Why did I signed up for this race again? This was supposed to be a fun week-end: my birthday was the day after the race and at that time of the year, the weather is usually better than ever. So, why not going outside and explore the nature rather than going in a bar and drink for hours? Forget the PR 50K is known to be challenging, with a lot of hills and some root climbing. But it is also known to be a lot of fun and the event is sold out within a few days. So, it was the perfect activity for this special week end. After long hesitation (of about 3 seconds), I signed up. I was ready to hit the trails again.
On another note, this race was my first trail race after being injured. Sure, I was able to run a marathon a month ago but it was totally flat. Going for an ultra is a completely different story and mindset. On top of that, the last weeks have been very though, either physically or mentally. It will be interesting to see how it impacts the overall race experience.
Gasp, it’s high!
I booked a room at the Blackfork Inn Bed & Breakfast. This is a local and lovely business, it sounds like a nice place to stay before the race. I arrived on Friday afternoon, just the time to rest, go to the pre-race pasta party/dinner and be ready. Even if I do not believe in carb-loading, going to the pasta-party for the race is a nice way to meet other runners and honestly, some have fantastic stories (special thoughts for the girl that ran 60+ miles and ended up by using a Bobcat to find her car during the night, I am sure she will recognize herself!).
I did not plan or prepare the race in terms of nutrition. As life was unpredictable since a month, my nutrition plan was totally driven by food cravings. One day, I could eat almost nothing (one peanut butter sandwich) and eating a full 5-cheese pizza pie the next day. And yes, of course, I ran after eating the pizza because “Dude, you have to be used to that”. On top of that, because of many commitments, I was not able to get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before the race – which is probably the most important aspect. So, to overcome the lack of sleep, this was time to sleep early and go to bed at 8pm to make sure I can get some sleep before race day. Better than nothing.
It turned out that the folks at the Blackfork Inn are fabulous hosts, friendly and give a good service. While I initially planned to request a bagel with peanut butter, the owner told me he will wake up at 5am and make me pancakes with eggs because “you’ll need energy to run on the trails”. The full breakfast, the one that will make you miserable half-way and makes you puke. While I have many doubts about the specific pre-race nutrition knowledge of my host, it is hard to refuse such an invitation. So, I decided to be adventurous and try the full breakfast service before the race. A full stack (3) of pancakes, eggs and of course everything topped with syrup and peanut butter. Such a pre-race meal ensures that sugar will flow into your veins as chemical flows into the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Lovely. After this breakfast, I was ready to
sleep go and head to the bathroom packet pick up.
When getting in the car, I just have one though in mind: this race is going to be interesting but probably not so fun.
Forget the PR 50K – 2015 edition map
The race starts at 0730am. For this 2015 edition, the weather was terrific: slightly cold at the start and getting warmer during the day. You cannot expect better conditions. Before starting, the race director gave some indications about course changes. Basically, as it rained a lot the days before the race, the course has been changed for safety reasons. Instead of doing the usual course, we were expected to make more or less two loops of the course (except the dam loop – we did it once). As I am not half-stupid (and rather totally stupid), I missed all the information about the changes. I did not know exactly what flags to look for but I knew that I would eventually make it to the finish.
The race is about 31 miles with more than 5000 feet of elevation (5631 to be precise). The map and the elevation profile of this 2015 are shown below. If you are looking for complete information about this route, you can find the mapmyrun map and data here.
Video by Travis Lloyd – good overview of the race
The race starts with some hills and then continues on “big has hill”. At that time (about 3 miles), the pancakes (or the peanut butter, who knows) decided to remind me how delicious my breakfast was. An unexpected internal war between my brain, my stomach and the willingness to throw up starts in the middle of the hill. Going on this steep hill, my heart rate increased significantly. I felt I was about to faint, stop, walk on the side and eventually continue to the top. Great. I did not remember how I made it to the top. But I made it, and this is what matters.
During the Dam loop – Picture from Nick Longworth
These hills are quite challenging but once you pass them, the elevation is reasonable. On the other hand, the route is technical: lot of roots and rocks.After a while, you hit the first aid-station. I was not very hungry but knew that I needed to take something. There was something I never tried called energy bites (recipe below) and it sounds delicious. So, as I did not put enough crap in my GI system, I tried it right away: we are here for an adventure, right? So, let’s make it interesting. At that time, we were 6 miles in the race. And I started to experience nausea and wanted to puke. I was having a good time.
There is no very steep climb (as in Eastern States 100 for example), but this is definitively more challenging than a road race. When you get to the Dam Loop, you start to explore an area with a lot of roots. At some point, you cannot even run or walk and just have to climb the roots. Very fun and cool, this part was definitively a lot of fun. In addition, there is a lot (a ton) of mud and you will have to run in water streams (which will then clean your shoes).
Once we completed the first loop, you come back to the start and, you start to see the light: there are bathroom available. At that time, I logged 20 miles, had just 10 more to go so. It was then appropriate to take some time to evaluate the damages. For sure, after 5 minutes, I had nausea, headaches and wanted to throw up. But there was no way I was about to give up with just 10 miles to go. No. Way.
Some root climbing – Photo by Samantha Goresh
So, I started the second loop and climb the big ass hill again. This second time went very well, better than expected. But after, I wanted to throw up again. When I got to the aid-station, there was the energy bites again and so, had to honor this delicious treat and take another one. This of course triggers the nausea symptoms again, which finally helps me decide on a policy of “nothing into your mouth until the finish”. Everything I put in my mouth – water, food, whatever – gave nausea, headaches, was very painful and I just wanted to puke. This lead me to be very dehydrated quickly because I stop drinking water even before (at mile 20 or so).
I finally completed the last 6 miles at a steady pace and made it to the finish line in 6:43:19. At that point, thanks to all the crap I had before (breakfast topped with syrup and peanut butter) and during (energy bites) the race, I still had fuel in the tank to go ahead and continue for a lot of miles – doing 50 miles did not seem so challenging at the finish. Not sure my stomach will agree on that but I did not really felt tired at all. I tried to go for a run the next day to see how I feel and was able to run about 6 miles at 0830 min/mile pace without any pain. Looks like I will be ready for the coming Burning River 50 milers in July then.
Post Race Party
Once you cross the finish line, you got a medal and you have an area to rest. Food is also provided for runners and is vegetarian compliant (simple – but much appreciated after a race – chili). More important than anything else, especially for this race: there are showers available with hot water. Considering the course and the mud on the course, this is more than appreciated.
Also, there is a beer tasting The environment is very friendly and people are cheering when you cross the finish line.
Let’s do it?
If you like trails and are looking for a great race, heck yeah, do it! The race is only $70 which is really reasonable for such a race. Considering the markings, the support, having portable toilets on a trail race and that the aid station are well-stocked, this is definitively worth it. The race director puts a very nice event, which is challenging, fun and beautiful.
The Take Away
What did I learn during this race? That your experience during race day depends on your preparation. While I got the physical preparation (training, log enough miles, etc.), I did not plan ahead as I should have done. The rules to finish a race without issue are very simple and basic:
- Get your miles in – no matter what and get a long run few weeks before. This part was ok – I got an average of 70 miles per week and completed a marathon.
- Eat carefully before the race and do not overload your system – my diet was a roller coaster driven by pizza cravings and gallons of diet soda. Definitively a mistake.
- Get enough sleep all the week before the race – it was a miserable failure as well – I got an average of 5 hours of sleep during the last weeks before the race – probably the biggest mistake
- Stick to what works for you and do not be distracted – by taking food I am not used to (pasta, pancakes) in big quantities, I did something my body is not used to. Just stick to what works.
While these rules are simple and basic, being consistent on the long run can be challenging, especially if the pre-race preparation if not your main focus. But there is no snake-oil and success will mostly rely on your consistency at following these rules. As you work, relations or many other activities: the basics are simple – applying them for hours/weeks/years it what makes it particularly difficult. Also, be careful: these rules are necessary but will not guarantee anything. It just reduces the likelihood of having a bad day.
To the infinite and beyond
Energy Bites Recipe (Fire Tower Aid Station)
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. You can also use raisins, chia seeds, dried cranberries or m&ms
- Mix together & roll into balls. They are easier to eat if you refrigerate!!