Monday, April 20, 2009

Mohican 50K Recap

Yesterday was the Forget the PR Mohican 50K (or 31.2 miles) trail race up at Mohican State Park (near Mansfield).

I’ve had a few folks ask about the race and my experience, so I thought a recap might be in order.

This was my first attempt at running a race longer than a marathon. An ultramarathon. This was also my first trail race of more than a 10K. Given that, I was pretty clueless but also pretty excited. I had tentatively set a goal of 6.5 hours based on a very loose extrapolation of my experiences running road marathons.

Em and I went up to Mohican and stayed in the lodge Saturday night. We popped up Sunday morning and headed for the starting area around 7:15. It was cloudy, mid 50s, with rain in the forecast. Em and I walked around at the starting area, nervous energy keeping me from standing still for too long. As a rookie, I wanted to see what others were doing – how were they dressed, what kinds of fluids/foods were they carrying, trails shoes or road shoes, etc. I didn’t feel too out of place based on what I saw.

Pre-race meeting at 7:40. Last minutes instruction, tips, etc. Approximately 135 racers overall. Three bits of advice were running through my mind as I stood nervously by the starting line, half-listening to the instructions:

(1) “Start slowly, then ease off” -- This one appealed to me. Slow-twitch people of the world unite!

(2) “Walk up the hills, jog the flats, then let gravity pull you down the hills” --- Sounds easy enough. Surely I can do that. Right? As it turns out, gravity can be cruel little bugger …

(3) “If the bone aint showin’, then keep on going” --- Oh my god, what did I get myself into here?!?!

8 AM. We’re off. Bye Emmie. This is about the last time of the day that I see the elite runners. Vrrrm, they are off in a cloud of trail dust. I settle into an easy jog – just getting warmed up – then we hit the first hill no more than 5 minutes into the race. Slam on the brakes. Everybody is walking. OK, cool, I won’t be the only one walking up the hills. I hear somebody up ahead comment, and not in a negative way, “This is what ultras are about.”

So we’re started. Using my heart rate monitor, I settle into a pace that I hope I can maintain for 6+ hours. I hit the first aid station at around 9:12 AM. Wow, so much for marathon pace – clearly not in Kansas anymore. This was going to be a long day, but the course was pretty and the volunteers at the aid station were fantastic. Wizard of Oz theme at this aid station, complete with yellow brick road. Other racers were friendly. I get some fluids and take off again.

Finished the orange trail about an hour later and headed on to the blue and purple trails. Some more technical spots here, including the areas around the Lyon waterfalls. Wished I had my camera. Long paved climb near the spillway area. Could have timed me with a sun dial.

Em was waiting around the third aid station for me – I was already behind schedule, but Em was doing just fine as she had made some nice new friends during her wait. About 16.1 miles into the race and I was feeling pretty good. Taking in plenty of fluids and some gels. Right calf, which had me concerned going into the race, was behaving itself so far. I said a quick word of thanks to the running gods.

At about 3:50 into the race my legs were no longer as enthusiastic about the day’s festivities. The knees started aching a bit, and my left hip was tightening. The walking segments helped some, but almost seem to exacerbate some of the stiffness … I actually felt better when maintaining a relaxed jogging pace.

Saw Em again at the 22.7 mile marker near the fire tower. I’m all about being green, but the green trail was not my friend. 2.5 miles, in 41.28? Ouch. My pace, already slow, was slowing even more. Lots of hills on this recent stretch. Grabbed a few fig newtons and more fluids. Who doesn’t like fig newtons? “Newtons” is a fun word. My stomach was feeling good – not upset, like in some other longer races – this was great, as it enabled me to continue taking in some fuels. Heart and lungs felt great. Quads were starting to be uncooperative. Darn bird legs. Tweet! This was where I concluded that the downhill portions were as painful, if not more painful, than the uphill portions. Gravity shmavity, my quads were humming! Two more race segments to go, less than 10 miles. Hang in there. Adjusted overall time goal – try to beat 7 hours.

Got to the final aid station by the covered bridge at mile 27. Hmmm. Just under an hour for the last 4.25 miles. That aint good. Grabbed more fluids and headed on to the yellow trail for the final segment.

Just 4.25 more miles to go. Knees were really not happy at this point. Quads also were rebelling, with some not-so-subtle threats of cramping. Walked for two minutes, jogged for two minutes, then walked again. Continued this rotation for the first 10 minutes or so. Thought about the final segment – 4.25 miles, with a hill over the final mile … the first 3 miles of this stretch were relatively flat though, along a pretty stream. I started jogging again, hoping to take advantage of the flat terrain here … actually ended up getting back into a reasonable rhythm, so I stopped the jog/walk pattern and maintained my jogging pace. Hit the final hill, the North Rim trail I believe, and started walking up that. Quads weren’t thrilled but they were somewhat appeased by the knowledge that the finish line was fast approaching. Dropped down the other side of the hill, I could see the start/finish area now, and hit a flat paved road leading to the finish line. Emmie was there waiting, directing me to the finish line. Hit the line at like 6:50. Ooof. Looked for a nearby bench to sit and get off my feet for a bit. Gnawed on a peanut butter bagel. Took in a few fluids, and inventoried the damage. Some sore muscles and achy knees/hips, but otherwise relatively unscathed. Hooray!

Big thanks to all involved!

Concluding comments: Good vibe at the race – lots of positive energy. Nice course. Well marked – always felt like I knew where I was going. Probably missed a lot of the scenery though, as I was so intent on my foot placement to avoid the many rocks and roots. Race director Rob was nice and generous with his knowledge - as a newbie, I asked lots of questions. The volunteers were excellent … friendly and encouraging, they were a great help at the aid stations. Thanks y’all! I packed too much, and could have done without much of the food that I carried in my backpack. Lesson learned. Em was a great fan throughout the event – thanks, Ms. Smith!

More technical stuff:

Finishing time (unofficial – based on my watch): 6:50.38
Average per mile pace: 13 minutes and 13 seconds
My anaerobic threshold (AT): 163 BPM
Average heart rate during race: 151 BPM
Maximum heart rate during race: 206 BPM

Time in heart rate zone 1: 29.34
Time in heart rate zone 2: 2:24.13
Time in heart rate zone 3: 2:46.45
Time in heart rate zone 4: 52.16
Time in heart rate zone 5: 1.16
Note: some time missing – what gives? Maybe my heart stopped on some of the steeper hills?!?!

(1) Start to 1st aid station = 5.9 miles
*** Time for segment = 1:12.20
*** Avg. HR for segment = 147
(2) 1st aid station to 2nd aid station – 5.3 miles (11.2 miles total so far)
***Time for segment - 1:01.04
*** Avg. HR for segment = 153
(3) 2nd aid station to 3rd station – 4.9 miles (16.1 miles total so far – roughly half way done)
*** Time for segment = 1:05.22
*** Avg. HR for segment = 156
(4) 3rd aid station to 4th aid station – 4.1 miles (20.2 miles total)
*** Time for segment = 53.35
*** Avg. HR for segment = 155
(5) 4th aid station to 5th aid station – 2.5 miles (22.7 miles into race)
*** Time for segment = 41.28
*** Avg. HR for segment = 154
(6) 5th aid station to 6th aid station – 4.25 miles (27 miles – getting there!)
*** Time for segment = 55.41
*** Avg. HR for segment = 148 HR
(7) 6th aid station to finish – 4.25 miles (total of 31.25 miles – phew!!!)
*** Time for segment = 1:01.05
*** Avg. HR for segment = 149


Rob "Buckeye" Powell said...

You did a great job and sounds like you had a great support crew! I am glad you had a positive vibe. Mohican has done that for years for me. Let me know if you are ever around for a Mohican run. I will show you some more trails.

Bob said...

Stuart - Great job and just wait - the next road marathon will be "easy" compared to the Mohican 50K!! Did you wear the belt buckle to work yesterday?

Elaine said...


First, let me say, you're funny Stu! I loved reading your comments and quick wit!

Second, as I have already told you, you are my Lance Armstrong. You rock!

Third, wow.