Potawatomi 50 - Race Report

muddy legs

Potowatomi Trail Runs is the renamed McNaughton Park Trail runs.  After an RD change a few years back, the current RD's gave a new name to the races but kept the course which runs though McNaughton Park in Pekin, IL.  Why do I call this out?  Mainly because it's a little confusing that there is currently another race in Vermont that has the McNaughton name.  I ran Potawatomi 50, in McNaughton Park, located in Pekin, IL, not Vermont. Cool?  Ok, let's do this. The course is a 10 mile loop that is either single track or wide grassy prairie.  There are a lot of hills that add up to about 1600 feet of climb per 10 miles.  None of these hills are very big.  150 feet of climbing would probably be the biggest of the bunch, but they are all really steep to going up and coming down.

I've run this course a lot. This was the place where I ran my first ultra (and trail race) back in 2006 when I limped my way though 30 miles.  The following year I decided to train to run longer trails races and took on my first 50 where I completed it in 11:24. This course is also where I ran my first 100 so to say I know my way around would be a fair statement.  My goal in this race was to really take a look at where I stand today versus my first 50 5 years prior.

Race conditions looked great.  There was a 150 mile race that kicked off on Friday at noon.  My friend Ryan Dexter was running in it so I arrived in Pekin a little early on Friday to cheer him on.  The trail was in awesome shape.  With the exception of the year before, when I went and paced for my buddy Tommy, I'd never seen it look this good.  After I chatted with Ryan a bit, picked up my packet, and said hello's to some fellow runners, I headed off to the hotel to eat and get to bed early.

I ended up sleeping a little more than usual the night before a race and felt good when I woke.  The weather still was holding up nicely.  It was about 60 degrees and overcast.  I chatted with my buddy John (who went on to win the 100) and some other runners before the gun went off.  I knew I was going to race, not just run, today so I started up towards the front just to make sure to stay out of the crowds on the we hit single track a mile in.

I settled into a mostly comfortable pace.  Pushing a little, but not over-doing it.  The trail was in even better shape than I could have hoped.  I had EFS drink and liquid shot along for the ride.  Drinking when thirsty and taking a shot of the EFS every 1/2 hour.  It had started raining around 7am.  I hoped it would be just a little or slow down.  That was not the case.  I hit my first lap around 1:32.  My wife had made up a 2nd bottle of EFS drink for me and laid out 3 Clif Shot Gels for me.  I grabbed those up quickly and got back out.

My second lap was almost identical to my first except it was pouring and I knew things were going to get ugly.  I crossed mile 20 at 3:06.  The third loop was getting a little sketchy.  See, there is not a lot of rock under trails in this part of the country.  The ground is made up of top soil layered upon clay.  Once water gets on it, it just turns to goop, then after that top soil is removed from foot traffic you get to the clay which is really slick when wet.  I just kept charging as well as I could on lap 3 and fell off a bit but was still feeling great.  30 miles down in about 4:46.

Lap 4 was a rough one.  The trail was a slop hole.  The flat spots were several inches deep with mud and the steep climbs were so slick it was like ice.  Imagine a 20% grade with no traction where you are pulling yourself up by grabbing roots and saplings on the side of the trail.  Because there were several spots like this the 150 miler were having a rough go since they'd been out there for 12+ hours already and the 100 milers were less than half done so I did my best not to complain and just get though it.

Mud like this is demoralizing.  It takes away your ability to move efficiently.  Hills that I had the legs to run up were now almost impossible to do anything more that walk up.  Even walking was a lot of energy.  Take a step and it would slide back a bit, take another step, same thing.  Downhills were sort of like skiing. Keep your knees together, sit back a little and "Pizza/French Fry" your way down.  Oh well, that's trail running right? Smile and get though it.  Lap 30-40 was a 1:52.  A major drop-off from the previous but mostly because of terrain.  I had a bit of a low spot somewhere during this lap but overall my legs still felt capable.  I came though the Start/Finish, high-fived my daughter, swapped bottles, and kept chugging away.

I knew my sub-8 hour goal was out the door but I had that in my mind as a "if everything was right" and with the mud that was not the case.  Nothing special here on this last lap.  I really just wanted to get it over with so I ran in all the spots that I could (not very many) and made sure to thank all the aid station workers for their help and support throughout the day.  Running in the rain and 60-70 degrees is not bad because you are moving and generating body heat.  Standing around and serving food and drink in that can be miserable and cold.  Thanks folks it was greatly appreciated!!

I crossed the finish line in 8:37 and some change and took 2nd (100 registered, not sure how many started).  This was the highest I've ever finished in race and it felt good to have run the time I did given the course conditions.  My legs felt good the whole time which is a testament to my training and investment in a coach this year.  Thank Matt Hart! (@thematthart).

I knocked 2 hours and 47 minutes off of my initial 50 mile time on the exact same course in a 5 year span.  I'm fairly certain that number would have been over 3 hours if not for the course conditions.  Why does that matter?  In terms of stats to the outside world it doesn't.  No one really cares about my times except me.  However, I can look back and see a huge leap in ability that has taken place by training consistently, working hard, pushing myself by training with runners more talented that I, and learning along the way.  I'm still smiling thinking about how far I've come and how much fun I have had doing it.

A BIG BIG BIG shoutout to my awesome wife Micaela who has supported me in this passion over the years.  I could not do this without her.