Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Older I Get, the Better I Was: Woodstock 50M

I had every intention of writing a blow-by-blow of my experience at Run Woodstock this past weekend. A week has gone by, and I never quite found the time to do it. We've all read race reports any way.

It started off okay. Then it wasn't okay. Then I kept going. Running is wonderfully awful. Thanks to everyone.

I'm sitting here a week later, recovering from my first 100 mile bike ride and trying to start algebra, trigonometry, and sociology work. Might as well write a race report to get the juices flowing, eh?

As I mentioned before, I signed up for the Peace, Love, and 50 Mile race on a whim. I planned on having the Hungerford Games 50 at the end of September for my one and only ultra this year(unless you count the 100k I ran at Umstead, which I don't). After registration, a benefit for a family member was scheduled for that day, so I'll likely be far from my running shoes. The day before Woodstock registration closed, I signed up.

As usual, I should have put running on the back burner. A rather daunting semester had just started, I was(as always) low on money, and I had been sick for a couple weeks. These may be seen as reasons to neglect running, but ultimately I decided that they were reasons I needed to run. In a time in my life where I feel especially out of control of everything, there's one thing that I do seem to be able to manage, and that thing is my body. I knew that in spite of application processes being dragged out, math professors refusing to slow down their lessons, and graduate schools charging fees to process their fees, I still tell myself when to stop, no matter what. With this idea in mind, an "out of shape 50" was exactly what I needed. No concern for an expected finish time or overall place, but rather for an experience to reiterate to myself(and the world/universe if you're into that) that giving up is harder than continuing. That goals worth having will make you incredibly uncomfortable. My sole long run was my pictured rocks adventure with Jeremiah a couple weeks prior, so I figured that would do. The rest of my runs were less than 3 hours, and mostly on the easier side. 60 miles per week seems to be my max for the last year. How sad.

Michelle and Larry, a couple that I met at the North Country 50 in 2010, were kind enough to offer their home for the night before the race. They prepared a fantastic meal, and even offered us rooms on the top floor of their house. Though they acted as if it were a small gesture for friends, I can't express enough gratitude. They inspire me to be more giving and hospitable. Jeff, Mark, Shane and I had a few beers with Larry and Michelle before turning in. Other than waking up to a few coughing fits into my pillow, I slept like a log. Camping is fun, but beds are nicer.

We hopped in Jeff's van and drove the 2 miles to the race start. Shane didn't have to run the marathon(his first marathon, mind you) for an hour and a half, so the poor bastard had to sit around. I milled around, drop some shit off with what looked like a drop bag area, and hopped into the middle of the crowd.

After a very typical shuffling ultra start, we did the loop around the campground and popped into the woods. Erin, Jeff, and I ran along, passing a few people to get a little elbow room. Apparently we started a little too far back. This first of three loops was the easiest of the day(no shit, right?). 16.6 miles of gravel trail, single track, and a little dirt road. Not a single ache or twinge as I trotted along with Erin, talking about mountain running and races(she recently placed well at TransRockies). We parted ways and I finished the first loop alone. I have no idea what place I was in at this point, but was 1/3 of the way through the race in 2:25. A little too fast for the kind of shape I perceived myself to be in.

Finishing up the first loop. I found a turkey feather on the ground, so of course I put it in my hair.
Photo: Melissa Middleton
The next loop was quite difficult. I ran it alone with the exception of the first mile. A girl named Anna from Denver was running the 50k. Once we parted ways, I never saw another person going the same direction as me. No passing or being passed makes for a boring couple of hours, but I enjoyed the woods.

premature ultra shuffle: engage
Photo: Melissa Middleton
The lack of wisdom necessary to wear untested shoes that have an "itchy spot" immediately upon sockless foot entry can not be overstated. My Merrell Ascend gloves, in spite of being the perfect mix of zero drop, comfort, traction, and nimbility(that can't be a word), ate the shit out of my foot. As the second lap came to a close just after 5 hours, I knew I needed to change shoes and add socks. I hate socks. I hate hot sweaty feet. I hate my toes being all bunched up. I hate moisture trapped in my shoes making my outer layer of skin fall off. Alas, I had two quarter-sized bloody patches that could no longer be ignored, so on go the inov8 trailroc 235s and a pair of socks. More importantly, in steps the best pacer I never asked for, Evan Groendyk.

Evan ran the 5 mile, won it, and jogged 16 miles with my slow ass. 

Evan, even more last minute than I, decided to come to Woodstock to do some jogging of his own and do my last loop with me. Though I never asked E-Greezy to pace me, I never had to. Without him, I would have had a death march to the finish. He kept me company, encouraged me, and reminded of the little things(sugar, water, salt). Having friends like this makes me feel incredibly fortunate. Evan is one of many people in my life that have fostered my growth as an individual. He told me in the days before the race to "be ready to hurt." Turns out, he was joking. His intuition and kind nature coaxed out what little strength I had in my legs. Though often intense and competitive, he kept the positive vibes(of which he is an official enthusiast, according to his business card) going on the course, in spite of me being a little on the gloomy side during these last 16.6 out of 50 miles. The last loop felt like a different run altogether than the other two. More laughing, more walking, and a little more hurting, but it was one of the coolest runs we've ever done together. Multi-loop courses are interesting because the same hill can feel different each time. I ran some that I walked before, and vice versa(mostly vice versa).

This race was interesting because it was a close comparisson to the conditions of the same race in 2010. The 2010 race was one of the better performances of my life. This year, the hurt came early and never really left. My legs had no pop, but I never felt incredibly drained or sore. I never really "blew up" but rather just felt lethargic from beginning to end. I suppose that's the difference between being trained and coming back from a layoff.
Relieved to be done. Also: must purchase new shorts soon.

The rest of the day looked a lot like this

Shane (Left) ran his first Marathon and placed in AG. Mark(second Left) ran the 50M and placed in AG, as did Jeff(Right). The West of MI side did some representing.

I ended up finishing in 7:57 and slipping into 2nd place. 54 minutes slower than my last time here, but I'll take it since it's still my second fastest 50M time. (1st was here, second was the Leadville 50 in 2011). I had no idea what place I was in the entire day.

After a year, I think I'm starting to feel like I'm back into this jogging thing.


  1. You smile a lot more than I do when running 50 miles. My expression is usually more "I just found out I'm getting audited by the IRS".

    Well, you hobby-jogged right on to the podium. Not too shabby!

    1. I've been told that smiling and being in a good mood can work in both directions. Smiling to improve my mood seems to make a marginal difference. Also, there were cameras present. If an ultra course was to be lined with cameras, I would have excellent posture and run a 5 hour 50 mile...or collapse, depending on a few factors.

  2. i think i tried to leave an expletive-laden comment on this post the other night when i was drunk, congratulating you. anyway, i'm really psyched to see you racing ultras again! i can't wait to run at woodstock again...keep an eye out for me next year. i'm planning my triumphant return to the motherland for 2014! it'd be unbelievably cool to run together eventually and get some beers afterwards.

    1. I'll be there, even if only for a beer with ya, P! Thanks, and I hope all is well in the mountains.