Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race Report

Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race Report
AKA - Using my Fitness to do Cool Shit

The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a great event(s) with a long and rich history.  You can see the 70.5 mile website here (link to Laurel Ultra) and the 50K specific website here (link to 50K).

This event has a lot of history and personal meaning for me.  I grew up hiking on this trail with my family.  My dad, my brother and I backpacked and cross country skied and camped here.  The trail continues to be a special place for me and when I first learned of this event, many years (and many pounds) ago, I watched in awe and wondered what it would be like to actually try something so crazy as a 50K.

Flash forward to an ordinary trail run in June of 2013.  I had just finished my first ever Ironman and it dawned on me that I could run 50K for sure.  Unfortunately, this is a popular event and the 2013 running had been sold out for months.  Undaunted, I watched the website and signed up for 2014 as soon as it opened.  I was doing IMTX again in 2014 so I figured I would be fine from a fitness perspective.  Right?  One of my first interactions with Coach Rich was a season planning session where he asked me "Who the hell signs up for a 50K four weeks post Ironman?"

In 2014, I finished strong and had such a good time I knew I'd come back again at some point.
Link to 2014 Race Report
Link to 2014 Strava Activity

The lead up to 2016 was quite different.  Without an early season IM and with an early season run focus I've been logging lots of miles on both the road and the trail.  At this point in the season, I'm not as fit or as light as I was in 2014 but my running legs feel stronger and I'm better rested.  From a planning perspective, I reviewed the race and nutrition plans from 2014 and made some adjustments because it was going to be hot and humid!

Take it easy through mile 19, that was the plan, and then see what I can do on the back half of the course.  I didn't have a firm time goal but 7 hours seemed about right.  Here is the link to the Strava activity for 2016.  I guess they call this foreshadowing, but I seem to have had some trouble "taking it easy".  In the Strava link, please notice the PR on the "ohiopyle to maple summit" segment.  That segment is the first ~12 miles of the race and it's the worst 12 miles from every perspective.  It didn't feel like I was moving that quickly, honest. I'm not at all proud of this PR...

I hit the first aid station in need of a porta john, only to find out that there were none. Ugh.  I refilled my supplies and started off again, hoping I could make it to the shelter area near mile 19.  This would be a small detour off course into the camping area, but there are primitive bathrooms in the camping area and in my book the bathroom seemed worth the detour.

Continuing the theme of having trouble taking it easy, my split through aid station two (near mile 19) was about the same as 2014 but this one included the run to and from the bathroom, plus the bathroom time.  So minus the bathroom break, this was probably another unexpected and ill-advised PR.

And then it all caught up with me...  I started to run out of gas somewhere after mile 20 and after the uphill from mile 25 - 27, I was totally spent.  Getting down the hill between miles 27 and 28 was awful, I didn't trust my legs to hold me up after any meaningful impact. The hill at mile 29 was bad and somehow, compared to 2014, mile 30 was even worse!  Actually this maybe makes sense as I probably picked up my pace for mile 30 last time while I'm sure I slowed down for mile 30 this time. Regardless, if you look at the splits, I lost ~15 minutes over the last five miles...

2016 2014 Delta
27 17:00 14:48 +2:12
28 15:05 13:11 +1:54
29 18:52 14:57 +3:55
30 18:04 12:32 +5:32
31 14:51 13:21 +1:30

Final thoughts...  I followed my nutrition plan pretty well: drinking a fair bit more than I planned and eating a little less.  It was hot and humid and sunny - a far better day for the beach than a trail run, but you don't get to pick the weather.  I was curious going in how I would hold up over such a long day and if I was properly prepared.  It's not clear if I was under prepared or if my issues were more related to execution.  Most likely it was a little of both.  I've run many, many more miles this year versus 2014 but my longest two activities were the Pittsburgh Marathon (3.5 hours) and a 20 mile trail run (~4:00 hours).  Neither of which approached the 7:00 hours I expected to be on course on race day.  Lesson learned.

Most importantly, I had fun and I seem to have finished without injury or issue.

Now to recover for my next endeavor...

Pittsburgh Marathon 2016

Clark's Pittsburgh Marathon Race Report

The lead up to race day was pretty normal.  My long training runs all went well with no injuries or significant issues.  I was able to train on the actual course quite a bit so that was confidence inspiring.  The only real question mark coming out of training was some disconnect between RPE and heart rate on several of my long runs.  In spite of this, I felt prepared, healthy and ready to go.

Race day logistics were EASY.  The start was only a mile from my house and my route to the start was not impacted by any of the nearly one million road closures that come with a major city marathon.  I was time seeded into the A start corral, which closed at 6:45, so I left the house at 6:20.  My wife dropped me off, I did some warm up running and I slipped into the corral at ~6:40.  I found a spot in the very back and ran into a coworker, Tim, who was in the very front of the B corral.  He and I were both shooting for similar times, so we chatted for a bit until the time was right and then he slipped into A so that we could run together for the first few miles.

Tim ran the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, his first, and he had some early pacing problems, so I think he was happy with my plan to go out relatively slow.  We ran together for the first three, or so, miles (8:32, 8:10 and 8:23).  We talked some about RPE and the disconnect that I've seen between heart rate and RPE. I know my first three miles were all RPE 1 because we carried on a seamless conversation the entire time. This is not at all consistent with my measured heart rate for those miles and that is a theme that's going to keep coming up in this race report...

At around mile three Tim decided it was time to pick up the pace and we parted ways.  I wished him good speed and told him I hoped to see him at the finish.

The next several miles were pretty routine (8:06, 8:40 and 8:09).  The weather was generally cooperating, which was unexpected but nice.  The slow rain was helping to keep things cool without raising the humidity or really getting my feet wet.  Things seemed pretty good so I decided it was time to pick up the pace before I dug my time hole any deeper.

Miles 7, 8 and 9 (7:53, 7:53 and 7:46) all went by without incident.  However, the disconnect between RPE and heart rate persisted.  Those are typically high Z2 paces for me and are inline with my expected marathon pace.  However today they were at a solid Z3 heart rate.

In mile 10 I finally stopped to pee and discovered that "holding it" was not the best strategy because peeing took forever.....  I finally ran out of the port-a-john and my watch beeped an 8:45 split for mile 10. Ugh!

In the middle of mile 11 (7:58) I got to see my wife, which is always great!  Mile 12 is the one major up hill on the course (8:38).  At the end of mile 13 (7:44) the mental math started up and I knew I would need to keep up a strong pace if I was going to slide in under my 3:30 goal!

Miles 14 - 23 all went pretty much as planned (7:44, 7:55, 7:40, 7:34, 7:47, 8:00, 7:41, 7:44 and 8:01) with the slower splits coming from elevation change and not fatigue or loss of effort.

Right at the end of mile 23 I caught up with Tim.  He was moving along well but as I passed him, it was clear that he was not going to try and keep up.  I was still trying to make up time, so I wasn't slowing down!  Mile 24 is the only major downhill on the course (7:17) so my pre-race thought that miles 12 and 24 would cancel out turned out to be on the money.

Mile 25 was flat and slow (8:06).  I'm not exactly sure what happened here but I was certainly not expecting to be back above an eight minute pace.  I picked up the pace for miles 26 (6:57), but not to the extent that my split indicates.  The course runs back into down town here so perhaps the buildings messed with the GPS data.  

At this point you would expect that the finish would be in sight, but actually, it's not!  The half marathon has a nice straight path to the shared finish line, but the full marathon requires a 90 degree right turn before you can see the finish.  Working off of my 26 mile split time, I knew things were going to be close.  I was in a full sprint at this point and the only way I was going sub 3:30 was if the finish line was right around the corner.

It wasn't.

I kept up my sprint and crossed the line at 3:30:21, which is a fantastic time for me and is 26 minutes under my best Ironman marathon time.  Of course, it's also 21 seconds over my 3:30 Boston Marathon standard time.  I have no illusions that a 3:29:59 would actually get me into Boston, but I was really hoping to turn in a qualifying time.

Final details: 3:30:21, 14/202 in M45-49 and 317/3652 Overall

So what do I take away from this and where do I go from here?  Although I took this day very seriously, my real goals were more around Ironman and less around Boston or marathons in general.  I'm not planning another marathon this season and I'm totally comfortable with that decision.  Based on my Ironman training, I figured a 3:30 stand alone marathon was possible and clearly I've proven that.  Now that I've actually experienced the pace and the effort, I hope I'll be able to translate that experience into something meaningful for Ironman.  I'm not saying I'm going to go run a 3:30 Ironman marathon, cause that's not going to happen.  However, I do think I learned some things that will help me improve both training and running for IMAZ this fall, which is my A race this season.

Next up on my schedule is the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June.  This is a small, local, trail-race with two distances, 50K and 70.5 miles.  I'm doing the 50K again (previous race report) and I'm really looking forward to having FUN.  Although they make me wear a number, that day will be about having a good time and running on a trail that I first experienced as a Boy Scout back in the 1970's.  The last time I ran this race I was four weeks post IMTX and although it was a tough day, I had a blast!  I'm curious to see how my current fitness measures up.