This is my report from my attempt at the Stone Mill 50 Mile race, held in Gaithersburg, MD on November 17, 2012.
Cliff’s Notes: a perfect day to run all day long. Clear, cold at the start (30 deg) with sunny skies all day and a high around 52. I started on pace, kept to my schedule, and kept the voices quiet for the whole day. The usual aches and pains, and I didn’t do anything too stupid. Finished in 10:51:42, just over a13 min/mile pace over very uneven, rocky and winding trails.
Lead-Up: I have had an excellent year of running, thanks primarily to coaching in several different running programs offered by MCRRC. The more consistent workouts have had a great effect, and I PR’d every distance from 5k to the marathon in the last 12 months. This fall I did not find a marathon that I wanted to run that fit in with my other commitments, and since I did not race an Ironman triathlon this year I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the 50 mile distance, one I raced only once 11 years ago at JFK in western Maryland. Now definitely older but hopefully wiser, I thought I had a sufficient base of training over the last 18 months that would position me to cover the distance efficiently and without messing up my body or my brain. My training crested between 40-50 miles per week and I greatly increased my running on local trails to prepare me for the SR course, one that is 90%+ on rocky or leaf-covered trails with hardly a flat spot to be found. The course and distance require a much slower pace than the marathon, and it proves to be as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
Pre-Race: Up at 4:15am. Breakfast of OJ, bowl of cereal, 2 cups of coffee, for about 400 calories. I always eat at least an hour before I run, usually to let nature take its course before I start out. With the starting area so close to home, I didn’t leave the house until 5:20am for the 15 min drive over to Watkins Mill HS. I got there, parked easily, and took my gear over to the drop area. (Note: we can leave two bags with gear, one we will see at mile 28 and the other at mile 43). Now to the bathroom. Big problem: men’s room has only one stall and about 15 guys lined up for it. There was no way this would resolve before the start at 6 am. Walking away from the line and dreading the potential DNS (did not shit) that would result, a merciful woman walked up and announced that the women’s room next door had five stalls and no waiting. Blessed relief!! Now I was geared up for the pre-dawn chill: tight knit hat (really warm); head lamp, arm warmers, gloves, base layer shirt with tech-T over top, and heavy duty running shorts and my NB trail shoes on. Also wearing a large Nathans hydration pack on my back (see nutrition section later).
Starting Gun: 6am sharp. ~350 runners start out in the darkness (all with headlamps on) with a lap around the school then down a steep hill to the first section of the Seneca Greenway trail. A quick out/back to Brink Rd has the group all running together and I am rarely more than a few feet from another athlete. First light comes over the horizon about 30 minutes in, and the groups are starting to disperse. The hills begin immediately, with the strategy being to walk all of the uphills and run easy on the flats and downhill sections. This will hopefully keep me on a goal pace of 12 minutes per mile for the first half of the day.
Seneca Creek to Muddy Branch: this part of the trail is most familiar, as my training partner (Elmer the dog) and I have run it many times in the past few weeks. The trail moves up and down quickly here with no climb or descent lasting more than a minute. I get into a good rhythm here and avoid doing anything too stupid. The usual stupid of kicking tree roots and rocks concealed by down leaves cannot be avoided completely, but I have grown used to this through my training. The race course also takes us along Rt 28 (the connector road between the two main trail networks) only three blocks from my front door, and Becky & my mom greet me with Elmer, who is more than a little agitated that I have gone running and left him home for the day. The sun is shining and temps are warming into the 40s so I leave my arm warmers with Becky and head down Muddy Branch trail.
Muddy Branch to the Potomac River: I am less familiar with this section, which features fewer but longer hills, and a great many more water crossings than the Seneca trail. The trail systems all require water crossings, but none are so wide as to require you to ford through the water. Almost all of them can be covered in one moderate leap, while a few of them require 4-5 precise steps across rocks left for the purpose. Pacing continued steady at just over 12 min/mile as my walk uphill/run the flats and downhills is holding up. The leaves are really thick on this part and it is definitely slowing me, as well as increasing the frequency of rock strikes and tree root stumbles, most of which are modestly painful but all of which are annoying. We reach the river at Pennyfield lock, turn west, and start up the towpath toward Stone Mill. Along here we pass the halfway point, and I take a moment to update my FB friends on progress (“On sched”).
River to Riffleford Rd: at the Stone Mill aid station (mile 28) we meet up with our first drop bag. I have left a dry shirt, socks, change of hat and gloves here only in anticipation of potential bad weather (never happened, weather was perfect all day) or if I fouled up somewhere on the course. As it turned out I was frustrated with getting trail crap (the technical term for pebbles, twigs and other debris) into my shoes, particularly the right one, so I took a couple of minutes to take the shoe off, clean off my foot, put on a new clean sock and go (see Lessons Learned later). The hills are gradual coming back north up Seneca Creek, and they are growing on my brain. The stretch here from mile 28 to 40 is easily the toughest part of the day. I am nowhere near finished, but the fatigue in the legs is beginning to pile up, and I am getting tired of staring at these woods. The trail remains challenging yet has now become monotonous, and I really want at least a change of scenery. My stomach is tired of simple water and easy carbohydrate. A cheeseburger wouldn’t hurt. Legs are now fairly screaming at me, and I spend more time walking than the earlier sections. Uphills are slower, yet the downhills seem steeper in this section, and I look like a drunk staggering down them as best I can. Pace has slowed significantly and mood has waned.
Riffleford Rd to finish: 8 final miles back on familiar turf. I got a treat seeing my mom, sister and nephew at the Riffleford aid station, and morale definitely picked up with the finish so close. All my gear was in good shape so I did not bother with my drop bag. My pace came back to a more steady run on the flats and downhills, and my stomach was quiet. Coming out of the woods near the school there was enough daylight for my family and friends Pete & Susan to call my name and cheer me up the last big hill to the school. I had a dignified jog as I crossed the line, and prayed the photographer didn’t shoot my pic when I was checking my watch like a dork. I am officially declaring victory in that my time was a 17 minute improvement over my prior attempt back in 2001, with this year’s race being on a much tougher course.
Post-race: short snack of pasta with some soda in the Watkins Mill HS cafeteria. Everyone including me wanted to get home asap, so we drove out as quickly as possible.
and now we really drift into the weeds……….
Nutrition: my Nathan’s hydration pack contained two liters of water mixed with Infinit nutrition custom drink mix. This is a solution to give my calories and electrolytes on the run. My watch would beep at me every 10 minutes and I would take a small sip from my pack’s drinking tube. I did this for 28 miles and then decided I had had enough of this. When I checked it after the race it was still about half full. I also had a Nathan’s handheld bottle which contained plain water. My bottle is smaller than the one you see there, and it contained about 500ml. I had Clif Shot Bloks for the first half as well, then switched over to aid station food for the second half. Totals look like this:
Water: one liter from hydration pack, emptied bottle 7 times, so a total of 4.5 liters over about 11 hours.
Calories: ~250 cal Infinit; ~250 cal Clif Shot bloks; 1.5 PB&J sandwiches (consumed one quarter at a time) for 450 cal; 3 oz minestrone soup (50 cal); 8 3oz cups coke (~300 cal total);
Total calories for the day about 1200-1400. I never felt low on energy, and never came anywhere remotely close to bonking.
I took no other supplements (electrolytes, caffeine other than the soda) or medications of any kind. I had to pee twice in the first three hours, then not at all afterwards. Weighing myself at home after a recovery meal I was still down about 4 pounds on the day which of course is 80% fluid loss. This means my dehydration level during the race was right on target at 2-4% below pre-race weight. With the cool temps I never really felt myself sweating that heavily, although of course I was all day long. I have learned a great deal about proper hydration levels from the new Tim Noakes book which has done much to dispel much of the hydration hysteria from the sports drink industry.
Equipment: I wish I had put elastic lock laces on my shoes before the race. I use them all the time in my other races and not doing so here was just dumb. I had to remove my shoes to get rid of crap inside them 3 times, and these would have saved me a minute each time. I hate burning minutes fixing dumb stuff. Lesson learned. I will also use covers that go over the ankle just above the shoe that keep trail crap out of the shoe in the first place. I have a small, yet annoying, blister on my right heal and bruising on the end of my left big toe, none of which bothered me during the race but are now quite tender and will need a few days.
Afterwards, my mom asked me if I would ever do this type of race again. Yes, I would. I read once that fewer than 1% of the persons who consider themselves runners would ever try the 50 mile distance, and I think that is unfortunate. For my running friends, understand that doing one of these is not necessarily harder than racing a marathon, but it is definitely different. The run is no more uncomfortable than racing a marathon, but you will be uncomfortable much longer. I was out there a long, long time. All day in fact. I saw the sun rise and I barely beat sunset into the finish. It helps that I am comfortable being inside my own head for that long. You do encounter other racers on the course and many of them love to chat, but I prefer to be quiet most of the time. From racing marathons and triathlons I learned a long time ago that all long races have mental highs and lows. These situations are always temporary and almost always false. The keys are not giving in when things are down (keep moving, keep pace) and not getting stupid when things are feeling up (do not go above target speed). Knowing these things makes it simpler to deal with, but it is never easy.
Thanks for reading. Any questions? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to answer.
Coaches in training
This is my report from my attempt at the Stone Mill 50 Mile race, held in...