(Check out the Garmin track in USGS map mode - cool!)
The Mohican Trail 100 in central Ohio includes three events - marathon, 50-miler and 100-miler - and attracts about 500 runners. It is 95% trail, mostly single track, mostly shady and very hilly. Ken Niemimaa, winner of the 2011 Sulphur Springs 100-miler, described it as similar to the Hockley Loop and mentioned that when he finished his 50-miler last year, he was happy not to be going out for another 50!
Ang decided a few days ago to try her first ultra at Mohican, and it was great to share the long drive. The pre-race pasta dinner was good and we had fun chatting with friendly ultrarunners. As an Ironman, Ang found it funny to listen to people who considered the marathon to be this weekend's sprint distance.
We splurged and stayed at Mohican State Park Lodge.
Too bad we had to set our alarm for the ungodly hour of 3 a.m.! On top of the sleep deprivation, I felt horrible this morning for reasons that women will understand best.
We started at 5 a.m. with the 100-milers. After 2.5 km, four hundred runners squeezed into the single track. Although the course designer had made a effort, people hadn't spread out much by then. For the next 6 km, we were forced to walk much more than we wanted. If I'd known, I would have started closer to the front but on the bright side, we had a very thorough and gentle warm-up!
It was beautiful watching lines of headlamps weaving back and forth and up and down in the dark forest. As always, it was amazing to experience sunrise outdoors.
My only results-oriented goal was to get an official finish and two Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc points, so I took a very conservative approach. I couldn't afford to fall, twist my ankle, get dehydrated or lose my appetite in the heat.
This is the longest run I will do before the Death Race so it was also the final test for shoes, clothing, gear, running form, etc. In addition, I wanted to take care of myself well enough to finish the race feeling like I could go another 45 km, which I will need to do at CDR.
Two things I used for the first time in an ultra: Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes and XR shorts
. It wasn't love at first sight for either of these items. The original Salomon Speedcross had less stability than the new model, and I thought the XR shorts made me look funny. However, I've recently become a big fan of both. They passed today's test with flying colours and will now be my primary shoes and shorts for the Death Race.
The other thing I was testing was more of a theory. This was my 5th ultra (three 50K and two 50-mile) so I'm still a newbie but I've observed some trends. Cardio hasn't been an issue in an ultra yet, and even muscle strength for hill climbing hasn't been a problem, but at some point in every ultra, some type of pain has become a limiting factor. The location of the pain varies, e.g. I haven't been getting quad pain lately but my hips feel tight after awhile. The other variable is the length of time until pain becomes the limiting factor in performance. I wanted to test different running techniques to see if I could postpone the pain until later in the race.
It worked. By the end of 80.5 km, I felt less pain than I felt after 20 km at Sulphur Springs, and the pain started later than in any previous ultra. For my own reference, here's what I did (and will do at the Death Race):
- Slow, steady pace. Resist the urge to pass people early on. Save it for the second half.
- Walk most uphills early on and stretch the calf muscles while doing so, i.e. touch heels down often.
- Keep top of hips tilted forward and think about kicking back toward bum.
- Feet slightly farther apart than feels natural, right below edge of hips.
- Head directly above spine. (The idea of these last few adjustments is to reduce the work done by stabilizing muscles.)
- Take lots of very short, quick steps on downhills and try to land as lightly as possible.
- Avoid unnecessary impact. When the trails were crowded, I sometimes speed-hiked right behind people who were running slowly, and rather than jumping off rocks or logs, I would take a moment to step down gently.
Ang and I ran together for the first 35K. She scared me at one point with a nasty face plant where she hit her knee on a rock and was unable to answer immediately when I asked if she was OK. We walked slowly for 5 minutes until the shock and nausea abated, then she recovered and eventually moved ahead.
My favourite section (for exploring, not running) was the "Enchanted Valley" - a narrow creek canyon where we had to hop over and scramble under logs while trying to keep our feet dry. We arrived at a big waterfall surrounded by huge mossy boulders, then climbed up the steep canyon wall using our hands and feet on a network of tree roots. It felt very Lord of the Rings.
My major mistake in my first 50-miler was forgetting to eat enough and then bonking around 60K. Food revived me over the next 5K but it was a scary feeling. This time:
- Drank eLoad most of the day - refilled my 1.5L bladder three times on the race course
- Drank 2 cups of liquid at most aid stations - usually Coke or water.
- Put chocolate Boost in my drop bags and took it along to drink on uphill sections between aid stations.
- Carried Honey Stinger energy chews for trail eating since they always taste good to me
- Used the new eLoad Zone CapsX5 for extra electrolytes
- Ate at aid stations - mostly bananas, chips, PB&J sandwiches
It was a hot, sweaty day although we were lucky to spend much of it in the shade. I felt reasonably well hydrated and never bonked BUT I ran the last 13K with a nasty stomach ache. I'm guessing that I drank too much carbonated Coke, which I normally detest but it tastes like ambrosia during a long hot race. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Any other ideas?
With 5K to go, I came upon a young fellow whom I'd been leapfrogging all afternoon. He was bent over at the side of the trail with his hands on his thighs. When I asked what was up, he croaked, "I'm done." "No you're not - you're coming with me!" I grabbed the poor guy by the arm and dragged him back onto the trail. We ran together and chatted for half an hour; it was his first ultra and the pain had come as a surprise. I walked a few hills that I might have run on my own but it was worth it to see this guy run up to the finish looking strong! :)
Ang was at the finish after a great race. She rocked out there, beating me by over 18 minutes! On the other hand, as we compared notes, she had suffered more and slowed down more, especially in the final 15 km. I'll bet that happens to almost everyone in their first 50-miler!
I was thrilled to sit down and enjoy a post-race burrito and beer by the finish line but another 45 km would have been possible if necessary, so that was encouraging.
This was technically a PB for 50 miles (if you can even use that term when you've only done two races) but my other 50-miler was a little longer so the pace was identical. San Francisco had more elevation gain but the running was less technical so it's probably a wash.
I was 2nd in my age group by exactly 2 minutes - far less time than I spent interacting with other racers and volunteers but that's OK! One of these days, I'll need to approach an ultra as just a race, instead of always having alternate goals for the event.
Congrats to Ang who was 8th of 42 women in the preliminary results; I finished 12th.
2 + 2 = 4 UTMB points. 3 to go!