My 56th race of the year was a return to trails... always a dicey proposition for me. It was also the first hardcore 50k (and only my third 50k ever) since my debacle at Chuckanut back in March. Yes, I ran Autumn Leaves last month, and I did well. But Autumn Leaves was a nice jaunt in the park - totally NOT the same thing.
THIS race was the Louisiana Trails 50k. Held in a state park a few miles outside of Shreveport, this race consisted of a 13 mile loop done twice, followed by a 5 mile loop that was really just the bottom section of the 13 mile loop. The course was 90% single track trail and 10% grass/dirt road. I was expecting flat... it was hilly: many sharp ups and downs, creek jumps (that were luckily dry), and switchbacks. The trail itself contained lots of roots, which made for some fancy footwork in places, but it was dry and there weren't any rocks to navigate. Fall weather could have made for some difficult navigation if the trail had been covered in leaves. But it wasn't - the park ranger (caretaker?) worked hard to clear off the trail. It was immaculate. In fact, it was probably the best maintained course at this difficulty level that I've ever run on. A real treat.
The weather for race morning was outstanding - partly cloudy and a little crisp. It would drizzle a little during the race, but mostly it stayed PERFECT. So much so that I had to ditch some of my clothes. Usually I stay bundled up like the Michelin Man. What a nice day.
My goals for the race were "don't get hurt" and just practice running down hills. I didn't figure that I'd match the 5:08 I ran at Autumn Leaves... that course had been short AND very easy. Then again, I didn't think I'd have to settle for the 6:54 that I experienced at Chuckanut. The weather was too nice and I didn't figure to lose my shoe in the mud like I did back in March. Any time in between would be fine; I just wanted to have some fun.
And so, off we went. There weren't lots of people in this race, unlike the Mid-Mountain Marathon I did in September. When that race funneled everyone onto the trail, it got quite crowded. This race wasn't nearly that bad, but I did get sucked into the little group running near the front of the pack. Not THE front runners... just a pack towards the front. There were actually two races going on at the same time: a marathon and a 50k. I figured that most of these people in this pack were marathoners, but that the pace would be close enough to what I needed without spontaneously combusting later.
I learned right away that the course was hillier than I expected. Up we went, down we went. I passed a few people, and a few people passed me. It's very normal for me not to be able to judge my pace on technical trails... and this race was no exception. I was breathing a little hard, but it was impossible to tell whether this was because of the sharp ups and downs, or because I was running a bit too fast.
The woman running in front of me wiped out around M8. BOOM, somersault, dust. I stopped to help her, but she waved me on.
As I approached the start/finish area, my watch read 1:35. I knew I hadn't run 13 miles yet, and sure enough, the peek at the start/finish was a tease. There was more to this loop - a whole lot more, in fact. Onward I went. I finally finished the first loop at 2:15. Very slow by road marathon standards, but a trail race is a different thing.
I was very confused. As a 50k runner, I was told to go through one side of the start/finish transition area. Everyone else I had been running with seemed to be going through the other side. The finish side. And stopping. What? A marathon is 26.2 miles... they had another loop to run, right?
Then it dawned on me, and I asked one of the guys I had been running with... "There's a HALF marathon today, isn't there?"
Indeed, that's exactly what was happening. And that meant something bad: I had been running at half marathon pace. Even if 2:15 was a slow half marathon on the road, I had probably been running too hard. Or not; it's really difficult to judge.
All I know is that when I embarked on the second loop, I ran more conservatively. By a lot. I talked to a couple people as they passed me and just focused on running the hills properly. Somewhere around M20, I realized that I had a lot left in the tank. I had allowed the half marathon pace thing mess with my mind, and I had slowed too much. So I picked up the pace.
I hit the end of the second loop at 4:35, which meant my splits were 2:15/2:20. Hard to say exactly how pokey I had been going before I picked it back up... but overall, I was ok with this. Had I been running the marathon, I would have been ok with a 4:30ish time considering this course.
But I was running the 50k, and it was time to do the last 5 mile loop. I went off and decided to run as fast as I possibly could, while still trying to make my "don't get hurt" goal. I almost failed... I tripped over roots several times. Right around M29, a course marshal directed me to go in a direction that I wasn't expecting. The course was well marked, but this still freaked me out a little. I hate getting lost. Off I went anyway. I passed several people in these last two miles. I got to where I *thought* the turn for the finish would be. It wasn't there. Now I was freaked out a lot. I might have said some bad words out loud in the middle of this pristine trail.
There was no need. Around the next bend was a huge sign pointing towards the 50k finish.
Up a big, long hill. Oy! What a way to end a 50k. Up and up I went.
And then I was done. 5:28... that last 5 mile loop took 53 minutes. Not exactly a smoking pace, but it felt fast at the time. It was probably a bit faster too... that 53 minutes includes some time at two aid stations drinking and chatting.
"How old are you?"
"How old are you? You just won an award."
"An award? Uh... 41."
2nd overall masters. And, 6th overall. How about that? Ok, in fairness, it isn't as awesome as it sounds. There were 15 people in the race. Little races are funny like that.
What a fun day, though. On a course that was challenging but also meticulously cared for. And, in retrospect, a course that was very well-marked - no chance for Island Boy to get lost.
If this race wasn't located 2000 miles from me in Shreveport, I would return every year. It was really good. I didn't discuss the aid stations above, but they were perfect. The volunteers were all wonderful. Everything was good.
And I came in 2nd! Hot dog.
Next up: The "almost triple" weekend. It has come and gone. The Atlanta Marathon on Thursday (Thanksgiving), the low-key Ghost of Seattle Marathon on Saturday, and the big Seattle Marathon on Sunday. And there was certainly some adventure during the almost triple. More soon!