On the day before the race (February 12th) it was cloudy, cold, rainy, dark from no moon, and just plain ugly. I was very nervous that I had signed up for the worst day to run 50 miles through a cold version of hell on Earth. My muscles were growing tighter by the minute, and butterflies had been taking control of my stomach for hours prior to the race briefing at 6:00pm the day before the event. This was to be my first time running a 50 mile endurance race along the trails of Florahome, Florida where there had once been a rail road track converted to trails for walking/running. (I understand that over the next year or so they are going to pave them over and make it a bike course.)
The race briefing was short and sweet. Watch out for alligators, panthers, bears, dogs, and even the “Bardin Booger”. (A local tale of a big foot like creature that roams the woods around the town of Bardin at the turn around point in the run.) Oh, and when crossing one of the three trestles (bridges) don’t step off of the newly laid down planks because the old wood of the bridge itself will crumble. (That makes me feel much better since the new planks are nailed to the old dead wood that can crumble! I guess it was safe enough though because no one fell through.)
Afterwards I had a quick meal of ribs, baked potato, mac and cheese, texas toast, then off to bed where I actually managed to sleep fairly well.
Bright and early we were all assembled out in the woods about to start the running of the 2010 Iron Horse Endurance Run at 7:00am. The rain had ceased the night before and this morning was starting out very pleasant. Not only had the rain disappeared, but the temperature was also very pleasant for running in the low 40’s. I was wearing long workout pants over a pair of shorts, and also a jacket over a long sleeved tech shirt which was over a short sleeve tech shirt. I also had on a Nike Dri-fit headband that also covered my ears, along with Nike Dri-fit running gloves and a running hat.
The race route was a 25 mile out and back, but with a weird shape. First you ran 1.5 miles to the west, turned around and came back past the start line. Then you ran another 11 miles to the east and turned around to return once again at the start/finish. The total trip was 25 miles for each lap. (see the interactive map below)
The weather was so nice that after the first 3 miles I was plenty warmed up, and decided to remove the running jacket and pants as I passed the bag check. For the rest of the run I was dressed as you see in the picture at the top of this post, complete with 70 ounce CamelBak and 22 ounce hand held. This allowed me to carry a sports drink in the CamelBak as my primary drink and a protein mix in the handheld for occasional sipping during each lap. I decided that instead of using a gel I would use Hammer Nutrition HEED sports drink as my primary nutrition as well as hydration. It turned out to work GREAT! and I felt good the entire run. (All 50 miles.) Now the question is how do I do that for a regular marathon without carrying the CamelBak?
The first lap (25 miles) went very well, except I had a small pinch just below my right knee cap that disappeared after 3 to 4 miles. However, I had a sneaking suspicion I would see it again later. I pretty much kept a 10:30/mile pace almost the entire time. After adding in a little time for the 3 aid stations and walking 3 trestles (bridges) my average for the entire first lap was 11:53/mile with a completion time of 4:58:00 hours. The sun came out and there was only a slight breeze as I ran west, which had been at my back while running east so I didn’t notice it until after turning around.
I found the scenery very refreshing as it reminded me of the north in spring time. (Except for the occasional palm.) North Florida has many trees that lose their leaves during this time of year so it really helped me recall memories of walking through the forests when I was young and lived in Ohio. The route itself was in the clearing left behind by the removal of rail road tracks, and the large gravel that you can see under the tracks was left behind. In places this made footing a little awkward as I struggled to prevent twisting an ankle. (not too bad) In other places the ground was very soft and was covered with soft wild grasses that made it very cushioned.
The 3 aid stations on the route were a very pleasant surprise. They had red potatoes with a salt dip, cookies, M&M’s, water, Gatorade, orange slices, and wonderful people. Everyone asked if I needed anything, and what could they get me. There were also some young kids full of energy at each station cheering, and even running 50 feet or so with the runners cheering them on as they ran. It was very fun, and helped break up the quiet without being obnoxious.
It was very interesting to see the families that were acting as “crew” for some of the runners. The course followed a road in many areas, so there were cross roads that enabled crews to cheer on their runners/family members as they became visible running over them.
Upon my return to the start/finish, and the completion of my first 25 mile lap, I noticed that the small pain below my knee cap had returned. It was manifesting as the stiffness we all get when we run long distances. I was a little concerned that perhaps I had not fully recovered from the Miami Marathon two weeks prior, and my knee was letting me know as I refilled the CamelBak and prepared to leave for the second 25 mile lap. Another thing I took note of is that my feet felt pretty good. Normally after a marathon they are very tender from the pounding, but since this was a trail it was much softer than pavement and was not having the same affect.
As I was approaching the first aid station on the second 25 mile lap I was feeling a bit hungry, so wanted to make sure I ate a few small potatoes. I stopped and dipped a few potatoes into the salt and washed them down with a glass of water, then followed that with two orange slices. All seemed fine until I started to run again, or rather hobbled out of the aid station. My right knee had tightened up so much I could hardly bend it, and it happened so quickly it surprised me as I was forced to walk for a bit to loosen it up.
After walking for about a quarter mile I was able to run again, and found that running was the key. As long as I ran there was no pain, and the knee stayed nice and loose. However, each time I stopped for bathroom and aid station breaks I had to once again walk for awhile prior to running again to loosen my knee up. Now I was positive I had not fully recovered from Miami, and my body was letting me know. It was frustrating because I had plenty of energy, my muscles felt great, and mentally I wanted to run. However, my knee would not cooperate.
Each time I stopped and had to walk was a great opportunity to meet others on the route. I had an awesome time talking with others that were in similar conditions that were also walking between running spurts.
It was at mile 46 that I hit the last aid station in my journey. I was only 4 miles from completing my first 50 mile endurance run. My knee was killing me, but I knew it was just tightness and not an injury. However, I was forced to walk a whole mile before it was loose enough for me to run. At mile 47 I looked at my Garmin and realized that I only had a 5K left. Just one more short and easy 5K. I can do a 5K in my sleep. I started to run. It was to dark to see very far and I was in a very rocky portion of the route, but I ran. My pace was 9:30/mile, my knee felt good (no pain), I had lots of energy, and although I could not see the finish line I knew there was nothing between me and the finish. I covered the last 3 miles faster than I had covered any other portion of the race, and as I crossed the finish line at 6:11:20 for the second lap I dreaded stopping. I knew that stopping would mean my knee would hurt again. But the 50 miles was done, and I needed food. I had accomplished my goal, and did it at a marathon pace. Official total time will be somewhere around 11:20:00, and I will update this after I get it.
I now have a much different picture in my mind of what I am capable of, and realize that there is still much more that I can do. Stay tuned.