Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Friday, February 12, 2016

2015 Mendon Ponds 50K

The Forgotten Race

Waiting for the start - with friends.

Well, I guess I've come quite some way down the road as an ultrarunner now. It's been three months since I ran my fifth Mendon 50K and I haven't written a race report yet. In fact I'd almost forgotten about it (and it was my current trail PR at this distance).

At first blush that seems a somewhat bittersweet observation - at once a sign of something lost and something gained. Lost is that sense of the 'epic' in running the race. I know the course in detail. I can visualize every turn and every little climb and descent long before I get there. I know where the footing is a little more tricky, and where the trail is likely to be muddy. I know how I'm likely to feel on each of the five loops. I know that (barring an anomaly like in 2014) I will finish. After all, it is 'only' a 50K. It is 'only' Mendon - and I have finished it four times now.

What has been gained? Well, there's a deep sense of satisfaction in the feeling of competence I now carry into a race like this. I have worked so hard to get to this place! As I write these lines today - February 12th - I am settling into my planned 50 MPW training volume for the year. Fifties are finally getting 'easy.' I can do regular doubles. I can run ten miles a day for three or four days. I can pull out a fifty when I haven't run much yet by Wednesday. I can do all these things while piling up several thousand feet of elevation gain each week. And I don't hurt much from doing it. When I think back over the many, many miles and hours invested in this - the many Lyttonic, "dark and stormy nights" spent pounding the pavement in my neighborhood, the many long and solitary (but thoroughly enjoyed) miles on roads and trails - I have earned the right to a sense of competence and accomplishment.

I have graduated from wanna-be ultrarunner to established ultrarunner, and it only took finishing sixteen of them (and failing two) to get here. If I have lost the feeling that my old friend Mendon is an epic challenge, I have gained so much more. I can think about performance goals now. I can enjoy the run more. I can finally take the time when I am finished to hang out and enjoy the post-race experience more (now that I'm not so wrecked by the end that I just want to crawl off somewhere and lick my wounds).

I haven't lost epic entirely. I just have to go somewhere other than Mendon to find it, and that's okay. I can have epic and I can have my old friend too, and in the final analysis I have not really 'lost' anything. I have merely grown, and that is a good thing.

Here's what happened for me at Mendon last November:

As can be seen in the line graph, I was faster than my previous best loop times in the first three loops, and a little slower than my previous bests in the last two. Early on I was briefly running with a guy who'd run the race eight times before. He said he was on pace for beating six hours, and said that I was welcome to run with him if I wanted to. I was 'feeling my oats' and am not much for company in races anyway - preferring to bear down and focus single-mindedly on the task at hand - so I pushed on ahead of him.

I finished in 6:11:36 - a sold twelve-and-a-half minute PR!

He finished in 5:58:43 - a solid twelve (nearly thirteen) minutes faster than me. Ah well, at least I ran my own race!

Chris (my better-paced competitor) had said that he considered the key to a good Mendon to be saving yourself enough that you don't collapse too badly on the last loop. He ran a two-minute negative split on his fifth loop (relative to his fourth), while I crashed loop three to loop four and lost a bit more on the last loop after that. I put a little too much faith in my early strong pace. Live and learn (though rather than learn to go out slower next time I think I will just spend another year getting stronger and better instead).

It was a great day on the trail, a great day seeing and hanging out a bit with friends: Luana, Robert, Chris R., Michael, and "Naked" Tom were there - and, as always, it was a well organized event with all of the support one could need. Good friends, good pain, a good result, and a great time. What more could one ask for from an ultra?

Wearing "The Shirt of Shame"
Race shirt from last year's DNF'd Laurel Highlands
All that training I talked about? Revenge will be sweet!

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