Monday, 8 March 2010

50km Trail ultra marathon

50km Ultra Marathon Ramot Menashe, Israel
5 March 2010

Two weeks before the race we travelled to England for 10 days. On Sunday, 12 days before race day I participated in a 6 mile road race with some decent hills. I enjoyed the race and did well. I felt good. But in the following days I noticed a serious pain in my left foot. It was most likely the same place that I had felt a very slight twinge in some of my long runs back home. On those runs it never bothered me and I never felt anything after the runs. In the days after the race it was very painful – it bothered me a lot when I was walking. So – I took a few days complete break from running – I was tapering anyway and the runs weren't critical. Gradually it improved, but didn't disappear. On Friday, a week before the race, I went out for a 45 minute run on a muddy trail in London. I hardly noticed the foot and it didn't stop me from running normally. We left England on Saturday night, back in Jerusalem for the Purim holiday, a couple of bike sessions, 40 minutes on the grass on Tuesday, and on Thursday afternoon we (me, my wife Michal, and our youngest daughter Noa) were heading up North.
Our third year in a row. Two years ago I ran the 60km race, last year the 80km race, and this year I was planning to up the ante to 100km (Each year the longest distance has increased). But I had a nasty fall on my bike a couple of months ago which cut out a few weeks of training. I guess that I could have finished the 100km, but I think I made the right decision to opt for the 50km race. We spent the night in a bungalow on a nearby kibbutz guesthouse. I arranged to meet up with another of the 50km runners at 6:25 the next morning. Michal and Noa would arrive later.
Last year I only managed 1 hour's sleep the night before the race. I was really tired this time and fell asleep early at around 8:45. Michal and Noa were in the other room. I woke up at 1:30 – understood that that was it for the night, but hey – 5 hours sleep before a big race – I'll take that anytime! I turn my thoughts to all my friends who are getting ready to start the 100km race at 2:00. Mixed feelings of wanting to be there, and realizing that I took the sensible approach…I read a little, drink, eat my traditional pre-race meal of a roll with lots of jam (jelly for the Yanks), get dressed, check that my "race ready" shorts have their pockets filled with all that's required, voltaren gel on the foot and knees just in case, sunscreen, daily prayers and out the door.
The race start which is also the point that we return to after each loop is about 15 minutes off the road in the middle of a national park. We pass a couple of the 100km runners along the way and take note of some of the arrows that will direct us. Organised parking and a 300m descent to the start point. Within a couple of minutes I have my three race numbers – front and back of the shirt, and 1 for my bag which I place in the tent.
I venture out to check the directions for the start of all the loops. A chat with the timekeepers to verify that the first of the 100km runners have not yet completed their first 50km. Their second 50km is the same 50km that we will run. I calculate that they will be passing through soon. I meet Asaf who is waiting as a pacer for Aviv, 1 of the 100km runners. And now we see the lead runner approaching – no surprise here – it is Eilon Brachfeld – the winner of last year's 80km and the year before in the 60km race. But Eilon is running together with another runner, Amit Zeissel, who finished 4th 2 years ago in the 60km race. All the waiting 50km runners and the event staff cheer them on, as they come into the tent to refill their drinks and grab some food. They have run 50km (later all the Garmins indicate it was 52km) in 5:20 and set out almost 40 minutes before our scheduled start at 8:00. Amir the 3rd place runner came through 12 minutes later, followed 6 minutes further behind by Aviv, Levi and Gilad. As I went out for a final pre-race "pit-stop" I saw the 7th runner approaching. We had our pre-race briefing and right on time we were off with the 7th runner coming in as we were leaving.
The start was uphill. A sign of things to come? I saw Ran Shilon take out his walking poles – later I saw from the photos that there were quite a few runners with them – I don't remember seeing them in past years. I see one of the good runners – a top local triathlete at the front of the pack – I don't recognize any of the other frontrunners. But it's clear to me that they are running too fast. I let them open up a gap – count carefully how many are ahead of me, and find myself in 10th place out of the 90 that started. In the 1st kilometer I pass Ran and another couple of runners as the dust settles. That puts me in 7th. A runner pulls up to me from behind, and we switch positions as he pushes the ups and I pass him on the downs. I introduce myself – he is Mordy. I discover that it's his 1st ultra – and tell him that it's a good idea to hold back a bit in the 1st 2 loops and save some strength for the final loop. He tells me that he'd be willing to settle now on his current place. We are running 7th and 8th. I tell him that if we run sensibly there's a good chance that we'll catch some of the runners who have gone out too quickly. He continues to press forward and slowly draws ahead. This was at about the 4km mark. I won't meet another of the 50km runners ahead of me until about the 33km mark…I continue at my pace. It feels comfortable but steady. I'm careful to drink from my sports drink every 10 minutes. The forecast is for a warm day in the mid 20's (mid 70's F), but so far it's relatively cool in the early morning. We come to a water crossing – no way around so it's straight through – the water is up to our knees. I'm running this year with my La Sportiva trail shoes – in past years I've run in regular Saucony shoes – as I emerge on to dry land I'm starting to squelch and I remember what I think Dot said once – that the trail shoes are so well sealed that sometimes it's hard for the water to escape – oh well – not too bad – although I can feel a little grit there also – but nothing that's going to make me stop – maybe at the break in between loops…I pass some of the 100km runners – Gilad, Levi and Aviv and a fair bit later also the 3rd place runner Amir. Only the 2 leaders are ahead of me. We are following red arrows on this loop – it's well signposted, but at one junction I see the arrow has fallen on the ground and I'm not sure whether to continue straight on or turn right. I wait about a minute for the runner behind and he reckons that we should continue straight. And he was right!
I make it in to the tent after 20kms in 1:50:25 – that's just a touch over 5:30/km pace. I didn't time my stay in the tent – but I was quite quick – Fill up the hydration pack with my sports drink, get a banana from 1 of the excellent helpers, a few gulps of water and water over my head and I'm back out after about 1:45 minutes. Since I'd drunk some water I took a salt tablet (Saltstick) and from them on took 1 about every 45 minutes. I also had some jelly beans on me that I ate from time to time and a date. I was feeling good as I set out to follow the yellow arrows. There was some moss on the ground which was a bit slippery. I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me, and because of my fast stop there was noone behind me either. That was until around the middle of the loop at 27-28kms. We came out to run around a big field. Finally I saw the runner ahead of me. I took a fix on where he was and checked my watch. I made it to the point in 3:30 minutes. Still a lot of work to do. I glanced across the field and saw that there were a few runners, but they were well behind me. After another few kilometers I see that I am closing on the runner ahead. The song from that youtube clip on ultra runners that Doug sent ( )gets into my head as I push forward – it stays with me until the end of the race… Just as I pull up to the runner we turn right up the steepest uphill of the day – it's long also – and definitely unrunnable. So – I pass him walking…7th place. After the uphill there's another 2-3 kms to go on this loop. As I approach the tent I see Mordy leaving to start the final loop. But the arrows send me on an 800m circuit away from the tent. I spend 90 seconds in the tent this time – refill the pack and another banana. Press my watch at 3:17:15 – 1:23:30 for 15kms which is 5:34 pace, and I note that I'm 6 minutes behind Mordy!
OK. It's time to give what I've got. 15 kms to go and I'm still feeling good. I press forward harder and after 3-4 kms see 2 runners ahead of me. I pass them quickly on a flattish stretch –perhaps a little too quickly – because soon after my legs start feeling a little heavy – but nothing terrible. Just in case I drink some more and take a handful of jelly beans. On this loop there are 2 long very steep uphills. No way to run these. With about 9kms remaining I come up behind the 2 leading 100km runners. Eilon and Amit are still running side by side and looking strong! I give them some encouragement and not far ahead of them is Mordy. Later on he told me that he made 2 mistakes. Despite my warning, he pushed too hard too early, and he ran straight through the last change without refilling, and then ran out of water with 10kms to go! As I approach the last few kilometers there are several places where there is a long vista ahead of me. I can't see any other runners so it looks like it's 4th place for me. But with about 2kms to go I see a runner walking ahead of me. I push forward and pass him. He seems a bit disorientated and asks me how many kilometers until the finish. I have a feeling that he's not one of the runners who was ahead of me, and that somehow he took a wrong turn…anyway – I approach the finish and after one final tough uphill I see Michal and Noa – take Noa's hand and cross the line. AS I thought – I finished 4th. 1:29:57 for the final 15kms which was a bit longer than 15kms. Pace worked out 5:51 for the final 15kms and the overall time was 4:47:12.
Eilon ended up pulling ahead in the final kms to win the 100km in 10:51, 2 minutes ahead of Amit. Third place was 11:58 and here are the stats from the garmin of 1 of the 100km runners:
103.1 kms total – 4.144 kms climb
Loops: 51.9 kms 2038m climb, 20.8 kms 695m climb, 15.0 kms 711m climb, 15.4 kms 700m climb
Photos including elevation profile: