Sunday, February 25, 2018

Race recap: The Somewhat Legendary 50k

For some reason this year I have decided to try my hand at ultras once again. I had first given ultrarunning a shot in 2014, when I DNFed at the Leatherwood 50-miler. This year my interest was piqued by an epic race in Italy, so I figured while I'm at it I might as well do a couple of tune-up races.

The first of these -- my first actual finish in an ultra, was a race that I made up myself (inspired by Laz's Big Backyard Ultra). The concept was to run DART's 6.2-mile Irma Loop—the same route my running group (The Davidson Area Running Team, or DART) runs nearly every day—but run it once every hour for 10 hours. That's a total of 62 miles, or 100 kilometers. I called it the "DART 100k Challenge." My friend Jeff McGonnell suggested that might be too tough for most people (including me!), and said we should probably offer a fun run version of the race where you only had to do five loops, one every hour and 15 minutes. Since we jokingly refer to Jeff as a "Somewhat Legendary" runner after a description of him in a local magazine article (he's run hundreds of ultras), the "Somewhat Legendary 50k" was held on the same day as the 100k, February 24, 2018.

I wouldn't recommend being the race director of an ultra while simultaneously participating in it. I could only do it because it was a familiar course to many of the racers, and because I had several enthusiastic volunteers to keep things going. My pre-race evening included laying out the course for an hour and a half and responding to emails of last-minute entrants in the race. Not exactly the relaxing carbo-loading I prefer on the eve of a race.

In the morning, I not only had to make sure I had all my personal racing gear, but also everything we would need to host the race. Naturally I forgot the extension cord for the race clock, but since I live just a five-minute drive from the start / finish, that turned out to be easily resolved.

After an hour and a half setting up the start / finish, I watched my watch tick down to 8:00 am, then started the official race clock and took off running with about 25 other crazies. Then I realized I hadn't actually put my watch in race mode. I quickly started it up, fortunately acquiring the satellite signal quickly and only losing about 10 seconds of "official" race time.

My plan was to try to limit my pace to 10 minutes a mile or slower, while walking most of the steeper climbs on the course, thus saving my legs for grueling final laps. 1:15 per 10k works out to an average of 12:04 per mile, so this should give me plenty of time to do what I needed to do at the aid station at the end of each lap.

I spent my first two loops enjoyably conversing with Kristy-Ann, who was only planning on doing three loops since she had run a marathon last week and was planning another marathon next week. We were near the back of the pack, which was fine with me (and Kristy-Ann), since no official lap times were being taken in the race. Since everyone starts each lap together, the only time that "counts" is your last lap: The first person to finish the final lap is the winner.

Lap 3 is where I started to feel a bit fatigued. This time I ran with Carl, who was also planning on doing the entire 50k. Carl liked my walk-run plan but he tended to do the run portions a bit faster than me. I caught up with him on the walking sections, and again we had an enjoyable conversation. However I was starting to notice some chafing in my shirt, so I decided to go shirtless for loops 4 and 5 (very unusual for me since my chest is considered a public nuisance in the Town of Davidson).

At the aid station after Lap 3 I noticed that I felt significantly better after 18-plus miles of running that I could ever remember. That's why ultra-runners always advise going almost uncomfortably slow! I took off my shirt and lathered up with sunscreen (the temperature was approaching 80 degrees).

On loop 4 I tried to stay with Carl again but found he was running farther and farther ahead of me. I still wanted to save something for loop 5 so I didn't push it and stayed in my own zone. Some of the other runners who had been in our vicinity were starting to drop off the pace, including first-time ultrarunner Kallup, who had recently overcome a substance addiction. If there was a "race" on the final lap of the event, it would be between me and Carl.

Loop 5, my final loop, would be interesting because we'd start at the same time as the remaining 100kers, who would be on their sixth loop. Only two runners, Martin and Pat, had made it this far, and they started with me and Carl, along with Sam, who had hopped in the race on loop 3 and was running with Pat. All of the runners, included Carl, quickly outpaced me. This would not be a race against the others, but one between me and the clock. I finished Mile 1 in 10 flat, so I had 2 minutes in the bank. Mile 2 had some climbs, which I walked, but I still finished in around 11:30. 2:30 in the bank. Mile 3 was mostly downhill. Somehow I managed to run the whole thing, again in about 10 minutes. 4:30 in the bank. Mile 4 was where the climbs started, and I walked a lot but still came in at 12 flat. Still 4:30 in the bank. Only 2.2 miles to go and I could average over 14 minutes / mile and still be an official finisher! Somehow I kept the pace under 12 minutes for each of these miles, and finished to the cheers of the aid station volunteers and a few spectators. My first ultra!

The official leaderboard
Only two people finished the 50k in the allotted time, but we decided to give credit to J.Owen Jackson and Kallup McCoy, who completed the course that day. No one finished the 100k, with Martin and Pat dropping out after 60k. So we decided to save this year's prize for completing the 100 until next year. The award is a bottle of North Carolina whiskey. We'll add another bottle to the stash each year until someone completes the challenge!

After collapsing in a chair for 30 minutes guzzling water and awaiting the two stragglers, Chad and I broke down the finish area and he drove me home, where I spent a few moments contemplating my achievement. I had finally finished an ultra, four years after my first efforts to do it. One down, two to go. And the first year of the DART 100k / Somewhat Legendary 50k was in the books. I'll definitely do it next year -- but probably only as a race director / spectator. I'll save my own ultras for when someone else is in charge!

Details of yesterday's race are below.

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