We arrived in Grand Rivers, KY just in time to have dinner with the Rusted Bears crew. The house we stayed in was incredible and the lakeside location was very scenic. We had a nice potluck style dinner and most of us called it an early night.
Since this was my first race beyond 50K, it was nice to have experienced it with the Bears. I learned so much just from observing their pre-race and race day rituals. One thing I learned from them was to keep an organized drop bag. My drop bag was a mess. I just threw everything inside a cooler bag thinking I could quickly rummage to get what I needed during the race. I learned that in a long race an efficient drop bag stop can mean saving a lot of accumulated time in the end. Next time I’m going to make sure to pack supplies in a way that I’m able to see everything. What you don’t see, you’ll forget!
Everyone had their own pre-race breakfast routine. Most of us had some kind of oatmeal and coffee combination. I opted to eat a banana coconut oatmeal mix I discovered a few weeks ago. Basically oatmeal with brown sugar, bananas, and coconut milk. I try to eat early enough so everything will be digested and I have time to “move” things out. Success!
We got to the starting line in enough time to drop off our drop bags. There weren’t enough porta johns at the start line so a bunch of people (all men) used the rocky area by the start line to pee. At that point none of us cared who saw what we were doing cause when nature calls, you gotta answer!
The Race – Start and First Lap
Course description as described on WKRC webpage:
START: The course starts on the shore of beautiful Kentucky Lake. Turn off Hwy 453 at the entrance to Lighthouse Landing and proceed past the sailboats to the shoreline starting area. From the start, take a right onto 453 and proceed south for 1.5 miles, utilizing the canal bridge. If we have a clear morning you should see the sun rising over Lake Barkley. Turn right onto Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive and head up and over the hill to the trail head, which is just before the road takes a sharp turn to the left. Note that you take the trail to the right, and will run in a clockwise direction. This initial 1.9 mile road section should allow for separation of participants before entering the trail. The Canal Loop trail (designated by blue markers on trees), is a scenic, well-groomed 11.3 mile loop on mostly single-track between Kentucky and Barkley Lakes; offering many breathtaking views of the lakes, and several short challenging hills.
Elevation change has been measured at 1119′ for the 23km; 2068′ for the marathon, 3017′ for the 60k, and 3966′ for the 50 mile. Be alert for sections containing exposed roots and some rock.
50 mile run: Start at Lighthouse Landing, run Canal Loop 4 times, turn left onto Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive, run .6 mile to turnaround, and proceed to finish at Grand Rivers Welcome Center. Make certain an official records your name/number before proceeding at the end/beginning of each loop.
The plan was to start somewhere close to the front to avoid the bottleneck once we got off the roads and onto the single track. What happened was an 8:30 average pace for the first nine miles. A very comfortable pace…if I was running a marathon! I learned later was it was way too fast for a 50 miler considering my lack of training.
The first lap went by pretty quick. There was a big group of us and we were like a train with the guy up front setting an honest pace. We ran through the aid stations and basically refueled at the same time around 5 and 10 miles during the first loop. I wanted to keep up with the group thinking they would help me to the finish. Not the case. We were all doing different distances, some dropped out of the race.
The course featured rolling terrain on packed dirt. None of the climbs were too hard. There were two climbs that were long and most everyone hiked them. Some sections were rocky and slick. The tree roots were mostly visible and fallen trees could easily be navigated around or over. Some of us fell at least one time. In my case it was a root I didn’t see. After I fell I made a conscious effort to lift my feet over sections that were heavily covered with leaves. The first half of the loop was definitely much flatter than the second half.
The trail conditions were perfect and I noticed a good number of runners wearing road shoes. I intended to change into my Mizuno Wave Precision 13s after the first loop, but I was too hyped up and my mind all over the place to remember to change into them. It was all a blur. I changed shoes after the second lap and it helped a lot as I was able to run confidently downhill with the added cushioning and support of my Mizunos.
The Second Lap
The group of runners began to separate during the second lap. This is where I started to feel some stomach discomfort. My average pace dropped significantly to about 9:30, but I still felt confident in finishing. For some reason I couldn’t handle the taste of the gels or any of the food I packed for myself. After two laps, I consumed three Clif Shot gels and a bite of my salted mashed potatoes. Not enough calories!
The cool temperatures probably saved me considering my horrible fueling. It remained in the low 60s with a cool breeze and mostly overcast skies.
The lack of nutrition had a lot to do with a horrible third lap. My average pace dropped to 10:30. I stopped too long at each aid station trying to force myself to eat things I hadn’t trained eating before. I survived the third lap eating orange wedges and pretzel sticks while doing a lot of walking. Somehow I survived.
I underestimated the role the mind plays in an ultra. I was aware of how emotions affected me during a marathon and I thought it would be similar to an ultra. There’s a huge difference! In an ultra there is more time to get caught up in emotions and mental blocks.
I found myself walking a lot more and that can be dangerous because of all the self-talk. I was rationalizing how a DNF (did not finish) wouldn’t be that bad. I could chalk this race up as a learning experience and I can run another 50 better prepared. Yeah, that sounded okay.
As the miles kept passing, more excuses filled my head: my left knee felt funny, my breathing erratic, the hill too steep, the weather too hot, the wrong shoes, not enough training miles, no one too run with. I seriously entertained the idea of quitting after the third lap. I came to the realization that my pace goals were too ambitious and unrealistic — sometimes I set lofty goals for myself. Disheartened and broken, I was totally okay with a DNF.
Coming up to the inevitable end to my day, I ran down a short descent to the main aid station with my head down when I hear, “Choy!”
The Fourth Lap and Finish
Obviously, quitting didn’t happen. What happened instead was a renewed sense of purpose and energy provided to me by my girlfriend… and soda! I didn’t expect to see her at that point (she was with Josh who found the energy to cheer after running the 23K distance) and after getting over the initial surprise (I honestly was in a daze similar to the first lap) I was happy. I felt horrible, but was reminded that I physically looked okay. All I had to do was complete one more lap.
I was given potato chips and cola and sent on my way with a kiss, from my girlfriend, not Josh. There’s comfort in knowing it was the last lap and I would never have to see any part of it again. Each step would be a step closer to the finish line and not the start of another lap. ENERGY!
I ran every single step except for the two long climbs which I managed to power hike. I continued to drink soda and eat chips at each aid station. I think I found the magic formula!
At the end of the lap Cristina directed me to run a .8 mile out and back. I didn’t know I was running the wrong way until she yelled at me to turn the other way. I started the longest .8 miles I’ve ever ran. Two hills to get to an unmanned spot where all 50 mile runners would turn around to make their way to the finish. I was pulled up by a guy who was struggling. I tapped him on his back and told him to run on my heels and we’d both run to the turnaround. He tried, but he was falling back. I hi-fived him on my way down and gave a thumbs-up to everyone else making the torturous climb.
Cristina met me at the aid station with plans to run the 1.7 miles to the finish alongside me. This was until I caught site of a couple of runners who I thought were also finishing the 50 miler. I started to chase them down to get a better placing (because I’m competitive like that!), but found out they were 60K finishers. In the process of chasing down the runners, I managed to leave Cristina behind. I felt bad afterward and should have continued running with her. In hindsight, it wouldn’t have mattered had I finished a couple of spots higher.
Click here to read all race results: RACE RESULT
Safe to say we were all hurting. There’s some pride in knowing we all ran hard enough to feel discomfort. I think I would have felt bad if I was without pain after the race. It would have been as if I had taken it easy on the course and not pushed the limits of my capabilities.
Mileage, mileage, mileage.
To improve running longer distances with speed I know I have to put up the miles. Running 50 training miles weekly is not enough to run a 50 miler. I remember running 60+ miles in preparation for a 25K and how I felt during and after the race. No problems whatsoever and I finished second ahead of some pretty good runners. I think 12 hours of running per week is a start.
Nutrition can make or break your day.
I need to find a way to be okay with eating when my body tells me otherwise. Cola and chips isn’t enough. I need to man up and chug those gels and eat some protein. Something I can work on during longer training runs.
Convey positivity and encouragement.
I realize when I was feeling horrible during the second and third lap I was not engaging other runners and I was ascribing fault on them and on myself. People walking the downhills became obstacles and my tone in asking them to move aside was harsh. When I began to be nice, I ran more at peace and with some joy. During the last lap I encouraged people on and said “thank you” as they moved aside for me. Awesome!
Major thanks to my girlfriend who always amazes me with her support and encouragement.