Saturday, I joined a small but intimate group for the inaugural running of the Shot Gun Trail Blast 50k in Marcola. I have lived in Oregon for a decade and I have never heard of Marcola. Neither had anybody else I talked to, but it wasn't even an hour from my house. The course was a 25k out and back with a small loop in the mid-section (think needle-shaped); 50k runners did it twice. The course has a total of twelve miles of paved roads. The ~three mile loop at the end was mostly a muddy climb; the rest of the course was dirt logging roads. It was supposed to be more trail, but apparently recent logging in the area required a re-route. I would have liked more trail, but this course, coupled with the perfect weather, made for a fast day -shockingly fast, with the top ten (of only 19) going under 4 hours! (albeit a short course, more on that below).
The pace was fast from the start and I was in tenth place almost immediately - not even the top half of the field I was thinking to myself - and the leaders were pulling away fast. My first mile was 7:30, which I thought was fast but felt in control. I decided to just settle in and not get caught up with the guys up front, but I still pulled through mile 2 in 7:09. That made me panic because that is way too fast! I like to run consistent races, especially on multi-loop courses like this and I was pretty sure I had just blown it and I was only two miles in.
The next couple of miles were very gradual uphill, which helped to slow me down a bit, but not much. My legs just seemed to be on auto-pilot and they weren't listening to my brain! About four and a half miles in, I caught up to Tom Atkins and we ran the next couple of miles together. I enjoyed the time with him, especially since he is training to do his first 100 at Western States this year. I would have loved his company for a bit longer, but when we hit the muddy uphill trail, he fell back.
There weren't any mile markers on the trail section, but I saw mile 9 pretty soon after getting back on the logging road. And then it seemed like I was at mile 12 way too soon, even for the down hill section. My lap button said 16:25, and I was trying to think if I hit the button accidentally and trying to think back to my total time at 9 miles. Things didn't seem quite right.
On the downhill back to the start I tried to stay easy, but I was still worried that I was going too fast. First lap: 1:50.
The second lap around wasn't much different except I walked a bit more on the trail section. My split for miles 9-12 was again 16 something, so then I knew for sure this segment was short.
I have read race reports before where people say things like,"The last five miles my legs felt awesome!" Up until now, I pretty much just assumed these people were either a) on drugs, b) so annoyingly optimistic that they didn't have a firm grasp on reality, or c) suffered from amnesia. Today, I realized maybe it is possible to have your legs feel awesome at the end of a race. In fact, I feel like my limitations today were all from the waist up: I had a few GI cramps along the way (not used to pounding downhills that fast!), my shoulders got tense, and of course, my brain was telling me I was running too fast all day. I had a lot of general fatigue, but it didn't seem to be leg fatigue. My legs felt awesome. (My drug test results are still pending; I can't remember if I have amnesia or not.)
With a mile and a half to go, I knew I couldn't break 3:40 (to negative split) and all other time goals were a sure thing. That's when my legs finally let me ease off a bit and I cruised in at 3:43:14.
I hadn't taken more than ten steps past the finish line, when the race director came over to apologize for the short course as he had forgotten to add a small jog off of the main road between mile 9 and 12. He maintains that we lost less than a mile per loop and still got a 29.4 mile run in. He felt so bad he gave us all "adjusted 50k times" based on average pace. Mine came out to be 3:55, which sounds really sweet, but my friend's Garmin said 28.5 miles. I think Mile 13 to the finish was a bit shorter than 2.5 miles (my splits are too fast), which may account for some of that discrepancy. If we ran 28.5 miles, that would put my "adjusted time" at 4:02. That still would be an awesome time for me, but it definitely doesn't sound as cool as being a sub 4-hour 50k runner. But I don't think one can claim an "adjusted time" as their PR and I accept that inaccuracies in distance are just part of this sport, so I am not distraught about this in any way.
Despite my initial panic, I kept a remarkably even pace, with my two laps only differing by 3 minutes! Check out my splits (First lap time, second lap time; not all miles were marked):
Mile 1: 7:30, 7:52
Mile 2: 7:08, 6:58 (!)
Mile 3: 7:45, 7:44
Mile 4: 8:11, 7:54
Mile 5: 7:24, 7:20
Mile 6: 7:09, 7:17
7-9: 25:09, 27:26 (the hilly section)
9-"12": 16:25, 16:07
Mile 13: 7:02, 7:08
13-end: 16:14, 17:25
Loops: 1:50, 1:53
My brain is still in shock. But I guess it's time for my brain to start listening to my legs; they seem to know what they are doing! (Full Results)