Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Iroquois 50 Miler - I Am Still An Ultra Runner?

When I registered for the Iroquois 50 mile race it donned on me that I had not run an ultra in almost a year due to injuries and illness. This realization instantly made my nerves swing into full force. I immediately set two goals to help calm myself. The first being to enjoy being a part of race atmosphere and my second objective was to see how my body would respond and recover.

After the prerace meeting on Friday night I was confused about the course configuration, but the race director Ian was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me going over the course again. The course consisted of three sections, the first section being a traditional loop, the second section was a lollypop and the third section was an out and back. Feeling better about the course I organized my race stuff and decided that I would race in my Inov-8 Roclite 320’s.

Sunrise On Greek Peak
The start of the race brought darkness and cool temperatures. A headlamp was a must for the first six mile loop. A half of mile road section brought the pack to the bottom of Greek Peak and then we began to climb. I tucked myself behind the four male front runners who then slowed to a walk. I was cold and wanted to keep running, but wasn’t confident with my ability to follow the course in the dark. This meant I walked when the others walked and I ran when they ran. This helped me follow the course, but my body was not happy. My legs and arms tightened up from the cold and from the stop go running pace. Before descending down the backside of the peak I turned back and was treated to a sunrise and a stream of headlamps filing up with slope. The four front runners pulled away on the downhill, but I kept them in sight and then make up ground on our way back to finish up the first section.

Photo Courtsey of Steve Gallow
The second loop started with a long pavement uphill in which the four front runners were pushing the pace trying to pull away from each other. I continued to run my pace and knew that it wouldn’t benefit me to play the game that I was witnessing ahead. After reaching the climax of the paved hill a sharp left hand turn put me onto the Finger Lakes trail. The tree canopy blocked out the early light so it was still pretty dark in the woods and right off it was clear this section was going to be technical. I had closed the gap and was now with the fourth place male runner. I was eager to chat but he was plugged into his ipod. I still was feeling uncomfortable and had yet to settle into a rhythm, but passing the fourth place runner gave me a confidence boost. After climbing some more single track the course made a left onto a gravel road. About a quarter mile down the road I saw the runner whom I had passed on the uphill single track. Confused I peaked over my shoulder to see what was looming behind me and was greeted by Glen Redpath who was running the hundred. Glen chuckled about the guy that was now in front of us and we laughed it off together. Glen and I continued to run together and eventually once again picked off the fourth place runner. We kept tabs on the three runners in front of us, but discussed that it was probably best if we not worry about them this early in the race. Eventually as we ventured back into the woods for the stick part of the lollypop loop we caught the third place runner. As we hit the road we were a pack of three but then noticed that we were a pack of four. The second place runner had made a slight wrong turn and was now with us. As we all pulled into the aid station at mile 24 I had no need to stop so headed out towards the third and final portion of the course which was an out and back.

As we set out on the third section of the course Glen and I continued our time together and he joked about how other hundred mile racers have pacers for the second half but he had his for the first half. I warned him that if he was going to call me his pacer then I was going to nag him about eating and drinking. We were treated to a short gravel road section before turning onto a steep single track climb which lasted about two miles. It was rather slow going but we continued to stay in front of the runners we passed at the end of the second loop. As we started to get closer and closer to the end of the out and back we were eager to know how much of a lead the front runner had on us. Suddenly a female runner who looked fresh blew by us. I looked at her number to see if she was a relay runner and she was not. I was confused and asked her what distance she was running. She responded fifty and I got nervous that she looked so energized. She then divulged that she started late and that this was her first leg. I felt some relief but still did not like that she was in front. Before it could bother me too much the leader was heading towards me. Glen and I looked at our watches so we could calculate how much of a lead he had on us once we hit the turn around. A few minutes later the female flew by us and again we looked at our watches. As we hit the turn around the front runner had about twenty minutes on us and the female runner had about nine minutes. I felt like I could slowly reel her in on the way back. I still felt good and was running comfortably but my stomach was feeling empty. I was ready for a meal. At each aid station I received reports about how far behind I was and the good news was that I was closing the gap. I felt like I was hitting my stride and was running without care and then before I knew it I was flying through the air and headed for the ground. I hit the ground left shoulder first and rolled. After making sure I was ok Glen asked if that was number three and already back in stride I responded yes. About three miles from the finish I caught a glimpse of the female in front of me and was determined to catch her. I caught her and then chatted with her. Finally when we hit the gravel road we were within a mile from the finish. I looked at my watch and new I would have to pick up the pace to be under 8:30. I left Glen and kicked it in and finished with a few seconds to spare.

Although the Iroquois race isn’t well known yet it is an amazing course that has an impressive 38 miles of single track for the 50 mile course with and an elevation gain and loss of roughly 9,000 feet. The aid stations were well stocked and spaced and the race director and crew were incredible.