All 2010 Race Reports

Seashore Nature Trail 50K 2010 Race Report

18 December 2010

by Dave MacLuskie

Short version:

My first anniversary of ultra running, 4th ultra.

Didn't hit the time goals but enjoyed the day.

Total time: 5:20.

Bouncy video taken while running (sorry if it induces motion sickness):
Seashore Nature Trail 50K 2010 video

Long version:

The 2nd annual running of the Seashore Nature Trail 50K took place at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, VA. If you're wondering why the mismatch of names, the park use to be called the Seashore State Park. It was renamed to, and I quote "reflect its heritage as the first place where members of the Virginia Company landed. They went on to settle Jamestown." (Note: Jamestown is pretty swampy too and didn't go so well for most of the settlers either.) Actually, I'm not sure that clears it up!

It's a pretty interesting park that is basically a big wetland. There are lots of bald cypress trees with their knees sticking out of the water. (Cypress knees look a bit like wooden stalagmites.) The park also has Spanish moss hanging from many trees. In the summer when it's very humid and very green you might expect to see Yoda walk out from behind a tree.

Last year a nor'easter blew through on race day resulting in a last minute redesign of the course from 2 loops to 3. The strong wind was blocked by the dense trees but it still rained most of the day with temps in the 40's. The parts of the trail that didn't start out muddy quickly became so. It was an interesting day.

This year, given the snow on the Thursday before the race and the colder than normal temperatures this December, the trail looked a lot different. Some parts of the trail had snow on them. The smaller pools of water had a thin layer of ice on top.

Seashore Nature Trail 50K bald cypress and ice

I was pretty keyed up for the race and was planning to push myself. I caught myself thinking "it's only a 50K" a few times and made a mental note not to get complacent. I don't have the mileage or experience to think "only" for any race longer than a 5K! It's a long day and a long distance and who knows what's going to happen out on the course.

All in all I thought it was a great day for a run. I wore tights and shifted between "too warm" and "glad I have on tights!" a few times during the day, especially during the second half where I slowed down. More on that later.

Race check-in went very smoothly. There was the usual deficiency of porta-potties at the race start and the park's bathrooms weren't open yet. Fortunately my needs were simple and there were a lot of trees around. I saw a few folks I knew at the start line. It's always nice to chat with someone to pass the time. Susan, a fellow runner who I know through races and interval practice, was running her first ultra. We ran together for the first few miles before we each settled into our own rhythms. She ended up suffering from a knee issue and walked the last 10 miles but finished within the time limit. Huge props for toughing it out!

The race started on time and we were off! The first half mile or so is on a two lane road. In general I thought this was a good idea. It helps spread runners out before they hit the trail. In this race it isn't as much of a problem because the first trail is quite wide: 15-20 feet? Unfortunately the road was still a bit slick with ice but it's a small hurdle.

This was my 4th ultra and my first anniversary of ultra running. I've been running pretty well lately and wanted to push myself and race this one. The goal was 9 min/miles for the first of two loops, then open it up depending on how I felt.

The first loop felt very good. I maintained a steady pace and felt pretty comfortable the entire time. I had a few dips in spirit but nothing that a cookie from an aid station couldn't perk up. The side trails were generally more interesting than the main trail. There was a bit more up and down and a few more roots.

Sometime during that first lap I heard the sound of jets overhead. I work and run near Langely Air Force Base so the sounds and sights of F-15's and F-22's are entirely commonplace. I looked up to see 10 F-18's in a pretty tight formation. That is not normal! I gather from news reports that it was the approach of a few Navy squadrons returning from deployment.

The side trail near the end of the first (and second) loop was my favorite section of the race. The trees were closer and lower. The trail meandered around with gentle waves up and down. The surface was a damp earth covered in pine needles. A half-dozen low wooden bridges (no railing) crossed over water and swamp. I joined a group of 3 others during the first lap and enjoyed the friendly conversation and chatter about how crazy ultra runners are and how nice it is to be outside.

As I started lap two my right quad began feeling a bit tight. That quickly shifted to the side and soon it was clear my right IT band was going to be problematic. I've had IT band issues in the past but it's always been my left leg. My right has never shown any sign of misbehavior. I'm not sure what brought that about. Almost all of my long runs are further than the distance/time that my IT band got tight which adds to the confusion. Terrain maybe? It's a very well groomed course and even flatter than most of my runs which are already pretty flat. Shoes? I've worn then on other runs. They didn't cause any problems in the 50 miler last month. Residual tightness in quads and hamstrings? Possible, but I'd expect that to show up during a training run. Oh well.

My plans of a PR were quickly dashed and I tried to make the best of the run. I could run about a mile before I had to walk, stop and stretch the leg, walk some more, then break back into a run. Things got progressively worse and it was a bit frustrating to be hampered by pain. I always think I can put it out of my mind and run through something like that but it turns out I can't. Bending the knee more than a few degrees felt nearly impossible.

I was thrilled to hit the turn around and head back. The volunteers were all very friendly and I tried to say a cheerful thanks to each. It was a cold day to be standing around out there! I heard one spectator had a sign that said, with the intent of instilling a smile on their runner, "Hurry up! We're cold!".

Somewhere on the last return loop I kicked a root and performed what I imagine was a pretty impressive Superman slide across the ground. Fortunately I didn't hurt anything but my pride. My left big toe felt like I might have busted it pretty good and I expected to see a bloody sock when I finished. Oddly, when I got home everything seemed normal. It's not even sore the day after.

As I entered the second side trail I knew I had about 4 miles to go and there was no way I'd be making anything close to a PR. About half way through the loop I met John. This was his first ultra. He'd taken the first lap out pretty fast and like me was forced into a slower pace on the second lap. He was now cramping fairly badly and doing a lot of walking. We jogged (I use the term loosely for both of us) together for a while and chatted. The distraction was a big help to me. After a bit of that he pulled up again. I did seem him cross the finish line not long after I did. Congrats!

As I exited that loop I mockingly complained to the volunteers that the loop seemed a lot shorter the first time. (It really did!) They got the humor and laughed. I thanked them for pointing me in the right direction. The road section was mostly ice free by now and I jogged in to the finish.

I chatted a bit at the finish, cheered some folks in, then limped back to my car to change into dry clothes before returning to the finish line to cheer folks in for an hour or so.

Despite my issues, I enjoyed the day. The park makes a visually interesting place to run. It's pretty darn flat with only a few little rises; none worse than your standard flight of stairs. The entire course is completely runnable. The only downside of that is you don't have many excuses to walk. There are only two aid stations but you pass one about every 4-5 miles. Given the temperatures I'd have appreciated hot drinks or broth at an aid station and at the finish but it certainly wasn't a show stopper.

On the positive side, other than stabbing pain from the IT band, I felt great the entire run. I always had energy, was breathing easily, and feeling pretty chipper for the most part. It seems that as I continue to run I fluctuate between limits in muscles giving out and lungs/heart giving out. Today it was the legs.

I'll probably be back next year to give it another go. I'm sure I can break 4:45 on that course if I can keep it together (easier said than done!).

dave.macluskie AT