Whew. Where to begin?!
I ran the Greenland Trail 50K in Larkspur, CO last weekend. This was my first 50K and it was BY FAR the most difficult thing I think I have ever done!
Let’s start with some tips (or lessons if you will) of things that I learned:
If you are planning to run a TRAIL 50K, for goodness sake, do some training on trails! This race was not on technical trails (twisty trails with lots of rocks, roots, etc.), but it was on DIRT (think running in sand). I was NOT prepared for that from a training perspective. I knew it was going to be on dirt trails, but in my head I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. My head was wrong.
Side note: every time I type trails, the iPad is auto-correcting it to trials, which seems very fitting.
A course that has an elevation gain of 2,100 feet, but also an elevation loss of 2,100 feet will NOT, and I repeat, will NOT net out to feeling as if you are running a flat race. The green mountains below shows the course elevation. The race started at close to 7,000 ft. and was a lot of up and down. You will notice the very negative correlation between my pace and the elevation below!
I didn’t actually think that this would feel like running a flat 50K, but at the same time I also tried to convince myself that it would. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Again (from a training perspective), I was NOT prepared for the climbs! Just to give you some context, the hill repeat workout I did a few weeks ago was only 700 feet of climbing total. There isn’t really much I could’ve done about that though … we just don’t have
many any mountains in lower AL!
Let’s move on to the race itself:
I got up at 5 a.m. and had some coffee, some Nuun and a Luna bar. The race start was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel and so we left around 5:30 to get there about an hour before the start (the 50K started at 7 a.m.).
Once we got to the start, I started to feel extremely unprepared all of a sudden. I wondered what in the world I was about to get myself into. People were wearing and carrying things that I didn’t have and in general I just felt like I was out of my league (or more accurately, out of my comfort zone).
The temperature was about 50 degrees at the start and it rose to about 80 degrees at the finish. The winds were about 10 – 15 mph.
I was a little chilly at the start and ran the first loop with gloves.
The 50K was a 4 loop course. While this may seem undesirable, it was actually great! We were able to leave a drop bag at mile 8 and we ran by that 3 times before the finish. I had all of my gels and water bottles in my bag, so I never had to really carry anything with me. I also had a change of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, sunscreen, chapstick and a lot of other things that I definitely didn’t use. Better to be prepared though! There was also an aid station with water, electrolyte drink and snacks around mile 4 that we also passed by 4 times. The first half (ish) of each loop was a steady ascent and the second half was a steady descent.
During the first loop, there were several people to run with and everything was new. I enjoyed taking in the scenery and chatting with a few other runners. I tried not to think about the fact that I was going to be doing this 3 more times, but it was hard to escape the reality of it at that point.
I got to see Daniel at the mile 8 turnaround point before I headed out on my second loop. He ran the 4 mile race and it started at 8:30, so the timing worked out great that he could see me after my first loop before heading out to warm up for his race. I stopped briefly to get a gel and drink some water and also decided to get my iPod since the runners had started to get a little spread out at this point.
Turns out there was also a 25K race that started at 7:30 and an 8 mile race that started at 8 and the 50K runners merged in with the 25K and 8 mile runners during the second mile of our second loop. I didn’t really realize this beforehand, but it was nice to have more runners out on the trails. A lot of the other runners were utilizing a run/walk strategy and so I decided to jump on that bandwagon during my second loop. I was hoping to make it further into the race before doing this, but I quickly realized that I would be wasting precious energy by trying to maintain my pace up the hills.
You can see Pikes Peak in the background.
Even with the walk breaks, I was still able to maintain a fairly decent overall pace on the second loop. I was LOVING the downhill stretches and was even able to get my down below 7:00 for a couple of miles (I paid for this later … of course).
Daniel was out running his race when I came into the turnaround for my second loop. He did the four mile race and placed second overall!
I remember thinking that the next time I saw him I’d only have one more loop to go. I ditched my sunglasses after the second loop. They weren’t bothering me per say, but I thought I might be able to see the grooves in the trail a little better without them. I grabbed a gel and drank some Nuun and set back out on my merry little way.
Things started to get REAL during that third loop. It was almost as if someone came along and made the hills steeper in between my second and third loop. I’d like to have a word with whoever did that … not cool! I don’t remember a whole lot from this loop other than it was getting incredibly HOT. I even debated taking my shirt off and running in just my sports bra, which is something I have never done. I didn’t do that, but the fact that I even thought about it should at least tell you something.
There were still a decent amount of 25K runners on the course during the third loop so that was nice. I was not looking forward to that last loop when it would just be mostly 50K runners left because we were all very spread out at this point. When I came into the turnaround for my third loop, the volunteer that was standing there said, “Great finish! Keep going straight to the finish line.” I told him, “Thanks, but unfortunately I still have to run 8 MORE MILES.” Everyone had the same bib and with different start times, it was nearly impossible to know who was doing what race or which lap each person was on. A lot of the 50K runners ended up dropping down to the 25K because of the heat. I’m honestly glad I didn’t realize that this was an option (they didn’t advertise that you could drop down like some races do), because it would’ve been REALLY tempting.
Daniel was waiting for me when I came in to start my last loop. I got another gel, drank some more Nuun and we headed out on the LAST LOOP! Daniel ran a mile or so with me and then headed back to be at the finish. I told him to go on back. As much as I love him and was incredibly thankful to have him there supporting me, I was having a hard time maintaining conversation at this point and I just needed to ride (the struggle bus) solo for a while. Before he turned around I asked him if they had diet coke at the finish line. I don’t know why this seemed super important to me at the time, but when he said that they did I was ELATED! Then he told me that he had already had some and I was JEALOUS and perhaps a little ANGRY.
Are you filming me right now? Please stop. Okay, thanks. Bye.
Physically, I would say that I felt decent (all things considered), but mentally, I was falling apart.
That same person that came and made those hills steeper in between the second and third loop came back and replaced the hills with mountains in between the third and fourth loop. Holy moly. My legs were on fire! The rest of my body was on the verge of being on fire as well. The temperature had gotten up to 80 at this point and there was no shade. All I really wanted was some ice. I was really hoping that they would have some ice at the aid station that was out mid-way on the loop, but they didn’t. I was so bummed. I drank two cups of water instead (which gave me a side stitch like a complete newb).
Miles 27 and 28 were by far the toughest if the day. We were still climbing and it didn’t quite seem like the end was in sight. I remember feeling the same way in my first marathon. I was ready to stop (i.e., drop out) and just lay down on the side of the road at mile 25 of my first marathon and I was definitely ready to do the same at mile 28 here. There were actually some little patches of snow that I could’ve laid in and I’m pretty sure that would’ve been quite heavenly. About the time that I was thinking about stopping to lay down and make some snow angels, another runner came up beside me (seemingly from out of nowhere).
She was running up the hills and walking down, which is the opposite of what I was doing so we flip-flopped back and forth a few times. She told me this was her first 50K as well. I started to walk up one of the hills and she came up behind me and put her hand on my back and gently pushed me forward, encouraging me to run with her. She told me that this was the last hill (I was skeptical … did she not know about the ones they were coming in and adding in between each loop?!) and that my stride still looked great. She told me to go get it and finish strong. I was blown away by her kindness and sportsmanship!
After my two slowest miles of the day, I finished the last three in 8:34, 7:40 and 7:42! My time was 4:44 and I was the third girl to finish (eleventh person overall).
When I got to the finish all I wanted was ICE! Oh, and diet coke! I never felt sick at all. My legs were definitely tired and a little stiff afterwards, but I actually felt so much better than I have after most of the marathons I have run. I think I did a decent job of fueling and staying hydrated throughout the race and the run/walk strategy was definitely clutch.
For anyone who is interested in the fueling (which is mentioned throughout, but here it is all in one place): I had a Luna bar, 8 oz. of coffee and 16 oz. of water with Nuun pre-race. During the race I took 3 Huma gels (at miles 8, 16 and 24 roughly) and alternated water and Nuun at the aid stations (I had Nuun in the bottles that were in my bag). This comes up to just over 500 calories (5g of fat, 100g of carbohydrate and 10g of protein). I am obviously not a nutritionist or qualified to be giving nutrition advice, so I definitely urge you to figure out what works for you. This worked for me.
For anyone who is interested in the splits (the good, the bad and the ugly): 7:53, 7:46, 7:56, 7:57, 8:21, 7:16, 7:10, 7:23, 8:23, 8:15, 8:46, 9:35, 8:20, 6:58, 6:51, 8:28, 10:08, 8:54, 10:51, 10:26, 8:34, 8:54, 7:27, 12:39, 12:35, 10:44, 15:57, 14:01, 8:34, 7:40, 7:42.
Apparently my socks were super breathable because my feet were disgusting by the end of the race. The socks get bonus points for being both breathable and super cute (because obviously that’s important :)). I got lots of compliments on them!
I didn’t have any specific pace goals going into this race. My coach (being the wise person that he is) suggested that given the amount of variables we were dealing with (a new distance, the altitude, the hills and the race day weather), it really didn’t make sense to place a concrete time or pace goal on this race and I am SO GLAD that we didn’t. This is the same approach that I took when I ran my first marathon as well. I was happy just to finish and the same applied here!
This was the longest run that I have ever done consecutively (by almost 5 miles). The distance demands respect (as does a marathon). I definitely have A LOT of respect for the 50K distance at this point. I don’t know with certainty if I will do another one yet or not. If you asked me at mile 27 or 28 the answer would’ve been a resounding NO! Now that I’ve had a few days to recover and to think on it, I’d give it a solid MAYBE!
Isn’t that the way it always goes?