Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tough As Trails - Mountains-to-Sea Trail 50K

I had to laugh out loud at myself as I stumbled down the trail somewhere around mile 19. I was moving well enough, considering the heat, and was about where I expected to be overall, but I was running in the wrong direction. I "pride" myself on making at least one serious mistake during each race. I just hoped that this was it.

Tough As Trails
I signed up for the Tough As Trails series for one reason - Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 Miler, my "A" race for the entire Winter running season. I was guaranteed entry in UMR40, which always sells out very quickly on race registration day. Plus, I could try the new Eno River Run early in the season, which I had planned to run anyway. The big question was the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) race, where I had the option to run the 12 mile race or the 50K. I wasn't even sure I would be able to run anything, much less a trail 50K, given that UMR40 and the Umstead Marathon were lined up a mere month before.

But I'm not one to do anything half way. I wanted to run a shorter ultramarathon, so I chose UMR40, the most difficult one in my neck of the woods, so when I signed up for the Tough As Trails series I automatically selected all the longest distances. MST50K it would be.

Ultra Aspirations
How did I get here? A great question, and not just relevant to the immediate absurdity of finding myself running the wrong direction at mile 19 of a 31 mile trail race. How was it even possible to find myself at mile 19, laughing, during my second ultra marathon in 3 months?

I've had plenty of time to think about that question since the race, and honestly, I still have no clue. My running, training, and racing plans can best be summed up as "chaotic fun." I mostly just wing it. For everything. Even my training for the UMR40 was just a random spattering of long runs, loosely inspired by a 50 mile ultramarathon training plan.

Of course this leads to some tragically comical race reports, but that's why you're here, right?

Chaos Theory
Another downside of the chaos theory of running is that sometimes I fall into the motivation trap. Running for fun means that I can be woefully unprepared for races where I should have a "serious" training plan, and the commitment to follow said plan. Only fear keeps me sticking close enough to a real training plan to save me from utter destruction in most races. But even fear as a motivation has its limits, especially at the end of a long, Winter running season. So, between Umstead Marathon and the MST50K, I could only muster one, rum drunk 21 mile run as preparation. I just had to hope that it would be enough.

MTS Is Awesome
Have I mentioned that the Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is simply awesome? No? Well, it is! If it weren't so frickin' far from my house, I would run there much more often. The trail has a great mixture of fun and challenging single track. The hills hardly ever force you into a total walk, and they always make up for the hill suffering with totally enjoyable rolling, flat, and downhill sections. If someone ever sets up a 50 mile trail ultra on the MTS around Falls Lake, I'll sign up instantly. It's that good.
There is *nothing* better than watching
the sun rise while running the first mile
of a trail race. Nothing.

Oh Yeah, The Race
Enough random blathering, I'm sure you want to know about the race itself. Well, I don't have that much to say about it. Not that I didn't have fun (I did!), or that it wasn't hard (it was!), but I had a remarkably clean run the during the entire 50K. I fueled well, I never bonked, I ran nearly the entire course, aside from the steeper up hill sections after mile 20 (but that's normal I think). So, how did I end up running the wrong direction? Stupidity, as usual.

Around mile 19, the temperatures climbed into the lower 60s (F). I'm not acclimated to heat yet, so this felt blazing hot to my Winterized body. The top of my head was tingling and I felt a bit woozy while trotting down the trail. So, I decided to stop on the trail and go into full shirtless douche-bag mode (SDM) for the final 12 miles. I hung my water bottle on a tree branch next to the trail and peeled out of my favorite ultra green Umstead Marathon Tick shirt. About that time a couple of people passed me. A bit of friendly conversation distracted me and I took off down the trail.

A half mile or so later, I realized that I didn't have my water bottle, so I turned around and ran away from the finish line. And I laughed about it!

So, my 50K turned into a 32 mile run instead of a 31 mile run. But you know what, I'm fine with that. I've run 2 big marathons and 2 decent ultra marathons this Fall and Winter season and I'm completely healthy. You just can't argue with that result. So, I won't.