Monday, August 31, 2009
Great Lakes Endurance Run
I had been searching for a 50-mile or 100-kilometer race for this approximate time period, and the Great Lakes Endurance Run 50k/100k in Fayetteville, near Syracuse, NY fit the bill. The 100k race would be 8 12.5k loops on mostly dirt trails, around lakes, through forests and fields. Yes, there were some steep hills, they said, but nothing technical. From the time I signed up, I was mostly concerned about the weather. If it was to be a scorcher, I didn’t see how I’d be able to get through it. As it turned out, it wasn’t hot at all, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves.
Since daughter Veronica and son-in-law Barry also live in an easterly type direction, we decided to combine our trip to Syracuse with a trip to Connecticut in order to pay a visit. Now Syracuse and Fairfield/Norwalk are a good five hours apart, but they are still both in that same direction from Cleveland.
After an early morning run, we drove through some substantial rain for a good bit of the long haul to Norwalk. Veronica and Barry are in the midst of a two-stage move – they’re in an apartment in between the selling of their condo and the buying of their house in Fairfield. We stayed in the now empty condo, sans cats as well as Barry and Veronica. Then we spent the next day (another rainy one due to the remnants of storm Danny) with Veronica as she took Friday off. Saturday morning we were able to see the place they’re buying, as the beginning of their inspection. It’s a very nice multi-level house with lots of room to grow. It does need some work, but it’s in move-in condition. Debbie is delighted.
The drive to Syracuse was also a wet one. But after we arrived, the skies really opened up. Yes, it was a gully-washer of biblical proportions. There was flooding everywhere as we went to dinner, to pick up my number and to check out the park. I had thoughts about switching to the 50k or not running at all if the downpour continued. It didn’t, so I was still stuck in the 100k. We did a fair amount of driving as I was showing Debbie the way from the hotel to the park (since she’d be going back and forth), and then becoming lost myself. Now regarding the weather, I was no longer concerned with heat, but mud and standing water. The rain did subside in the evening, but it was forecasted again for Sunday.
We arrived early enough to set up my box of supplies at the start/finish/main aid station area. It seemed that whilst I had only my Nike Pegasus road running shoes, shorts and a singlet, all or most of the other runners were adorned with full trail running regalia, including headlamps, excess water bottles or camelbacks, heavy-duty trail shoes with gators (gaiters?), etc. I felt extremely inadequate, but luckily the race got started soon enough so that I didn’t have much time to think about it.
It was still dark at 6am, but as we started running, it got light so soon that I hardly used my tiny handheld flashlight. The weather was very nice – clear and cool, probably in the low 60s. Right away, seven or so runners took off ahead of me, and everyone else sauntered slowly behind. There were about 32 starters. I talked with a couple folks during that first of the eight loops.
The park is called Green Lakes State Park due to the color of the water in the two lakes. It’s actually a very pretty turquoise color due to silt left over from the glaciers during the ice age. The course took us half-way around the first lake and then half-way around the second lake for a total of a mile and a half or so, all on soft, shaded trails. This was followed by a short, but very steep uphill section through old-growth forest until the Serengeti. The Serengeti is about four miles of single-track trail through rolling, grassy hills. Some of the higher areas afforded beautiful vistas of the surrounding hills, valleys and towns. There were two aid stations in the Serengeti (someone please tell me why runners need to carry water bottles when there are these aid stations never more than 3 miles apart). After the Serengeti the course takes the runners back down the wooded trails, back down the steep hills, and back around the opposite sides of the two lakes. The entire course was quite beautiful.
Even after walking the steep uphill sections, dodging the muddy areas and traversing the downhill ones very carefully, I finished the first loop in a good time: one hour, eleven minutes for a 9:11 minute per mile pace. This was much faster than anticipated; would I pay for it later? Time would tell. I ran mostly alone, and hardly ever saw other runners. The 120 or so 50k runners had started 45 minutes after us, but it would be a while before I encountered any of them.
Laps two and three were similar to the first one. Each was only a few seconds slower than the previous one, and this was due mostly to how much time I spent at the main aid station. Each time through I took some electrolyte tablets and tried to get some calories and fluids from the volunteers. Sometimes I lathered more anti-chafing cream or put some sun lotion on. I took mostly fluids from the two aid stations in the Serengeti. By about the third loop I began passing the slower 50k runners. During the third and forth loops I also ran several miles off and on with Randy Miller from New Jersey. Randy had run Burning River and knows Connie Gardner, but then who in the ultra-world doesn’t? Randy had also won this race in 2007. He told me things would get more interesting during laps 5, 6 and 7. I didn’t doubt him.
Debbie was back to greet me as I came in for the end of the 4th lap. I’d done 50k in 4:54. That’s pretty good; I probably would have placed fairly well for the50k. Too bad I still had another 50k to go. Debbie told me that I was 7th or 8th. My mantra, however, was, “Don’t worry about time. Don’t worry about place. Worry about finishing the race.” Having repeated this to myself several times, I couldn’t help but remember my only other 100k race. The one where I absolutely had to finish within a certain timeframe because I’d had a flight to catch. I’d done that one in 10:26, and that included an extra 3 miles of being lost. On the other hand, that was on roads, making for faster running. And this is not to mention that although there were some challenging hills for that race, they were nothing compared to these steep ones that kept on coming each time I repeated a lap. One thing I knew for sure about today’s race: the second 50k would be slower than the first. I was most definitely getting tired as the hills were taking their toll - especially the down-hill ones.
The clouds began to gather during the 5th and 6th laps, and by the end of the 6th it had begun to rain. The rain was cool and felt great. But as predicted, each lap continued to be a little slower the previous one: 1:24 for lap 5 and 1:29 for lap 6. That’s 10:54 and 11:32 minutes per mile, respectively. I was still running mostly alone, but still passing some 50k runners. There were a lot fewer of them by the time I was on my seventh loop.
Time for some more math. I know about the mantra – I was still repeating it. But on the other hand, it sure would be nice to finish in under 11 hours. To be able to say I did my 100k in ten-something just sounds better than eleven-something. I realize that this is arbitrary – I would be saying the same thing about 10 or 12 hours, had those been where I was at. But the fact that I’d done that last one in ten-something made ten-something something to shoot for once again, despite my mantra. But to break 11 hours I’d have to average 1:35 for each of the final two laps. These are slow times, but with my slowing trend, my ability to run even this fast was highly questionable. More math: a lady at a checkpoint near the end of loop 7 told me that I was in 4th place. How could that happen? I had recently passed one 100k runner that I knew of. Perhaps some of the others that I’d thought were 50k’ers were actually 100k’ers. Or perhaps some runners had dropped out. Most likely, it seemed to me, was that she was just plain wrong.
When I came in at the end of lap 7 it was raining hard. The rain had stopped for a while, but now it was back. The trails had now become much more pervasively muddy. Poor Debbie was freezing cold, but I felt great. Except, that is, for my extremely sore muscles and feet. I got some soup but tried not to linger too long; I had an hour thirty-eight minutes if I still wanted to break 11 hours. I still wasn’t sure about my place, but Debbie did tell me I was doing “great”.
Lap 8 was even more painful than 7 had been, and I was now walking even the gentle uphill sections as well as the steep downhill ones. Those downhills were killers – I almost had to stop and think about them as I was about to head down. I was still running the flats, however. The half-way point went by in about 52 minutes, which would indicate a 1:44 or so lap, which would indicate something slower than eleven hours. By now I knew I’d be able to finish no matter what – even if I had to walk the rest of the way – so I took satisfaction in that. Somewhere about half-way a runner named Mark from Florida caught and passed me. I eventually caught him again, and we ran together for a while. This was his first ultra, so I complimented him on doing so well. We agreed about how the downhills were killing us. “Let’s just get through this thing” he said, and I couldn’t have agreed more. Together we picked up the pace. As the steepest downhill approached, he let me get ahead of him, and this surprised me because I thought I’d be the one having the roughest time there. This somehow got my competitive juices flowing, and I picked up the pace even more as I started the final miles around the lakes. I was actually running fast again!
As I approached the finish I didn’t think I’d run fast enough to break 11 hours. Moreover, I wasn’t so sure I’d even able to continue to stay ahead of Mark. But I did, and I did. I finished in 10:59, or as I like to say, “ten-something”. Better yet, I finished in 4th place overall. Among the three runners ahead of me were Matt Chaffin, whom I knew by name because he is on the national 24-hour team and will be running in the NorthCoast 24-hour run, and Randy Miller, who had run a much more steady pace than I, with nearly even splits. How did he do that? Randy also took the top prize for runners 50 and older, so I was out of the money, other than a consolation prize of a padded sit-upon stadium seat.
That was really tough. I can understand why this race sees so much attrition. I’m not sure how many of the 32 starters actually finished, but quite a few, including some that had been ahead of me did not. Ultrarunners like to say that because of the generally softer surfaces as well as slower paces, ultras are much easier than marathons. After Green Lakes, I’m not so sure I still agree. Did I mention that it was tough? But the course is very pretty and the race organization was really great. Not sure whether I’ll be back, but I’d surely recommend this one to anyone.
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