This past weekend was one I’ve been looking forward to wrapping up for a while now. For the Leadman series, I was only required to do one of the two 50 mile races. Needing a qualifying time to get in a better corral in the 100 MTB, doing the bike race was the obvious choice. If I hadn’t, I’d start the race in the very back, behind at least 1000 people (there were ~1,350 finishers last year) and have almost no chance of finishing under nine hours. So doing the 50 mile bike race on Saturday was a given. At the same time, I went in to this series having never run an ultramarathon – so maybe it would be good to get the experience of a 50 mile run to sort out my pacing, nutrition, etc. And if I did it the day after a bike race, I’d have the bonus of doing those 50 miles on already-tired legs. And with that, another poor decision was made – to do a pair of 50 mile races back to back.
One saving grace of the weekend was the fact that I was only racing on the bike, while the run was just a long, supported training day. Someone who had done the 50 MTB a few years ago and finished shortly under five hours passed on some pacing advice he’d received, which was to keep your HR in the 150s as much as possible through the race. Sub-5 was my goal for the day, which is good enough for the third (of eight) corrals. I figured that was going to be tight, but the cutoff for corral four was 5:45, which I’d have to try to not meet – and that wouldn’t be a bad spot to start either.
Saturday morning started for me at 3:59am, my eyes open a few seconds before my two alarms went off. I’d already loaded up the car for the weekend, so a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee later and I was on the road. I was a bit early to the venue, parking at about 7am for a 9am race start. After checking in, I got my bike laid down at the start line and relaxed until the race start.
At 9am the gun went off, and 500 racers started up Dutch Henri Hill. I didn’t crush the climb, but did push enough to get out in front of the traffic jam as everyone converges on to the trail.
For the next five hours I watched my average speed and HR, and felt like I was right on the edge so focused on keeping the effort consistent all the way through. Aid station stops were brief, pace was consistent, and I narrowly avoided missing a turn or two just barely keeping me on track. As the day came closer to the end, I thought about the run, and how I was going to have to cover every inch of the course again but that I’d be out there twice as long. I was regretting the decision to do both races, but knew I’d be glad if I could pull it off.
After getting beaten up by a long, rough descent over the last 11 miles (along with a cruel final mile of climbing through the woods after you catch a glimpse of the finish line) I rolled across the line just a few minutes under 5 hours, good enough for 28th overall. Not bad. I ate, drank, checked in to my hotel, and hit the grocery store for some junk food. After cleaning up, eating too much, and laying out my gear for the next morning I went down for a poor night of sleep before another 4am alarm.
I barely made it to the starting line in time – about 5:57 for a 6am start – and joined the crowd in trudging up the hill a second time. The long day of jog-hiking was underway, with a number of people pushing it a little hard for the opening miles of a very long day. A few minutes in I no longer felt any soreness from the previous day’s race and was just focused on getting through the day.
Riding the course the day before was a huge help mentally on what turned out to be a hot, dry, sunny day. At no point was I worried about finishing, and before I knew it I was at the Printerboy aid station, 35.5 miles in with an hour climb and two hour descent to go. Jogging had become exhausting, but uphill hiking was easy. An hour later I reached the final highpoint and was greeted by a volunteer with water and ice cold cans of coke. I drank almost an entire can, and started the long downhill towards the finish.
I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of a two-hour downhill jog when I was already 39 miles in to the day, but knew that the finish line wasn’t getting any closer on its own. And until I hit that finish line I couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t enjoy a cold post-race beer, and – most importantly – couldn’t see my family who was driving up to see me finish and drive me home. Eventually I came to the final detour through the woods, kept the pace going, and crossed the finish line at 9:54, for 51st overall out of about 340 starters.
I was pretty worn out, but didn’t feel too bad all things considered. I’d secured a great starting position for the 100 bike race, finished my first ultra in a respectable time, and got to spend some time with my family at the end. I’m feeling great about the training and racing that’s still to come, and looking forward to wrapping this all up in less than six weeks.