Bittersweet Symphony

Brad is currently holding down the fort over on the wild side of Intrigued giving me a chance to tie up some loose ends here on the mothership. Two of those pressing items are recent race recaps that took a backseat during the Halloween season. The first of these is the big one for the year – the attempt at the 100K ultra (a bit over 60 miles for those not familiar with those units). As a side note, this week I finally came to terms with my interest in this self-torture cleverly sugarcoated as mere “trail running”. In the past I’ve always quipped it was really training for dangerous encounters while chasing wildlife in the field. That isn’t exactly true, as all I really need to be is faster than the slowest person in the group – if Ron is with me…well, let’s just say I don’t need to run for over 14 hours to make it to safety. After this week I’m changing my response to “So I can deal with the fall leaf cleanup”. Pretty much 5 days straight for 5+ hours at a time battling the tree carnage – legs spent, arms spent, abs spent matching how I felt after the Farmdale Ultra Trail Run.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

This year the race was held on October 9th/10th which puts it exactly one week after our big Halloween Haunted Trail event. Definitely not ideal timing as the haunt takes a lot of out of me. Adding to the difficulties, we had to make a trip out to Wichita, KS for a wedding, forcing taper a week earlier than usual. Managed to get the trail taken down during the first part of race week and added in a few small runs just to make sure the body was still oiled. By the time we headed to the course (day before the race start) everything was feeling relatively good – a big relief.

Should probably set the stage with some details on the race strategy. Technically, this particular ultra does not have an official 100K, instead, they offer a 10K, 1/2, 30M, 50M and the pinnacle 100M. Two years ago I completed the 30M (link here), last year my first 50M (link here) and this year I was officially signed up again for the 50M – yep, that’s short of the 62 for the 100K mark. As tradition goes, they offer upping to the 100M once you complete the 50M – one catch, if you take their offer, you give up the 50M accomplishment (and the buckle) and if you do not finish the additional 50M, then you go home with a big ol’ DNF for all your hard work. Get where I’m going here? Correct, I was going to toss the 50M finish and add an additional loop to put me at the 100K distance and then take the DNF because at the moment, that 100M is beyond my abilities (maybe in a year or two). This also gave me a safety net, if for some reason the extra loop was out of reach, I could simply take the win at the 50M mark – as Linda will attest, I like options!

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

Hit the jump for more details on how this race strategy played out!

The 100M and 50M participants launch at 5am on Saturday morning. The other race distances fold in after that – think the 30M starts at 8am, the 1/2 and 10K start around 9am if I remember correctly. This gives us some time to get miles in before the fresher legs start clogging up the single track looped course. For ease, we stay at the course the night before allowing me to roll out of bed, hop out of the RV, walk 100ft and be at the starting line. I refuse to train for that early of a launch, so it is always a bit of a jolt to the body when the alarm goes off at 3:45 in the morning – honestly, pretty restless before the race so there isn’t much “sleep” that night anyway. The real jolt was the starting temperature of 32F degrees – last year I started in shorts, this year I had to figure out layering. With the single track the first loop is slow going and thus not generating that much heat until the following laps. Opted for a base shirt, long sleeve tech shirt and the nylon “Mr. Fluffy” coat to cut down on the weight with the hydration pack. The first loop also tends to be damp/muddy so went with the grippier Lyte FujiTribucas. Love those shoes, light and durable with slip-proof lugs. Only issue is they are a pretty stiff ride, but planned to switch those out in later loops.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

The first loop was tight as expected. There were roughly 50 of us at this launch time (10-100milers and 40-50milers) and we were all taking our time feeling out the course and getting accustomed to the artificial lighting (our head/hand lights will flatten out the trail forcing you to concentrate to decipher the rolls/dips while avoiding the multitude of obstacles (roots, rocks, sticks, raccoons, snakes etc.). I felt really bad for the guy directly in front of me – he toed every single root we came to – somehow he managed to catch himself each time – made me wince just thinking about how much those toes had to be growling, not to mention the unexpected jolts to the body. Not sure if he was a newly converted “road runner” or the legs were rebelling in the freezing temps – you gotta lift the feet on the trail. Eventually had to pass him about 2.0 miles in as I couldn’t witness that whack-a-toe any longer – to his credit, never saw him go down. This put me behind a fit, full bodied lady – ONLY provide that description because a half mile later she clipped a root and went down hard – really hard, no time to even prepare much less any time to cushion or control the fall type of hard . She struggle a bit to get up and we helped her as much as possible. She ended up saying something very prophetic “Well, figured was going down sometime, might as well be now!”. That’s the spirit. She gave the all clear sign, but moved to the side of the trail to collect herself – never saw her again, hope she made it through.

Soon after that ordeal, we came to the water crossing. Last year it was over the calves – lack of rain this year put it about half that high, but man, was that cold. If I wasn’t awake before then, that dip brought me to full attention. No way around it, you are going to come out of that section with soaking wet feet, which happens to be a top element I fret about (after fueling). The Fujis drain fairly well, but you basically have 7 miles left before you have any opportunity to address what inevitably gets trapped in the socks etc. Not a problem for this loop, but looms large in the later miles.

Those remaining miles went well, although, there was one moment where a number of runners owe me big time. Farmdale Reservoir is a home course for me. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of miles each year training on their trails and officially competed in three ultras there. There isn’t a trail, turn or obstacle that I’m not completely familiar with day or night. The other important fact is the race coordinators NEVER miss an opportunity to drain your legs up the steepest hills (masochists I tell ya’!). The one at the 5 mile mark is the worst, requiring you to almost crawl up (they put the aid station at the top of that hill). There is another steep incline around the 4 mile mark. Tried to relax the body in the half mile or so leading up to it giving the legs all the energy needed for the brutal ascent. At that point I was probably in a group of 10 – two ladies chatting away ahead of me, yours truly, a guy I was chatting with running his first race there and the rest bringing up the rear several paces back. We came to the point where the trail splits off up the steep hill, took a big breath and went to follow the ladies up the hill… except the ladies kept right on going …HUH!?! did the course change? No way would the course planners pass up this opportunity to beat us into submission. I stopped, motioned the guy behind me to stop and informed him “I think we are supposed to go that-a-way” (point up). By then the back of the pack had caught up. Quickly relayed my concern and all directed lamps up the hill looking for confidence flags – sure enough, there they were. We yelled at the ladies to come back and headed up the hill. That could have been really bad as that path ends up chopping about 1.5 miles off the course assuming they had any idea where they were going. My good deed for the day!

There was a slight course change around mile 8 from the previous year that cut out a small section of trail that can be confusing at the cost of a longer trudge through a thick grassy field. Passed that, it was just a matter of navigating two more gut punching hills before making our way across the reservoir dam, a small section of woods and then arriving back at the start. One loop down, only 5 …or 4 to go.

Now I obsess over fueling strategies – in fact, a big part of the training program is figuring out how the body reacts to various input – more water, less water, fuel mixtures, sweet foods, savory foods, on a schedule, when the body wants it – you name it, I’ve probably done extensive research coupled with in depth field analysis. With all that invested time, I can say with confidence “I STILL don’t know what the best strategy is” At some point you have to make the call and with races this long you need to be pretty set on that plan weeks ahead so the nutritionist (Linda) can get the ingredients and set the fuel prep schedule. First loop fueling – fluids and a peanut butter and jelly bagel. Didn’t expect to use a lot of fuel and the standard oatmeal breakfast should have no problems covering this short of a distance – more to keep the stomach in practice of eating. Since the temps were going to slightly drop during the next loop, stuck with the current layering. Everyone should be spaced out now allowing me to push it more which, in turn, generates additional heat.

Bid Linda farewell and headed back out to stay ahead of the coming launches. All in all, feeling really good,

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

Loop two started out a bit frustrating. Maybe with the short break the legs thought they were done for the day or there was a big growth spurt in the trees during the last couple of hours as I started clipping roots. A couple of tenths the first scrape, maybe twice that long before a hard grind and then an outright toe smack. The other two were concerning, this last one elevated to pissed off mode. I literally stopped running, looked at my shoes and released a loud foul mouthed tirade ending in “now lift your g*dd*mn f’n feet”. Fortunately, there were no others around me, although, I think my fellow runners would have completely understood. I did see a mama Squirrel covering the ears of her still impressionable young. Rest went as expected until about mile 4.5. By now it was pretty much just me as far as I could see ahead and behind. Nothing new when it comes to ultras, everyone has different paces, different rest strategies etc. coupled with the long course gives plenty of room for isolation. Like with the earlier scolding, this worked in my favor so nobody saw me go down. Just finished making my way up a healthy hill and had just made it back to speed on what has normally been a “safe” area of the course. Fairly flat, smooth dirt and up to that point thought root free. There were a lot of leaves up on this bluff which perfectly disguised a 3 inch base of a former sapling – in post clip mortem assessment appeared to have been recently cut, possibly during pre-race cleanup. Regardless of how, my toe caught it square hurling me forward full superman. Instincts took over allowing for a slight roll to protect the face, but that resulted in a mule kick directly to the now exposed side of the ribs. Trail debris was scattered due to the velocity of the impact and the air being forced out of the lungs. First thought, “hope nobody saw that”, second thought “am I still conscious – if not, Linda was going to be pissed off”, third thought “what’s the damage!?!”. Got to my feet, looked around and checked off the first two concerns. Could still breath, so ribs held (thank you Mr. Fluffy) but my left ankle was wet..nope, the other leg was already dry from the latest water crossing – this was sticky and warm ugh. Over the many years of trail running I’ve learned that short of very intense, deep localized pain, the best thing to do is keep going – especially when it comes to ankles (this happened to be the same one injured earlier in the season). It still felt strong and whatever was going on under the pant leg would be better left unseen. Finished dusting off, picked up the rest of the clothing accessories at the “trail sale” and got back to it. Never did look at it until I got back to base. There was a nice gash, but the blood had dried – will address it later, there’ll be time enough for mending when the dealing’s done.

More concerning was the amount of fluids I lost thanks to over-layering. The temps warmed up quicker than expected and the adrenaline shot from the fall had kicked me into a higher gear than planned. I was completely soaked through the base, the tech shirt and even Mr. Fluffy was dripping wet. Not good. Tried to bring the fluids back up, but that cost a lot of reserves. Dropped the coat, dropped the hydration pack to give the shoulders some post fall relief and swapped out the other two layers of clothing. The sun was going to start coming up soon which would accelerate the mercury rise to the 60 or so degree mark. Also switched to the Hokas – the trail was surprisingly solid allowing me to swap the heavier lugs for the softer ride (that’s the point where I noticed the gash). This was a big fuel stop as well – hamburger sliders, mac ‘n cheese, salty chips… the works.

Besides the fall, things were progressing well and significantly ahead of schedule. Time to battle another loop.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

As loops go, the third loop was definitely the best of the race. No longer sauna running and the feet were extremely appreciative of the comfier ride. These Speedgoats are designed to hold their cushion for ultra distances – kudos to that design element, but that might have come at a cost that manifested later in the race – more on that later. Figured I’d be having another scolding moment with the new shoes as they have a much thicker sole than the Fujis. Clearly learning from my previous venting, the legs had zero issues making it over anything the trail through at me. If there was just a way to bottle that loop up and reuse it for every loop in the race. Did witness another tremendous fall about 50 yards from where I had gone down during the previous loop. A lady had clipped another root also previously obscured by leaves. Luckily she had someone with here that was tending to cuts on her elbow. All the debris on her front side meant she took the full sot to her chest. She responded to my query that she was okay, but I think she was still feeling that. As I was heading out, the two of them were coming into the aid station asking if there were any medical supplies. Oh, forgot to mention at the 9 mile mark of the second loop I crested the last big hill right as my friend Stacey was coming through on her 10K race. What a pick-me-up. We ran back to the start together getting caught up on recent happenings and was introduced to some friends had joined her. The first question is always “how do you run for that long?”. “Easy, just put one leg in front of the other and repeat until you are ready to puke and then start the process over again” – ha. Fueling for this stop was butter and herb noodles and Oreos – delicious! Temps were going to drop during the next loop, so opted for a slightly warmer set of clothing layers.

Upbeat with how well the third loop went, headed back out for the fourth.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

One thing learned from the previous loops is the Hokas do not shed water as well as the Fujis. My feet stayed soaked for a lot more miles, and honestly, never really came to a point where they were dry. It didn’t seem to be having a significant impact on the feet, so really didn’t think about it as much as I should have. With the water crossing only being 3 or so miles into the loop, there was no way to run completely dry for the remaining 7 miles without doing something drastic like taking the shoes off or hauling baggies around to cover them – besides, that doesn’t really fit the spirit of the race. By now the body was really starting to feel the toll. Mental capacity was starting to weaken and thanks to forgetting to charge my phone after the first loop I couldn’t risk playing music – a constant staple on my training runs. My head was in the game on every step which is not a good thing when it comes to ultras. Still saw across people on the trail and the ones I did were not doing that well – the worst being those that had gotten lost and trying to get straightened out. The emotions exposed by their expressions when they realized they had to go back to catch miles they had accidentally pruned off or the drain when they learn they added several more miles to an already difficult course. There is something to be said about the advantages of being familiar with the course.

At this point, every hill climb had become more difficult, every straight section had become longer and the downhills turned to pain trying to protect the quads from the decent while preventing falling forward. A handful of gummy bears gave me a badly needed pick up at the halfway point and relished the chance to talk to someone even if it was just at the aid station – they did promise me there were other runners still out there.

With all that said, I still felt better at the end of this fourth loop than I did in the previous year. The heavy training was paying off and knowing that I’d made it past this point before helped stroke the confidence. I also got to enjoy sausage links with mac ‘n cheese for this fueling opportunity. Cannot put into words how incredibly well those links hit the spot. With that joy came a critical decision – what to do with the wet feet. I was starting to feel the socks slipping on the last loop – was also very aware of what happened last year where I opted to change shoes and put on dry socks. My feet swelled up that year which caused serious damage to the front tendon after running just a few miles in the tighter shoes. Do I risk that same injury again or leave the shoes on and hope the wet socks don’t result in blisters – the original plan was for two more laps giving plenty of opportunity for things to go south. What to do, what to do…more sausages please! The final decision was to keep the shoes on and address the knowns. Grabbed the headlight and headed off.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

This is the point where some serious issues started manifesting. The first was being so distracted by the shoes decision I FORGET to think about the layering. What I had on was good for the start of the loop, but with the sun going down, the temps were dropping quickly. Halfway through the loop I was starting to get really. Slower speed, less heat to offset the colder temps. Towards the end, the body was starting to shiver and was very worried about hypothermia – that could be addressed if I made it back to base. The other, more critical, issue hit soon after the water crossing. By now it was simply more water on top of existing water – the socks had enough of this BS and decided to “put the foot down” so to speak. The inside grip had gone allowing the foot to grind against the sole on every plant. At first tried to ignore it, but it kept getting worse especially on the downhills. As I was going up the wicked hill leading to the aid station, there was a pressure release – the blisters that had apparently been building on the bottoms of both feet had given way. NOT GOOD.

From that point on, every plant was painful. I could still jog some on the flats, but the uphills and especially the downhills were brutal. 5 miles of that annoyance, being cold and then dealing with the rest of the sore body eventually won over mind. Have to give a shout out to another runner that I caught up to. He was also suffering, so we ended up hanging together for at least a mile or so. Our chatting helped each of keep our minds away from the struggle. Eventually he had to tend to nature’s call – I knew if I stopped moving it was all over. Said our goodbyes, wished each other best of luck before moving on. As I headed to the finish line of the 50M, all I could think of was another. 2.5 hours of fighting the feet and the how drained the body was. I could get warmed up, but there is little you can do with the raw feet beyond New Skin and wasn’t even sure that would hold much past the next water crossing. A bitter pill to swallow, but I would come up one loop short on the first 100K attempt.

If there is a silver lining, I did make it through the 50 Miles and that isn’t something to get too down about – also shaved about 2 hours off my previous time! Came in slightly beyond midpoint of the pack.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

…but if you take into account the age-banding, wait for it … wait for it … FIRST in my age group. This is more of a personal satisfaction as ultras do not tend to give out age awards as it is really an endurance focused event rather than a measurement of time (which is why I like trail races sooooo much better than road racing – my speed years are likely past).

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

You do get a finisher medal for the 50M and for this race it is a belt buckle – same design as last year, so simply linking to that image.

Farmdale Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race - October 9th, 2022

In summary, a vast improvement over my previous 50 Mile time, but definite areas to improve on for my next year’s 100K attempt (you didn’t think I’d accept failure did you!!!). Will definitely have to work on the foot situation – already have some ideas on that. The fueling went pretty well, maybe force myself to eat more between the earlier loops and definitely keep a closer eye on the weather forecast for each loop. While writing this recollection, it did hit me how the 30 Mile distance for me is like nothing these days – barely breaking a sweat where a few years ago it seemed like an unattainable distance.

Can’t wait to give it a go again next year!

10 thoughts on “Bittersweet Symphony”

      1. Or run two (almost) separate marathons! Sans creeks, of course. There was a guy who ran the Boston Marathon backwards starting early enough in the morning to make it to the start line in Hopkinton to run the whole thing over again in the intended direction. At least he didn’t have to worry about getting back to his car after the race.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha! Reminds me of the guy I was talking to in the last loop of the 2021 50miler – he was doing the 100 so he was only halfway done. It was Saturday night and he was planning on being done sometime Sunday morning so he could drive over to the Peoria Whiskey Daddle Marathon and complete that as well. Nothing like 126.2 miles to round out a good weekend of running. Of note, I checked the standings, he DNF’d the 100 – might have been a bit ambitious on the Whiskey plans.

        Liked by 1 person

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