up: George Washington Birthday Marathon (2/16)

Mar 8: Seneca Creek 50K