Instead of a post from me rambling on about what I am going to do next, I have something Chris decided to jump into while waiting for me to finish the Chicago Marathon. I guess he started to think 26.2 miles just wasn’t long enough for him. Well read about it in his own words…
Whew. I am exhausted just trying to remember the race.
This was probably one of the most difficult – and fun – races I have ever run. This was my first ultra and first trail run over 10k. I really had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was I needed to run until it was over. Mission accomplished.
Nonexistent. I was training hard for the Chicago Marathon over the course of the summer and within two months of the race I was sidelined with piriformis issues. This took me out of running for three weeks. I finally came back to running with about four weeks left until the marathon. In that time, I was able to get out a 15 miler and a strong 20 miler two weeks out from the race. The marathon was a bust with uncooperative weather and my simply being unprepared. As I waited at the finish line with our friend Amy for Stevi to come in, she told me she was going to do the Stone Steps 50k that she had been considering in two weeks. I said that I wanted to do a 50k/trail race to which she exclaimed “You should do it too!”. Sure. Why not. Throw in that 26.2 miler as a training run.
I spent the two weeks before the race reading up a bit on things that might come in handy. I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know from road racing, but I experimented a little with real food for fuel. I also wasn’t sure what to do about shoes, since I don’t have any trail shoes, and I didn’t really have time to break anything in. I have a pair of GoreTex Nike Pegasus that would probably have worked well, but as I saw the weather creeping up near a high of 80 on race day I was worried about the shoes not being breathable enough. I ultimately decided to go with the trusty Wave Riders and hope nothing got stuck in the heel. I also picked up a 20oz handheld to take with me, since on some loops it would be 5 miles between aid station stops.
For those who don’t know, I have had a couple of races go south because of gastrointestinal issues (GI). A 50k is a really bad race to have to deal with that, so I tried to be careful about what I ate the last few days. Amy, her friend Matt, Stevi, and I were all driving down to Cinci that morning, so Stevi and I got up at 3:45am. I figured that was enough time to take care of all the bathroom needs before we left. No dice.
We got there about an hour early and picked up our packets. I made a couple more attempts and hitting the bathroom but was finding that I just didn’t need to. I was starting to get worried about it, but there is nothing I can do but hope for the best.
I slathered the feet in body glide and put on my smartwool socks. I got the handheld ready and took a pack of Clif Shot Bloks out with me. I also stashed a Roctane in my shorts just in case I got desperate at some point. My plan was to just follow behind Amy and Matt during the race as much as I could. Since they had both done this before, I would just follow their lead. The race director started making announcements and I realized my shoes were a little loose. I was in the middle of tying my shoe when I heard “Go!” and saw that they were off. I ran down to the road and tucked in right behind Amy and Matt. We all took off pretty quickly and I could see my CRC pal Doug up pretty far ahead. We made the first turn on to the trail.
The race takes place in Mt. Airy Forest park. The course consists of two loops, a 5 mile and a 3 mile loop. After each loop, you come back through the aid station where you have access to your own drop bag and various items that the race provides. You run the five mile loop four times, and the three mile loop three times alternating loops. We had set up a bowl of various goodies that we wanted to have available that we could just grab when we came running through.
The trail itself is single track trails, which means that it is difficult to pass people if they are moving slower than your desired pace. It also means you feel a bit of pressure if someone is right on your tail. Right away you could tell the trail was tough. The majority was covered in rocks and roots with little flat or smooth areas. Literally within the first few steps of the trail I was cut off by another racer who wedged between Matt and I. We were all running pretty close together and it made it difficult to see what was coming up on the trail. Not even within five minutes of running the racer in front of my rolled his ankle and had to pull off. I used the opportunity to move back up behind Matt, but I kept enough distance that I could judge the footing by myself and not follow someone else. I could hear a woman right behind me chasing me step for step.
We ran through ups and downs but nothing major for the first 2.5 miles. My legs were taking a pounding on the trail since we were moving pretty quickly and I was constantly changing direction to be careful of where I stepped. My shoes had little cushion in the forefoot, and whenever we would go downhill my feet would rub against the shoe. I knew I would have blisters by the time I got done with the first loop. At this point is where you hit the stone steps.
Although the course is generally tough, there are two major uphills on the five mile loop. The first is the stone steps where the race gets its name. There are about 200-300 deteriorating stone steps at a very steep grade. At the bottom of the first set, when you look up you see nothing but more steps. They strategically placed signs up the steps that said things like “No whining” and “There is no crying on stone steps”. Simply walking up the steps would leave you winded. The second, gummy bear hill, was an even steeper grade and placed about a quarter mile from the end of the loop. Someone also was nice enough to leave a bowl of…you guessed it…gummy bears. I took my Clif Bloks here.
When we got to gummy bear hill I had lost the people behind me and they were no longer in sight. I had let some distance get between Matt and I and I saw that Amy and Matt had passed a few people. I was stuck behind them for the time being but broke around them as we got to the aid station, where Stevi was waiting to fill me back up with water while I grabbed another set of Clif Bloks.
The three mile loop has some ups and downs but is a bit easier than the five mile and there aren’t as many roots and rocks (though there are still plenty). The start of the loop has road and flat grassy ground for a bit so I used the opportunity to try and gain a bit of ground. I passed a few more people here though I tried not to push too hard. I figured that Amy and Matt would be out of sight soon and I wouldn’t worry about keeping up and just do my own thing. The three mile was generally uneventful and I think I was doing too much following and not enough paying attention. I took another set of Clif Bloks here.
I passed through the aid station, filled up with water again and grabbed more Clif Bloks. I started back out again on the five mile loop and was following behind another guy for awhile. I had come up on him and he went ahead and let me pass and I thanked him. He followed behind me for a little while down a path next to a steep ledge. There were lots of rocks on this part of the trail, and this is where I lost my footing for the first time. It was a downhill and I was going pretty fast and literally somersaulted onto a rock and almost of the ledge. The guy behind me grabbed my arm as I was trying not to slip off the ledge and helped me back up. This set the tone for how the rest of the loop was going to go.
I kept going and eventually lost sight of the guy who helped me up. Not long after that, I tripped pretty hard but managed to stay upright. I got through the stone steps and right after tripped again and catch myself on my wrists bruising and scraping the one on the right. The cap to my handheld came off and I lost half of my water. I picked myself up and kept moving and came to a fast downhill before a gummy bear hill. I rolled my ankle which made me trip on a root and I rolled to take impact on my back and shoulder which was hard enough to take the wind out of me. I punctured my right shoulder and scraped my right arm and my back. I yelled a pretty loud expletive and I could hear two guys coming down the trail with one saying “I know what that means!”. I picked up and started to run again and made it to gummy bear hill after the hill, I tripped on a piece of wood and again landed on my wrists.
I got back through the aid station and needed to take care of my blisters. I told Stevi that I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through this thing. The falls were starting to take their toll and I didn’t think my body could take as much punishment as I had in that last loop four more times. I put more body glide on my feet and some Vaseline, stuffed my face with some Fig Newtons and went out on the three mile again. I felt a clicking in my heel with each step and pulIed over to take care of it. Sure enough, I had gotten an acorn stuck in the bottom of my shoes. I missed a marker a little bit into the loop and spent a few minutes running back and forth trying to figure out where to go. I finally saw it on the side and got going. The loop was pretty uneventful until the end where I tripped on a bridge and scraped my shin. I decided here I was going to back off a bit and worry more about my footing than my pace. At the aid station I ate half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich and changed my socks to a thicker pair of trail socks. The blisters were terrible then but there was nothing I could do but put more Vaseline on them.
Back out into the five mile loop I was doing really well staying upright. The sun was beating down at this particular time and I was getting dehydrated. I ended up draining my water before I even reached the stone steps and really had to slow down for the rest of the loop because I had no water. I somehow made it through but I had a headache and was feeling terrible. I took an S-Cap and water and didn’t really feel like eating anymore. Stevi then told me that Doug as waiting for me and he wanted to quit. He had gone out so hard that he was in pretty bad shape. We managed get him up and I had him come back out with me for the three mile loop.
We took the next three miles slow and walked anything really uphill or downhill. My right quad was starting to cramp up so I didn’t mind any time he said he needed to walk. He said I could leave him if he was slowing me down, but I figured I would finish it with him. He started looking much better by the time we got through the three miles and we filled up again to go out on the five. I had drained my water completely on the three and knew I would run out again on the five mile. I decided to take the Heed they were offering hoping it would last longer and ate the rest of my sandwich. Amy was getting ready to finish and I had heard that she was close to the leader at my last stop. Doug and I set out again on the five mile.
As we started the loop, we stopped at a truck that was parked on the course that had various aid for the runners like Gatorade, water, and lots of snacks. Talking to the guy that provided everything, he mentioned that he ran last year in full military gear with his pack and everything. He mentioned that he was seeing a ton of people with scraped knees and some folks were really banged up. Doug filled up on some Gatorade in his extra handheld, we thanked him for everything and we went back out to finish the last loop.
We both tripped a few times on the five mile but eventually got through it. We chatted about various things and it seemed more like our Saturday morning training runs than a race. My Garmin started chirping telling me that the battery was low. It finally died on me about ten minutes out from the finish. We said we would run through together and finish at the same time, which we did in 6:35.
After we all got cleaned up and headed out again, Stevi, Amy, Matt, and I went out for dinner and drinks. I had a great time hanging out with everyone and celebrating my first ultra. Stevi was a real trooper, taking care of the dog, cheering four runners on, and helping everyone get through. I know that if I ever do an extreme race I will definitely have my wife in charge of my aid and race logistics. It was a lot of fun to do a race with Amy and Matt again, and I hope we got to do another one in the future. I was glad that Doug and I got to run together for awhile as the company was great especially at the end of that course. As of right now I am taking a few days off to let all my cuts and bruises heal before I get back out there.
I don’t think I would recommend this race to someone as their first 50k or someone who hasn’t done much trail running. I’ve raced on trail before, but certainly nothing with this rough of a surface. The terrain, although tough, was manageable if you could keep your footing. I would, however, recommend the race in general. It was well organized, and the timing mat through the aid station was a nice touch. Out of the 82 starters in the race only 68 finished.
I’ve already committed myself to four marathons next year, but I think I can squeeze in another ultra. I know that I can do an ultra on my regular marathon training, I just need to put in a few more trail runs if I am going to do this type of race in the future. Even though I was severely unprepared for this race, I got through it ok and had a lot of fun at the same time.