Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Saturday, November 16, 2013

2013 Mendon Ponds 50K

That's me - in the red shirt left of center - starting near the back of the pack.
(Photo credit - Richard Detweiler)
This year I finished my third Mendon Ponds 50K trail run. That's three for three. I've run Mendon as my last race of the year each year I've been ultrarunning. It's the only race I've yet repeated, so it's become sort of the key annual measure of how I'm progressing.

This year I was a little in doubt about whether I should enter. It was only three weeks after my finish at the CanLake 50M, and both races I'd done previously this year were road races (the other being the Strolling Jim). I had not been on trails much in 2013, and Mendon is a challenging run, with about 1100' of elevation gain and loss per 10K loop, though the trail is not too 'technical.'

By the time the race was close to filling up (a first for this race) I was feeling recovered enough to sign up, but I was determined not to kill myself here this year. Last year I'd run a PR 50K time, but on top of a long, hard year of training for me the effort had been too much and I'd paid the price with injury and lost running time the rest of the year.

I always want to have a goal when I race though - something I am trying to accomplish with the run. I suppose someday this will all become routine enough for me that I will do some races just to go out and run and enjoy the day - and I do not mean to knock that in any way - but for now, for me, while I'm still trying to find out what I can actually do, I want to have a 'higher' purpose. If it wasn't going to be to go after another PR, then what?

Looking at my loop split times from the previous two years gave me that purpose for this year. In both 2011 and 2012 I went out fast (for me) on loop 1, fell off slightly on loop 2, crashed hard on loops 3 and 4, then dragged my butt around the course one more time to finish the race. The obvious thing to try this year was to go out easier and try to run more even splits. This would be an interesting experiment that coincidentally included not pushing too hard coming off of my last race. It seemed like a goal both interesting and useful - and at the same time prudent.

I'm fairly happy with the results, which can be seen graphically here:

I didn't slow down the first loop as much as I'd intended to, but it was still slower-paced by almost 1:00 per mile. I felt better going out for each loop than I ever have before - even the last one. On loop 5 I had reserves left that I could choose to spend, knowing I didn't have longer to go. I was running hills near the end that I'd previously been walking, and kicked it in the last half-mile or so. In spite of the slower start I finished less than 2:00 off of my previous year's PR and felt a heck of lot less beaten up doing it.

Bringing in the third loop.
(Photo credit - Tom Perry)
Looking at the loop splits for the entire field proved very interesting. Sorting finishers by loop 1 finish times lets me see how far ahead of or behind eventual finish position each runner was at that time. Then I can sort by finish time for each of the other loops and watch how I progressed up the field (I love spreadsheets).

I finished loop 1 twenty places back from my finish position, passing three runners loop 2, four loop 3, nine loop 4, and four more loop 5. In the last three loops I got used to coming up behind a runner walking one of the hills and being able to tell just by watching them for a few strides, "I've got him/her." They were death-trudging the hills at that point and I was still power-hiking them and taking right off running at the tops. That was a new experience for me and I have to admit I kind of liked it. Except for far speedier people lapping me, I only passed people and was not passed (based on loop times - there was sometimes a little give and take during the loops). I actually lapped the last six finishers. 

By the end of the fourth loop the weather had turned for the worse.
I peeled off the soaked shirt and went with just a shell for the last loop!
(Photo credit - Tom Perry)
The rain couldn't keep me from being a little pleased that I actually felt ready for a fifth loop.
(Photo credit - Tom Perry)
In the end I finished 53rd of 91 finishers (111 starters) - one of my better showings in this race so far.

A lot of other variables were in play, of course, besides just going out slower. Weather this year was a little better than last year - and then there's the little matter of another year of training under my belt. I don't consider this as proving anything in general, just an interesting result for me.

This was the first ultra I've run completely on my own terms, and 'comfortably' within my ability (the quotes are necessary because, hey, it was an ultra - it isn't like it didn't hurt). I really like the notion of having this one race that I do at the end of every year. It makes a great measure of what a year's work has accomplished. I'm already starting to think about breaking the 6-hour barrier here next year.

Speaking of speedy people lapping me - the winner of this race, Cole Crosby, has been burning up courses all over Central New York this year. He has won the Virgil Crest 50M, the Can Lake 50M, and now Mendon Ponds 50K - all in course record times. Local ultrarunning historian Tom Perry has reported that Crosby's 5:47:33 finish at Can Lake was the fastest 50M run in Central or Western New York since (I believe) 1985. He was quite something to watch as he lapped me - twice - finishing in 3:41:55, two minutes ahead of the end of my third  loop, and taking almost eleven minutes off of the previous CR set in 2012.

Kind of makes me want to hang up my running shoes and take up golf.

Want to give a shout-out here to Mike. I first caught up to him out-bound on loop 1, where he greeted me and said, "I read your blog." Hi, Mike! Glad to see you got your finish too!

Now on to next year! Big things are afoot...


  1. Nice job. Been reading your reports for all the Mendons. Sorry about 2014 but that happens. Anyhow, I am contemplating Mendon yet again but worry about the total elevation gain. I did a very technical and challenging 50K in late September and ended up going out way too fast, cramped up around mile 20, and death marched the last 10 miles. I just finished a very flat trail 50K last weekend and ran a "smart" race. Of course, that's making me think I'll try to finally take this race on. Any other pointers on it? I mean it looks like it's rolling which I like more than races with long climbs, but perhaps I am being dumb. Anyhow, how much hiking did you do when you ran your 1:20 loops? My biggest concern is cramping and that happens when I go out too fast and try to run climbs too much. Not sure my wife will like me doing another race...

  2. Are you running this race this year?

  3. I am doing the race again this year. It's the only ultra I've done every year since I started.

    I walk all of the climbs from the very beginning of the race. Early on I may push a little farther uphill before I walk than I do later but, from the beginning, when the hill starts to feel 'hard' I walk. I know what 'hard' means to me, but probably can't explain it to someone else. I've been running a lot more hills in training this year than in some years past, so I may push it more this time and see what happens.

    It's rolling, and the effect of that can be a little deceptive, but if you were able to finish the technical 50K then you should be able to finish Mendon.

    You'll have to come up with your own solution to the problem of your wife. :)