Trail Monster Running

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Traprock 50k Race Report

I think it's good to use shorter races as training runs for longer races, although I'm not sure when 50k became a shorter race. The Traprock 50k certainly didn't feel like a short race on the day. Participating in races is a good way to gauge your level of fitness and it also helps you prepare for running with others - whether you're taking it competitively or not, it's a different experience running with others in a race compared to a training run. You also get the opportunity to test out your fueling strategy and practice with aid stations, something that can be very different from the usual long training run when you may have to carry more and generally don't have volunteers every few miles helping you out.

The timing of this race, as well as the terrain, would serve as good prep for the MMT 100 coming up in a few weeks and by comparing times of runners who had completed both races in previous years I figured this would allow me to get a better estimation of how much time I can expect to be out on the trails at Massanutten. A few people have planted the seed in my head that it might be possible for me to break 24 hours at MMT, a very ambitious time that only a handful of people (usually 10-15) are able to make every year. I estimated that if I have a shot of breaking 24 at MMT that I would need to run better than 4:45 at Traprock. Definitely not as easy task based on what I knew about the race, 5 hours seemed like a more reasonable goal, but it really depended on how hard I raced. I had a hard time decided if this was going to be an all-out race effort or just a training run, but ultimately my real goal is to do well at Massanutten so I guess I approached Traprock as a hard training run.

Not sure who these guys are, but this is a good shot of some of the more technical trail.

I didn't really taper for Traprock, it came after a lower mileage week of training (51 miles) and would become part of a step back up in mileage (70+). I had some minor piriformis and achilles issues in the week leading up to the race causing me to hold back in training a little more than I originally planned, with the result being that I went into the race feeling a bit more rested than I expected, and thankfully (mostly) pain-free. In looking at previous years results and split times (the race is three laps of a 10.5 mile loop) it was clear that EVERYONE slows down on each successive lap. The top 10 runners slowed by an average of 22 minutes between their first and third laps. Normally I would aim for more consistency, but if that’s what the best runners are doing on this course why should I be any different? My plan was to start out somewhat conservatively, try not to get caught up in “racing” too early, and hopefully feel consistently strong throughout even though I expected to slow on each lap.

Nathan and I headed down to Connecticut on Friday afternoon, crashed at a hotel about 15 minutes from the race start and met the rest of the TMR team on the morning of the race. We got there in plenty of time to check-in, place our drop bags, hang the TMR flag and get in a bit of a warm-up. There had been a little rain on Friday but I was pleased to find the course was mostly dry with only a few slick spots. I went out in two different pairs of shoes to see which had better grip, ultimately deciding on my new Mudclaw 300’s over the Mudroc 290’s.

The morning was cool but I knew the temperature would rise soon enough, and of course, with a 300 foot climb in the first mile I knew that I’d be working hard right from the start. I decided to wear shorts and a singlet, baseball cap and a thin pair of gloves. After a pre-race meeting that included words from a local senator and town official we set off on about 50 yards of asphalt before making a sharp turn onto the trail and heading steeply uphill. I found myself probably just outside the top 20, this seemed like a good place to be but as the climb went on many of those in front started to drop back. By the time we finally crested the first hill I had moved up at least half a dozen places. I transitioned well into faster downhill running and and managed to pick off a few more people on some of the more technical sections of the course. It wasn’t necessarily my intention to move up in position this early in the race but I work hard at technical downhill running in training and it seemed to be paying off in the race.

At about 2 miles into the race we hit the Stairway to Heaven, a notorious climb that looks pretty evil, and is in no way runnable (for most people) but actually wasn’t that long. More aggressive than the Summit Trail at Bradbury, but it was over in a few minutes and I was back to running again. At 5k the course begins a 1k out-and-back lollipop that gives you a chance to see how the people are looking ahead of and behind you. I counted the runners on this stretch and found that I was in 13th place. Still very early in the race but I was feeling good and started to have ambitions of finishing in the top 10. On my way back on this out-and-back I saw Joe close behind, then Nathan, David and Ben.

I was skipping all the aid stations on this first lap since I was carrying a 22oz bottle in a waist pack, along with some trail mix, a gel and a small flask filled with a mix of Odwalla and chia seeds. Most of the second half of the loop is less technical and steep than the first half so the pace picked up along some nice rolling single track with views out to the west. From the final aid station of the loop there was a little more than a mile of old, broken paved road before we turned back along the mile and a half of more technical, hilly trail that doubled as the way out on the loop. I soon saw the lead runners coming up the hill towards me which made navigating the rocks a little more tricky. After a fast 300 foot descent I ran towards the finish line to complete the first lap. I hadn’t been looking at my watch so it came as a complete surprise when I saw the time on the clock at the line. 1:32. Damn, that was a little too fast. I was expecting to be around 1:40. I felt good, but realized that I was probably pushing it a little too hard on that lap, there were still a lot of miles to go.

I made a quick stop at my drop bag to grab a new bottle then headed back up the hill. I had no idea if I managed to hold onto my place while I was stopped. Lots of people were coming in and going to their drop bags but I was too focused on my own stuff to pay attention, and I decided that I didn’t want to get too caught up in hanging onto my place. Not knowing took the pressure off.

The second time up the hill included more walking than the first, and by now there was a steady stream of runners coming down the trail at me. I got to see the rest of the TMR team before the trail split and everyone was looking good. I made a conscious decision to hold back a bit on this lap, I knew that if I tried to maintain the pace I’d been doing for the first lap that I’d probably end up crashing pretty bad. I walked more of the ups but found that I was generally able to make up ground on other runners on the downhills.

By my second time on the lollipop the top one or two runners had already exited before I entered, but I did see Adam Wilcox who had been in third place the last two times I saw him. I didn’t bother to count runners this time, instead just focusing on running consistently and keeping the fluid and fuel going in. It was starting to warm up and I worried about draining my bottle so I did stop at one aid station on this lap for a cup of water that turned out to be HEED. To my surprise it was on the road section of the course that I seemed to feel the most sluggish on this lap. The Mudclaws don’t make a good road shoe. Once back on the trail there was a gradual climb before making the steep drop back down to the start/finish area. As I started the quick descent I saw Adam coming uphill towards me, I cheered him on but his response was something like "blergh”. He definitely wasn’t looking right.

This time I was puzzled by the clock at the finish line: 3:14. Puzzled mostly because I couldn’t do math, but I eventually figured out that I had slowed by 10 minutes on that lap, a bit more than I thought. I also realized that if I was going to break 5 hours I could only afford to slow down by another 2 minutes on this lap. This wasn’t going to be easy, but I decided not to stress about it, just continue to run by feel, the way I had for the first two laps and let myself be surprised by what the clock showed when I was done.

Part way up the initial climb of the third lap another runner sidled up to me and started to chat. He definitely wanted to break 5 hours and hoped we could pull it off together. As friendly as he was I wasn’t in the mood for conversation, I just wanted to focus on getting this done. We ran together, back and forth for the next few miles. I’d tend to get ahead on the more technical parts and steep downhills and he’d get ahead of me on the uphills and less technical terrain. With about 10k left to go in the race we pulled into an aid station together and both made a quick stop to grab a drink. I was out first but he quickly caught up and announced his intention to put the hammer down in an effort to break 5 hours. It sounded like a good idea since we were entering the less technical part of the course, but I’d had a growing pain in my lower abdomen and felt the need to stop for a pee. I had to get that out of the way before trying to pick up the pace. I stepped off the trail and began to do my thing, but it didn’t look right. In fact, it looked like I’d just cut open a vein. After producing about a cups worth of what looked like straight blood the stream thankfully stopped.

I was a little freaked out and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Not finishing wasn’t an option I considered, there were only about 5 miles left in the race, I just wasn’t sure how hard I should push it to the finish. I walked a few paces and then settled into a slow jog. I felt OK, but there was definitely something going wrong on the inside. A few minutes passed and Tom Page came flying by me. How much more damage could I do in the next few miles? I decided I’d be better off getting this over as soon as possible so I picked the pace up. I had hopes of keeping Tom in my sights but he was moving too well.

I soon came to the last aid station of the race where I found Adam seated in a chair under the tent, not looking well. I went to see if he was OK, not that I could do anything for him that the volunteers couldn’t. I asked if he was going to keep running and he responded: “I have no choice.” I’m sure he could have made his way off the course with a volunteer, this aid station was less than a quarter mile from the finish line the way the volunteers came in, but I knew what he meant.

5k left to go, mostly flat or downhill, except for that part that isn’t, that long gradual uphill. I ran hard and was definitely feeling tired, but I was determined not to lose any more places or any more blood. In the final descent, while pounding the downhill, I could feel my left calf threatening to cramp. A fall on that trail, at that speed would have been disastrous. Hospitalization type of disaster. Luckily I was able to keep the screaming muscle at bay and maintain my upright position. Off the hill and it was a 50 yard sprint to the finish, and another surprise when I saw the clock: 5:04:28. The way things had gone in the last 5 miles I was fairly certain that breaking 5 wasn’t going to happen, but I was still happy with the result. Somehow, with all the back and forth I managed to hang on to 13th place, right where I was at 5k. So despite slowing down with each lap I guess I didn’t screw it up worse than anyone else. I ran really hard on some challenging terrain, and apart bleeding out of my penis it went really well. OK, so I have to figure out why that happened and if there is anything I can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

time: 5:04:28
distance: 31 miles
pace: 9:49
place: 13/105 finishers


After catching my breath I went back to my drop bag, grabbed a drink and my camera and waited for the rest of the team to come in. Joe wasn’t far behind, then Ben, Nathan, David and Jordan. Another good day for the team.

So what does this mean for Massanutten? I’m pretty sure it means I shouldn’t go after a sub 24-hour finish. 25 seems like an ambitious, but attainable goal if everything comes together perfectly - although when does that ever happen? 26 seems like something I should be able to do, but who knows. My biggest concern is the weather, there is only so much I can do to prepare for the potential heat and humidity of late spring in Virginia. I feel good about the hills and the technical terrain, I feel great about my support crew and pacer.


Jamie Anderson said...

Fine performance. I say still go for the sub-24. You can always adjust if needed. It's not like going out too fast for a 5K where the engine blows up much easier.

Jeremy Bonnett said...

Damn man that sounds like tough terrain and a solid pace throughout. I would have been freaked out as well peeing blood. You've trained hard enough this year to be a little ambitious for the 100 too!

pb said...

Best of luck with Massanutten Ian, you have certainly done the work for it. Be confident. And stop pissing blood, you're freaking me out!