Mullin's Chippewa 50k Race Report

Subtitle: How to fake training for a 50k trail run, an essay in two words

You can't.

Prep

Unlike last year with the really late snow season and continued skiing which resulted in a DNS for the Chippewa 50k, this years crappy snow season left me with what should have been plenty of time to run.

In reality, while I was putting in some pretty decent base hours of easy aerobic exercise, I was riding my bike more and running less.  I did manage to get my weekly running total up to 50k total once.  I had two long runs of 25k each.


Obviously the week before was dominated by the Mammoth Gravel Classic 100.  The week leading in was an easy run and a couple of easy bike rides.

I was reasonably confident in my ability to aerobically manage 31 miles of work.  I was reasonably concerned that my legs may fall off though.

Morning Of

Eric Olson offered to drive so Starr and I met up with Eric and Jim Thanig in SCF at the unholy hour of 5:50.  I had sort of planned to sleep on the ride down.  What made me think I could sleep with Eric's storytelling I'm not sure.  Seriously though, the ride and company were great.

We brought hot water in a thermos and oatmeal in Tupperware containers to eat on the way.  Eating at 5:00 before we left the house was too long before the start.  We rolled into the trail center shortly after 7:00, got a sweet parking spot on top of the hill and were all bib-picked up, restroomed, and drop bag dropped with plenty of time until the start.

Gear

The forecast was looking a little tough.  I like it cooler when running, but the start time forecast was for low 30's with a high in the upper 50's.  Probably too cold for shorts and short sleeves at the start, way too warm for tights and long sleeves by the turn-around.  Thankfully, it was more like 40 at the start which IS shorts weather.  Shorts, my CyclovaXC tech t, arm warmers, my Birkie Trail Marathon hat, and some stretchy gloves.  I ended up ditching the hat and gloves at mile 2 as we passed the trail center and was comfortable to warm the rest of the day after pulling the arm warmers down to my wrists by mile 5.

I also carried a handheld bottle with three gu packets and a pack of shot blocks.  That should have been plenty to get to the turn around and the drop bag with water refills along the way.  I also had my New Balance belt with my phone in it.  I used it to do LiveTracking with my Garmin 920xt.

Brooks Cascaida shoes, some C9 socks, tape on my nipples, and some Body Glide applied strategically and I had everything I needed.

My drop bag was a random giveaway drawstring bag that you see the kids carrying these days.  I put another handful of gu packets, another pair of socks just in case the ones I had on were causing issues, some other food stuffs, and the body glide.  Per the instructions from the event director, the bag should be proportional to the race distance.  This wasn't a 100-miler, I wasn't going to need much.

The Race

The Start: Photo Credit Marcus Taintor
With only 31 miles to cover, I started out fast.  Or maybe not.  My strategy was to keep my HR at 155 or below.  This meant running "flats" and downhills, but hiking just about anything that pitched up.  There would be plenty of hiking to do.  I wasn't too sure about any time goals.  This really was for completion.  5 hours and 10 minutes was a 10 minute mile though and that didn't seem out of reason.

I set my watch to lap every 5k and put the screen on HR and just plugged away.  I saw a few superman dives in the first few miles.  It was hard to keep your eyes on the trail with the beauty of the area.  Seeing a few people take a tumble kept you honest.

My first 5k was a blazing 32:31.  So, a 5:10 seemed unlikely unless I was warming into this thing and was going to negative split.  That seemed unlikely.  But I stuck to my guns and just ran by effort.  There was plenty of company through the second aid station at about 15k though I kept to myself.

Leaving the aid station I was right behind a guy I thought I recognized so I introduced myself to Richard Bjork.  After several minutes of not figuring out our connection it turns out he is from Chisago so I must have just seen him around.  In anycase, Richard is a very accomplished ultra runner and I had a great time visiting with him all the way to the turn around.  I learned a few things from him along the way and certainly appreciated it.
We were still about 4k out from the turn around when the leaders came going the other way.  It gets tough letting them by.  They have the right of way so you have to step aside.  It takes a little bit to pick a good spot and judge timing to make it work.  The trail was also a lot of bench cut along here which made it hard to get a good spot to pull over.  It all worked out though and I don't think I impeded anyone and I didn't have any issues on my return trip.  I counted roughly 50th place when I made the turn-around.

It was starting to get pretty warm at the turn around and the prediction for mostly cloudy was not panning out.  I refilled my bottle, took a Gatorade and another cup of water.  I refilled my stash of gus and reapplied some Body Glide quick.  As best I can tell from my GPS data I was there for a hair over 2 minutes.

I was still with Richard and another guy as we headed back.  Note at this point this was my longest run of the year.  With the heat and I think a slight injection of effort from Richard and the other guy who were chatting up a storm, my effort was exceeding my predefined threshold.  I thought about trying to hold on for as long as I could, but then my gut started talking to me after about 50 minutes.
After the Gandy marathon last year I had a week of pretty serious GI issues.  I really didn't want that again.  Really didn't want it.  So, I let them go and started trying to recover.  I had 11 miles to go at this point, my legs hurt, and running on level ground was causing my HR to elevate.  I figured I was about to be passed by the masses.  I know there is a lot of carnage in the second half of this race, but I figured there were still going to be plenty of people passing me.

As it turns out, as I walked a significant portion of the next 7 miles and was only passed by maybe 10 people or so.  In fact, I had a stretch of maybe 45 minutes of absolute solitude on the trail.  I did take this opportunity to pull my phone out and start taking some pictures.  I had finally left race mode enough to take the time.  As I said, the scenery was gorgeous out.  I think some of the neatest stretch of trail was closer to the turn around so I missed that, but this was still good.
The first few miles of walking were the roughest.  My legs HURT.  My stomach was off.  Any increase in effort was a no go.  I was never in a really dark place, but I certainly wasn't having fun.  Eventually though, my legs didn't hurt quite as much.  My HR started being a little more compliant if I ran the slight downhills.  In fact, I found myself smiling and having fun again.

As the trail got back to about 5 miles to go I was starting to run a little more.  I started seriously considering how much time I had left and thinking about what my finish time was going to be.  Mental math after 5 hours of effort isn't great, but I thought 6 hours wasn't completely out of reason.  I was definitely going to have to pick things up again.  I thought if I can just hold steady to 3 miles out, I can go "hard" for those last three and I probably wouldn't do too much damage.

I hit that last aid station after 5:22 on the trail.  Miraculously I also caught someone just coming into it, and found someone plopping down on a chair there.  Great!  Two people who felt worse than me!  I got a quick half bottle refill from a volunteer and took off down the trail at a sprint like this was a 5k race with a 45k warm-up.  If my 5k pace was 10:00 a mile, that is.  I found yet another person just down the trail and passed them.  Note, these are the first people I've passed since about mile 16 of the race and we are now at mile 27ish.
I knew there were three absolute buggers of hills to come.  I had to get to them and do what I could to get up them as fast as possible.  Just before the first big one that takes you up within spitting distance of the finish line (but still 2 miles of trail to go) another runner passed me.  We quickly exchanged remarks about the 6 hour possibility.  I told him I thought he was moving well and had it, but I was quickly losing enthusiasm for my possibility.

After cresting that hill and hitting the 2 mile to go marker I had just over 21 minutes to make it to the finish and break 6 hours.  And two monster hills.  I took off bombing down the hill after the other guy.  I made it less than half a mile before I had to walk again.  I kept alternating where I could.  Climbing the second to last hill approaching the 1 mile to go marker I could see I was gaining on two more guys.  As I crested that second to last hill I passed one of the guys and coming down past the 1 mile to go marker I caught the other one.  I had 10 minutes and 15 seconds.  Maybe?

That last mile is all down hill, some even on pavement, right up until the last 0.2 miles which includes a monster 110 foot climb.  That climb is pretty relentless with pitches near 20%.  I had just run the longest stretch I had run since... I don't even know.  I hit the bottom with 2:40 to make it to the line.  I was going to run that whole damn thing.
I made it about 50 yards.  I thought I was going to puke.  I resigned myself to missing the arbitrary 6 hour mark and started power walking.  But, I was still close.  As I was nearing the top, I still had a chance!  As it flattened out for the final 100 yard dash across the top I still had 25 seconds.  Sprint!

I've collapsed at plenty of 5k lines after having gone redline for 20ish minutes.  I've stumbled over and found a nearby curb or piece of grass after some half and full marathons.  This was the first time I've collapsed in the finishing chute of a long race.  But after a sub 10 minute mile and a near 7 minute mile sprint I was done.

The longest 6 hours (5:59:57 officially, 55th place) of my life.

Post Race

We hung around for all of the CyclovaXC peeps to finish.  Strong finishes all around for Jim, Starr, Jason, Eric, and Ben.  I heard a couple of favorable comments on the trail for the strong Orange presence.  Then more kudos as Jason, Eric, and Ben all crossed the line in style with a Lienie.

It was a good day, and I'm actually pretty proud to say I'm now an ultra marathoner.  Am I ready to sign up for a 100 miler now?  Hell no.  Those guys are still crazy.  I do feel the ground under my feet tilting in that direction though.

Up next?  Learning to walk again.  Ouch.  Otherwise, the Birkie is in 300 days, so training starts in earnest.  Along the way is Almanzo and the Sasquatch Dashes start on May 30th.

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