This past Saturday I had the pleasure of racing at the Run for the Toad 50k for the second year in a row. It was my first ultra last year and a good introduction to trail running. Over the past year, I feel like I have learned a lot and improved a lot in longer races and was eager to see how I would fair at this year’s race. The 3:10:01 course record, set by former World Mountain Running Champion Joe Gray, seemed like a possibility going in, however, I was just coming off a pretty large three week stretch of training consisting of 206k (128 miles), 206.6k (128.4 miles), and 212k (131.7 miles). I backed off a little bit on Thursday and Friday before the race to get my legs somewhat prepared.
I arrived at the race Saturday morning with not as much time to spare as I would like. The race started at 9:30AM and I got to the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area around 8:45. After I grabbed my number and got changed it was 9:15 so I shuffled around for 5 minutes to get warmed up. I hit the bathroom again but realized I was cutting it short as I still had my trainers on and I hadn’t put on my singlet. It was 9:26 so I was really rushing! Thankfully I had enough time to throw on some Squirrel’s Nut Butter so chaffing was a non issue before getting on the line with 45 seconds to spare. I shook race director George Sarson’s hand and the race began.
I started out at a comfortable pace and wanted to just play it by ear as to how fast I was going to go. I was alone by 2k and came through the first 5k in about 19:06, a little under 30 seconds faster than last year. It was right around here where my stomach was starting to feel off and I knew that I would have to take a pit stop at some point which was annoying. I tried to shut off that thought and made it through the first 12.5 kilometre lap alright in 47:44, faster than all my lap splits last year but 14 seconds slower than course record pace.
I began asking volunteers on the second lap where the next bathroom was before stopping just before 16k. I checked my watch going in and coming out and unfortunately lost 2:03 before I started running again. After that stop I knew the course record wouldn’t happen and my legs just felt so flat. I felt like I had no energy and the prospective of just jogging 50+ minute laps seemed like a good idea. I stopped looking at my watch and all of a sudden I started to feel decent around 20k. I was moving well from 20-25k passing through 25k in 1:37:11 with a 49:33 lap despite the pit stop.
My legs just started to feel better and better with each passing kilometre and the pace was consistent. The gels were going down with ease every 40 minutes and I was taking in a lot of water and Gatorade at the aid stations. Mentally the third lap is tough but I knew I was on pace for around the same time as last year finishing my third lap in 47:28, 2:24:39 for 37.5k. I thought back to last year’s splits and tried to estimate a finishing time. I was 2:24:XX last year and ran 49:XX for my last lap but I still felt pretty good going into the final 12.5k.
Unlike last year, my legs were not tightening up at all and the rolling hills on the course with about 3000ft of climbing and descending were not too noticeable. I split the marathon around 2:41, about 30 seconds faster than last year and was still rolling well. The pace didn’t feel tough so I decided to just push the last 6.25k a bit. With 500m to go I took a glance at the watch and saw 3:10:4X which was a sigh of relief but also a bit annoying knowing how close I would be to the record. I crossed the line in 3:12:24 with a 47:37 last lap and a 23:22 last 6.25k. It was faster than last year’s 3:13:41 and felt significantly easier than last year but it sucks knowing I lost time and could have been within seconds of the course record. If the bathroom stop was eliminated, I would have ran 3:10:19 and could have possibly found another 20 seconds to dip under 3:10:00 but that is just speculation. Despite that minor blemish, I am very satisfied with the race. It was a good performance in my opinion and I got to run around a beautiful area on spectacular trails. Peggy and George put on another great event as this race is quickly becoming one of my favourites!
Sunday was a “Kenyan Shuffle” (slower than 5:00/k) day but the body is feeling pretty good now and ready for some more training. With less than 50 days until my goal race at the JFK 50 Miler, my plans are to keep this week relatively tame and be back to normal next week. With about seven weeks to go, I intend on two more big course specific long runs, a few more back to back 20+ mile runs and keeping my leg speed intact. Doing tempos in 5:00-5:15 per mile will make the last 34 miles at 6:00-6:15 at JFK feel easy as well as doing a couple technical trail workouts to be prepared for the first 15.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Lastly, I have to stay healthy. No injury two weeks before the goal race. I am trying to keep a stretching routine as well as a core routine every few days to help cover up any weakness that could potentially lead to an injury. I am feeling very fit right now though and can’t wait to suffer for 50 miles again on November 17th!
Good luck to everyone doing final preparations for a fall marathon or gearing up for the big cross country meets!