|Marcus and I at the Start of the Chippewa 50k|
Saturday April 26th was the Chippewa 50k, a run on the Ice Age trail just North of Chippewa Falls. A ton of intrepid Cyclova people signed up for this event, mostly because Tony L. brought it to our attention that they were having a "Black Friday" sale on entry fees 5 months ago. The price was only $30 because of this sale, and the comments were along the lines of "shesh...at that price, you can't afford not to run." I think in the end about 10 of us signed up for the 50k, and the specter of the event has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since.
The thing is, we are all enthusiastic skiers. The second the Birkie ended, it was "time to train for the 50k." The lead time was a touch on the short side (about 7 weeks) but we had fitness built up from skiing...right?
Most of the people in our group have done marathons, so it's not like we were being irresponsible here, but in hindsight I can admit now I didn't really know what I was getting into. We all cranked up our March and April running and basically every single one of us started having physical issues. I think everybody ramped up their mileage a little too fast because Facebook became a litany of knee, ankle and arch issues (oh, and these weren't just excuses because all these guys are hard core...most of them had doctors beating them over the head saying "don't do this event!").
As for me you can tell from my physique that "over-training" isn't a major concern. But even I came down with knee issues after a 17 mile run in March, then a family virus (my wife, daughters and I all got sick) put training on hold for about 10 days in mid-April), but I recovered enough so I felt good going into the 50k. I would have liked to have had a few more long runs...but heck, that's the case with every marathon you do right?
My plan was to just have a change of clothing and plenty of food and I would crawl it on my hands and knees if I had to. I know from experience that "tired" is not nearly as miserable as "tired and hungry" so I headed into the day fairly confident (I brought a lot of food). Checking the rules, I found that the cut-off time was 9 hours and shesh...I didn't think I'd be out there for that long...right?
We had a beautiful morning with cool but not cold temperatures, little wind and no precipitation so you can't ask for more than that! We set off from the Chippewa Moraine Center (a beautiful facility) and headed off down the magnificent trail.
Lately, my plan for marathons is just to run as hard as I can for about half of it and run/walk back. The body can handle quite a bit of walking in a day, and it's amazing how much you can recover by walking a mile in a marathon (sometimes you recover enough to start running again).
For the first 10 miles or so, this was like a regular race. I got in a nice group and we all trotted along at about a 12 minute mile. Normally that's not very fast, but this trail contained a lot of rolling hills and it seemed best to be ultra conservative. I'm a big believer in shooting for a VERY slow time the first time you do an event, that way you have the motivation of wanting to improve your time to help you sign up for the next year.
I've done trail runs before, but this one was different somehow. The trail was in great shape. Occasionally you'd hit a mud puddle or there would be roots or stones disguised by leaves, but you can't complain about the conditions. Also, this trail was very well marked. Kudos to the organizers who put colored tape and little flags at every potentially confusing intersection. I never had a doubt that I was in the right place.
However, even with all that doing a "superman" seems to be part of trail running. I didn't fall but I hit a couple roots and rocks along the way. Sometimes when you're in a line of people you just don't see the obstacles coming at you (and you feel really stupid when you hit them). And man...it HURTS to kick a root even at a 12 minute mile running pace. But the reason you were distracted from looking at the trail in front of you was because you were having too much fun taking in all the beautiful scenery.
Folks, this event is magnificent! The trail is beautiful! I even saw a porcupine waddling along in the woods (keeping pace with me for about 4 miles before he pulled away).
About 10 miles into the event, Jason S. and I decided to kind of chill and run/walk. 10 miles was the second aid station and the trail got muddy for about a solid mile, so it made sense to take it easy. It had taken us about 2 hrs to get there, so the thought of finishing in under 9 hrs wasn't even a concern.
From mile 10 to mile 15.5, however, the trail takes a decided uphill turn. We trotted along telling stories and whatnot until we reached the turnaround at 3:45. The Tupys were there cheering for us and that was a welcome shot in the arm! It's fun when you have friends who come out to cheer you along. The Coca-Cola and PBJ that was available at the aid stations was awesome, and we filled up our camelbaks and headed back out.
The first couple hours after the turn-around were OK, but after that my memory starts to get fuzzy. When you get 6 hours into any event, things are going to become difficult. Usually you can count on being able to walk at about a 15 minute mile, but it seemed like every time I looked down at my GPS it read something between 18 and 22 minutes per mile. I was about 6 hours in when I started to realize that I was going to be pushing 9 hrs.
I tried to start doing the math (as you do when you're in an event) and it's pretty depressing when you calculate you have two hours to do 6 miles and you're not sure you'll be able to accomplish the task. Eventually I gave up and just resolved to go as fast as I could. I started to see a guy off in the distance so I shuffled along and managed to briefly pass him, then he passed me back, and then I passed him again. This was kind of like a zombie race, and would have been amusing to watch (if you had it on tape and were able to hit fast forward...watching the race in real time would have been akin to witnessing a plant grow).
I really didn't want to take 9 hours. It seemed like the event organizers were being cool about not pulling people off the trail, still, the posted time limit for the event was 9 hours and I didn't want to cross that finish line with the feeling that my "finish" didn't count because it was outside the allotted time. As the miles clicked off, my finish time predictions kept indicating I had about a 10 minute cushion, but that was a little too close for my liking, especially with the way things were going.
When I finally hit the 1 mile marker at a run time of 8:30, I figured I was going to make it. I actually ran most of the last mile, looking forward to the massive climb for the last quarter mile of the race. As I crested the rise, I saw Heide, Marcus, Ben and Starr up there ringing bells, offering beer and taking pictures! That was the best part of the day, it was awesome of them to hang around all day to watch us come in and lend support! It's so wonderful to have great teammates and friends to make these events a big party! I was so charged up by the sight of them that I sprinted to the finish as fast as I could. Jason had the best comment of the day at the finish line. He was sipping on a Leinenkugel's and he said, "does this beer always taste that good?" The answer to that is "of course not!" The pleasure of food, beverage and rest after a 50k trail run is beyond the purchasing power of the richest human beings that have ever lived! You have to EARN that fantastic experience, and we earned it on Saturday!
It's rare that you squeeze as much as you possibly can out of any day. Most of the time we fritter away our time at work or on Facebook or whatever and it feels really good to do something silly like run 31 miles and know you couldn't have done any more that day. My only regret was that my wife and daughters weren't along with me to see that porcupine (they would have got a kick out of it), but hey...those days are coming!
I tell you though, you can kind of get away with running a marathon even if it's not something that is the focus of your existence for 365 days a year, but 31 miles is starting to get into kind of a serious distance. Still, it can be done, even if you're walking most of it. Who knows? Maybe you'll start getting addicted to it? Maybe something like this will change your whole life?
Tony L. was right back on Black Friday when he said that for $30 you can't afford not to run it. It's more than just a day's activity, when you emerge on the other end of that finish line, you're a different person. I can't explain it any more than that. To find out what I'm talking about, I guess you'll just have to sign up and do it! In all likelihood, I'll be seeing you on the trail next year (I'll be shooting to improve my time to 8:39 or so :) ).