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Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M - RunUltra Marathon

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Winona Lake, Indiana
United States
Planet Adventure
55F / 13C
Total Time = 6h 54m 31s
Overall Rank = 4/30
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 1/
Pre-race routine:

Piecing together the entire 50 miles of running is proving difficult. Here's what I remember to hang my hat on:

- My crew of Alaina and her Mom were the best!
- There are few things I'd rather be doing at any given time than running trails through the woods.
- I met great people and talented runners
- I peed 4 times while running without spraying myself once.
- The pain in my quads and knees started early and kept digging but I kept going.
- I only chafed in one spot (perhaps the worst possible spot).
- There were several Ultrarunner and All Songs Considered podcasts that kept me sane through the latter half of the race.

Did you know that in the mid-'70s, Philip Glass went to a Talking Heads show and convinced the band to attend Einstein on the Beach? And last year, a US ambassador in Iraq dedicated a '50s Argentinian tango song to his wife in the states and it may have been the most beautiful song I've ever heard in my life, but I didn't understand a single word. Ultrarunner Ray Zahab has run across the farthest length of both the Saraha Desert and Death Valley...for FUN. Max King might be the best runner in the U.S. and almost no one has ever heard of him. These are a few things I learned while running 50 miles. Some might think that running this long would be boring. But as I was 2 miles from the finish line, I had the opposite thought -- why does this have to end so soon?
Event warmup:

The trail to Leadville started last November, and Winona 50M is my second milestone on this journey. I have run one 50k race and 2 self-supported 50k training runs from December - April, so I was feeling comfortable with the 30M distance and ready to add another 20M.

Winona Lake is only 3 hours drive from Ann Arbor, so we drove down the morning of the race, set up a little camping table with my tasty goodies right near the start/finish line. Morning of the race, I went around the staging area and caught up with some people I'd met in the last few months on various training adventures in my area. A month ago, running the Poto trail by myself this Anton-looking guy named Jon passed me on a climb, so I tagged along with him and chatted ultras and trails, enjoying the woods together. Race morning, I saw him and his training buddy, Jason, at their car/aid station, so we shared a few laughs about the coming thunderstorms and they shared some pacing advice for a first time 50 mile runner.

Then I met this super nice British guy, Andrew, who'd done Leadville, so we talked strategy for that beast of a race. Turns out, he's friends this other guy I'd run with on another trail run, Steve, who was also doing this race and had also done Leadville, so he came over and caught up for a bit. Everyone was so chill and friendly and wanting to chat a bit on the morning of a race, which seemed really different than any event I've ever done before.
  • 6h 54m 31s
  • 50 miles
  • 08m 17s  min/mile

Starting these long events is funny. No one wants to go up front. I seeded myself near Jon since he said he was starting easy. There were a couple guys and a very fast looking woman who were up front and gunning. After them, we had this little group of 8 runners strung along the trail for the first 3 miles, going really easy and talking about who we knew running today, other ultras going on in the area, and the nuances of the trail. Jon and Jason took off after that and I joined them. The 3 of us talked about tri's and ultras, them asking me to predict pain level comparisons, which I thought would be somewhere between a HIM and IM. In retrospect, that's about right.

Here's an aid station stop. Jon, "hey anyone need anything?" Us, "Nope" Jon, "Ok, let's keep going". Then at the next station, Jason says, "I'm gonna get some water" Us, "Ok, me too" So we fill bottles and grab some GU / Heed stuff and all take off together. Jon says, "hey, nice aid stop, really quick, let's keep that up." So here we are on these gorgeous MTB trails in the woods, all doing what we love most, and working as a group despite it being a race, because after all, it's gonna be a loooooong day, no need to go it alone.

At around mile 8, I was starting to feel like I was pushing too hard, so I switched the Garmin, which I'd hardly looked at, over to current pace and saw 7:30s. Uhhhh, that's why I'm feeling my legs talking. So I dropped back from them and worked down to an effort I had targeted for this distance, but kept it more consistent, more conservative on the climbs and descents, same effort on the flats.. And although I dropped back from the other guys at first, I also had them within eyeshot, but I could keep my own plan in place. I popped on Ultrarunner Podcast and immersed myself in the woods.

Lap 1: 1:20:53

Mile 10 is the start/finish, and my crew aka family was ready to change bottles for me, so I grabbed what I needed and kept on going. The RD called my name, distance and place, which felt really cool. I passed Jon and Jason at this point and took off down the trail. It felt good to move up a few places and I kept the steady pace up.

From a satellite view, the trail looks like a plate of spaghetti. Not only does it torque its way through a relatively small total acreage, but it's relentlessly up and down, with some rocky, rootsy switchbacks, wooden bike bridges, and a sweet range of prairie and woodsy sections. It's a sneaky trail that I could tell was going to attack like a tiger hunting in the tall grass as the miles got longer. My IT band and stability muscles were taking the brunt of working back and forth through the serpentine trails, and I quickly realized it was all about minimizing that damage early on.

I kept ahead of J2 this loop and could see that Jon had dropped Jason and was coming for me. Since I watch a lot of cycling, I could see that I split this mini-peloton apart by going out front this lap. The strategy was coming out and I couldn't help but be intrigued by it all. Such fun and in real life! Toward the end of this lap, I could feel a hot spot developing near the arch of my foot and getting hotter, and I knew that with 30 more miles I needed to take care of it now. So at the start/finish I told my MiL I needed new socks, which she procured in record time. And as I was changing shoes, Jon caught up, went to his car, and it was him and me running together again to start the third lap.

Lap 2: 1:18:59

The other person I noticed on this lap through the start/finish is that 1st place female, Melanie, who I'd passed but with the sock change but had gotten back ahead to start the 3rd lap. So Jon and I decided that we should see if we could slowly reel her in. It took about 2 miles, but we could see her just up ahead. And as we were about to catch her, my shoe came untied and I had to stop briefly. Yet something started to change. My heart and lungs were working too hard for the effort level. And although I quickly caught back up to Melanie and Jon, I was working way too hard for mile 22. Something was clearly up with either nutrition or pacing.

I decided to hang back and pop the headphone back in and enjoy more podcasts, while I could hear them chatting with each other and I knew I should've been feeling that good too. But I remembered something Marshall Ulrich wrote in Running on Empty. He said, "be kind to yourself." And I took this as my mantra the rest of the way. Whenever I wanted to beat up on myself for not going harder or slowing down, I said those words.

As the miles went by and the pain in my quads started becoming noticeable, I needed that mantra more, and though I tried to take down more fluids and food, my suffering was growing toward mile 28. All I wanted was to get back to fun. So I started thinking about everything that was going right. No shin pain, no soleus pain, no peroneal pain. All the little speedbumps I've been dealing with through these 80-90 mile weeks were gone. Just the deep down pain of pushing your body past its breaking points remained. And that was actually remarkable.

At one of the later aid stations, I passed Melanie, who was icing down her quads, and although I kept expecting her to pass me back again, she didn't. Later I learned that she is a very accomplished, sub-3 hour marathoner, but at the time I just knew there was a strong athlete who I was holding off, and that meant I was still doing ok.

Just before the start/finish line I took the headphone out and listened to the birds, the sound of the rain that had finally started with conviction halfway through this loop, and got back into the moment.

Lap 3: 1:22:59

I saw Alaina and her mom at the start/finish and it was a huge wave of relief. They changed out my bottles and Alaina asked if I wanted her to pace me for this lap. This was not even something I'd considered before the race, but I quickly said yes and was glad for the company. But my lungs and heart were still strained. Alaina helped me see that I needed more salt and fluids, looking at how little I'd peed and that it wasn't my mood plummeting as it does when I haven't eaten. So at the first aid station I had some salt potatoes and heed and gradually started feeling better.

Alaina told me the story of how she'd going biking on the roads near Winona Lake and all the things she'd seen, and I let her know I could only really listen right now until I got myself feeling better. She was a great boon for me that loop when I was slowing down so much and starting to get down on myself. She knew that this would be the hardest loop as well, breaking past the farthest distance I�d ever run at one time before and heading into unknown territory.

Along the way I'd see Jon coming back on some other point on the course and looking really strong so I'd give him a shout of encouragement and try to give him a little challenge, but I didn't have much more than I was giving to the course at that moment.

That loop was really hard. Maybe not as hard as starting that 2nd run loop at IMLP, but at times it came close. I power hiked the climbs, feeling my heart want to explode with every extra effort, and then started running right away on the flats with whatever I had. I remembered something else Marshall said in his book, that if you just keep moving forward and don't stop, you could find yourself in first. Well that wasn't going to happen, but a good last loop was possible.

Lap 4: 1:27:06

At mile 29 Alaina ran ahead to get my bottle and final gels ready, so as I came through the start/finish line for the last time before the finish, I didn't stop at all, just ran with my empty bottle and didn't look back. I didn't want to even consider the possibility of stopping. Alaina caught back up to me and handed off the bottle, gave me a kiss and wished me good luck along the way.

I think the accomplishment of reaching mile 40 was almost as good as the finish. Starting that final loop, when I was back to stable on fluids, good on nutrition, and into the final loop and final 10 miles of the whole race changed everything. It took almost an hour and a half, but I was back to having fun!

I listened to this All Songs Considered episode about the mid-70s NYC music scene and another with Valentine's Day song dedications. Anyone that knows me knows the deep love I have for music and for people who love music. I could talk and listen to music for days on end, so having these uber-smart music guys talking in my ear and introducing me some new, some favorites was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Every mile became better than the last, with my IT band pain subsiding, replaced by NEW and EXCITING pains that were different than the last 5 hours. Hooray! The rain was hard and the trails muddy and lovely. No one was behind me and the next guy was way too far ahead to catch, so I settled into the experience of finishing my first 50 miler. I took in the smells of a warm wet forest, the sound of rain through the leaves, and bone jarring effect of all these miles on my body. It was fabulous.

The last song I heard from the NPR podcast was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which brought me straight back to watching Alaina finish the 2010 Kona Ironman and spending our amazing honeymoon in Hawaii. I was there for her then, and she was here for me now, guiding me through the darkest hours and waiting for me at the finish line. I'm sure all the rain brought out my allergies because there were wells of tears in my eyes.

At mile 48 I allowed myself to peek at the overall time, and I realized that I was very close to not only breaking 8 hours, but breaking 7 hours if I really hustled. I started taking the downhills with reckless abandon, sprinting the uphills, and locking my mind into that sheer white light/white heat that Lou Reed epitomized on the Velvet Underground song. The pain all went away as I could hear the music of the finish line and the announcer saying there was a 50 mile runner around the corner. I saw the finish, crossed the line, and let my happiness overwhelm me!

Lap 5: 1:24:32

4th place overall, 1st in my AG, with a total time of 6:54. Way better than I'd hoped for and even more rewarding deep in my chest.
Post race
Warm down:

Met up with other runners and shared stories and memories and waited to see Jason and Melanie cross the finish line. What a great day! Can't wait until the next race!

Profile Album

Last updated: 2012-03-10 12:00 AM
06:54:31 | 50 miles | 08m 17s  min/mile
Age Group: 1/
Overall: 4/30
Performance: Good
Course: Onto the course. It's a 10 mile loop of mountain biking trails that you do 5 times. My plan was to spend as little time at the start/finsh line between each loop so that I wouldn't have time to consider stopping. Good plan.
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2012-04-16 8:44 PM

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Ann Arbor, MI
Subject: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

2012-04-17 6:28 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
Beautifully written!  Congrats on a fantastic adventure.
2012-04-17 10:00 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
Very nice report and fantastic run!!!
2012-04-17 9:17 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Waller County, TX
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

Well done and an outstanding finish. (I'd said you'd kill it.)

Way to go keeping a strong, steady pace.

2012-04-18 10:25 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Norton Shores, MI
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

Crazy impressive for your 50 mile debut although not completely shocked that you could lay a time like that down.  You have battled nagging injuries and plenty of high mileage months getting to this race and deserved that result.

Your 10 mile splits are scary consistent for that duration of a race.

Nailed it! Great Job!

2012-04-18 10:28 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M



So proud of you!  Congratulations!!  Leadville, here you come!


(BTW, this has to be the best race report in history)

2012-04-18 12:30 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
Great race report and congrats! Loved the description you gave on crossing the finish line.
2012-04-18 5:00 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Silverton, Oregon
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
LOVED reading the RR! Fantastic job! Totally inspiring! You are going to kick azz in Leadville!!!
2012-04-19 7:53 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Parker, CO
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

Great pace to cover 50-miles...I'm impressed!  C'mon Leadville!

2012-04-19 10:50 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

As usual, a fab read!  Hmmm...better athlete or writer?  I can't decide!  Badass in both occupations.  As always, fantastic job Mr. Speedypants! 

Allergies *cough cough*

2012-04-19 11:55 AM
in reply to: #4154672

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Ann Arbor, MI
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
You never cease to amaze me. Somehow, you are managing to cover greater and greater distances, all while still retaining your speedy-pants. It is so exciting to share this crazy adventure with you

2012-04-19 1:39 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Wisconsin near the Twin Cities metro
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
Incredible race and result!   Can I hire you to write my race reports?....luv reading yours.  Congrats and stay healthy for Leadville!
2012-04-19 10:37 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Wellington, North Island
Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M

What an awesome job Ryan! You're pacing looks really steady, despite how tough the fourth loop was. I'm in awe.

Recover well! I can't wait to see what you do at Leadville!

2012-05-04 10:44 PM
in reply to: #4154672

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Subject: RE: Winona Lake Trail Ultra - 50M
sounds like a blast. Love those podcasts. Although I have now gotten into audiobooks. I think it is nice because if I don't feel like running, I usually feel like listening to a podcast or book.
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