Race Report: Free to Run 50-Miler

Disclaimer: I didn’t take any of these pictures. I “borrowed” them all. Thanks, friends.

IMG_2902

The Free to Run 50-miler was on Saturday and it was tough!! I knew it was going to be a challenging race – the RDs mentioned 10,800 feet of elevation gain/loss (more on that later) – but I definitely underestimated the other variables. The course was a 12.5-mile loop that we repeated four times… let’s take it from the top:

“You want hills? I’ve got hills.”

Loop 1

The race started at 6am so it was dark. I think this was a good thing – it takes away the temptation to start too fast. I could tell we were running along a river because I could hear it – aside from that, I was keeping my eyes on the ground because the terrain was already a bit tricky. And we were going up – up, up, up. We hit the two-mile mark and we had already climbed 900 feet of elevation – yowza! As the course leveled off, my hopes for a reprieve were quickly dashed. The downhills were uber technical and required constant attention. Down, down, down.

“Cut a corner. I dare you to.”

This character greeted me at the first aid station. He was all business. I grabbed some oranges and a drink and I was on my way. Up, up, up – and this one was steep! The climb started out at a 10-15% grade and I’m guessing it got close to 25% at times. At the top, the trail did become more runnable, and it was a great opportunity to regroup. Up, down, up, down. The next aid station provided a fantastic view and it preceded a short and merciful road section. Also, Ralph Crowley, who ultimately finished second, caught up to me and we ran together for a minute. Up, down, up, down. Ana! The race was super tough and it was definitely nice to see a familiar face at the next aid station. Ana was one of the RDs of the Vegan Power 50k and she was serving up oranges and watermelon – woo hoo!

Ana and Michael

Ana and Michael

After leaving Ana, the course started descending… fast. It gave back about 1,000 feet in less than two miles. Ouch. I knew that would be a quad-burner later in the day.

2:18

Loop 2

Loop 2 was more of the same. No surprises this time – I knew it was going to suck. With that being said, it was light out for the entire loop and it was still relatively cool. This provided a nice opportunity to run a decent split. I focused on taking in calories and fluids. Oranges. Watermelon. Water. Sports Drink. So much sports drink – not good, but a necessary evil.

2:23

Benn keeping watch

Benn keeping watch

Loop 3

I started loop 3 and I was beginning to feel it. I had run the 900-foot climb the first two loops, but this time, I started mixing in some walking. It was about 11am now, and I was starting to feel the heat. I was also spending a bit more time in the aid stations. Oranges. Watermelon. Water. Sports Drink. My feet were bugging me a little bit from hopping around on the rocks, but nothing felt terrible. I just tried to keep moving. My mantra for road marathons has always been “Just Keep Running” – once you stop, it’s very hard to start again. In ultras, my mantra is “Just Keep Moving (and never sit down)” – same deal – once you stop, it’s very hard to start again.

I missed a turn near the end of the loop – oops! The course was marked perfectly – there just happened to be a group of people standing in front of the markers when I went by. Lucky me! That earned me a little bonus time on the trails 🙂

2:58

Michael, Jake and Benn discuss requiring weight vests for next year's race

Michael, Jake and Benn discuss requiring weight vests for next year’s race

Loop 4

I started the final loop around 2pm and it was definitely a bit warm for me. By this point, most of the half marathoners were finished and they offered support as I headed out for a little more punishment. I really didn’t know if anyone was close to me so I just pushed ahead doing the best I could. I was having a bit of a rough patch, and I walked nearly the entire first climb. At the top, I stopped for a minute to empty the rocks out of my shoes. It actually helped quite a bit – oops, I wish I did that sooner! The trails were quiet now – in fact, on my entire final loop, I only saw three or four people. I hit the second to last aid station and realized I was dilly dallying too much. I cut my stop short and started running. In fact, the more I ran, the better I felt. No doubt about it, I could smell the barn. Footnote: it’s a good thing I woke up and started running because Ralph was much closer than I realized. I caught up with Marie, who was finishing up the marathon, and we ran and chatted for a little bit. Then I saw Ana one last time, and her support was fantastic. The final descent was grueling. As I was running/stumbling/bumbling down the descent, I knew I would feel it in the morning. FINALLY, I spotted daylight as the woods gave way. I knew it was only a quarter mile to the finish. Phew!

3:18

Final time: 10:57:24

I managed to snag the win! The 50-miler had 5 finishers out of 17 people who started – a finish rate of 29%. Full results of the Free to Run races are available here.

My GPS died after nine and a half hours or so, but this is what the elevation profile looked like up to that point:

IMG_2913

I’m guessing it was going to come in around 11,500 feet or so, although other folks had it closer to 12,000 or even 13,000. Yikes!! I guess Jake and Michael were just giving us the conservative estimate 🙂

IMG_2895

I ran with music for two of the loops!! This was a first for me. Here’s who I brought along:

Vance Joy
Family of the Year
The Lowest Pair
Great Lake Swimmers
Bush
Eminem
Outkast
Cold War Kids
Old Crow Medicine Show
X Ambassadors
Artic Monkeys
Carly Rae Jespen
Lucinda Williams
Josh Ritter
Lana Del Rey
Lord Huron
Imagine Dragons
Beastie Boys
O.A.R.
AWOLNATION
Birdy

Finally, a huge thanks to Jake and Michael who did an awesome job as RDs. And a thank you to their families who were working the aid stations all. day. long. Thanks to Benn and Ana and Curry and other people whose names I didn’t catch. You were all awesome.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the two inspiring stories of the day:

Farahnaz Afaq finished 8th overall in her first half marathon. I had the chance to talk to her after I finished, and she was already talking about running her first marathon. It was really inspiring to see firsthand what a great organization Free to Run is. In the future, if you are considering any charitable giving, please keep Free to Run in mind.

The second story is about a gentleman I ran into at an aid station on my final lap. He was hurting but he kept on moving. As I was leaving for the day, he was just coming into the finish area and I stuck around for a minute. Apparently, after completing two laps, he realized he wasn’t going to meet the final cutoff for the day and would be unable to finish the 50-miler. Knowing that, he went out for a third lap anyhow – just because. While he ultimately took a DNF, he definitely got his money’s worth.

__________

And the winner of my most recent blog giveaway is Sean Scott! Sean, I’ll get in touch with you and hook you up with some cool stuff!

__________

Keep running!

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5 Responses to Race Report: Free to Run 50-Miler

  1. Woo! Congrats on your win!
    I’ve never done an ultra, but I can see how “just keep moving” would help. I’m a big believe in “just keep running” for the very same reason 🙂
    That finish rate is astounding! Hopefully there weren’t many drops due to injury. & kudos to that man who went out on a 3rd lap anyway even though he wasn’t going to make the cutoff- awesome attitude to stay out there!

  2. Well done. Way to grind it out. That looked like a beast. Sure you were not running VC?

    • Jason says:

      Going into it, I thought, no way it could be harder than Virgil… but it was a bit tougher because the footing was so bad. A good time but I was pretty beat up after it!

  3. OMG! Congratulations, Jason!

  4. Pingback: 2015: Running Year in Review | Must Love Jogs

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