I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. This was the thought that popped into my mind over the last few weeks. Despite this, there are so many other things that can contribute to running a successful 50 mile. The pain is inevitable in a race that long. You are out there for over 6 hours on your feet and at some point in the race, whether it be early or later, you will want to keel over and die. Being strong mentally and breaking up the race aid station to aid station seems like the best way to maintain some form of mental fortitude. That being said, my fitness going into this race was the best I’ve ever had. I raced the Calgary half at the end of May hoping to show off some fitness but unfortunately had a bit of a rough day. Following this my body decided it was time to get sick and that took a bit out of me. It also lingered for over two weeks which was super frustrating but I eased back into running with two more races on the calendar. The first was the Loon Mountain race/NACAC/USATF Mountain Running Championships at the start of July and then Cayuga Trails/USATF 50 mile trail National Championships two weeks later. Due to the profile of both of these courses (lots of climbing) I decided my best course of action was to do one workout a week on the treadmill at 10-15% incline and one or two 30-45 minute run a week on the treadmill at 10% incline. I feel as though these sort of runs/workouts got me in shape pretty quick and made me feel relatively prepared to handle a mountain race and a hilly 50 mile race. I was also starting to hit some faster paces that I haven’t done in flat workouts before. Running 5:00 miles and even a little quicker on tempos began to feel pretty comfortable. I also started doing tempo effort on trails to get used to running faster on undulating terrain.
Team Photos from NACAC Mountain Running Championships
At Loon mountain race, the pace off the gun was spicy with some fast Americans in the field. I found myself outside the top 20 through the first mile before creeping up the field. By two miles I had found myself in a chase pack with Ben Bruce and Mike Popejoy sitting just outside the top 10. The course shifted to 30% incline around 4 miles in and I began to struggle. Despite this, our group of three passed two more people during this long climb. I was rotating between a run and power hike up this section before the course flattened at 5.6 miles (9k), providing a bit of a rest before the “upper walking boss”. We made the turn and an audible “holy f**k” came from my mouth. 600-700 metres at 40% incline. It was basically impossible to run up and I was power hiking up this as my heart rate really spiked. Unfortunately Mike and Ben pulled away from me on the end of this climb and I missed 10th by three seconds coming 12th overall. It’s tough to prepare for a race like this when there are no mountains anywhere near you to train on so I am relatively happy with how the race went. I got back from New Hampshire and somehow got sick again. Thankfully it only lasted about five days this time around and didn’t affect running or training too much. I got in one last week of training around 85 miles (145ish k) before backing off before Cayuga. I had set two goals going before Cayuga and was honestly not sure if they were obtainable. Sub 7 hours and a top 3 finish.
Upper Walking Boss Climb
There are two small things that occurred in the preparation for this attempt at 50 miles that I didn’t do last time which I believe drastically changed the outcome of the race. The first one is fairly obvious. I didn’t have an injury that put me out for nearly two weeks leading into the race. I popped my SI out of place a few weeks before JFK 50 this past fall which forced me to do nothing for almost two weeks. I think that hurt more mentally than physically though. The second thing was my approach to nutrition. I will say my nutrition for JFK was basically me winging it. Two days before Cayuga I sat down with a map of the course with the aid stations and began formulating a structured nutrition plan for the race. Basically I wanted to be taking a Cliff shot gel every 45 minutes for the first three hours of the race and every 30-35 minutes after that. I also planned on running with my 18oz Nathan soft flask which would help me take in at least 18oz of fluid per hour using Nuun tablets and water. I also had planned out taking salt tabs at certain increments throughout the race and taking a few extra gels in the form of Endurance Tap at the aid stations to help break up the monotony of having the same flavoured gel every time. Finally, I wanted to consume three Cliff Blocks every 12.5 miles. I feel as though having this planned out but being willing to adjust it on the fly greatly impacted my race in a positive way. At no point did I feel as though my body was starting to bonk which was surprising. Here is the nutrition plan I drew up:
Cayuga Trails 50 Nutrition Plan:
Aid Station #2- 7.1 miles (Approximately 50’)
– Fill handheld with water
– Taken 1 gel
Aid Station #3- 12.3 miles (Approximately 1:35)
– Fill handheld with water
– Taken 2 gels by then
– Taken 3 Cliff Blocks
Aid Station #4- 18.1 miles (Approximately 2:20)
– Fill handheld with water
– Taken 3 gels by then
– Take 1 Endurance Tap at this aid Station
– Take 1 salt tab
Aid Station #6- 25.2 miles (Approximately 3:15)
– Fill handheld with Nuun
– Taken 4 gels by then
– Taken 1 Endurance Tap by then
– 6 Cliff Blocks taken
Aid Station #8- 32.3 miles (Approximately 4:05)
– Fill handheld with Nuun
– Taken 5 gels by then
– Take 2nd Endurance Tap here
– Take 2 Salt tabs
Aid Station #9- 37.5 miles (Approximately 5:00)
– Fill handheld with water
– Taken 6 gels by then
– Taken 2 Endurance Taps
– Taken 9 Cliff Blocks
Aid Station #10- 43.3 miles (Approximately 5:50)
– Fill handheld with Nuun
– Taken 7 gels by then
– Take last Endurance Tap
– Take 2 salt tabs
Finish Line Totals- 50.4 miles (Approximately 6:50)
– 8 Cliff Shots
– 3 Endurance Taps
– 12 Cliff Blocks
– 5 Salt tabs
– 72oz of water (minimum)
– 54oz of Nuun (minimum)
It was an early 3AM wake up for the race but I was feeling ready and excited to tackle the distance. I did the usual morning routine and got to the start at 5:15 AM for the 6AM start. For races this long, there is really no point on doing a running warmup but doing some dynamics and stretching can help out. After all this and a final race briefing, it was time for the start. The course was a double out and back with about 9000-10000ft of climbing through some technical trails up and around the gorges of Robert Treman State Park and Buttermilk Falls State Park. The first out and back was 26 miles and the second time it was 24 miles. As the race started, a pack of four of us formed and we began clicking off the early miles. We talked a bit and swapped who was leading the pack every few miles before arriving at the first aid station around 4 miles in. It was pretty early to stop for any nutrition so we all continued on without stopping. My first thoughts on the course were that the gorges were incredible but pretty difficult to run on. Steep hills, both up and down, and lots of stairs! It felt as though every downhill section the group would slightly pull away from me but I would make it back with the uphills. Eventually we reached the aid station around 7 miles and I had consumed all my fluids so I stopped for a top up on my handheld. I was the only one who stopped here though and the group pulled on without me. There was the second big climb of the day about one kilometre later and I managed to regain contact on the climb. It was probably about 75% Running and 25% power hiking up this climb before we reached the top and the course flattened ever so slightly. The group was suddenly down to three though as we passed through 10 miles. Around this part of the race it struck me that we had been running for well over an hour and still had 40 miles to go! It was a bit mind numbing so I just tried to shut that out and focus on making it to the next aid station. Unfortunately I also noticed that something else was off.
One of the smooth sections of trail
It was right around that 10 mile mark where my digestive system seemed a bit off. I decided that I was going to have to stop at some point but was not sure when. We passed through the Buttermilk aid station at 12.5 miles and I contemplated using the washroom here but decided to continue on to the next aid station after filling the hand held again. The climb up the second gorge seemed like the steeper of the two gorges and the it was now down to two, myself and course record holder Tyler Sigl. We talked a little bit through this part of the course which helped me get my mind off of the stomach troubles. I decided to take a pit stop at the 18 mile aid station to use the bathroom. I used the lap counter to see when I stopped and when I started again to see how much time I had lost to Tyler as we entered the aid station at the same time. 2:11 was the time I had lost here. I pushed the effort back up to the top of the gorge in Robert Treman and made contact with Tyler again around 22 miles. It seemed as though right as I made contact again, he took off and got about a 1-2 min gap on me going towards the 26 mile aid station. I knew that there was a premium of $250 for whoever made it to 26 miles first but decided it wasn’t really worth it to push myself that hard to make it there first as there was still a long way to go. I entered the 26 mile aid station around 3h23 right as Tyler was leaving the aid station. I had filled up my hand held with Coke which was an odd decision as I haven’t had a pop in nearly 10 years here before heading back out. I think that’s why I nearly threw up a few minutes later which had me a little worried.
With the out and back nature of the course, it was easy to see the time gap back to other runners in the field and the gap back to third was about 8 minutes and about 10 minutes to fourth. I was getting feedback from runners going the opposite direction that the gap was still about 1-2 minutes from Tyler but I couldn’t get visual contact of him. I hit the 32 mile aid station, once again, just as he was leaving it. It was right around this time that my stomach began turning again which was super troubling. I finally caught Tyler on the big ascent a few miles past the aid station and made a surge into the lead. It was 34 miles in and I thought that I had maybe made the decisive move for the win. Sadly it only lasted about 2 miles before Tyler blew by me on a flat section. I had an unfortunate wipeout on a steep downhill and looked up to see him disappear. Luckily the fall was minor and I was able to get back up and start running again. Tyler had got the second of three premiums for hitting the 37.5 mile aid station in first and, once again, was leaving the aid station just as I was entering. On the climb up Buttermilk gorge I caught back up to Tyler only to see him hammer and get the gap back right after. I made a quick stop at a washroom around 39 miles and hit the lap to see how much time I would lose again. He had about 45 seconds on me and my bathroom stop costed me just under three minutes. I thought that was it. The second bathroom stop had costed me. I was feeling fine physically when I started running again but mentally I was defeated.
“He’s not that far up buddy! Go get him!” The feedback from other runners began to snap me out of my funk. “How far back am I?” I asked. Two minutes and then one minute was what other runners were saying. I entered the aid station at 42 or 43 miles and still hadn’t seen Tyler for a bit. I downed quite a lot of fluids here, including some ginger ale, before heading off again. “He’s less than a minute and you’re moving faster man! Go for it!” Someone yelled this to me as I started the last major climb. Finally on the switchbacks at 44 miles I saw Tyler who looked to be struggling. I made contact at 44.5 miles and decided to relax a bit. For some reason, I was still doubting myself. There was a short climb at 45 miles and I suddenly gained a small gap and decided that I had to go now. My legs started to respond and I started to feel really fresh again as I pulled into the lead. The scary thought when I’m the lead of a race is that you don’t know how much your leading by. “You can’t afford to ease off now Seth. You have to push it to the finish now. You’re committed. You’ve been suffering for over 6 hours now. You can push for a bit more.” I made it to the final aid station at 47 miles and was in and out within a few seconds. I looked back after leaving the station and there was no one there. The last three miles was a bit painful and I could not stop looking at my watch. Ugh. When is this over?
About to high-five race director Ian and “crossing the line”
I left the gorge and onto this grass section and knew it was almost over. I was passing people going the opposite direction onto their second lap of the course as they shouted encouragement. “One mile to go, all you man!” Finally I entered onto the road with half a mile to go. I took a quick look back again and there was no one there. It took 49.5 miles before it sunk in. I was going to win this race! I made the turn into the finish and saw the finish line. I can stop soon, thank God! After 50.4 miles and over 9000ft of climbing on technical trails, I crossed the line in 6 hours 56 minutes. While it may seem slow by road running standards, my last 3 miles was run under 20 minutes despite the technical trails and stairs. I bent over for a few seconds before lying on the ground. It was right around here where I was told that they didn’t get a picture of me crossing the line and they wanted me to pretend to break the tape for the photo! I honestly didn’t think I could get off the ground but I dragged myself up and ran through the line for the photo!
Dead and dead with Tyler
In conclusion, running 50 miles is flipping hard! My body is completely wrecked right now and I can barely walk. My feet are so swollen I’ve probably gone from a size 9 to a 10.5! I would like to thank Ian and the volunteers for providing an awesome course and a atmosphere for everyone involved. It is a great event and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a tough but fun race! Thanks to my parents for jumping between a few aid stations to help me out. That race would not have been possible without their help and support! In terms of what’s next, some time off haha! I will take at least a week before I attempt any running again before I ease back into training. The only race I have planned from now until the end of the year is another crack at JFK 50 Miler in November. Rather than that I don’t have any races planned. I’ll probably hop in some shorter races to try and regain a bit of speed but those might be a bit rough as I guess I am a “slow ultra guy” now. Anyways, thanks for reading and hopefully everyone is enjoying the summer and training hard. If anyone actually cares, I apologize for not doing a blog post for a while.