Autumn Leaves 50k
|October 27, 2013||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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!