I was pretty bummed several months back to find out that Spartan Race's Greek Peak Sprint would be March 9th. I'd already signed up for the Bel Monte 50K trail run right by where I live. Though sad that I'd miss Greek Peak (which I'd raced the past 2 years and loved), I was pretty excited to train for, and run, my first 50K.
Up until January I'd never done an event over 3 hours. I'd also never run more than 17 miles at one time...I'd never needed to before. Now I needed to run 2x that far. This article would go on forever if I talked about all the training that led up to the race, so I'll keep the training history REAL short: Over the past 2 years I've run many many hundreds of miles on all kinds of crazy terrain. I had a really strong base for this event, and just had to increase my mileage gradually over the course of about 3.5 months to smartly prepare for this race.
Morning Of March 9th: Race Day:
I woke up at 3:45am, showered (I always shower before races if possible - wakes me up, makes me feel like it's a normal day...it's relaxing!), ate my breakfast, made sure I had all the gear I'd gathered together the night before, and hopped in the car with my wife who drove me to the event. The start line was only about 30 minutes from where we live and parking was limited, so she dropped me off there. (She's a saint)
I had set a goal of finishing the whole course in under 6.5 hours. I knew I couldn't get behind lots of people on the course at the start or I'd lose lots of time having to pass them to stay on pace, so I started in the second row. The race began at 6:05 am.
The first 2ish miles were on the road (the road was closed to traffic due to the snow we'd received the day before). I wanted to make sure I started EASY. I had ideas of an 8 minute miles to start to force myself to keep it slower, but after about 5 minutes or running I found I was actually doing about a 7:15 pace. It felt very easy though, so I just rolled with it.
Side Note 1: It was mostly dark when we started, so this was my first race using a headlamp which just felt kinda cool! On The Trail:
Once we hit the trails, things were shaken up! Runners turned into hikers on hills. It was actually pretty awesome seeing the patience people showed as they had to wait for safe opportunities to pass other competitors on the hills (it was all single track trail for the first 8ish miles). Everyone was polite and handled themselves well.
At about 9 miles in, we hit a very long, very steep set of downhill switchbacks. WE FLEW DOWN THEM! It was also at that time that I realized that I am NOT a fast downhill runner. While it feels fast, and I thought I was letting myself go more than usual, other runners took the opportunity to blow by me. Down hill running speed is something I've improved at, but still need work on.
I was feeling really good when I hit the halfway point. I was 2 hours and 50 minutes in and in 5th place for the 50K at the time. I refilled my hydration pack from water in my drop bag, ate 1 big bite of food I'd packed in the bag, and went back out.
I'm competitive enough, and dumb enough, that I want to place as high as possible no matter what I'm doing. It was my first 50K, and I was in 5th place, so I got greedy and wanted to hold that spot and maybe even jump a few spots ahead if I could.
Side Note 2: Because it had snowed the day before, the course was BEAUTIFUL! Imagine perfect winter wonderland, and that was essentially the course. Myself and a few other runners even made sure to take some glances out at the sunrise over the snowy mountains as we ran. It was a beautiful red and yellow sunrise - exactly what you hope it will be.
The Return Journey:
There would be NO jumping ahead. When I hit the 24ish mile mark, my IT band on my right leg started giving me issues. I've done extensive work to rid myself of IT band issues over the past year, but since I was doing a distance I'd never done before, at a faster pace then I'd ever done it, the last 10 miles got rough.
I started heavily leading with my left leg to take weight off my right leg. It definitely slowed things down for me. My running wasn't smooth anymore, and any downhill steps were done much more slowly as that caused the most pain to the outside of my knee. I had a full race season of OCRs ahead of me, so it became a game of balancing pain tolerance with injury prevention and still wanting to finish in under 6.5 hours. I was passed by three runners over the course of those last 10 miles.
I have to take a moment here and THANK GOD. Part of keeping my right IT band in the game meant barely lifting my right foot off the ground. On 4 separate occasions, my right foot clipped a rock and I almost face planted. Again, THANK GOD, I was able to catch myself and incurred no injuries.
Climb, and Never Stop:
The switchbacks I'd bombed down on the way out were very difficult to go back up. I had to power hike all the way up. The best pace I saw was a 19 minute mile during that portion. The most important thing I've found on those types of hills is that you have to decide to Never Stop. Just keep one foot moving in front of the next. The hill begins to vanish; even if it is a very gradual vanishing.
Finally, I made my way through the remaining trails and back onto the road to finish the course. I was pretty panicked about my time because I didn't know (dumb me didn't look at my watch at the start of the race) exactly how long the road stretch was. I came up to a runner from the 25K headed my direction and he told me it was still a ways to go - I was WAY too close to my goal to miss it.
Thankfully, it wasn't quite as far as the runner had thought, and I crossed the finish line at the 6 hour, 24 minute, 58 second mark.
My awesome wife was there to congratulate me and hang out. There was also pizza, which I immediately ate 2 slices of.
All in all, I finished 8th overall, and got 1st place in my age group! As I write this now (almost 48 hours after the fact) my body feels great. My legs are still pretty sore, but what do you expect!
I met some cool people during and after the race, challenged myself to a level I never thought I'd go, and enjoyed the whole experience overall!
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Joel Hayes (Article Author)