I've been getting in lots of quality miles to date this year, training with a group of very solid runners that make me go beyond my normal levels, getting faster, and even climbing better. On paper I'm better now than last year. However 3 Days had me looking to make changes. I started rethinking my caloric, salt, and fluid strategies. Thinking, for some reason, that they were not working. How could all the things that worked last year stop work now? Well, they hadn't, I just became a basket case because for the first time in a long time, things did not go how I expected. I needed a reset.
Enter the Double Chubb 50k that is put on by my club, the St. Louis Ultrarunners Group. This is an 85% single track trail and 15% gravel/dirt road race that takes place just west of St. Louis. It fills up fast and is usually quite competitive. The course is a 15.5 miles out-and-back repeated twice for the 50k. To think about the course profile picture a bowl, high on both sides and flat in the middle. Total climb is around 3300 feet. The flats are where the really fast guys can fly so even if you are not good at the technical sections on the front and back half of the course you can make it up as the trail hugs the curves of the Meramec River.
To start my "reset" I decided to do away with my normal uniform of red shirt and black shorts, instead asked my 3 year old daughter to choose. Of course I could not just let her pick any random thing she might come up with so I laid out some shorts and shirts that I had trained in and knew would not cause chafing. She went with a pair of blue GoLite shorts and a black Salomon sleeveless shirt. I then decided to give some Drymax mid-weight the nod over my trusty Darn Tough trail socks as there was rain coming down and more than likely would be more on race day. When it came to shoes I had thought about wearing the Salomon Speed Cross 2 to have a bit more traction in the mud but ultimately determined that my go to shoe is the Mountain Masochist and I was sticking with them. A reset is good but going with footwear that I have less confidence in was out of the question. However, I do have two pairs of the Masochists so I again turned to my daughter to choose between the orange and the green pair. She chose orange. Ok, all done on the clothing, no fussing, no worrying, just put on something new and ignore the superstition.
For fueling I decided to keep it simple and use what has worked for me in the past. Stop questioning and thinking about all the things I read and thought may have been the issue at Syllamo. I used 3 Nuun tablets, 4 GU Roctane, 1 Cliff Shot Turbo, a few Endurolytes, and threw a Honey Stinger Waffle in my bag to eat after the first out-and-back was finished. I carried Nuunin a small baggie and popped a tablet in my bottle at the aid station on each end which roughly translated to 20oz an hour. It was only about 50 degrees so overheating was not an issue. I consumed a gel ever 1/2 hour and Endurolytes when I felt like I needed too along with the occasional handful of M&M's and a sip of cola.
The goal time for my race was not to be thought about. All I wanted to do was run my race. Last year I had a road 50k the weekend before running Chubb so I ran without going overboard and was just under 5 hours. This year I was coming off of 40 miles pacing duty but at a slower pace on trail so did not feel as banged up but still knew I was recovering a bit. I just wanted to be solid and do what I do best. No worrying about people around me or what place I was in, nothing. Just run within myself, be controlled, stay relaxed, and see where things land. With that said, in my head I had thought about a 4:30-4:40 finishing time. To do it I wanted to run even spits. The course is not an even out and back, it's about 7.5 out and 8 back, plus there is more climbing on the way back so I figured I'd shoot for a 1:05 out and a 1:10 back then just repeat it again if possible. If the pace felt too hard, I'd back off.
I hit the starting area, caught up with my buddies, then got moving it when the RD's said "Go!" I just settled into a sustainable pace as I talked with some friends as we ran together for a bit. Hit the first aid station, took a gel with a small cup of water then kept cruising. I come to the flats and found a pace I could hold down and kept moving. I rolled into the aid station at the turn around in just under an hour. A little quick but not out of control. Said hi to the AS workers and my buddy John who was working there. Ate a handful of M&M's and got out of there right as 1 hour and 1 minute clicked over on my watch. Everything felt good and I was running around the top 10 for the 50k.
I bombed my way down the hill then chugged though the flats again. Took another gel at the aid station in the middle of the course then worked my way up the big climb on the bluff. I took the climb in chunks. Run a little then walked a bit until I was up it then hit the downs hard. The first lap was over in 2:06. I grabbed my baggie of items for lap 2 then got a water refill at the aid station. My buddy Tommy, who won Potowatami 100 the weekend before, was working the AS. He helped me get set and ready to go back out and gave me a promised high five. I took a few minutes here. Nothing major but 3-4 minutes for sure. I took off and ate my Stinger Waffle as I walked up the hill to the trail head. Dumped my trash at the top and got back at it. My stomach was a little off so I dropped the pace a bit to let things settle. Finally everything was good and I picked it back up. My legs felt great and I was running the descents hard. This time I passed the middle aid station all together and kept pressing on.
The weather had taken a toll on the trail. The rain the day before paired with the drizzle all morning along with the foot traffic was making things a bit slick out there. It was not bad, just enough that there were spots where you had to fight to keep from slipping which can wear on you. I finally emerged out of the muddy flats and hit the gravel section with standing water on it. As I closed in on the climb before the aid station I saw the 50k leader Ben Creehan a little over 20 minutes ahead of me. I headed up the climb and did not see another runner for about 5 minutes. It was Chad (informed me I was in 7th) who had been training with us a bit followed by another friend Steve. I was really excited to see 3 of my buddies in the top 3 spots and even a little more excited to know where I was and that I was not too far out.
Another fast stop at the aid station then back out with my watch at 3 hours 13 minutes. I ran down the 6th place runner by the time I hit the bottom of the hill. I was doing my best to keep moving through the slick mud knowing that it would be over soon. I approached the middle aid station and saw a few runners 100 yards or so in front of me. I'd made up some ground the on 4th and 5th place runner. I grabbed a cup of soda to get the energy up and get through the last 3 miles. I overtook Steve just after the aid station. I was still not worried about where I placed, I just wanted to get under 4:30 and run a complete race. I worked my way up the bluff then just opened it up on the way down. I finally caught 4th place with about a 1 1/2 to go. We talked for a few seconds going up a climb then I passed him and got moving again. Looking at my watch I knew 4:30 was happening so I was excited about that. As I was coming down the hill I could see my wife's car so I knew they'd be at the finish line. I got really pumped here. I had landed the race I needed to for me. I could throw Syllamo out the window as an off weekend and just take it all in.... almost.
One of the "fun" things about Chubb is just after you come off of the trail you get a nice downhill section of road where you can see the finish. However, you get one more steep little climb before you get to finish the race. It's about a .5 mile horseshoe section of trail with .25 up and .25 down. I looked at my watch and it said 4:16 and this section took me about 5 minutes on the first lap. So I dug deep and ran/walked this thing until it leveled off then just slammed down the hill to try to get under 4:20. I crossed in 4:19.34, 4th overall. I thought a 4:30 was within reach but just under 4:20 was unexpected.
The moral of the story is sometimes you need to remember what you do best and do that. It's really easy to get bogged down in details, superstitions, and what others around (and on-line) you are doing, but ultimately you have to look at your body of work, take confidence in it, and just execute with no expectations. You might just surprise yourself.