I headed into this year’s race with optimism for a PR despite a torn and aggravated right hamstring. I felt in good shape coming off of Ironman and a 3 hour marathon at Lakefront. My concerns were whether or not my hamstring would hold up and my lack of training in the last 3 weeks. I had tried a 4 mile run a week before the race and felt the hamstring pull 3 miles into it. I would be racing on 21 miles total training for the 3 weeks prior to the event.
3 days before the race I found out that my plans for a room the night before fell through. Luckily Tracy Neupert from APG came through with a place for me to stay. Thursday I taped my hamstring with Kinesio tape and went for a short easy run. The pull felt ok but the other side of the hamstring that I didn’t tape ached. Friday I shaved the back of my legs and taped my whole right hamstring plus part of the left as that also was sore.
Tracy and I made it to the bus for the ride up at 5:30 am with few seats left. Christine Crawford had saved me a seat so that we could talk about how we both shouldn’t be doing the race. We arrived with about 25 minutes until the start, just enough time without getting too cold as I debated over short or long sleeves. The weather was close to ideal with temperatures (I believe) in the 40s so I stuck with the long sleeves.
The race began with one guy sprinting out followed by Stuart Kolb and John Storkamp with a woman in fourth place. A few of us settled into a very comfortable 7:30-7:45 pace and over the next few miles I was surrounded by familiar faces and the conversations began. Two hot topics being how long the leader and lead woman would last. Seeing the tape on my legs they asked about my hamstrings, I lied and said they felt okay when I was really questioning the light aches in them. After several miles we had a pack of 4 left including Kurt Rompot (with his wife in the “mobile aid station”), Nic Giebler and Dave Niblack(a newcomer with a 2:50 marathon).
At the second aid station I pulled away as they took longer to refuel and started gaining on Alisha, the lead female. I could sense inexperience as she sped up every time people cheered us on and again as she saw my shadow approaching. I ran with her for a couple of miles and found out she ran last year in about 7:40 and was trying to bank some time (bad idea I thought as she faded behind me). The other 3 guys soon caught up to me and we stayed close until mile 25. We hit 25 miles at 3:13 and I figured if I could just maintain an 8-8:30 minute pace the second half I would easily PR.
In the next few miles the others started pulling away as my pace slowed and I started to realize an 8 minute pace wasn’t going to last. At mile 35 I caught up to John walking but after a couple of miles he caught a second wind and passed me as I entered a dark place where the miles began to really hurt. Surprisingly my hamstrings were ok but my calves were twitching with cramps, both my Achilles were aching, the right knee was sore (probably due to bad form induced from trying to compensate for the hurt hamstring) and bones in my feet were throbbing with each step. Lesson learned: don’t ever wear marathon racing flats for a 50 miler.
It was at this point I started questioning why I was putting myself through this as my legs were screaming to stop. I know I have hurt in past 50 mile races but this seemed worse (even though it probably wasn’t and is one of the reasons for recording this). I have suffered in past Ironman races and walked put not like the pain I was feeling now, every step hurt. I thought I was in 2nd place for Master’s (forgetting that Kurt is in his 40s so I was really in 3rd) and couldn’t let up. I figured if I could just maintain 9 minute miles I was unlikely to get caught by anyone from behind. However I gave in to the pain and allowed myself to walk 20 seconds each mile. Unfortunately between that and the pain in every step I was only producing 10 minute miles. I did find out after the race that a couple of the guys in front of me walked for 1 minute each of the last 10 miles so then I didn’t feel so bad.
I continued this for the next 5 miles until aid station #8 (mile 42) where I saw runners behind me and knew it was up to me as to where I would finish. I picked up the pace slightly and gave up walking but it wasn’t long before I heard voices and was passed by Alisha with a pacer. At least she wasn’t in my divisionJ. My legs felt a little better now and I was now running 9:30 miles but couldn’t let up as Kevin drove by and told me there were 2 guys 150 yards behind me.
I ran through the last aid station knowing I had enough fuel for the last 4 miles but again I heard voices coming from behind. This is where I realized that racing 50 miles is a lot tougher than running 50 miles. If I was to place today it was up to me to earn or lose that spot. I literally told myself to dig deep and picked up the pace. I had the energy and my legs felt good enough to run faster but my feet ached with each step and my calves had spasms shooting through them, I was afraid a cramp would shut me down.
Holding back enough to avoid the cramps I had picked it up to an 8:30 pace and after a couple of miles I looked back to see that I had put a couple hundred yards between me and the other 2 runners (turned out one was a pacer). I kept the pace up but then felt a strain in my groin and eased off a bit to avoid another potential debilitating pull or cramp. With a mile to go I realized an 8:00 would keep me under 7 hours but after a half mile at that pace the constant spasms were like knives sticking in my calves and I figured I would rather run across the finish than crawl. I reduced my stride to a no push off fast leg swing and finished in 7:00:54.
I stuck around several hours for the great post race party to find out how everyone else did and to hear their stories or maybe it was for the beer to soothe my aching legs. Either way it was a blast and a great finish to my 2011 season. Now for some long over due recovery before I start training for my first Birkebeiner.