Friday, May 23, 2014

Quad Rock 50 Race Report

After my debacle at Collegiate Peaks, I paid special attention to recovering as well as I could before Quad Rock-- not just recovering from the race, but from my April training in general. I definitely didn't want to start another race-- especially a 50 miler-- with dead legs. I biked around Turquoise Lake on Sunday, took Monday off, ran an easy 6 miles on Tuesday on the Mineral Belt, took Wednesday off, ran an easy 3 miles on Thursday around the block, and then took Friday off. In one week I more than doubled the number of days I've taken off since the beginning of the year.

As far as goals for Quad Rock went, they were much looser and hand-wavy than my goals for Collegiate Peaks. The only historical data point I had for comparison was my 25 mile run in '12, Quad Rock's inaugural year. I finished that race in 5:17, which seemed about right for the halfway mark of the full 50. Given my modest ranking, Ultrasignup was predicting an 11:48 finish for me. But comparing the course to other 50 milers I've run recently (keyword: recently) I thought that was a bit too conservative.

The biggest unknown for me was really the timing of the race. The earliest 50 miler I've ever run is the San Juan Solstice 50 in mid-June. And I've really struggled each time I've run it. My normal 50 miler every year is the Silver Rush 50 in July. That's the timing I'm most familiar with. So, how would my body respond to running a 50 miler six weeks earlier than I ever have in my training cycle (and nine weeks earlier than I normally do)? I guess I was about to find out! I laughed to myself when I realized that Quad Rock-- in a single day-- would represent a quarter of my total mileage in April and about half of my total vertical!

The other consideration I factored in was that out of the seven 50 milers I've run in the past, I'd say all but one were severely limited by serious nutrition mistakes on my part. Historically, I've really struggled to consume enough calories during the 10+ hours it generally takes me to run 50 miles. However, I finally found a system that worked for me last year, and that has made a huge difference in longer races (i.e., 50's and 100's). So, assuming I could stick to my nutrition plan, I anticipated that I could run Quad Rock faster than my past results might suggest.

So, anyway... taking that all into consideration, and waffling back and forth a bit, I finally guessed that I might finish somewhere between 10.5 and 11 hours. Just my best guess. I would finish when I would finish. My primary goal was to take care of myself-- stay on top of my hydration and nutrition, and try not to kill myself on the downhills. It was going to be a long day of running. Enjoy it.

The Friday before the race, I drove down to my friend Alex's house in Louisville. We're both running Bighorn together in June, and we both signed up for Quad Rock as a training race. The last time we saw each was when I paced him at Run Rabbit Run last September. We enjoyed a quick dinner together, went to his son's t-ball practice, made some last minute preparations, and went to bed early-- our alarms set for the ungodly hour of 2:45am. That would give us just enough time to get dressed, make some coffee, eat a quick breakfast, and drive up to Ft. Collins for the race. I remembered feeling rushed at the starting line in '12, so I didn't want that to happen again.

When we arrived, we were just about to park in a long line of cars about a third of a mile from the start, when someone noticed we had carpooled and directed us to a closer parking lot-- much closer! We ended up parking about 30 ft from the starting line. Sweet! Donning our headlamps in the pre-dawn darkness, we went about our final preparations.

We wished each other good luck, and as the sun finally rose we all took off.

They've re-routed the start of the race so that you stay on the dirt road much longer before hitting the single track. This is definitely a good thing. It made it much easier to spread out and find a good pace. As I ran the initial rolling miles, I was very relieved to feel my legs respond. There was no obvious fatigue like the soreness/tightness that was immediately obvious at the start of Collegiate Peaks. However, temperature-wise, I was much too comfortable at the starting line and, as soon as the sun peeked over the eastern hills, I started becoming too warm. Before the initial climb began, I pulled off the trail and took a minute to take off all my extra layers and throw them in my pack. (I'd eventually dump them in my drop bag.)

The first ascent up to the Towers aid station went well. I slowly jogged the whole thing, moving up many places, passing folks who were hiking. On a few of the steeper sections, my legs actually burned from the effort, which is a rarity for me as Leadville's lack of oxygen is usually my limiting factor! Still, I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard. I had memorized some of my splits from '12 and I knew I was already ahead of my former self by the first aid station.

By the time I had dropped down to the Horsetooth aid station, I had gained yet more time. Everything was going great. However, I had to make one more visit to the bathroom. I ended up waiting in line for what seemed like an eternity. Ah, well... Enforced rest, I guess. I picked up more fuel, refilled my bottles, and headed up the next climb.

My oh-so-fashionable shirt got a lot of comments!
Up, down, refuel, up, down, up, down, refuel, up, down, up, down, refuel, up, down, finish.

And that's pretty much how the day went!

After 11 hours and 6 minutes, I sprinted across the finish line to cheers of "It's the J Crew guy! Yeah!" I certainly felt fatigued, but I was happy. It was a solid race-- and a solid workout, for sure. My legs were toast, but I kept my stomach under control the entire day. It was definitely the longest I've ever been able to run without any stomach issues at all. A victory for me.

The weather was perfect. It started out sunny and cool in the morning and never really got hot as the clouds moved in in the afternoon. It spat rain a few times, and the wind picked up briefly, but I never had to battle the heat. Just to be safe, I dumped water on myself a few times, and dunked my hat in a few streams as a precaution.

I hit the turnaround at 5:02, a 15 minute PR over my previous time for the 25 mile race. I jogged every step of the course until mile 32 or so and then I started mixing in hiking on some of the steeper sections. While the uphills were definitely tough and unrelenting, I felt stronger on them than I did on the downhills later in the race. On the final two descents my quads were screaming. This was definitely way more downhill running than I had ever done in training so far this year. I'm guessing that mashing big gears on my bike trainer has helped build my uphill strength some, but has done nothing for my downhill strength. It's become probably my primary training goal for the next few weeks-- hit the downhills hard to prepare for Bighorn.

My stomach felt solid throughout the day. I constantly tried to strike a good balance between water and calories. I'd often carry one bottle of pure water and another bottle of energy drink and alternate between the two, using the water to flush my stomach out if I ever felt full. I'm convinced that most of my past bouts of nausea have been caused by dehydration. A few times during the race, usually while on a downhill, I did get a side stitch. I took that as a sign that I was falling behind on hydration, and I'd try to drink more water, while jabbing my other bottle into my diaphragm to relieve the pain. All told, I consumed approximately 3,360 calories during the race (10.5 320 calorie bags of energy drink mix). That's about perfect for my body weight and finishing time.

The slower 50 mile pace allowed for lots of friendly conversations during the race. It was great to meet folks and pass the time chatting as we fought the hills together. Despite the grey weather, the post race festivities were great. I scarfed down multiple hamburgers and enjoyed the complementary beer. One of the best signs that you've fueled properly during a race is how quickly you can eat a normal meal afterwords.

While ideally I would've liked to have not have slowed down quite so much during the second half of the race, I feel like I can't complain too much. I felt good out there. Certainly not overwhelmed by the distance. I keep coming back to the word "solid". You know things have gone pretty well if that's the adjective that keeps popping into your head.

Next up: the Sage Burner 50K. It'll be the fifth time I've run it, and I have a score to settle with the course. It's time to recover as best I can, and hopefully time for a little redemption!

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