This is my race report for my first ultra-marathon, “Old Goat’s 50”. 50 miles (80km) in the mountains near L.A.
The Old Goat’s 50 miler (http://www.oldgoatrunners.com/old_goat_50_home_page_005.htm)
170 people signed up. Only 64 finished the 50M. I have no idea how many actually started though, and how many decided to drop at the 50Km “Blue Jay” aid station (it was an option.)
It was spectacular. 48 miles of single trail, only 2 miles were on the roads (around the start in the Blue Jay campground). Trails were very technical, which I love. Roots, rocks, hairpin turns… Breathtaking views… It makes total sense for the race to be called “Old Goat’s 50M”: you have to be a bit of… a mountain goat…
Very technical trails up the difficulty significantly. We had to walk some sections downhill, or jump rocks parkour-like. Uphill sometimes required climbing with your hands between rocks.
There were 3 loops. A first 11 miles loop followed by a 20 miles loop ran twice. Millage numbers are all approximate in what follows… I mentally divided the second loop in 4 times 5 miles, which was approximately the spacing between aid stations (I think it was more like 6/4/4/6 between aid stations). It went something like:
This was the “backup” route for the race, given that the main route was blocked for emergency vehicles.
So let’s go. Here is the final trail: http://www.strava.com/activities/123485021
The race started at 6:40am. It’s not like a huge marathon. the start was mostly “announced” by the race director, +Steve Harvey counting down in a microphone (I think…), and the we just started running… It’s hard to start slow, but I think the fact that 170 people hit a single track after 1km on the roads does slow things down anyway. It’s extremely hard to pass, and really, you have 50 miles to go, so whatever slow pace you are going right now isn’t going to kill your finish time, so you can stick with that for a bit. It’s a very hard race, even for a 50 miler, so it seems that most people doing it already have ultra marathon experience (at least everyone I talked to had previously run 50 milers and 100 milers). I had no experience at all, so I decided to trust people around me…
Quickly though you end up with only 3-4 people around you, and you can ask and pass. But mostly people seemed to be sticking with whatever speed the person in front was going to. I didn’t like that too much so I ended up passing a few people there (and a few people passed me too of course)
Later I caught up with a guy, Jerry (I think) and a few minutes later we started chatting. I guess that’s the cool thing about such long runs. Your legs give up before your lungs (but that’s ok, hopefully your brain is still here to ignore them) so you can chat easily. He seemed to have a lot of experience, he did a few ultras, including 100 milers. So I decided to stick with him. At least I would have someone who was convinced he would finish the race in a reasonable time of 12h given his past experience. That would leave me 2h of slack in case something went wrong before the 14h cutoff. I used him as my pacer for the next 20 miles or so.
I reached the first aid station (Blue Jay) at mile 11 exactly at my randomly-predicted time of 2h.
Refilled water, electrolytes, and gels (I’m not quite sure but I think I had 1 gel probably around mile 6. Maybe 2…), ate a tiny PB&J sandwich, a piece of banana, and headed for the candy store loop with Jerry.
Ok, warm-up is finished. Now let’s run. This 20 mile loop is basically 10 miles steep down then the same 10 steep miles back up where you started, on gorgeous trails.
The first 6 miles of downhill to the Chiquita Falls aid station are mostly in the trees. Rocky trails and roots. I was still running with Jerry. We were going relatively slowly. He explained we had to save our quads for the uphill later, and that a lot of people bombing downhill would burn up. Every time we caught up with people, he was basically staying behind them, even though we were going faster originally. We ended up passing people only at the Chiquita Falls aid station 6 miles into the loop. We didn’t stop at all at this aid station, which was ran by pirates. Seriously, they had pirate flags, eye patches, everything. Volunteers are awesome.
The next 4 miles to the Candy Store aid station were again really beautiful. This time mostly on open trails. These would be the hardest miles to “climb” up later. Beautiful single trail, huge rocks… You had to hop from left to right on the trail on some portions. Half way to the aid station we caught up with another group of 3 runners and stayed with them. Other people caught up with us as well.
At the Candy Store aid station, around mile 20. This was really the end of the warm-up. Now we had 10 miles of steep, technical, climb. Right after the aid station, Jerry stepped to the side for pit-stop, saying he would catch up. Quickly I caught up with another group of people, and passed them a couple of miles later. Unfortunately, Jerry didn’t catch up with me. I only saw him later at a turnaround, and after the finish.
I kept going at my pace. I passed a few more people on the way up. But for those 10 miles of uphill I was mostly on my own. I chatted a bit with everyone I passed, which is pretty cool. That’s when I passed April (more about April later) who was walking up.
It went ok up to the 50k/30M aid station. That’s what I had trained my legs for. The longest run I had EVER done was 27 miles. With a lot of elevation and all, but I had never done more than 27 miles. So the first 30 miles went very well. I reached the main aid station 6 hours into the race. Which is again exactly what I had hoped for.
At the Blue Jay aid station, that’s where I made a mistake I think. I was starting to get hungry. During the last 20 miles, I ate probably 3 or 4 gels, a couple of energy bars, plus some peanuts, m&ms, potato chips and pieces of bananas (sounds like a lot, but each of those was in small quantity.) So I decided to eat a bit more, and take my time. Bad idea. Restarting after that was really hard. Not mentally though, I knew I was going for the 50 miles, no way I was going to stop here. But physically: no legs left.
Polina ran the next mile with me, which was nice and helped me start again.
After that I was on the trails, going downhill. And it was hard. I was mostly alone at this point: no one to pace myself against. April, the girl I passed on the way up, started just ahead of me after the Blue Jay aid station, but she quickly disappeared downhill (she would later finish 30 minutes ahead of me!) I was way slower. I ended up walking a few sections that I could technically have ran. After some time I realized “hey, you were really tired 7 miles ago, and look, you are still running!” And that was the key: if I had been running, even though I had no legs left, I could probably just keep going. I kept going.
I reached the candy store aid station about 8.5h in the race (That’s more than 30 minutes slower than the same downhill section the first time around.)
At this point, after 40 miles, it’s mostly brain power I think. Legs are out. But there are 10 more miles to go, and you’re not hurt, so you just keep running.
I’m saying that, but I wasn’t like a zombie running either, I was feeling well mentally actually. I was joking with the candy store aid station volunteers (this aid station was themed “Hawaii”). I knew I had way enough time to make it to the end (5.5h to finish the last 10 miles… I could almost crawl them…), so I wasn’t stressed about that. I “just” had to keep going. But I also wanted a pretty good time.
Right after the aid station I caught up with another runner, Tin. Aha! I basically found a new pacer! We started chatting too and it was cool. I felt like he was more tired than I was, and that made me feel even better. We stayed together. Lots of walking going up, but we were still running as soon as the trail was “runnable”. No “useless” walking, only “necessary” walking.
Ok, here is the worst. I had my GPS watch, counting miles. That’s when you start looking at it a bit too often: you look at the watch, it says 44.21 miles. Ok fine, you keep running for what seems to be a long time! “I probably ran 1 mile already!” Then you look at it again: 44.27 miles. I think that’s because the trails were so technical, every step was tricky and potentially dangerous, so you have to look at where you place your feet and all. You can’t look forward, half a mile ahead and when you get there you know you ran half a mile… You only really see the next few steps in front of you.
Of course sometimes you stop and look at the superb views.
But… one step at a time… the watch finally decides you’ve been running for 48 miles…
I had been running for the last 8 miles with Tin. At this point he asked if I wanted to lead the run, “to not slow me down”. I joked that I was dead, but I think he was worst than me at this point. I started leading, but after a couple of minutes he dropped back. I felt bad actually. But I couldn’t stop. If I stopped, no way I could even walk again. I had to keep running.
So last 2 miles. That’s it. No need to keep back, I could speed up as much as possible. I knew where the finish line was since I ran that trail section five times already. I passed another guy about 0.5 miles from the finish, and sprinted to the finish line. When I say sprinted… you know… as much as possible after running 50 miles.
Crossed the line, in 11:22:53 (placed 35 out of 64 finishers.) Tin crossed the line 4 minutes later. and Jerry 15 minutes later. http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=24216
After that, I couldn’t really walk much. The next day was mostly fine, still very sore when standing up after sitting in the car for some time, but ok. And Monday, I was all good! Of course I need to eat a lot for the rest of the week to get back those 7000 calories I burned. Nutella-ice cream time! (yes, it should be a thing)
This is for the future me: read that again before the next race!
Arriving at the start line 10 minutes before the start. duh. Stress, and forgot a few things like sun screen. That cost me a couple of minutes later during the race. Of course it wasn’t the plan…. and i didn’t realized it was this late until we finally found a parking spot…
Eating. Not big mistakes here I think, but can be improved. Gels were a good idea. I was originally going to eat mostly energy bars (and I still had a few,) which worked pretty well during my training runs. But after 30 miles, solid food seems to be accumulating a bit too long in my stomach… It’s also very hard to run right after you eat something solid, like a PB&J sandwich. I don’t know how to solve that yet. I think I ate about the right amount. maybe a tiny bit more would have been better. Maybe grab food and keep running? I did that at one aid station and I think it went better.
Stopping at the aid stations for too long. I should have gotten the hint: as soon as I arrived to the aid stations, volunteers would jump on me and ask “what do you need? water? refill your bottles? salt tablets?” They were awesome. The equivalent of a formula 1 mechanic team at the pit stop. But especially at the mile 30 aid station, I decided to take more time, eat a bit more, apply sun screen, rest and hang out for a bit… This was probably not a great decision. It was really hard to start running again after the longer break.
Sticking with other runners. That’s a tricky one. It was my first ultra, so I wasn’t sure I was running it right. In the end, I finished ahead of the two people I spent a lot of time with. On the other hand, Jerry probably saved me from bombing the downhill too much, but we could have passed a few more people and saved some time. Also, he wasn’t stopping at the aid stations when not necessary (or just quickly to refill water, grab m&ms), so I did the same and that was a good thing. For the last 10 mile climb, Tin was in worst shape than me actually. I could have run that climb slightly faster overall I think, but who knows: I could also have burned out, or worst, walked even more by myself. I think overall they both helped me a lot!
That was really a great experience. Volunteers were very nice and fun at the aid stations. Every runner was very friendly and shouting “good job” when crossing each other after turnarounds. Even the leaders!
It was a long day, running for more than 11 hours. But I think the training worked pretty well. Doing longs runs back to back taught me that yes, I can keep going when my legs don’t quite feel like it!
Thanks +Jay Torres for pushing me to sign up! Looking forward to the next one!
p.s. I hope to get more pictures of the actual run. All the following pictures are at the Blue Jay aid station. Next time: take a camera….