So – Saturday, October 8th was officially my ultra running 1 year anniversary. My first ultramarathon was completed at the Can Lakes 50 miler in 2015, and last Saturday I went back for a repeat performance.
As anyone following my blog is aware, I’ve been pretty consistently busy since last October. After completing Can Lakes last year, I went on to race in 8 other ultras including my first (second, and third) venture(s) into trail racing, a 6 hour timed race in Buffalo, a 12 hour overnight race at Candlelight 12, a road 50K, Winter Beast of Burden 25 miler, and my “A” race of the year, Summer Beast of Burden 100 miler (all detailed on the blog).
I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the past year – particularly the value of high weekly mileage – most of it at an easy pace. In addition to the high mileage, I’ve been throwing in regular hill work as well as almost weekly speed and/or tempo workouts, plus some regular bike, swim and strength to keep things balanced. I went into this years’ Can lakes 50 with the sole goal of beating last years’ time by any amount.
I was not sure that this goal was attainable. I was VERY surprised and pleased with last year’s race, coming in almost 30 minutes faster than my “stretch” goal of under 10:04 (which would qualify me for a silver age-group medal). Nonetheless – with all of the training I’ve put in, I was hoping it would be possible.
So many things were different about this year’s race from last. The biggest and most obvious was that instead of being a great big first for me, this race was now something I was very mentally comfortable with. Last year, I had my daughter Patty with me – which was absolutely amazing – she was at every aid station. This year Patty is in England, studying, so I went solo to the race (although had the great pleasure of meeting Aubrey Birzon-Blanda – my hotel roommate and new ultra friend).
I arrived in Canandaigua right around 6 pm on Friday – an hour before the pre-race dinner was to start. I checked into the hotel, unpacked, took care of some e-mails, and headed over to the dinner. As he did last year, Gil put on quite a wonderful spread. I was sorry to see that there weren’t nearly as many people there as last year – apparently there were a number of expected attendees who didn’t end up coming. I had been looking forward to Gil’s pre-race speech, and, probably because of how few folks were there, that didn’t happen. I was happy to see the entire Schubmehl family – I’d met Wanda and Bill at last year’s event, and their daughter Stephanie at Green Lakes over the summer. I sat with them and with Tom Butler and enjoyed the fabulous food.
Heading back to the hotel, I met my roomie for the first time. (I had advertised on the Can Lakes Facebook group that I was looking for a female roommate to share hotel expenses.) Aubrey was great and we chatted until bed… she was running the 50K.
So – perhaps TMI (although anyone who has read my BPAC report has already experienced this sort of TMI from me), but my biggest concern about this race was really whether or not my gut would behave. I’d been to a conference in New Orleans a few weeks prior, and picked up this AWFUL lower GI thing that actually grounded me from outdoor running for a few days simply because I was terrified to be that far away from a restroom. It had appeared to be all better, but had reared its (very) ugly head again just 2 days prior to the race. My untried solution was to take a dose of Imodium about an hour before the race, and just pray.
I didn’t want to wake up Aubrey, so pretty much as soon as I was dressed and ready, I headed out in search of better coffee options than the coffee-maker-in-room. In the lobby I saw a guy who looked decked out for a race, along with his family. I started talking to him – his name was Thomas – and learned that he was running his first 50 miler.
I stopped at Starbucks and got myself a great big cup of strong caffeine, and headed over to race start. Much of the pre-race hanging around was spent with various trips to the women’s room (my regular pre-race habit) and chatting with other runners. I talked a bit more to Thomas, and also to Joe Ciecierega who was also running his first 50. It’s always exciting at these races to see folks achieving new goals.
|Hanging Out Before the Race|
Soon enough, it was time to gather in front of the community college, and start the race.
My early pace felt easy and right. No aches or pains – felt tapered and strong. Probably about a mile in, I heard a voice next to me and saw my new friend Thomas. It looked like Thomas’ pace was almost spot on to mine, so we ran together and talked. I’m generally a solo runner, and it is always pretty special when I get a chance to run with someone else. We zipped through the first aid station – 4.5 miles down, and time was flying. At aid station number 2, 9.5 miles in, we quickly sprinted to the rest rooms, grabbed a little food and soda and started on our way again. Thomas and I separated a bit on the Coye Road climb – I think hill pacing is a pretty individual thing - but I found him next to me again on the next big downhill past Coye.
I was really pleased, early on in the race, with how I was handling the downhills. Last year the downs started hurting my knees really early in the race. This year I appeared to be running them strong. Thomas and I continued our comfortable pace until we hit Bopple Hill – the first true monster climb of the race. We stopped briefly as we climbed Bopple for Thomas to grab some gear from his crew, and then started to climb again. Somewhere along that climb, our paces stopped matching as well, and I moved on ahead of Thomas. Although I didn’t have a crew with me, I now had Thomas’ family rooting for me too, and as they drove by to wait for Thomas, they’d honk and wave at me – which was great.
|Amy and Thomas climbing up Bopple|
Bopple and the subsequent downhill went smoothly and then I hit a more rolling section of the course where I ran into Wanda Schubmehl. I still felt strong, but it felt like I was slowing down a bit. Further along that stretch of road I ran into Bill Schubmehl and said hi. Bill and Wanda were both easy to recognize as they (and I) were wearing our day-glow Candlelight 12 hats. Bill looked great… I told him I was feeling OK but just a little bit bonky. Somewhere around mile 22-23, I found myself on a road that just seemed to go on, and on, and on. I didn’t see any runners ahead of me or behind me and realized I hadn’t seen any runners in a while. I started wondering whether I had somehow gotten off course. (Gil – maybe throw a few more chalk arrows on that section… J ) I plowed on ahead, and right around mile 24 I hit the turnoff for Sunnyside – which I recognized, to my great relief.
I remember really liking the Sunnyside section last year for a couple of reasons. First, you hit the halfway point of the course there; secondly, there is a 3 mile “out and back” where you get to run into a lot of runners both ahead of you and behind you. This is pretty cool. Once you finish the Sunnyside out and back, you are at mile 28 or so. This part was pretty exciting for me last year, because every mile past 28 last year represented further distance than I’d ever gone in training, and thus new territory. This year that was not the case.
I hit the 50K mark at 5 hours and 37 minutes – actually 2 minutes slower than last year, but pretty much on target. Although my 50K was marginally slower, I could definitely feel a difference in my strength between last year and this, in all of the post 50K miles. Whereas last year I had felt the need at that point to take regular walk breaks, this year I was still running solid. Also somewhere around 50K, the rain that had been threatening to occur all morning finally started, and we got a bit of a downpour for something close to 30 minutes. During my 100 miler training, I had lots of chances to run in heavy rain including one memorable 30 miler where it rained for pretty much the whole run (including 7 miles at the end of heavy thunder/lightening), so I was pretty OK running in the rain. At least the temperature was good.
I’d say another difference between last year and this year was how quickly the miles seemed to fly by between 50K and 50 miles. There’s something about already knowing how that distance feels that makes it seem shorter.
I didn’t remember exactly where Bare Hill, the second monster climb, started, but my recollection was somewhere in the late 30’s. Sure enough right around the 38 mile mark, after some gradual climbing, the real fun began. The base of the hill was a gradual enough slope to aim for an easy run. It started to get steeper and I was just getting ready to start walking when I saw a familiar pink cowboy hat up walking ahead. Sure enough, there was a woman to the left of the pink-hatted gentleman and I knew that Gary Thompson and Katherine Fleming were just ahead, running the 50K. I yelled out to them and waved and jogged to catch up. Really enjoyed their humor and company during the brief haul up Bare Hill.
The only remarkable thing for me between the top of Bare and the home stretch was just how much the downhills started to hurt – particularly on my right side on my knee and hip. I had plenty of energy left at that point in the race (far more than last year), and really would have loved to have been able to just bomb down the hills. Instead, at every downhill, I was gritting my teeth and wincing at the pain which a couple of times was so severe that it felt like either my legs would buckle or I’d have to walk. Fortunately the pain subsided at the flats and the uphills, but I definitely think it impacted the pace I was able achieve in that section.
It was great seeing Kristen Hyer (a runner I’d met at Gil’s Candlelight 12 hour race and female Beast Of Burder winner, both winter and summer 2016) at the 42 mile aid station. How powerful it is to have someone know your name, and take care of you! “Amy – what do you need? Do you need soda? Pickles? How are you doing Amy?”. Just having someone know me and ask after me made me feel strong and ready to head out for the last 8.
Which went… just fine. I think my pace was relatively steady at that point and I still didn’t feel like I needed to walk. Very different, again, from last year. Particularly in the last 3 miles, where last year I was mentally DONE, this race I just kept on running – passing 2 runners in the last mile and a half of the course. Soon the finish line was in sight – and instead of feeling like it was unbearably far away, I had the energy to pick up the pace and run through it strong, with a smile on my face. In the end, I managed to cut a little more than 5 1/2 minutes off of my 2015 race, with a finish time of 9:30 and 20 seconds or so - an average pace of 11:13, and good enough (by over 30 minutes) to qualify me for an age group silver medal.
|Earned my age group silver medal again|
I hung out a bit after I finished to chat with Wanda, and to wait for Thomas to come in and finish his first 50-miler.
|Thomas finishing his first 50-miler|
|Gary and Katherine running in happy!|
3 days after the race – the differences between last year and this year are still showing themselves. Last year the stress on my body was such that I didn’t sleep for 2 days after the race and my gut just stopped processing stuff. This year that didn’t happen. Also, I ran my regular Tuesday 9 miler and didn’t really feel much the worse for wear – rather, it felt like I had completed a long training run on Saturday.
Which I did… next stop: One Day at the Fair 24 Hour race in New Jersey, November 12 2016.