Photos by Gary
"Hey I just found your next race," Matt says as I walk in the door for breakfast after our 50 mile ultramarathon, "and it's only 31 miles!" He hands me his laptop with the page open to the Oriflamme 50k. I smile, because I've already been thinking about this race and whether or not three weeks is enough time to properly rest and recover before another really long run. I register for the race, Matt and I lace up our shoes and head out for a recovery run.
I created a low mileage running plan that would keep me in shape for the next three weeks and allow me to enjoy extra time with the Family during spring break. I learned a lot from running the BLU 50M, (see Matt's "7 lessons"), and applied everything to the Oriflamme 50k.
The course begins with almost 6 miles of single track, which can be a little slow when there's a line of 130 people.
I did my best to use this time as a warm-up and an attempt to be friendly. The next 8 miles is a long decent on an old jeep road with golfball to softball size cobblestones. It was cool and I focused on running as fast as was comfortable on the terrain.
Next, a quick 2 mile climb in a desert wash, (imagine running up a sand dune), to the turn around and halfway point, after which everything is done in reverse. After the wash, I had to stop at the aid station and clean the sand out of my shoes while a really helpful and friendly volunteer took my pack and filled it with water. I asked him for 40oz and ice, he gave me 56oz and said, "You'll either curse me, or thank me on the climb." My Dad was also at this aid station, helping runners cross the highway safely and generally having what appeared to be a good time. I think he's secretly sussing out the competition for his age group! He blew a fog horn behind me and said to get on my way, that it was all down hill from here. Mileage wise yes, elevation wise, no.
It's only about 10am when I begin the climb back up the jeep road, but the heat is already radiating off the sand, rocks and cactus that surround me. I pull my hat down, turn the music up, and keep a steady pace as I begin to see more and more runners ahead of me. Some are walking, though not with much purpose, others are trying to keep a really short stride running pace, though not for long. I play around with both movements before settling on a relentless power walking pace. I don't try and run, I just walk with purpose.
I pass almost everyone I can see, saying hello and asking how they're doing in the process. The next aid station has some more friendly volunteers and a cooler full of ice: "Can I swim in that?" The volunteer fills my pack with more water than I need, but it's ice cold and amazingly refreshing. The fastest runners are already enjoying ice cold craft-brewed concoctions at the finish line, and I have a little less than six miles of rolling single track before I can join them. My strategy was to run this section really fast and make up the time I lost by walking up the climb. I run, but fast at this point is relative, the best I can average is an 11 minute mile, which even in my PE classes wouldn't be a "passing" time.
However, I do pass a few more folks in the process except for one guy in a red shirt. I can see him power walking ahead of me on the uphills and disappearing on the down hills. Finally, about a mile from the finish line at another highway crossing, I catch him, but he's just fast enough I don't feel comfortable passing and then maintaining the pace. So I do everything to stay with him; winding up a few switchbacks and then down a nice slope to the finish. We cross the line and he immediately turns around and shakes my hand; I thank him for keeping up a good pace and he thanks me for staying behind him.
We finished the race at just over an 8 minute mile pace. It was awesome. I was wasted. Luckily my Dad was there and he escorted me to the car: It felt like I'd just been plucked from the middle of the dance floor at a rave. I didn't know whether to sit down, walk around or just collapse in the grass. I tried all three multiple times. It took almost an hour, two recoverites, two bananas, a cliff bar, three slices of pizza, a coca cola, and 40oz of ice cold water before anything going on around me or in my mind made any sense. My Dad checked with the time keeper: 5 hours and 51 minutes, a lot faster than my other 50k times! I can shave a few more minutes off, next time...