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Autumn Leaves 50k

When I got to Mile 20 of my first 50 miler, my legs felt a little tired (I know, I know that long lost race report). I very vividly remember freaking out about the fact that I still had 30 miles to go and cursing at my legs for going out too fast, even though I’d only been running about 9:30s up until that point, which should have been a very conservative pace.

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But then I calmed down by reassuring myself that it was okay, maybe you just always feel kinda tired after running 20+ miles, and it’s about how physically prepared you are to persevere through that fatigue and keep running.

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And sure enough, my legs were totally physically prepared to keep running and pull off all kinds of negative splitting on that course.

My experience during my first 50 miler is one of the reasons why I think it’s so so so important to train yourself for longer race distances using workouts that will simulate running on tired legs. There are obviously many physical gains to be made through running through fatigue, whether it’s with a double, climbing, or one of my beloved back to back long runs. But as importantly, there are huge mental benefits to be reaped from pushing through and proving to yourself that you can still run strong, even when your legs are a little tired.

Yesterday’s Autumn Leaves 50k was much more about the mental strength than the physical test.

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I knew going into the race that I could run 31 miles at the end of an almost 100 mile week (I’d run/hiked 68ish miles in the 6 days before the race), but I really wanted to see what kind of pace I could hold with a slightly harder effort, so I could simulate that 30+ mile flat section at JFK, where I’ll be coming off the hilly/rocky Appalachian Trail and looking to move!

I didn’t exactly have a time goal or a pace goal, but I was rather aware of my PR in the distance (4:20) and the fact that this course is extremely easy, flat, and fast. I didn’t want to chase a PR if it meant running at a full on race effort that would hurt my training and demolish my legs…but I’d be lying to all of you if I told you the number wasn’t in my head before the start of the race (and what I mentioned to some friends when they asked me over race eve beers what I was looking to run).

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When we took off in the dark, I fell into stride behind a guy who I later learned was running the 50 miler. I didn’t wear my garmin because I wanted to run entirely by feel, but when I heard his watch beep after the first two miles, I glanced down at my stop watch (I couldn’t resist! Some habits die hard…) and I could tell we were running around an 8 minute pace. Part of me immediately freaked out because 8 minute miles seemed kind of quick for the start of a 50k training run, but a bigger part of me decided that I am capable of running an 8 minute pace for 31 miles, even if my legs are tired, so I didn’t back off a whole lot.

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The course was a 5 loop course with an out and back each loop. I thought I would hate this set up, but I actually really loved it. It was fun to keep seeing other runners throughout the morning and it was mentally easier to break up the miles into small, super manageable chunks.

When I finished the first 10k loop, I was right under 50 minutes. I couldn’t have told you what pace that was, but I did quickly calculate that if I maintained that split each loop, I could finish under 4:10, which sounded kind of awesome. While my old PR was a 4:20, it was also set on a 32 mile course (actual 32, not garmin distance), so I kind of wanted to come in under 4:12 since pace wise, that would still be a PR.

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The turnaround

The rest of my loops stayed super steady:

Lap 2: 49:43

Lap 3: 49:55

Lap 4: 50:03

Lap 5: 49:51

As smooth as these numbers make my race look, it was mentally tougher than the splits might indicate. I can be super confident about my ability to run plenty of things, but maintaining this pace for a training 50k on tired legs, was not necessarily on that list going into the race. Because I’d run a big week of mileage, elevation, and speed, the 50 kilometers certainly didn’t seem easy, and I was absolutely tempted to back down, but a few things helped convince me that the pace was a reasonable one to hold for the distance:

The consistency of my splits. As I watched myself hit the exact same time at both the turnaround and the end of the loop while maintaining the same level of effort, I grew increasingly confident that it was not too fast for my fitness.

Not wearing a garmin. I still struggle with mentally digesting certain paces (like an 8 minute pace for a 50k) as being physically manageable, even if they clearly are something I can handle. If my wrist had been shoving sub-8s and low 8s in my face for the entirety of the race, I would have panicked at least a little bit. Blissful ignorance was a great thing yesterday.

Listing off all of the killer runs I’ve had this training cycle. It always helps me to think “you pushed through x to do y, you can sure as hell do this.” Thinking about the double long runs, the big trail days, the elevation, and the other races I’ve run on tired legs in the last couple of months definitely helped convince me that my legs could handle it.

The camaraderie on the course. The main reason I dig out and backs is because I dig interacting with other runners and exchanging cheers, thumbs up, and smiles. Whenever someone yelled something about looking strong at me, I used it to reassure myself that the pace was just fine. While spectators may sometimes do things like tell you “you’re almost there” when you still have 12 miles to go, other runners won’t bullshit you like that (ps, THANKS SPECTATORS. LOVE YOU!) I figured if I still looked strong, then my legs still were running strong.

Lusting after the confidence for JFK. I wanted nothing more than to finish the race with 50 kilometers worth of killer ammo for my 50 miler. If I can run a 4:09 50k at the end of a tough 100 mile week, what can I do with rested legs on race day? My mental strength will be a lot more impressive on November 23rd thanks to runs like Portland and Autumn Leaves.

And lastly, (CHEESE ALERT), believing in myself. When you improve as a runner (or any athlete), it can be tough to start accepting certain faster paces/longer distances/harder workouts as things you are very capable of. Not that long ago, a 49 minute 10k was a big accomplishment for me in and of itself. Progressing to a point where that same time is a manageable 10k split for a training 50k is a little ridiculous to think about and the source of a big mental block that can make me doubt my ability to run specific paces. More than once yesterday, I repeated a very simple, yet very effective, “you can run 8 minute miles today” to reassure my brain and my legs that my 2013 ultra running self is a totally different runner, and one that absolutely can handle that pace for a 50k.

Finish: 4:09.30

8:01 Pace

Technically first female 50k finisher, but since Pam Smith’s split during her 50 miler beat me by more than a little, I’m giving myself place 1.5

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All in all, Autumn Leaves was a super fun race that I’ll definitely run again and the perfect event to kick off my last two peak weekends before I start to taper down for JFK. This training cycle did not start out all that promising, with the whole coming off of two big injuries in the last year. But every week that goes by, with runs like Autumn Leaves fueling the momentum, gets me a little more excited and a little more optimistic about the kind of race I’ll run on November 23rd.

4 weeks to go!

44 Responses to Autumn Leaves 50k

  1. Wow! Congrats on the PR and 1.5th place!

  2. Awesome job! You’re gonna rock the 50 mile race!

  3. you are amazing

  4. Wow, you’re amazing. And proof that we should all believe in ourselves just a little bit more. Congrats on 1.5th place!

  5. I’m sincerely impressed – that’s is a heck of a pace for that distance and terrain. Good job!

  6. You came in 1st–own it :-D

  7. You’re a beast. That is all. Like a cute, awesome beast :).

  8. Wow – amazing job!!!
    I love the ways you keep yourself motivated!!!
    You are going to do great in your next 50 miler!!!

  9. Like a metronome. Nice consistency. If you don’t recap JFK50 we will mutiny your blog.

  10. Congrats on such a well-executed race!

  11. Awesome race! You deserve 1st place :)

  12. I remember that 50 miler! It was a cold damp morning when that picture was taken. It’s amazing how consistent your “laps” were. And own that first place and lose the .5 nonsense. You won it.

  13. Awesome.

  14. That’s fantastic! Congratulations!!

    Nothing picks me up and makes me feel stronger like cheering for other runners, both the ones ahead of me and behind me. The best thing about out-and-back stretches for me.

  15. Wokie, I won’t bullshit you…you’re a wonder woman! Big hugz on the win Em!
    Now, now, can I borrow those speedy legs?

  16. Woowoo! Congrats on the race and the PR!!

  17. You are amazing!! Great job:) An inspiration!

  18. Lean in and own your victory!!! Nicely done…

  19. Healing trails! It’s amazing how trails >> roads when it comes to injury free running.

    Question for you and other speedy trail people: When I’m running an out-n-back, when the fast people come back through, I try to them where they are (first place, second place, first woman, etc.) and how far behind the next runner (about 2 minutes, 8 minutes, etc.). Is that helpful, or annoying?

    • I like it when people give me a little heads up about the competition (unless I’m trying to keep my adrenaline low!), but more so, I just love the cheers between runners!

  20. Wow, congratulations! What an awesome accomplishment!

  21. Those are some seriously consistent splits for 31 freaking miles. This is a great recap and you can bet I will be repeating things like “you CAN run x:xx min/miles today” on Sunday when I am running the bridges of NYC. And reminding myself that I “pushed through xx I can push through this.” Congrats on a confidence boosting and killer PR, my friend!

  22. […] with how great my first peak week went down. From the mileage, to the quality of the miles, to the 31 miles of racing, to the back to back long running, to the people I ran with, it was all good […]

  23. I’m in a pretty good running rut these days, but reading this is making me want to get out there and run without my Garmin. That thing stresses me out!

  24. We were cheering at the MCM yesterday around mile 18.5 and the people next to us kept yelling “you’re almost there”…and my brother-in-law actually walked over to them and gave them a talk about how “they are NOT almost there and it’s cruel to say that.” ha.

    Solid training!!! Do you have any posts that talk about how you got so speedy? I mean, even how you mentioned that doing a 49 minute 10k used to be a huge accomplishment for you – how did you go from that to this?

  25. Rockstar! Great work on this race. I’m so impressed by the consistency. Congrats on the 1.5 place! :)

  26. Seriously, that is super super impressive. Nice work!

  27. Congrats on your AMAZING RUN! Seriously you are so impressive, I just ran my first (and only) marine this weekend-marine corps in DC and 26.2 miles was one of the hardest things ever. For you going out there for a 31 mile race like no big deal is awesome. You’r gonna crush the big JFK race for sure!

  28. First off…Wow, congrats on an amazing race!

    Random question – what size is the water bottle you’re carrying and does it ever bug you or change your form?

    I’d done most of my long training runs for MCM with a super light Nathan backpack, but had to switch to handhelds when they banned them for the race Sunday. I used handhelds on a lot of my 1-2 hour runs throughout the summer, so figured I’d be fine, but this was def the longest. I stupidly used my smaller one first and had to ditch the larger one shortly after getting it late in the race, since it felt so heavy. My running form fell apart during the race and I was WAY off my goal and previous PRs. I’m sure the bottle alone isn’t to blame at all, but it was one of the things I did differently so I’m thinking I might’ve let it goof up my form some.

    • Switching up things like that can get in your head! I feel you. I think my bottle is a 12 ounce bottle? Not entirely sure. But I do train with it a ton since I know I’ll race with it! I’m sorry the new rules messed up your plan, but I promise the next one will be better!

  29. Congrats on your PR! It sounds like you had a race where everything fell well into line, and I hope that continues for you!

  30. I loved reading this- hard work pays off and I think you are right that learning to run on tired legs is really important for distance. While I have never ran an ultra I know that my best distance races were done with training that really pushed me and got me used to the good…and the bad.

    Congrats on an incredible race, PR and placing (1 or 1.5…still awesome). You’re going to kill it at JFK!

  31. […] Then, there was the birthday race. […]

  32. Congrats on feeling so mentally and physically!!! I’ve been so impressed with your running the past few months and it’s totally persuading me to sign up for my fourth marathon…. Question: your shorts look fantastically comfy and a great length – what kind are they? Thanks!

  33. […] second long run last weekend was a little brutal. After getting all giddy and excited for Saturday’s 50k, I  had very little enthusiasm left for my run on Sunday. It was cold and misty in Eugene and I […]

  34. […] Autumn Leaves 50k: 4:09 (8:01 pace) at the end of ~100 miles […]