Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sage Burner 50K Race Report

"Don't blow up."

That was pretty much my strategy for setting a PR on the Sage Burner 50K course. None of the two previous times I'd run this race had gone particular smoothly, so I knew that if I could just make it to the finish without any major issues I'd most likely set a significant PR. And that's pretty much want happened. Mission accomplished!

My campsite-- 0.5 miles from the start. The course ran right past it.

I feel like the Sage Burner is a deceptively tough course. It's all run on mountain bike trails-- most of it single track-- that undulate up and down on both the macro- and the mico-level. There are no long, sustained climbs-- though there are plenty of grunters-- but the course is almost never flat. Your pace is constantly fluctuating and it's hard to get into a groove. Especially because there are rollers on the scale of a few feet-- little mounds that must be fun to hop over on a bike, but get to be a little exhausting when you're running over them on tired legs.

The weather was probably as good as could be expected for Gunnison at this time of year. I would guess the high was around 68F or so-- it could have been much worse. There are basically no trees on the course to provide any sort of protection, and the sun and the wind were out in force. I finished the race a bit sun burned and feeling crispy. For a runner used to Leadville's cooler temperatures it was difficult to stay on top of hydration. I wasn't acclimated to the heat at all and unsurprisingly hydration was probably my main issue during the race. Around mile 15 or so I felt like I was getting dangerously behind. My stomach was feeling "sloshy" which I attributed to not drinking water in the correct proportion with the amount of food I was consuming. Also, I think that a lack of electrolytes (specifically potassium) made it harder for my stomach to empty. I tried to address those issues over the next couple of miles-- which was hard because drinking more fluid is not really intuitive when your stomach already feels uncomfortably full.

It was difficult for me to keep track of how much I was really drinking during the race. The aid stations are relatively close together (generally around 4 miles apart) which wasn't enough time to drink a full 20 oz bottle of anything. Plus, I was carrying two bottles-- one of water and one of energy drink, which I'd alternate drinking from. So when I'd reach an aid station I'd have two bottles that were both fractionally full. I quickly gave up trying to keep a running tally of ounces in my head, so I pretty much ran by feel and tried to take 2-3 gulps every 10 minutes or so. I was also running with my water bottles stuffed in my waist pack, which I've noticed tends to slightly diminish the rate at which I naturally drink unless I stay focused. I think it takes just a tiny bit more effort to reach back and grab a water bottle from my waist pack, take a few sips, and stuff it back in, than when I'm running with a hand held which is always right there in my face. I managed to avoid severe dehydration (barely), but I must have lost 1-2 minutes/mile for at least 8 or so miles in the middle of the race. I wish I had been able to weigh myself at the finish line-- I should start bringing a scale to these races. I bet I was 4-5 lbs down in weight at the finish-- not good. I drank 3 12 oz cokes, 2 12 oz chocolate milks, and 1 12 oz smoothie on the two hour drive back to Leadville. When I weighed myself at home I was still 1.5 lbs below my normal weight! I had similar-- but much worse-- dehydration issues at last year's Silver Rush 50 miler. That experience definitely helped me recognize what was going on yesterday and fix it as best I could.

I managed to eat a good breakfast beforehand and about 1,450 calories during the race, which works out to be about 240 calories an hour-- solid. I never really felt hungry, which was great, and I'm sure those calories helped me keep moving relatively well even during the last 6 miles. The potatoes, in particular, were awesome. Love the potatoes. Easy to swallow (moist), slightly salty yet bland, filling, and totally unlike sticky-sweet gel.

  • 6 oz of Hammer gel (540 calories)
  • 1 oz of GU (100 calories)
  • 12 oz of chocolate milk (400 calories)
  • 6 oz (?) of Coke/Ginger Ale (70 calories)
  • 40 oz (?) of Acclimate (140 calories)
  • 2 small potatoes (200 calories)

I never lost my ability to run the gentle uphills even during the final files-- always a good sign, though I was running them pretty slowly. Probably due to the heat and dehydration, I definitely didn't finish the race feeling as strong as I did when I crossed the finish line at Quad Rock, but I'll take it. I didn't blow up! Only one person managed to pass me during the last 10 miles (and I probably passed 6 or so racers-- 10% of the field!) so I feel like I calculated my pace pretty well. (It hovered around ~11:30 min/mile for the first 15 miles and then dropped to ~12:30 min/mile during the last 16 miles.)

I finished in 6:20, which was a 35 minute PR for me. That's huge-- almost a 9% improvement. My biggest improvement in a race to date. Of course, I think at least half of that was due to how poorly I'd run this race in the past, but hey... a PR is a PR. I didn't quite make my ambitious goal of 6:00, but that was, well... ambitious. I think that if my hydration had been totally dialed in I might have come pretty close.

Things I should've done differently:

  • Don't rely on looking at how empty your water bottle is at aid stations to determine how much you've drunk. Instead, create an drinking schedule and try to stick to it. At least this will give you a known baseline level of hydration to adjust from on-the-fly. (I need to figure out how often I have to sip water to consume 20 oz/hour.)
  • Carry a water bottle in your hand even when using a waist pack. It makes a difference.
  • Pour extra water on yourself to cool off at aid stations. (Why didn't I do this?)

Next up for me is the San Juan Solstice 50 miler on 6/23-- only 3.5 weeks away. I'm super excited to run it for the second time-- this year on the original course. It will be a brutally tough race-- easily the toughest race besides the 100 that I'll run this year. And, mile or mile, it's much tougher than Leadville. It makes the 50 miles to Winfield look like a piece of cake. (That's the general idea behind running it!) Over the next few weeks I'm going to shift my training a bit towards the hiking end of the spectrum-- paying more attention to elevation gain, time on my feet, and altitude rather than distance or speed. It's time to beat up my calves and quads, and work on my Euro-style hand-on-knees power hike! Yeah, that's right Mt. Elbert... I'm lookin' at you!

I'm hoping to keep my string of consecutive PRs alive!



  1. Wow, looks like some really sparse, arid terrain. Not much shade on that course, eh? Have you tried salt tablets? I've had similar problems with a sloshy stomach on long runs (even while my mouth and throat were cotton-dry). Taking a salt tablet every hour or so seemed to help.

  2. Yeah, I've used e-caps, s-caps or nuun tablets during all my races. It's tricky because they all have slightly different levels of sodium and potassium and need to be taken at different rates to normalize your electrolyte intake. More race day math! I was getting some salt from my chocolate milk and the energy drink they were serving at the aid stations, but it apparently wasn't enough. I started popping an e-cap every 40 minutes or so once my stomach started feeling sloshy. In hindsight I should've started sooner...

  3. "That experience definitely helped me recognize what was going on yesterday and fix it as best I could."

    This has been so true for me over the last year or two. I've run into enough of these situations now that I'm starting to recognize the signs before it's too late. It's an amazing feeling when you fix an issue at the early stages and it passes with a whimper. It sure makes this ultrarunning thing much more fun.

    Great job out there. Another PR! Gotta love the progress.

  4. Thanks, Woody. Yeah, experience definitely counts. Over the years, I've noticed four distinct stomach situations, each of which requires different solutions:

    1) Hunger. I need to eat! Address this early or it's only going to get harder to recover and will eventually lead to something worse.

    2) "Sloshy" stomach. I'm probably dehydrated and need more fluids/electrolytes. Tends to only happen in hot weather.

    3) Crampy or "acid" stomach. I'm not sure what causes this, but it seems to occur only after big downhill sections. I've tried antacids and drinking more fluids. Still puzzled by this one.

    4) Nausea. The most difficult one for me to overcome. Generally only happens after 7 hours of running. Try to balance fluids and food. Drink lots of water. Stay as cool as possible (so blood isn't diverted from your stomach). Slow down (less bouncing). Eat. Carry a variety of food options. Don't be afraid to vomit and start over.

    I never thought ultra running would have so much to do about nutrition!

    See you at SJ50!