All 2011 Race Reports
by Dave MacLuskie
My 2nd 50 miler
Inaugural race for the Gibbet (congrats to Brenda, the race director, and her army of volunteers for pulling off what was, for me, an extremely well organized and directed race)
Fantastic run despite my ankle/calf pain the preceding week
Total time: 9:46:00 (11:43 pace - sounds easy, right? That's a 2 hour PR for me)
2nd in my Age Group (which was 1-39 for this race. The other age group was 40-99).
This weekend was the inaugural Gibbet 50 mile run in Virginia Beach at First Landing State Park. I'd heard about it and was very interested in running it. We don't have any 50 milers in the immediate area and I like supporting local races (and running in them). There was a 25 mile option as well; 50 milers run the 25 mile course twice.
I put off signing up because I have another 50 miler the first weekend in November. Even with four weeks for recovery I wasn't sure it was the best idea for me. The week before the race I started having trouble with my left ankle/calf. This wasn't a new thing. I suspect it's either an overly tight calf and/or tendonitis thing. I actively stretched it, rolled it, massaged it, etc all week. I basically took the week before the race off. A few 30 min jogs and a short walk was about it. I signed up just before the Wednesday night cut off. Best case, I'd run thru the tightness and things would loosen up. Worst case, I have problems and have my first DNF.
The race was quite small. I don't know the official sign-up counts but I seem to recall about 25 folks for the 25 miler and 34 signed up for the 50 miler. I don't know how many from each actually started though. Being a flat-ish course I think it was particularly attractive as a first 50 miler, and for good reason. That's not to say the course is easy. There is some nice open, hard pack dirt, some lovely pine straw covered trail, but there are also some ups and downs, some soft sand, some soft, sandy dunes, and more than a handful of roots on the course. All but maybe a half mile total of the course is run on trail. One of the things I find fun on the course is the spanish moss.
Spanish moss is all fun and games until it tries to tear the glasses off your face. Yes. I was attacked by the moss. True story!
The weather was beautiful for a race: blue skies, low humidity, temps started in the low-mid 60's and hit the low 70's. Though it was warm in the sun the vast majority of the course is in the shade. There was a nice breeze off the water too which was refreshing.
Frank, a local ultra runner I've met at some of Dr. Horton's races, recognized me while I wandered about in my pre-race daze. It was his first 50 miler. We wished each other luck and I'd see him out on the course a fair bit.
The race started at 7am. As we milled about folks would look around, see themselves near the start line, and wander back a bit. Just before the horn sounded there was a pretty good gap between the line and the rest of the crowd. We were off!
Despite really trying to start off at a very easy pace, I found I was clocking 10 min miles for the first hour or so (the main trail has permanent markers every half mile and we started at zero). No matter how you count it, 50 miles is a long day and I'm a master of starting off at an unsustainably fast pace. 10 minute miles are too fast (10:30 min/miles is still sub-9 hours). My ankle was a little stiff, but not painful, so I went with it. To compound matters for me I kept second guessing if those guys in front of me just doing the 25, or the 50. Why did I care? I was supposed to be running my own race. This was a "training run". This was a "time on your feet" thing. I should be thankful I'm still running given my previous injurous week!
A little bit of forest.
At some point Frank passed me. He was running a solid pace and clearly running his own race. He looked quite strong. I cheered him onward.
Given all that looping about there is in the course (see course map below) I was concerned about getting turned around or being forced to consult the course map (I carried a copy with me). Fortunately the course was exceptionally well marked. There were double signs at every turn. Some trails had ribbons, typically just when a turn or fork was approaching. There was only one spot near the end of the first 25 miles that got folks a bit confused. I confirmed the direction with my map and was fine. I noticed the next time I passed that spot they had already fixed the sign and had a volunteer standing there confirming everyone's direction.
Click photo to see the big PDF version.
The aid stations were well stocked and had fantastic volunteers. They told lovely little lies to me ("You look great!", "Not even breaking a sweat!", "Way to hold the pace!"). Lies I tell you, all lies, but appreciated. The volunteers were always enthusiastic and were quick to refill my water bottle (I carried my 20oz hand held). Without fail they'd point me in the correct direction as I was stuffing my face with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or chocolate chip cookies. There were so many volunteers out on the course I wouldn't be surprised if they out-numbered actual runners at some point.
More trail (these photos aren't in any logic order, by the way).
During the first lap I tagged along behind another pair of racers running my pace. They helped me hold back a bit and I resisted the urge to pass them. As we approached an aid station I clipped a root and dropped like a rock, scraping a chunk of skin off my right hand. The folks in front of me were kind enough to stop and make sure I was ok, which I was. I passed them about half way through the first 25 miles and ran alone for a while.
A little bit more of the pertty, but vicious, spanish moss.
A few miles later a girl named Brittany caught up with me and we chatted about the usual things runners chat about: where we're from, weather, other races we've done, and how we're doing in this one. I tended to pull ahead at aid stations and she'd catch up with me. A Virginia Beach local named Tom caught us during the second half of that first loop too. It was his first 50 miler though I recall he had quite a bit of marathon experience.. The three of us were usually in sight of each other, trading places back and forth.
A little bit of beach with requisite sand.
Nearing the end of the first 25 miles I started counting the outbound runners. These would be the folks running the 50 mile. We hit the turn around at 4:33 into the race. A 9 hour pace? Too fast! There's no way I could run the second loop that fast (and perhaps stupidly I'd pretty much run the entire first 25 miles with no real walk breaks). Full leg ache was already setting in. Six guys had run by us outbound. At the moment I was 7th overall. Brittany was 8th overall and 1st female. I didn't mention it at the time. Some people like the pressure, some people don't.
A little bit of wetlands.
The second lap began back down the long, straight 3 mile segment of the Cape Henry Trail. We saw other inbound runners and cheered them on. During the second loop things went pretty smoothly. I pulled ahead of Tom and Brittany a bit after an aid station but ended up feeling a bit off and walking a fair bit. I'm not sure if it was a stomach thing, dehydration thing, or just fatigue. I managed to shake it off and get back into a jog. I think Brittany and Tom caught up to me in that stretch as well. At some point, heading back down the "main" trail I kicked a root rather spectacularly. I managed to not fall thanks to wildly windmilling my arms and staggering forward. My 2nd toe throbbed painfully for about a mile then subsided. [Note: upon removing my socks after the race, the 2nd toenail is already a deep purple. I have a photo but I'll spare you.]
I was wearing my Asics Speedstars; a light-weight trainer. I wore them at the Holiday Lake 50K and liked their ability to drain water quickly (though there was no water at the Gibbet). I suspect they aren't designed for 50 mile courses but they're light and comfortable. They offer zero toe protection though so that kick was pretty much full on. I never did get any blisters (I did lube my feet with an ample amount of Body Glide). In fact my feet were remarkably clean at the end. I don't think I shook more than a few grains of sand from either shoe despite running part of the day in loose sand. I wore a set of gaiters (Dirty Girl Gaiters, for those who are curious). I find I do ok while running but I tend to kick a lot of dirt/sand into the rear of my shoe when I walk. At the end of the race the dirt/non-dirt line on my ankle was clearly visible.
I'm not sure this shows the dirt line as much as my pasty-white feet. But, hey, no blisters!
At some point about half-way through the second 25 mile section I broke into my stash of Honey Stinger Waffles. I had a couple in my running vest. I love those things. They're thin, honey-soaked waffles. Anyway, I felt quite refreshed after a waffle and half a bottle of water and plowed on.
Sights I saw as I ate my waffle. Just seeing this makes me want another waffle.
There are a few turn-arounds on the course in various places. At the next to last turn one I saw a few runners going outbound, then Frank. He was a few minutes in front of me. Tom and Brittany were less than a minute behind me. We were all happy about being done with that turn around. It was now just "out", a short out-and-back, then time to bring it home.
I seem to recall we were about 3 hours into our second 25 miles (I was running my watch on "25 mile splits"). I suspect we had about 10-12 miles to go at this point. The 2 hours to go would give is a 5 hour split and sub 10-hour final time. Nice! I tucked that away. It was too soon to be thinking about it. 2 hours is a long time to run.
There are some ups and downs. More often than not they're covered in fine, loose sand too. Fortunately this was a "down only" part. Those are BIG steps. Each as high as my knee. I jumped down them both feet at a time like a kid.
We took the ups and downs, sand and roots, and finally hit the last aid station. There was another 1.x mile out and back to this aid station and then 4 miles to the finish. Tom and Frank didn't even stop. I needed water. All four of us hit the turn around within seconds of each other; 5 miles to go to the end.
Now, you'd think anyone could just run in the last 5 miles. I'd sure think that. It's 5 miles. Call it 50 minutes? At the end of a 50 miler it's certainly more than that though, at least for me. Fortunately we were back on the main trail, the Cape Henry Trail, and it has little signs marking the distance every half mile. We crossed the last road and just had 3 miles left. At 2.5 miles Brittany and I walked about a minute, then kept going. Frank drifted back some. Tom found some legs that I sure didn't have and was out of sight. 2 miles to go. 1.5 miles to go and a little walk break. 1 mile to go. A half mile to go. Another walk break. We're so close but my legs are just achy and stiff. We run again. There's the last aid station, a few feet from what is now, finally, the finish. Tom cheers us on. Brittany urges me in and I cross at 9:46 even. She crosses 2 seconds later and locks in 1st overall female. (Big congrats Brittany! I believe that was her first overall win. Good luck at Javelina!) Brenda, the race director, is there with hugs and cheers. We get finishers medals and a pose for a group photo.
I tried to keep walking around to avoid getting dizzy. Frank came in a few minutes behind us, and well under 10 hours himself. It turns out Tom and Frank took 2nd and 3rd in their age group (40-99). Congrats to both of them! Sub 10's on their first 50's is a big deal in my book. I took 2nd in my age group (1-39). You've gotta love these ultra age groups. I told my daughter (nearly 6 years old) that we'd have been in the same age group. She thinks I'm silly.
At one point I attempted to squat down to pick up a dropped fork and both quads went into spasms of pain. Despite not being a hilly course my quads are entirely shot. "Shot" is actually too kind. Destroyed and obliterated would be more accurate. I usually associated trashed quads with downhill running. I don't recall a lot of downhill, but man do I feel it.
The post-race food was very tasty; some barbeque, beans, pasta, and a cooler of soda. I inhaled the first sandwich and had to go back for seconds to enjoy it more. The post-race crowd was quite small, as by the time I finished the 50 miler all the 25 milers were well on their way home. It did amuse me to sit at a table with 5 or 6 folks and find out we were all doing Mountain Masochist next month. (I am too).
Given my very serious concerns of entering a race while I had a known injury, it was a very exciting day. Even looking back now it's not really fathomable to me that I ran 50 miles in less than 10 hours. The age group award is just the icing for me. Delicious icing. For sure my legs were very sore, stiff, and achy, but never really painful. [Note: 24 hours later they're still sore, stiff and achy.] I've been learning over this last year that it's perfectly possible to run on tired legs. It's not pleasant, but it's not exactly painful either. In many cases it's not any more comfortable to walk.
It's a great course with enough variety to keep things interesting. It the end the rather twisty, looping nature wasn't an impact. The park was still open to the public and there were plenty of other runners, a few cyclists and folks walking dogs. On more than one occassion I heard a polite "how far is the race?" followed up by a gasp or exclamation after the "50 miles" reponse. It made me smile every time.
For those wondering, the aid stations did not have mile markers. There were no mile markers for the race itself. I personally don't mind it at all, in fact I preferred not knowing for the most part, but I suppose some might like them.I was asked a half dozen times what mileage we were at. Apparently my big, fat watch looks like a GPS watch (it's not). I'm not sure how well mileage markers would work given you pass some aid stations a few times per loop. A few aid stations would have to have 6 mile markers just to cover the 25 mile option. All the loops and side trails made it easy for me to break the course into sections, not miles, and there were far fewer sections in my head than miles.
Oh, and the shirt is quite nice! The whole thing is a dark gray with an entirely unprinted front and a large Gibbet race logo on the back with the year and the distance -- no generic shirts here! 50 milers got 50 mile shirts, 25 milers got 25 mile shirts. The finishers medal is nice and solid too.
If anyone who ran the race has total elevation gain/loss I'd love to know what it is. My quads are a lot more sore than I thought they'd be for a course without any significant climbs. Granted, there were some ups and downs, but it's not like we were in the mountains or anything. My quads suggest otherwise.
Mainly so I remember for later...
Wore my Patagonia shorts from Promise Land. Body glide on inner thighs. Medical tape over nipples (when I changed my shirt in the parking lot after the race the lady in the car next to me, who was definitely not a racer, saw me and gave me a look of confused disgust). Feet were well-lubed with Body Glide all over. Injinji toe socks with a thin wicking sock over them. Asics Speedstar 5's (red, not that it matters). Dirty Girl gaiters (in a very boring grey, not that it matters).
Carried the Nathan #028 vest (the one with just a pocket on the back, no hydration or pack). Carried a 20 oz Amphipod hand-held with just water; topped off/refilled at every aid station with water (except for one where I thought I was full then emptied it 5 min after leaving the aid station and felt thirsty for the next 4 miles or so until the next aid station).
Ate a total of about 1 PB&J sandwitch over the course of the day, a handful of cookies, a couple Skittles (made me thirsty), a small bag of gummi bears I carried myself (in the vest), and a Honey Stinger Waffle.
I didn't drink much the first 13 miles or so. Just sipped on water. I drank a cup of gatorade at each aid station for the rest of the first half (plus water while I ran). I switched to ginger ale and coke at the aid stations for the second 25 miles, plus water from my hand held. I don't have a good way of measuring how much water I took in total. I never felt dehyrdated.
dave.macluskie AT gmail.com