Sunday, July 3, 2011

Afton Trail Run 50k Race Report

My alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. Saturday morning but I was already up. I didn’t sleep too well the night before the Afton Trail Run 50k. I was excited for my first ultramarathon and though I fell asleep at about 9:15 a.m. I was awake again at 10:00, 10:45, 12:00, and 1:45.

It was pretty strange waking up again at two-something AM and wishing it was four-something so I could just get up.

When I finally did get out of bed, I couldn’t stop yawning and my eyes weren’t quite ready to open. Laura was a trooper and was already packing up the car by 4:45 a.m. Brit and Jared, our housemates, were also running the race, so after some breakfast we hopped in the car and drove to the Afton Alps (really, that’s what it’s called) for a race start of 6:30 a.m.
The race was supposed to be in Afton State Park, but thanks to our Republican legislator and our Democratic governor, the state government shut down at midnight Friday morning when they couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget. Nice work politicians—now there’s 22,000 state workers laid off, no rest areas open, and I have to run my first ultramarathon at the Afton Alps rather than Afton State park. Having run the state park course a few times I can say with confidence that the Alps were harder—especially the last two miles of each 12.5k loop.
The start of the 50k was a little bottlenecked—I ended up walking for most of the first mile and periodically had to walk and run slowly for the next mile just to get around everyone. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as the first loop was my fastest.
The race started on some single track trails through the woods and some gravel service roads. It was deceptively easy, though there were several spots where we had to run through big puddles and mud. As I ran through the first two miles and past the first aid station I was thinking that this course was going to be easier than the one at the state park. Then, it got rough.
The course proceeded on mountain bike trails that went up and down the “Alps.” At several points we ran right underneath the chair lifts. I was planning on walking a lot of the hills and there were plenty of hills to walk. After the second aid station, things got even more difficult. The course climbed up a very steep hill and then came down near the finish. During the first loop I thought that either my Garmin was off or the course was off because I could see the finish and I was still a mile short of a 7.5 mile loop.
Unfortunately, my Garmin's measurement was accurate. Before finishing, the course climbed up a slope for around half a mile and then back down. The last hill was the worse hill of the course—not just because it was right at the end but because it was the steepest. It started up some switchbacks, which were also very steep, and then finished going straight up. There were no switchbacks the last hundred feet, no going up at and angle, and the footing was on longish grass.

Running up this hill was not an option for the majority of the runners and there was no way it was an option for me. Every time I got to that last 100 feet of straight up, I thought:
  • I wish I had a hiking stick here.
  • Man this hill sucks.
  • I better start walking sideways (started walking sideways).
  • Man this hills sucks (started walking the other sideways).
  • It’d be easier to crawl up this hill.
  • I can’t believe I have to do this:
    • Three more times
    • Two more times
    • Again
On my last loop, one of my friends from Minnesota Running Wild, Nate, AKA “The Franchise,” ran with me. He ran up the last hill then waited for me at the top. It was nice to have him that last loop. He kept me company and got my mind off the hills a little bit. He also carried a water bottle for me, which was good since I drank three full bottles plus some Coke at the last aid station.
Each of my laps was slower than the last, but it also got quite a bit hotter each lap. It was over 80 degrees by the time I finished, and though a good amount of the course was in the woods there was also quite a bit of it in the wide open sunshine.
It was great to be able to finish the race and now officially be able to call myself an ultramarathoner. My pace was 10:24 / mile for a finish time of 5:22. I ran much too slowly on my last lap and I had a lot of gas in the tank on the downhill finish. I ran very conservatively that last lap and walked way too much.

It’s hard to say how much better I could have done had I known I would have some energy left at the finish. I managed to pass one guy ahead of me in the last couple miles but I also got passed by the first and second place women, and at that point there was no way I could keep up with them.
Still, it was my first ultramarathon and my last ultramarathon for at least a few years. Considering it was my first one I did pretty well. The preliminary results have me at 9th overall, 7th male, and 5th male in my division.
Overall, the Afton 50k was a blast and much different than a marathon. Today my legs are sore, but not as bad as they were after Boston. I did stub my toe very hard with about two miles left and knocked a toenail loose. It bled through my sock and shoe. Today, my whole second toe is black and blue, but it feels much better than last night.
I enjoyed seeing a lot of running friends and running with Brit and Jared. Like I said, I’m done with ultramarathons for awhile, but I would consider doing the 25k at Afton next year. Now it’s on to focusing on shorter races and having a pleasant summer of running.
Laura spent about 6 hours in the sun taking pictures. On Monday I’ll have to return the favor as she races in her third half marathon.

The start of the 50k:

Coming down the hill at the end of the first loop:

Cooling off with an ice water sponge at the end of the second loop:

Coming down the homestretch with Nate, "The Franchise."

Jared, Brit, and I:

My personal "pacer":

Our friends Matt and Joy came for the finish:

The beautiful photographer, who kept a safe distance from my sweaty grossness:


Anonymous said...

Congrats on your first ultra!!

I'm wondering how many toe nails I'm going to lose after my marathon.

I had to chuckle a little at that last picture. It doesn't look like Laura wants to get to close to you.

JojaJogger said...

Wow, great job on your first ultra! I saw some guys sitting down and taking a breather on the last climb.

SteveQ said...

Congrats! That was one brutal race...

Nitmos said...

Congratulations Mr. Ultra!

When's the 100 miler? (There's always a farther distance, right?)