The Ouachita Trail 50 Miler did not disappoint this year.  It is always a great race, and this time was no different.  I had a lot of “lessons learned” and saw a lot of things that I worked on in training go very well.  Even though I didn’t make the 10:30 goal that I had set for myself, I still consider this race another very successful one.  Maybe it’s just the experience, but I feel like I got more out of this race than any other race in the past.

Getting There

This year I decided to camp at Maumelle Park Campground right where the race starts.  It was great! My Mom, Dad, Son and oldest Daughter all joined me for the trip.  We drove up Friday around lunchtime and spent Friday night and Saturday night at the campground.  Here’s our ride:

camper

 

As we crossed the Arkansas River approaching the Park I noticed Pinnacle Mountain off in the distance, and snapped a pic from the truck:

distance

 

I immediately started getting butterflies.  The seriousness of this race began to really sink in.  Tomorrow we’d be climbing up that mountain and running 50 miles.  Had I prepared enough?  Would I bonk?  Was my nutrition plan going to be good enough?  Would muscle cramps make this race a nightmare?  All of these things began to start floating around in my head.  50 miles is a long way, and I need to prepare myself mentally for it.  I can’t let doubts and fears get in my way at all.  I have to remain positive.

We got checked in at the campground, and got the camper all hooked up.  My son and I hopped on our bikes and were going to ride over to the race checkin, but we got lost in the campground so I decided to go back and drive over to check in.  I was anxious to see what the race shirts were going to look like.  They were very cool this year; orange instead of purple like the previous years…

raceshirt

 

I got checked in, and headed back to the camp site to relax a little bit before I had to start getting things together for the race.

Gear

gear

 

Here’s all my gear for the race.  I’ve got two shaker bottles, handheld bottle, S!Caps, Altra Zero Drop Instincts, Zensah calf sleeves, Inov-8 X-Talons (Just in Case), Smart Wool socks, Swiftwick compression socks, Cliff Bars, Roctane Gu, Mobility Kit, drop bags, shorts, shirts, and Garmin Forerunner 405CX.

Nutrition

At my last race, Sylamore 50K, I had a lot of problems that I attributed to not having a solid nutrition plan. Remember, Recalibrationalism?  I wanted to avoid cramping at all costs during this race.  One big goal of mine was to run the whole race without having issues with cramping.  To do this, I planned to take 1 S!Cap every half hour and stay on top of hydration.  I would keep my water bottle full of half water/half gatorade the whole race and drink consistently.

Another thing I’ve struggled with in the past is eating during the race.  I’ll get sick of eating Gu, and PB&J gets a little unappealing (Crazy, I know).  This time I planned to eat food for the first half of the race, and then I would switch to Roctane (Gu) for the second half of the race.  In addition, if anything at an aid station looked appealing at any time during the race I would eat it.  I also planned to have a workout shake (Whey Protein/Gatorade) at the halfway point and at the 36 mile point (didn’t quite work out).  I had my Daughter cut up some Cliff bars and put in baggies for me and I carried some of those with me in case I got hungry in between aid stations.

One thing I did at this race that was different from past races was eat something (breakfast?) before the race.  I decided to have a workout shake (Whey Protein/Gatorade) and a Cliff bar before heading to the starting line.  I think I’ll keep doing this. Honestly, I’m not sure if it helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt me so I will continue doing it for a while and see how it works out.

I changed my Pizza/Beer pre race dinner to a Steak/Sweet Potato and 1 or 2 beers with a LOT of water.  We cooked the steaks on the grill and they were great:

steak

The Race

I did not sleep well.  I’m learning that I’m just not going to get a great 8 hour sleep before a race.  There is just too much going on in my head to get to sleep.  Maybe I’ll start taking a sleeping pill or something.  Normally I’ll have a dream about missing the start of the race, but not this time.  I just tossed and turned all night, in and out of sleep.  4:30a.m. finally arrived and I got up and made coffee.  I sat down, checked my phone for social network activity while I drank my coffee.  I did all my business, got dressed and had my shake and cliff bar for breakfast.  I finished my shake and (thought) I stuck my empty shaker bottle in one of my drop bags.  My Dad woke up and drove me over to the starting line.  It was a little chilly outside so I didn’t really feel like walking all the way over there.

I got to the starting line, and picked up my bib.  Number 82.  I pinned it on and snapped a pic (of course):

bib

 

I saw my friend David Murphy (@runlikeamug) and chatted with him for a minute.  We were both ready to get this show on the road.  It wasn’t long before the race director got on the horn and began to brief us on the race.  We had the option of dropping down to the 50K if we were having a bad day, we had to make the cutoffs or we’d be taken out of the race, and best of all “don’t give any of my volunteers any shit or you will be disqualified and you’ll never run this race again!”  Advice taken!  Of course, the volunteers at this race really do go above and beyond.  Anyone that would give them any hassle at all is just plain dumb.

The race started promptly at 6 a.m. and we were off.  My plan was to run a little faster (9/9:30 pace) until we got to the mountain and maybe that would help offset the time it was going to take to get over the mountain.  Everything was going very well, my legs felt good and I was cruising along.  Then we got to the mountain.  I guess over the course of a year I just forget how hard it is climbing this mountain after a 3.5-4 mile run.  I can’t really think of a good way to describe it to you.  Imagine running 4 miles and then going to the squat rack and doing heavy sets of 15 or 100 box step ups with 100 pound dumbells in each hand.  It ain’t easy.  Here’s a video I took the first year to give you an idea.  It gets worse the higher up you get:

It wasn’t too bad.  I felt pretty good once I got to the top.  There’s a pic here: http://blackdogphotoproductions.photoreflect.com/store/Orderpage.aspx?pi=0UFE0014000107&po=107&pc=229

Now that the mountain climb was over, I could focus on the race.  My overall pace had now dropped to 14:35, and I needed to make that up.  There was still plenty of time to do so.  I had marked cutoff times on my arm with a marker because I knew my watch would die at some point.  9:20 a.m. to the 16 mile aid station, 11:31 to the halfway point, and 1:41 p.m. to the 36 mile aid station.  Those were the times I needed to make.

I met up with a guy I know from Memphis, Bill Luton, who was running the 50K.  I hung with him up until the 50K turnaround, and we were moving along pretty good and having some good conversation that helped pass the time.  I clocked a couple of 9-ish and 11-ish minute miles, but wasn’t able to pick it up enough to hit my first cutoff.  I was about 5 minutes or so off.  This wasn’t too bad, and I knew I could still probably make the halfway point by 11:31 a.m.

At this 16 mile aid station I realized that I didn’t put enough attention on my drop bags.  I found my bag, but there was no shaker bottle in it.  Either I forgot to put it in there after breakfast or it fell out while they were transporting it.  I still haven’t found it.  There’s no telling.  I had also forgotten to put my 3rd pair of shoes in this drop bag.  I wanted shoes in each bag just in case the Instincts didn’t work out, but I had forgotten to drop them in there last night.  I’d press on, and just deal with not having a shake when I got back to this aid station at mile 36.  So far the PB&J strategy had been working well, and I had been grabbing a lot of pickles and bananas at the aid stations because they looked good to me.   This is a little gross, but I found that if I chewed the food with water and got it all mushy that it was way easier to tolerate and swallow.  9 more miles to the turnaround.

This is usually where the race gets a bit lonely for me, but this year I ran into several other runners so it wasn’t that bad.  It had been storming really good for a couple of days before the race, and at this point the course got really nasty.  There are lots of little creek crossings on this portion of the race, and the previous rain made them pretty deep.  In addition, there were SO many spots on the course that were just incredibly muddy.  So many times my foot would sink into the mud and I’d almost lose my shoe.  It made it pretty difficult, but I was able to cruise into the halfway point just shy of my cutoff time at 11:34a.m.  Halfway through, I felt good.  No cramps, didn’t bonk, and actually felt ok.  I got my drop bag, mixed my shake up, and sucked it down while a volunteer filled my water bottle for me.  This is where I planned to switch to Roctane, so I got the gels out of my bag and stuffed them into my belt.  I sent a text out to my wife and family to let them know I was still alive and halfway through, and  I began my journey back.  My pace had dropped to around 13:14, and then my watch died.  I forgot to grab my backup watch (cheap digital) out of my drop bag so I didn’t have any idea about how fast I was going.

The creek crossings and trudging through all the mud began to take its toll on me over the next 10 miles.  No cramps though.  I continued taking my S!Caps and hydrating.  My legs felt good considering.  I was just tired of navigating through all of this nasty mud.  It really slowed me down and wore me out.  I wasn’t bonking, just not able to move as quickly as I wanted.  Mentally I was in a pretty good place.  About 4 miles away from the 36 mile aid station, I got HUNGRY!  It was weird. I don’t usually get this hungry in a race, and I usually don’t feel much like eating any food this late in the race.  I was starving, and I started daydreaming about a ham and cheese sandwich.  I thought, “Man, I would kill for a ham and cheese sandwich right now.”  I finally made it back to the 36 mile aid station.  While I didn’t get my second shake, I did find a nice big bag of Ham and Cheese sandwiches on the table at the aid station!  I told one of the volunteers, “You won’t believe this, but I’ve been craving ham and cheese sandwiches for the last 3 miles!”  I probably scarfed down 3 full sandwiches and about 4 big pickles.  At this moment, this was the best tasting food I have ever eaten.  I’m not sure if I was just that hungry or if I was unconsciously trying to delay getting started on the last 13.5 miles of this race.

This last portion of the race is a real mental suck.  While it is a little refreshing to know that you have made all the cutoffs and probably won’t DNF, you really have to HTFU and keep yourself moving forward.  About a mile and a half from that 36 mile aid station is a “Hash” aid station with a cooler of beer and red bull.  By the time I got there it was unmanned, but there is a sign that says “You look like crap.  You look like you need a beer.  You came to the right place.”  I topped my water bottle off, chugged a little bit of red bull and kept moving.  12 Miles left.

There are aid stations at mile 42 and mile 46.  At mile 42 it was apparent that I wasn’t going to make my 10:30 goal.  It was after 3:30 p.m. and I had 8 miles left to go.  I sent a text to my family letting them know it would be closer to 5:30 p.m. before I finished.  I knew there was no way I’d run 8 miles in one hour, so I was looking at seeing if I could get away with a PR.  I honestly don’t remember much else about the mile 42 aid station.  I do remember the next 4 miles to get to the last aid station seemed to last forever!! Almost an hour.  I just couldn’t move fast enough.  I finally made it to the last aid station.  I filled up my bottles and ate my last Roctane.  The guy at the aid station said there were 2 miles to the road, and then 2 miles of road to run before the finish line.  The hills in the last two miles before the road were brutal.  I had to stop and rest a couple of times even walking up the hills.  After 48 miles of trudging through mud I was ready for a cold beer and a finish line.  I powered through this last two miles of trail and finally hit the road.  It was a little after 5 o’ clock and I wondered if I could make two miles in 20 minutes to beat last year’s time.  I finally rounded the last corner to make my way to the finish line.  My eye was on the clock.  11:25:50,51,52….I ran as hard as I could to beat that clock to 11:27.  I ended up crossing at 11:26.  The race director was there waiting to give me my finisher medal, and David Murphy was relaxing with a cold beer cheering as people finished.  I got another pic this year:

davidvon

 

My family showed up a few minutes after I crossed the finish line with my cooler.  We sat for a few minutes and chatted and then headed back to he campsite.  Another awesome race in the books!!

What Worked, What Did Not Work

First, this was my second Ultra in the Altra Zero Drop Instincts.  They are awesome!  I really did not expect to keep them on for the whole 50 miler, but they worked out very well.  I don’t think the Instinct is the perfect trail shoe for me, but I definitely love this brand.  I could have still used some more protection from the rocks on the trail.  My feet still hurt a little, but not near as much as in the past with other minimal type shoes.  I’m going to go ahead and grab one of the trail versions and go with it.  The price of the shoe is well under 100.00 so I could have a pair of Instincts for the road and Lone Peaks for the trails for under 150.00.

Second, the nutrition plan seemed pretty solid.  S!Cap every 30 minutes, drink half water/half gatorade, eat all food first half then switch to Roctane.  If any particular food looks good at any point during the race, eat it.  I think this is a pretty solid foundation to start tweaking for future races.  The roctane is way better than regular GU.  It’s not as thick, and the blueberry pomegranate flavor I got was actually pretty tasty even at the end of the race.  I didn’t cramp up at all,  and I felt pretty good  the whole time.  The only thing I could think of adding in is maybe some caffeine.  I’ll have to think about that one.  Maybe add in a small amount of caffeine pill or something.  There were a few times that I felt like I could have used a little “boost” at the end of the race.  I don’t know, just a thought that I had.

Third, training.  For the last 3 weeks of training I wasn’t able to hit the running portion of my training like I should have.  In fact, I missed the last two longer runs completely. I can’t help but wonder if getting these runs in would have helped me get a little closer to my goal.  I also think that I put a little too much focus on strength training over the last 6 weeks.  There was a big focus on strength in this program, and while the conditioning was fine (obviously because I finished another 50 mile race) I think I could have dropped a little of the strength training and done a little more conditioning as well as running.  We’ll just have to play around with it more and see what we can do to continue strength gains and get race times much lower.

Fourth, running drills and ankle mobility.  I spent a TON of time working running drills and ankle mobility during this last training cycle. Every training session began with 15-20 minutes of running drills.  I think that beating running technique into my brain (and core strength) really helped me later in the race.  When I got tired, instead of my goto position being a hunched over ugly running pose, I was able to continue to hold a good posture and keep my feet underneath me instead of out in front or behind me.  A lot of that also has to do with core strength and being strong enough to hold myself up in good form even when I’m tired.

If you know me, you have probably heard me gripe about my right foot pointing outward when I run (excessively pronated?).  Check out this photo of me and my goofball friend Shawn from a couple years ago:

vonsankle

 

See how my foot is pointing out to the right?  That’s been driving me nuts for a while now.  Well, I think that focusing on the running drills and the ankle mobility at every training session has really helped me straighten that thing out.  I didn’t catch myself doing it even one time during this race, and that felt good.

Finally, weight.  People, I’m heavy.  Depending on the day, I’m 185-189 pounds.  I think I can get down to at least 175 pounds without sacrificing muscle/strength.  That’s going to be my next goal for the next few weeks.  Quit eating so much and trim some fat.  Cut out some of the cheat meals and see what happens.  Cutting 10-15 pounds will have to make me a little faster, and I think I can do it without losing any strength.

Conclusion

An Ultra is an Ultra.  50 Miles is a long, long way.  Sometimes I feel like an idiot talking about pacing and PR’s and stuff in a 50 mile race.  You never know what’s gonna happen out there and finishing the race is something to be pretty damn proud of no matter how you get it done or how fast you get it done.  Sometimes I have to force myself to sit back and say, “Wow, you just did something pretty awesome.”  It doesn’t matter if it is a 1 minute PR or a complete disaster.  I got it done, and I’ll tweak training, keep training hard, and go get after the next race.  So I’m gonna sit back this week, do a little recovery in the gym, coach a little bit, have a little pizza and a little Beer then get back into it next week.

finishmedal

 

Lift Heavy Run Long,

-V

 

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