Sunday, May 18, 2014

Race Report: Playin' Possum 50K

There are impulse buys in the store, at the restaurant and at the coffee counter as you jazz up your favorite latte or mocha. Then there are impulse buys like this race was. Tuesday, I decided to register last minute (they closed registration a few hours later) and run in a brand new race for me in Delaware State Park, just north of Columbus, OH. I had heard great reports from its inaugural running in 2013 and just felt like I needed another confidence builder heading into next month's Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run in the WV mountains. I wanted to test my nutrition strategy again, too, and make sure that my mid-April race in Mohican State Park wasn't just a fluke. I took Thursday and Friday off (I guess you can call that a "taper"!) and ramped up the water intake.

The alarm went off at 2:45am Saturday morning to allow me my race morning rituals that include stove-top espresso, a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, getting all of the supplies and gear together, and a hot shower. Yea...a hot shower that precedes the known mud bath at Delaware State Park. Hey...it's tradition. I ended up getting out the door on time for the 2hr trek south as the sun began to illuminate the horizon. At the race start, the mist was rising off of the lake at the Marina, music was playing, and folks were meeting up and sharing hugs prior to the race start. The swag bag I picked up along with my bib was loaded...one of the best ever. Quality tech tee, a Possum 50K beverage huggie, a Hammer Nutrition water bottle, the ever-popular oval sticker, a Hammer Nutrition bar, and a HeadSweats Possum 50K visor. Wow!
A few minutes prior to the start, the co-race directors took turns talking about the course changes due to the major flooding in the park, explained the markings, and then introduced a young boy from Special Olympics...the primary beneficiary of the Playin' Possum 50K. (and a big reason why I chose this race to run) Seconds before the start, all of the runners raised their hand and he led everyone in the Special Olympics oath:

"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

And with that, we were off! In a nutshell, the re-designed course included a 9.3 mile loop that took us into the mud but first along a stretch of road. This section, once we entered the woods, varied from nice groomed trail under a bright green foliage to shoe-sucking mud. Once back at the start/finish, we headed into the woods behind the start/finish along a lot of flooded trail. This loop was a big 14 mile loop. Once back, we did the original loop again.

So back to the first loop and that mud. Proof of the mud was one female runner who lost her shoe in the mud and was trying to navigate her foot back into it as I passed by. I offered assistance but none was wanted so I headed on by. Some tip-toed through the mud or tried to avoid it. I find it best, fastest, and safest to go right through it running. My logic is this: By going left and right and trying to avoid, you begin running at varied angles and when you are slipping, you are greatly increasing your chances of falling and/or injury. Also, if you keep running, you get through it and the "sucking" effect of the mud is reduced. Lastly, by running straight through it, you keep your center of gravity over the top of your feet and can harness all of the power you have and maintain balance. You're going to get muddy so why fight it? Why not be smart about it? That's my 2 cents, for what it's worth!

In one out-and-back section, we were instructed to tear a page out of the Trail Runner magazine waiting for us. This was to prove that we went the distance and didn't cut the course. Then, it may or may not be asked for at the next aid station. If never was but we still all took our page. We passed an aid station at mile 6 but I didn't stop and just kept on cruising. 

Nutrition: In nearly all of my ultras, I stop at aid stations, get a snack, fill my bottle, and then get going. However, I was testing out a new strategy again like I did at Forget the PR 50K in April, that being fueling purely with Hammer Nutrition products that I was carrying. I don't have proof, but it's my opinion that if I fuel with quality nutrition DURING the race, it'll work in my favor post-race in recovery. Plus, it cuts way down on aid station stops or eliminates the stop altogether. Yesterday, I only stopped at aid stations to refill with Heed and if I didn't need it, I cruised on by. My nutrition consisted of taking one Endurolytes Extreme (salt tab...but the equivalent of taking 3 normal Endurolytes), one Hammer Gel, and one Perpetuem Solid...all per hour. For fluid, I drank Hammer's Heed all day. The salt tabs help keep my sodium levels up, the gels and Heed keep the electrolytes flowing and quickly absorbed into my bloodstream, and the Perpetuem brings protein and carbs to the game and blocks the cannibalization of muscle tissue. 

Thanks to Catherine for capturing this of ANOTHER runner!
So after that aid station, it was about 3.3 miles back to the start and about half of that was road. Once back and I re-filled, I headed into the woods just behind the start/finish. This short trek through the woods covered a lot of area along the lake and flooded trail. I came upon one water crossing that, at first, didn't appear too deep, especially to 6'3" me. Good thing I slowed down as I entered it, though. At one point, I was 1 feet deep and the next thing I know, I'm in it above my waist! HUGE hole right in the middle. I almost went under totally. Soaked! Coming up the muddy slope the other side, I kept on going and soon was navigating around a parking lot while the sky transitioned from sun to dark, thunderous clouds. I had checked the hour-by-hour forecast before the race. "Zero percent of precipitation through around Noon or 1pm then up to 30%." I didn't put on my waterproof case over my iPhone and just wore it on my arm. All of a sudden, and I mean QUICK, pea-sized hail began falling from the sky and then the heavens opened up. I quickly slid my arm band and iPhone off of my arm and held it in the small of my back. You know how some storms come down hard, at an angle, and the wind makes it look like a curtain over the road? Yea...it was like that. It hurt, I became soaked head to toe, but I refused to stop running (or running slow) because I had to keep a "dry pocket" of air behind me or I was going to have a very expensive iPhone casualty on my hands. As I neared Route 23 and the park entrance, it stopped and the sun came out. iPhone dry!  Wow....thanks for that! (uh...not!) This next section was thanks to the flooding in the park and re-routing of the course. We were now running alongside, but on the safe side of the guardrail, Route 23 and 60 +/- mph cars whizzing by. The race directors weed-whipped a path for us to follow 6/10 of a mile until we got to the big grassy dam to run on top of until we got to the big dam keeping the lake full. That was a dirty, filthy section but it was expected. Litter from the winter was all over the place. Once past, we followed a long grassy section on top of the dam until we got to the dam itself. From there, we navigated through a short stretch of woods before coming to a family picnic area where the next aid station was. More familiar faces were found here, a filled water bottle, and I was off. For the next 6 miles, I first crossed the dam then followed a few miles of grass trail, then 2-3 miles of road, then back to the grassy trail and back to the dam again, trek through the woods, and the aid station.  The trip back to the start/finish started here, simply tracing my steps back. Here are a few photos from this section:
Heading back to the dam. Lake to the right and raging river downstream to the left.

If you don't walking over metal grates on a sidewalk, you won't like this. :)

Downstream of the dam 
During that 6 mile stretch in between dam visits.
Running along the flooded lake soon after leaving the start/finish and getting soaked.
Once I got all the way back to the start/finish, I was still doing pretty good. I was approaching the marathon point and still running strong. This course is a VERY runnable course...most definitely the most runnable I have ever done. In the world of ultra running, I'd bet that most would agree that there really isn't one true "hill" to speak of ever. Sure, a few rises but not the kind of hills we've come to know in many of the other local and regional races. Once back, refueled, and running again, I knew one thing for sure: the course was long. I was guessing in between 32 and 33 miles instead of the standard 50K/31.2 mile distance. Honestly, that didn't matter one bit. What the race directors could have done was cancel the race due to so much flooding and the inability to hold true to the original course. Instead, they made it work for the safety and success of all. I'll run a longer 50K any day vs. a short race. No thanks! So I headed on out for the final 9.3 miles.

The course was getting a lot more active now. I was seeing a lot more runners coming from the 14 mile loop and the leaders out in front of me on the last loop. It was good to see others that I knew (and didn't know) and root them on. Personally, I was feeling like a rock star. I really don't race against others these days...I run for and against myself. Do I sometimes measure myself against others I've run with? Sure...everyone does. It's impossible not to. I knew I was way ahead of typical 50K pace on this day. As I passed the 26.2 mile marathon point, I snapped this photo so I wouldn't forget it. With all that mud in the early miles, the hail, the chest-high water crossing...THIS is where I was at the marathon point. I was thrilled! That 4:11 was 10min faster than my first road marathon in 1997 in Scranton, PA!!!! In my mind, I knew I had more than the expected 5 miles left but with this new motivation, I refused to walk or give up anything. I had no clue what my 50K PR (personal record) was but I knew I had to be threatening it. Most 50Ks for me put me mid-pack in the overall results and sometimes north of mid-pack and depending on the course, between 5hrs, 45min and 7 hours. Basic math told me I was faster than that, for sure. As I kept on trucking through the mud, I held true to my philosophy of "mud running efficiency" and wasted no time. I did pause, though, for this one photo of a non-muddy section. Isn't the green simply fantastic?!

Finishing all but the last 1.7 miles on road, I passed the 50K mark in 5hrs, 4min. FIVE HOURS, FOUR MINUTES! "Thank you, Lord!!!!" I was downright giddy at this point. No way I was going to walk this final stretch and I didn't. I continued to pass folks coming towards me and shared greetings the whole way. Eventually, the finish line came into sight and before I crossed it, I passed all of these small signs leading to the finish...40 of them...for every first-time ultra runner on the course! How cool is that?!

Just past the signs,  I crossed the finish line in 5hrs, 20min, 59sec. NEW PR and my 29th ultra marathon finish! Even cooler was that the course was about 32.7 miles long...1.5 miles extra but still got my PR. That was good enough for 20th of 114 finishers! (full results here) One of the co-race directors, Chad Heald, was there to congratulate me and handed me one of the coolest finish line awards...a horseshoe! He did tell me the story of why the horseshoe and the equestrian history of the area but I honestly can't remember. So yea...there's a reason! Regardless...I loved it. Here we are at the finish (thanks to Rob for the finish line photo):


After hanging out at the finish for awhile and talking to fellow runners, I took a serving of Hammer's Recoverite then hit the road for the 2hr trek home. Plenty of time to process the day and what.just.happened. Overall, I couldn't be happier. It was a great day with a few practical jokes played by Mother Nature. In terms of 50K difficulty and appropriateness for first-timers, it's certainly a great first-time ultra and it's certainly one of the "easier" 50Ks. Still...that mud tore a lot of people up. For me, if you were to walk and sludge through it all, it would be really miserable and seem to last forever. It can also hurt you if you end up pulling something in the slop. As for race organization, where the funds go that are raised, the volunteer support, the swag, the location...ALL TOP NOTCH! "Mark and Chad, thank you. Thank you so much for putting on a first class event that held true to what ultra running is all about. Your words posted since the race ended have summed it all up so well. I'm honored to finally hold the title of 'Possum'!"

A race report in mud wouldn't be complete without a photo of my feet...hey, it's tradition! So, before calling this report a wrap, here are a few final muddy photos to bring it home. Enjoy!



Run Happy and Hammer On, friends!

1 comment:

Nathan Szabados said...

Great race report--you captured this awesome race really well. Congratulations!