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...

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