After finishing my last ultra, The Highland Sky 40 (HS40), I was eager to see how much further I could go. I immediately signed up for CMMM 50 after HS40. Highlands was only my second ultra and longest distance to date. In between HS40 and CMMM 50 I had not what I would consider a great two months of training. I was still doing about 50 miles a week but I was having a hard time doing the long runs past mid 20s. I think a lot that had to do with the fact that it was such a hot summer but it was still a little disconcerting. I had only two training runs over 20 miles (27 and 29) and finished both of those on dead legs.
Five days before the race I was finishing my taper and I decided to go on a two day backpack (two blog posts earlier). I returned home after my trip with sore legs and a blister on the side of my left big toe. I was also given the information that one of our dogs was not doing so well and chances were that she would need to be put down. So on the day before the race, I was walking around on sore legs having just euthanized one of our dogs. Not really where I wanted to be either physically or mentally.
On race day, I took a half day vacation and went home to force a couple hour nap. Fortunately I was able to get some sleep. Around four o’clock having triple checked all my gear, I left Pittsburgh for a 3-1/2 drive to Beverly.
Upon arrival I recognized some of the usual suspects from HS40. Check in to me is quite intimidating. Just about everyone looks like very serious runners and with most wearing shirts from previous ultras ( lots of 50s and 100s) – the place was full of experience.
After the prerace meeting and 30 minutes of waiting, the clock approached 9:00. After humming the star spangled banner (sorry, won’t catch me singing), the countdown started from ten seconds and we were off.
My goal for this race was to come in under 9 hours. In my previous race, I ran half of it with Randy Young. I knew from looking at previous results that his brother Bill had always come in below 9 and sometimes low 8’s. As these two started off together, I felt it wise to try to keep up with them. At about 2 miles into the run, Bill started separating himself from Randy. I moved up next to Randy and chatted for a little bit and then asked him if his brother would be coming in under 9. He said,”yes” and I said “then I need to go chase him”.
So about 2-1/2 to 3 miles into the race I pull along side Bill. We passed the 1st aid station at 48 minutes into the race which was dead on the split I was going for. For the next 4 or so miles Bill and I leapfrogged each other as one would walk as the other ran up the steep forest road. My hamstrings were starting to get sore . At about 8-1/2 miles into the race, the terrain started to level off as we reached to the top of Cheat Mountain and roughly 3800 feet elevation. Our pace was semi-quick but manageable. Air temps started to cool (low 50s) and the breeze picked up (say 5 mph) which had running conditions ideal.
Approximately 13 miles into the race is aid station 2. The course now leaves the forest road section and onto hiking trails. This is the first time I had run at night on unfamiliar trails but the course was marked very well with hanging double-sided reflective ribbon. The trails are also not near as technical as HS40. It was mostly moss covered and spongy. Much of the trail is a carved tunnel through spruce and I imagined that even during the day a headlamp may be useful. A few rocks and roots posed as tripping hazards but it didn’t affect my pace as much as I had anticipated. After 3-1/2 miles of up and down trails we exited onto forest road 49. Bill and I caught up to another runner and it was around this point that I noticed that my ziplock baggy of endurolyte salt pills, ibuprofen and tums must have fallen out of pack. I was a little in panic mode but knew I had plenty in my drop bag at AS 4.
At a half mile into FR49, lit tiki torches lined the road for an additional half mile until we arrived at AS 3. I was finally out of water in my pack and had that filled half way. I also noticed a bottle of S-Caps at the end of the food table and opened that up, broke the seal, pulled out the cotton and popped three in my mouth. While in the aid station, I heard the other runner mention that his name was Joe Dudak which I had recognized from last years CMMM 50 results and remembered that he too was a sub 9 runner. As the three of us left AS 3, I’m thinking to myself that I’m in good company with these two as we ducked back onto the trails for the climb up Whitemeadow Ridge trail and on to AS 4.
Bill had the lead, with Joe in the middle and me bringing up the rear. Not long after we got on the trail and were working our way up a steep section, I must have gotten a little to close to Joe as he proceeded to fire a few “warning shots” at me. He quickly apologized and noted that he was trying to get some separation before letting go. Having gone through that plenty enough times to know that there is not much one can do to stifle, I told him, “no problem”, and then followed up with,”…ahh, you know I’m going to have to put that in the race report?” (and me being a man of my word, there you go).
We arrived at AS 4 (23.3 miles) and the drop bags at about 3:50 into the race. I resupplied myself with Endurolytes, gels and bloks and slammed an Ensure Plus for a quick 350 calories. A minute later I was on FS92 and heading south ahead of the other two. After about a half mile, I took a quick left onto what I thought was the trail but this soon dead ended into a gated dirt road with no trail markers. I turned to look behind me to see the head lamp of a runner continuing on the road. I ran back onto the road and followed the runner an additional hundred feet or so to the correct turn and onto Stonecoal Trail. I followed this runner (someone new, not Bill or Joe) for the next 4 miles down to AS5. Upon getting to the aid station we were informed that we were 4th and 5th.
Leaving AS 5, we continue another 1-1/2 miles on dirt forest road and then jumping back onto the trails for 2 more miles. As soon as we get on the trails we caught up to another runner. This turned out to be the first female (Meg Harnett). I remembered her taking off at the beginning and couldn’t believe how fast she went out. It took me almost 30 miles to finally catch up. After exiting the trails and back onto more forest roads, I pair up with the other runner and ascend to AS6.
Once again at the drop bags, I drink another Ensure Plus, get more water and was off running. For the next 10 miles, me and the other runner, Matt Bugin, ran and walked side by side. Somewhere around mile 42 Matt said he was fighting off GI issues and then pulled off the side of the road as I continued on. So I’m now by myself and holding a pretty good pace. I was very surprised that i felt this good this far into the race. Sure my legs were sore, I was a bit winded and energy was down but nothing was debilitating enough to the point where I felt that I could not keep this up for the next 8 miles.
I continued on down the mountain and pulled into AS 8. I grabbed a few orange wedges and drank two cups of Mt. dew. I was leaving AS 8 as Matt came in. I continued on alone for the next two miles at a good enough pace that I did not see any headlamps behind me the couple times I slowed to walk the small hills. Around mile 47-48 is when my GI issues started. The cramping I was experiencing was forcing me to walk to get them to go away. It was also shortly after that Matt caught up with me. He had seemed to have straighten himself up and was pushing on strong for the last 1-1/2 miles. I knew that in 4th overall I was still guaranteed a masters’s 1st and did not bother to chase. Chances are I would have been 4th anyhow.
After missing the last turn into the finish and costing me another 10-15 seconds, I finally rambled across the last stretch of grass and onto 100 feet of gravel parking lot to cross the finish at 8:07:26.
Being my first 50, I was really satisfied with the outcome. Based on how bad I felt during my long training runs, I was surprised that I never really felt bad at all this race. There are many variables that go towards having a good running day and I think I may have been on the positive side of just about all of them. And this is where I feel I got lucky.
So as I work my way up distances I’m thinking my next step is a 100k or even a 100k++. At this point I have my sites set on Horton’s Hellgate. I do realize, however, that that race is a special race that not just anybody gets to run so I’m hoping he’ll let me in even though I lack the experience of most Hellgaters. In my mind, I have at least removed any doubt that I can finish.