The piper would need to be paid. It was just a matter of how much.
I was about to break one of the cardinal rules of running. You know the one: Thou shalt not try for a PR in the 50k en route to a 100k run. Just after one of ten 10k loops of the Mad City 100k, I did some quick math and analysis in my already rattled head. It went something like this.
Let's see, 52 plus minutes for that lap. If I can just do four more 53 minute laps, I'll beat my 50k PR of 4:25. But how much would the piper charge for something like this? Hey, maybe little or nothing! Maybe I do 4:25 or so for both the first half and the second half!! Or even if not, maybe I can just go back to the original plan and still wind up with a fast time.
That original plan had, I thought, been a good one. Since my previous three 100k's were all in the range of 10 to 11 hours, I felt that anything under 10 hours on this day would be a great and wonderful thing. Since the Mad City 100k consisted of 10 10k's, something I can actually get my head around, the math is easy: just do each one under an hour. Note the overuse of the word "just" here and in the previous paragraph. There were other sensible parts of the plan as well: E-caps, gel and Perpetuem every lap; stuff like that.
Mad City, so named because it's in Madison, Wisconsin, serves as the USATF 100k National Championship. Therefore, the best ultrarunners in the country were present. The weather at the start was cloudy with temps in the upper 40s; they would rise through the 50s during the day. In other words, absolutely perfect. RD Tim Yanacheck started us off and almost immediately the 30 runners separated themselves into three groups: the fast folks - about 20 of them - ran up ahead. The slower folks - 10 or so - fell back. The third group consisted of me, all by my lonesome, in the middle.
We left Vilas Park, ran on bike trails and roads, went through some neighborhoods, past playgrounds, through an Arboretum and other small parks including wetlands and woods, all the while keeping Lake Wingra on our left. There were a few rolling hills. The toughest was through a neighborhood around mile 2.5. Those hills were enough to slow me down some, but they really weren't bad. In fact, they helped break up the monotony. Each of the six miles were marked by a pillar. All in all, it was a very nice course to be traversing ten times. I do need to mention, however, that the hills did increase in size every time through.
After that first time around, I thought, "this is easy". Sure enough, I was able to run the next three laps in right around 53 minutes and I was on my way. Lap five proved more difficult. I was still maintaining that same pace, but it was tougher and tougher. That's when I really started to wonder some more about paying that piper.
I got my 50k PR: 4:24:17. And then almost collapsed. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but as I started the sixth one, I knew I was in trouble. Everything started to hurt. Nothing specific, just general pain, and a lot of it. The piper had begun taking his payment already. This lap took me on the order of 59 minutes (and my pace slipped from 8:30ish to 9:30ish); just right according to the original plan. But would I be able to do four more?
Yes and no. Yes I was able to do four more. No, I couldn't keep them under an hour. In fact, they were all just over an hour. Not by much, mind you, just a minute or so off each time. I had taken an ibuprofen tablet for the pain - something ultrarunners are never supposed to do - and that seemed to take some of the edge off. Maybe it's just the placebo effect.
Throughout the race I'd seen fairly few other competitors. There were 50k runners and relay runners. There were 100k runners that I lapped and some that lapped me. But I was still surprised at how few I saw in general. Near the end of lap 10 I did see two others however. One came from behind, and although I tried to hold him off, he passed me with about a quarter mile to go. The other was ahead, and I recognized his shirt and running style. It was Bob Pokorny, whom I'd driven up with. I hadn't seen Bob for the entire time. After the other guy passed Bob, I pulled even with him. Hey, I was finally running with someone! We only had about 100 yards to go, and I suggested we tie. Bob had crashed much harder than I had, and he agreed. We finished 15th and 16th, with a time of 9:31.
Note to self. Next time, stick with the plan! It may not get me there that much faster, but it would definitely get me there with less pain.
RD Tim and his volunteers did a great job. Except for the pain, it was a pleasure!
Then came the (even more painful) ride home, but that's a different story.