Friday, October 7, 2011

Race Report--Blues Cruise 50k: Lesson Learned.

Getting Up and Getting There
[Note - all photographs were provided free of charge by the race organization,, and]
From Erik's house, the race start for the Blues Cruise was about a 30 minute drive.  Packet pickup started at 7:30 and we wanted to eat a bagel and drink some coffee before hand so Erik set an alarm for 5 AM.  I figured I'd hear him puttering around so I didn't bother (I was on the couch in the living room).  When finally I did hear him, I took a look at my phone and discovered it was quarter to 6, a much more reasonable time for waking in my humble opinion.  It turns out Erik had had similar thoughts and decided 5 AM was a bit early and had set his alarm for 5:30.

Bagels were consumed, coffee drunk, and deposits in the water closet made.  We girded ourselves against the inclement weather that decided to arrive over the course of the night.  When we got up, though dark and impossible to see it sounded like it was pouring rain outside.  It was cold.  The rain eventually cleared out before the race started, though there were a couple of instances where a gentle shower passed overhead.

We left at 7, and got to the race start promptly at 7:30.  We'd checked in and had our numbers and pins no later than 7:35.  That left the better part of an hour to hang out and chat.  We went back to Erik's car.

Eventually the clock ticked over to 8:25 and the race director was marshaling the racers to the start.  Erik and I said good luck to one another and went our separate ways.  I took a position about 3 rows back and Erik chose more middle of the pack.  The race director said, "Ready! Set! Go!"


Race Start to Aid #1
I'm in the right middle of this pic to the left of the tie dye - white shirt, black (almost knee length) shorts.
Interestingly enough, the guy I crossed the finishing line with is right behind me.
The race went out faster than I was happy with, but not too much.  My first glance at my Garmin showed a low 7 minute pace and I was wanting something more along the lines of 7:45 so I eased off the pace.  The course quickly turned left onto some single track and tipped uphill.  A bunch of folks passed me, but I wasn't worried about placement at mile #1.  I was warm and into a sustainable groove.

By the time we arrived at mile 2, I'd warmed up enough that my shirt was uncomfortable and I'd hung it through the back of my visor.  Also by mile 2, I'd started hearing a bit from my stomach.  It was saying, "Dude, you know what?  I'm kind of hungry here.  Think we could get some fuel?"  This dialog would continue throughout the race, but I don't think it cost me any time.  At the start I ate a barely ripe banana, and wanted to grab a couple of gels, but I couldn't find any.  Obviously, I was pretty was anxious to get to the first aid station where I could get some sugary goo down my gullet.

I may have been one of the only people in the top 50 or so to stop there, and I took a moment to appreciate the aid station workers:  Jake and Ellwood Blues.  It actually didn't hit me at first; I was so focused on obtaining gel. By the time it did, I was just through the aid station.  I stopped and requested a song, but perhaps I should have asked if they had any rubber biscuits on the table.

Aid #1 to Ski Slope Hill
The remainder of the first third of the race was flat and relatively fast, but mud kept it from being really fast.  I was pretty efficient at the second aid station to the point where I neglected to appropriately acknowledge the workers there.  Darn it: Race goal #2 - Fail at mile 6.5.

The organizers had a number of folks on the course pointing out hazards and directing traffic.  Many of the bridges were quite slippery.  I was pleased with my Bikilas at how well they performed on the wet wood, but in the mud they weren't ideal.  Not sure any shoe would have fared well in that slop.

The first 10 miles featured three of the seven aid stations on the course.  That's right: seven aid stations for 31 miles.  Truly a well supported race.  I had actually considered running the race without a water bottle, but ended coming down on the side of caution.  Running dry would have had much more dire consequences than a sore shoulder.

Throughout this portion of the race there was always someone close by.  Either just in front of me or just behind.  A little positional shuffling occurred, but no great shakeout happened.  That changed on Ski Slope Hill.

Ski Slope Hill to Aid Station #7
The third aid station was located right at the base of the first real obstacle on the course.  I chatted with the volunteers and thanked them for being out in the crappy weather.  I grabbed a banana and a couple of gels, I also topped up my water bottle with lemon lime Gatorade.  That's the only time I put something other than water in my bottle and also the last time I'll ever drink that stuff.  It just tasted awful and I was in fluid avoidance mode all the way to the 4th aid station.
A young guy pulled up to me here who I'd alternate back and forth with for the rest of the race.  He noted that this was his first ultra, later he noted it was also his first marathon.  He had logged a couple of olympic distance triathlons, but good work young dude - at the finish he declared himself bitten by the ultra bug.

We left the aid station pretty much together, and I settled into a solid power hike.  Young guy tried running the first bit of the climb, but quickly dropped into a walk.  Power hiking was absolutely the right decision and I ended up blowing by a whole bunch of folks.  I don't know precisely how many, but by the top of the climb I was tucked into the position I would stay until pretty much the finish.  I think visiting it the day before with Erik really helped on this key section of the course.

I played leap frog with a few folks between Aid 3 and Aid 4; they'd pass me on the descents and I'd pass them on the climbs, but for each climb it would always take a bit longer for them to catch me.  By the time we went through mile 12, I was in 30th place.

Once through Aid 4, it seemed to take an eternity to get to aid station number 5.  Aid station 4 was at mile 13.5 or so and Aid 5 came after mile 18, I think that is the largest gap on the course.  I pretty much ran out of water and I had only taken 2 gels so by the time I got to the 5th aid station, I was fantastically glad to see the volunteers.

I ate a good sized chunk of banana here and this time I asked how far it was until the next aid station so that I would know how many gels to grab.  The aid workers didn't know off the top of their heads, but were kind enough to dig the info up quickly so that I had it when I set back out on the trail.  I took 3 gels with me and went back out.

The next part of the race I recall running large chunks without being able to see anyone either in front or behind me.  I eventually caught up to a guy who used to live in the area and had regularly ridden his mountain bike on the trails of Blue Marsh Lake.  He and I ran a mile or two together, and I commented to him that somewhere around mile 5 I realized I was running the race without medical insurance and really needed to take it easy on the descents.  I probably should have just kept my mouth shut.

He and I arrived at the stream crossing together at mile 19.  The water was cool, but not freezing cold.  It actually felt really good on my tiring legs.  I was a bit nervous, wading through the water, that there would be some hidden rock or danger that would send me sprawling, but I was able to cross without misadventure.

On the ensuing climb I left my companion behind and started thinking about how I'd go about finishing the race.  When would I start looking for the energy to kick for the finish.  I was actually feeling pretty good.  I knew that my 4:30 goal was gone, but the muddy conditions really took that off of the table for me before the race even started.

I did think that 4:45 was still possible and I decided that I'd try to get as close to that time as I could without totally cratering and losing even more time.  At the next aid station I took on board 3 more gels, thanked the workers and set out chasing my revised stretch goal.

Until this point I'd been taking extra care on the descents.  I tried to avoid big piles of leaves and run where I could see there was clear footing.  Along a descent somewhere around mile 25.4 there was no clear trail, just leaves, and I absolutely tattooed a rock hidden in the leaves.

My toes were curled up, so I hit the rock with the head of my third metatarsal on my right foot.  The pain was truly remarkable and I thought I'd broken the bone.  I limped to the bottom of the little descent and hung my toes over the side of a bridge.  I was happy to see that I could wiggle them fairly freely and continued on - not that there was much choice, the next aid station was one mile further along and I wasn't about to sit down on the trail.

Aid Station 7 to the Finish
I got to the last aid station sporting a rather pronounced limp, but I was sure I could finish.  They were serving perogies, and brats (I think), and had a jar full of pickles.  The Eagles were playing so I requested some pickle juice.  The volunteer laughed and poured off me a shot.  Mmmmm...Salty goodness.

I hit the trail for the final bit and started giving what I had left.  4:45 wasn't going to happen, but maybe I could still beat 5 hours and pull a few places back.

The young guy from the Ski Slope Hill aid station passed at the aid station, so I de-greeted the aid station workers and set out in pursuit.  I could tell I was slowly reeling the whippersnapper in when my foot made this wonderful, cracking/crunching sound which was accompanied by a grinding sensation.

I bleated a choice expletive and lurched to the side of the trail.  I stood there for a minute and thought about dropping.  I had a mile or so to go back to the last aid station and 3.5 to finish.  I decided I'd grit my teeth and press on, hell or high water I'd finish this race.

After a minute or two, the endorphins took the edge off and I was able to manage a "log" - part limp part jog. I even realized that while touch and go, I could probably finish in under 5 hours.  And I did.  It was painful and I had a while where I didn't know where the course went, but eventually I got there.  The guy I'd left behind at the water crossing helped point me in the right direction and asked after my well being.  I'm glad he came by when he did, because I was about to go off course.

At the Finish.
I crossed the finish line in the 59th minute of the 4th hour after the start of the race.  I ran this race faster than I ran the first half of the Steamboat 50, while finishing on a severely damaged foot.

My first stop after the finish line was the buffet table where I took on board a couple of raspberry tart kind of  cakes, a brat and a potato pancake.  I then went over to the paramedics who were kind enough to check the pulse in my foot and provide me with a bag of ice and some gauze to keep the ice in place.  I don't know if my foot is broken, but we're 5 days out now and the swelling is almost gone so I expect I just messed up some tendons.

Erik came in about an hour later.  He'd beaten his goal time of 6:30 by a full 11 minutes.  The Blues Cruise was also his second ultra in 4 weeks and his second ever ultramarathon.  You can read his report on his blog, it seems he's been bitten by the ultra-bug too.

I ended up finishing 30th overall and took home a rock which said Blues Cruise 5th place 40-49.

Lesson Learned.
Over all I enjoyed the race, but I don't see myself ever running a race in Five Fingers again.  Had I had more protection, I would have been able to run the descents more aggressively and I would not have suffered the injury at mile 25 which almost took me out of the race.

My Vibrams will still be my primary road shoe, but as long as I'm racing (not just out for a run) I won't be using them on the trail.  With a burlier shoe, I'm certain I'd have been in the top 20 of this race.  So, while I had a great time out there running the Blues Cruise, I'm packing a fair load of regret as well.

Oh well.
Thanks for reading, and consider "choosing your protection rather than your correction" (Eric Orton).

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