Distance: 31.12 mi
Heart Rate: N/A
What I ate the night before: beef curry with rice, Oreo cookies
What I ate on race morning: cereal, nitro vanilla latte
What I carried with me: water with electrolytes, gels
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, trucker hat
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker
Discussion: That was certainly a new experience. I heard about the Bigger Than The Trail Block Party from my friends Jeff and Amy, and I spent a few weeks hemming and hawwing about which distance to sign up for (they had options from 1 mile to 100 miles), before finally settling on the 50K. I considered doing a marathon and then just continuing if I felt like it, but I decided I would sign up for the ultra distance for accountability. I haven’t run an ultra since last year’s FANS, so it’s been almost a year! Hard to believe.
I didn’t do very much to prepare for this race, which ended up being to my detriment, though all it really affected was the overall time it took to complete the race, and my general attitude during the race. I planned to get going right around 8:00, the “official” start, just so I could get the race over with. I got up at 7:30 or so, and planned to prep two handheld water bottles with electrolyte tabs so I’d easily be able to swap them out. One of them smelled not great, so I filled it with soapy water and left it. I forgot to apply sunscreen before leaving. I also discovered my watch, which I thought I’d charged to 100% the night before, was only at 71% (and then showed up as 95%… and then back to 71% — thank you, Suunto, I think my next watch will be another brand), and had trouble getting a satellite lock when I did try to start. I actually went back inside, plugged it back in, and then re-started. I got going for real at 8:30. The weather was cool-ish, mid-50s F, and a bit humid. I was just hoping the rain would hold off until I was almost done.
I didn’t have a route planned or any planned stops, and while I had time goals, I didn’t do any math as far as what pace I needed to hit to make those goals. I figured I’d just wing it and do whatever it took to finish, even if that meant walking or resting or what. I took my first break after two hours and 8.5 miles, and stopped to use the bathroom (SO much better than peeing in the woods or using a Biffy), rinse off my face (to prevent sweat/sunscreen from getting in my eyes), refill my water bottle, eat half a Clif bar, take off my long-sleeved shirt, re-apply Body Glide, apply sunscreen, and head back out again. I felt pretty strong, and the miles really fell away at first. While my first mile was mostly downhill, I didn’t have an easy course – who knew you could get 2358 feet of vert in the city? I knew, because all my runs seem to be uphill both ways. I chose to walk almost any incline, and it was a nice way to break up the day and give my hips a rest.
I ate half the Clif bar while walking, and then took off again for a longer segment. It took almost 5 minutes for me to get through my rest stop at home, so I wanted to try to limit my stops to when I really needed them. The sun came out a little bit during this section, and I ran through some busier sections where I was dodging people a bit. I felt a little crappy during this section – not quite nauseated, but definitely “off,” and ended up walking a little bit on a flat section just to calm my body down. I started running low on water and started heading for home (this included a long uphill section) – this segment was 11.4 miles, and I did the same bathroom/face wash/water refill/etc. routine, maybe a little bit faster, and then I headed out again for what I thought was going to be my final segment.
I ended up having to return again after 7.5 miles to use the bathroom and get more water one more time. I didn’t have enough water to make it the final 3.7 miles, and I otherwise needed to stop. I did a lot of walking during the third segment, and my running turned into shuffling, which sucked. I probably should have eaten more – I don’t always get typical hunger cues when I’m running, and I don’t always recognize my cranky attitude as a sign of hunger. I should have pre-made a sandwich or grabbed a few cookies or something.
The final 3.7 miles were pretty brutal. My feet were hurting, there was a lot of uphill (my area of St. Paul is VERY hilly, especially near my house), and I checked my watch a few times to see my instantaneous pace and realized I was running so slowly I might as well be walking (so I walked). I got passed by a couple of chatty women out power-walking (can’t avoid gals chatting about domestic stuff even in a solo race!) and then I realized as I was heading into the final stretch that I needed to tack on a little extra in order to be sure that I was going to get 31 miles (Strava sometimes lops off distance, and I noticed that there were some GPS errors during my breaks – I took off my watch during the first two breaks because I was worried going inside my house would mess up my signal, but taking it off caused errors too, for some reason. Why isn’t there a function where you can pause distance but not time?) That was a morale killer, but I was determined to be running when my watch beeped 31 miles, and I was! And I kept running after that for the final tenth of a mile it took to get home.
I finished feeling pretty good! Especially considering there was no finish line energy whatsoever. My heels and toes have blisters, my shoes are toast after my big toes poked through mesh tops (Mizuno — go back to your old fabric), and I have some chafing around the band of my sports bra, but that’s minor. Of course my legs and hips are stiff, but that’ll sort itself out in due time.
I joined a couple of the Zoom events that were part of the BTTT Block Party. They were really fun, there were a lot of really cool people involved in the event. I even got to see someone finishing their 50 mile event live! It seems like a really great organization, and this virtual race raised over $15k! Not bad for a race that only had a $20 entry fee.
I said right after the event that I probably wouldn’t do another virtual race, but that’s not true. I’d do another one if it was inexpensive or if it was a charitable event. This hit both criteria, but I’d do FANS if it ends up being virtual. I just don’t think I’d do a virtual event that cost like $70 (unless I’d already been signed up for the real event).
What didn’t I like about it? Well, it was lonely out there. It was really weird to do an event without any support or any other runners. I missed the energy at the aid stations and the finish lines. I didn’t like not knowing if I really did 50K (thanks to a few bonus tenths from my watch while I was taking breaks), and I hated waiting for traffic and dealing with pedestrians, dogs, skateboarders, cyclists, other runners, etc. I missed aid station food – there’s much more of a variety and it’s so much easier to get in and out. It sucked not to be able to just duck off the trail to pee and get right back on – since I was in a residential area it wasn’t really an option.
What did I like about it? I liked some aspects of choosing my own route – like if I didn’t want to go up a hill right then, I just turned left or right. If I wanted to go back home and refill stuff, I did it when I wanted to, instead of having to wait for the next aid station or having to stop more frequently than I really wanted to. I liked starting from my house, instead of figuring out the logistics of getting to the race start, possibly traveling overnight, or having to drive home after 8 hours of running. I could have done this on a remote trail somewhere, but that would have involved carrying a lot more stuff – it was nice to just have one handheld and not need drop bags or anything.
Overall, I’m glad I did it – who knew when I set my spring race goals two months ago that we’d be in this place, with races canceled left and right, and no expectation for when they might start up again. It was nice to get in a really long run – I can use this formula in the future when I’m doing long training runs – loops around the neighborhood with stops at home, instead of driving somewhere and hauling a pack full of water. It was a reminder that I need to stop fooling around with 10 mile “long runs” and 40 mile weeks if I want to have a successful FANS in August (if it happens, sigh) — I’m not ready.
I’m going to take a week off now. I haven’t taken much time off other than when I was sick in late February. Normally I let races determine my time off, but with nothing on the calendar, there was no “reason” to rest, even though it’s healthy to take time off running even when there are no races on the horizon. I’m really going to enjoy the break!
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