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What The Muck? Finger Lakes 50 Mile

Everytime I go to write one of these race entries, I am left struggling. I begin, then stop, then again…repeat as necessary. Race Recaps are hard. They used to be fun, then they weren’t. It takes time and a lot of reflection.

And honesty.

Before I get into all that, I should go back and rehash what has been a pretty subpar winter/spring training season.

My original plan for the year was to take off January and recharge and skip one month of winter training, instead this turned into training for a March ultra with a friend. When the first race, a snowshoe race, came and went I was feeling pretty good about the year and what was to come. I had signed up for several races and a couple ultras, one being a goal to use it as a qualifier for Western States. So how’d they go?

Mt Tammany 40 mile: FAILED made it 24 miles before tapping out

Muddy Sneaker: FAILED Fell apart at the end

FatAss Birthday 50K: FAILED made it about 25 miles

Medved Madness: FAILED Broke down going into the 2nd loop

Sehgahunda: FAILED Stopped at 17 due to stomach and foot issues

Laurel Highlands FAILED Had to DNS due to my foot issue and feeling of being undertrained and not in the right headspace

Really just one failure after another. Nothing was going right. I dropped all organized training after Sehg and pulled out of LH. I think I might’ve cried when I did that. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I just wasn’t cut out for ultras, and I would probably never see Western States, let alone run an ultra ever again.

I decided to just stop worrying.

Then I popped on Oil Creek website and registered for 100 miles in October.

Then I popped over to Finger Lakes 50 and put myself on the waitlist, honestly thinking I had no chance of getting in. So I just started back into training, slowly, comfortably with no pressure on myself. On June 18, a week and a half before the race, I got the email saying I was in. I was also in the middle of my biggest week of the year, and my biggest since nearly 1 year ago. A 70 mile week.

I felt good. REALLY good.

As the days grew near, I just let things be. Whatever happened…happened. If you can run thru to the 50K, you can do a 50 mi. I honestly believe that, its more mental than most people realize. Your going to be in some pain and discomfort, its what you do with it that puts you into that category of finishing at a higher distance.

So with that mindset and finally a couple good back to back training weeks, I was ready to go.

Ready, to get the Ultra Gorilla off my back for the year.

Friday

One of the things that have really helped us out as of late is friends and family who are willing to deal with our crazy children for more than a couple hours. This allows my wife and I to focus a bit more on the race and me, selfish I know. We dropped the girls off after a party at a friends house to my mother in law, then set out on our way to the Finger Lakes National Forrest. I thought this was my first time goign down there, but in reality it wasn’t. I had previously ran M15 of the FLT which actually takes in a small part of the course.

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After testing my new shocks (still need new springs) on the road into Potomac Campground, we hit packet pickup and got ourselves setup with our tent in the “Tent City”.  Afterwards we headed down to Watkins Glen ate, and picked up an air mattress to help with our sleep.

Sleep was eventful. Fireworks. Fire Alarm. Snoring. Dogs barking. And a wife who appreciated none of it. In fact she woke me up several times to let me know.

Then it was time to get up.

Saturday

pre race

I don’t have much of a pre race ritual when it comes to these things. I usually have everything sorted out when I pack up my bag so I can quickly get changed and eat something. This race was no different. I unexpectedly had to use the bathroom. Which normally doesn’t happen. After saying my hellos to a couple people at the start line, and giving the wife a kiss, it was time to get off to racing.

The weather at the start was a bit chilly for me. I was wearing a sweater and pants over my racing clothes right up until it was time to go. I could quite literally feel numbness in my fingers. It was 60 degrees.

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I can’t quite say where my head was at for this race. I had briefly mulled over the profile, the loop description and a few past reports. Jamie had emailed us the day before and said be prepared for some mud due to a storm that passed thru.

I put myself somewhere around the middle of the pack, allowing the faster 50K runners the room up front. In hindsight I should’ve moved up a little bit.

LOOP 1: A Walk in the Park

Starting down the dirt road, you could tell everyone was in a race mood as we picked a quick pace on the downhill. This was short lived as we turned onto the first trail section and were immediately slowed by mud. For roughly the next 2 miles it was stop and go as people ginger footed around the mud.

For anyone that runs with me, you would know that this pisses me off. GO THRU THE DAMNED MUD.

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photo by Johnathan Zachary

As soon as I saw a stretch where I could pass, I took it. I can’t stand stopping and going this early into a race. Especially for mud. So I went.

Eventually we came to the first pasture and felt the sun warming me up for the first time. Legs were feeling good, in fact everything felt pretty good. No cows in sight.

Out of the pasture and down the dirt road hill. I generally consider myself a downhill runner, albeit more so on trails than roads. The first descent down this went ok (1.5 mile 500 ft of drop). I caught up to several people and ended up in the mix of where I usually would fall in the finish order with them. A quick Coke and watermelon and I was out and up the first climb.

I tend to be a person who favors the powerhike over the run up a climb. Could I run it? Yes, but I also think it gains me nothing in the end. I would rather save that energy and use it to push on the downhills and flats. The downhills being where most (except for a select front few) hold back and slow down. So  I stuck with my plan, caught up to a few more and just kept moving. The next aid station came really quickly, I was surprised at how quick it came. A little lollipop loop and we were right back to the same aid station.

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photo by Johnathan Zachary

Things kept going rather swimmingly and according to plan, still maintaining a sub 10:30/mi pace with Aid Stations and powerhike, up to this point and pretty much up to the only little road section. Before we turned onto backbone and came up out of the ravine, we hit a 1/4? mile section of road uphill. I may or may not have yelled out my disgust for roads at this point. Back onto the trail at backbone and it into the last aid station.

Something was off.

I had slowed to about 11:00 pace and the stomach was wrenching. “hunger pains” is all I can describe it.

I had been on top of Gel consumption, Salt Tabs (with Ginger Root), and getting in enough calories per hour. I was fighting the same thing I have been fighting for the last 9+ months. It only comes out during races or really long runs.

I was pretty furious by now. Coming out of the aidstation was a nearly mile long section of mud that took you thru a cow pasture and then up another climb. All told coming into the aidstation was also a climb, making it almost 2 miles of climb. If it was dry it was runnable, it was not dry.

Fight the stomach and churn on towards the home base aid station.

LOOP 1: 2:58 /14th fastest

LOOP 2: Death Becomes Him

I told Elyse before hand that I had planned on 2 sub 3hr loops and then let the 3rd loop be whatever. So technically coming in,  I was exactly on target. As she refilled a few items for me, I doubled over in pain. Whatever was goign on with the stomach had a firm hold on me.

Several runners came and went.

I sat and winced.

I don’t know how much time went by, I’m guessing close to 10 minutes before the pain and calmed enough to start walking out of the AS.

I pulled out the headphones and knew it was time to go to work. Figure out what was going on, find a way to manage and push foreward. For now the music would help me keep some negativity out of my head. More people passed me.

MANAGE IT.

More passing.

I looked down at the watch and decided to put it into run/walk mode. 5 run, 1 walk. By the time I had made it back into the first Aid Station I ended up having 3 stones in my shoe. I stopped to take care of them as it was pretty uncomfortable on the downhill.

As I sat at the AS (stood?) I figured to try and start figuring out what was goign on an what would work. Solid food was not helping. Cold Watermelon always felt good during a race. I dumped my water out and decided to have them fill completely full of ice, then a bit of water. Same with coke. A half cup of coke with ice.

For some reason this started working. My stomach liked the cold drink. I started cutting back on the gel  by taking less frequently, and stuck with the 5:1 pattern.

By this time the 25K runners were out on the course and the mud sections had gotten progressively worse.

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photo by Johnathan Zachary

Much of the loop was a blur. Just listening to the music and keep on pushing. Somewhere around mile 25 and 5 hours, my watch decided it wanted to shut off. I like my data and spent the next 10 minutes trying to get it back to functioning. For some reason this resulted in me losing the first lap and.a half

After that mishap, I was back at it.

Things were turning around. I began telling EVERY aid station worker, “I’ll see you next loop”.

I was managing, and I had come back from the dead.

I kept telling myself “You’ve been thru worse, you’ve hurt worse, your getting this done. You’re going to go back out for another loop”

So with that in mind, I came into the home aid station for the final time.

I saw lots of people dropping from the 50 mile, and a bulk of the 50K runners done, and in the case of Jamie, getting his massage.

I had one thought on my mind.

GET OUT.

Get out and get going.

I was in a battle with myself, and I had to make my comeback.

I dumped water on my head, got my refills and took off.

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photo by Johnathan Zachary

Loop 2: 3:45 /27th fastest

LOOP 3: Redemption Served Ice Cold

By the time I left the AS it was a full hour slower than my first loop. THAT’S how bad things had gotten. My loop time had dropped from 14th fastest to 27th fastest.

But now I was renewed, things were feeling good. Just stick to what was working. I was slow, but it was working and I was moving.

I had been here before.

This odd point where you had been beaten down, ready to give up and you convince yourself to push ever so much further, and you bust down the wall. It was very much like mile 50 at Oil Creek a couple years ago. I had hit several walls on the day, but I refused to bow, refused to break.

Suddenly I was passing people. I still spent longer than average time in the Aid Stations to take care of myself, but I was moving up.

In some sections, particularly the open sun parts, the mud and dried and became a bit more runnable. In others, the shady ones, the mud was atrocious.

I have run TARC, Indiana, and Sehg and dealt with mud. Mud far worse. Seriously. My list of worse conditions:

1. Indiana 50
2. TARC 50
3. Sehgahunda Marathon
4. Finger Lakes 50

The mud still sucked. I’m really getting tired of running races with mud as the theme. And to think at one point in time I wanted to run a tough mudder!

Coming into the AS before the ravine my headphones finally died out (battery) and  I caught up to a local runner John. He was having a rough patch and I was surprised I had caught back up to him. As I continued my plan we would jostle back and forth for a while. I wasn’t in a race mood, just in a finish mood. Eventually he found new life and took off.

I hit the last aid station and began the last climb.

A few more people passed.

Around the pond…almost done.

Into the fini—- OH CRAP STUPID BABY LOOP!

I had forgotten I had to run more. My legs were shot but I called on them once more to will me around this half mile of hell. When I came thru the finish line I collapsed to my knees. then flat on my stomach.

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I was happy to be done. I gave what I could, but more importantly found a way to manage the day despite the adversity of what was going on.

3rd Loop 3:44 /13th fastest

Baby loop: 4:45 /2nd fastest

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Overall 10:33 16 out of 44 (or 80)

In the end I didn’t get my sub 10, but I did get a PR.  A Lot of people dropped from the 50 mile for various reasons, but on this day, I was not one of them. I learned a little bit more about myself and my ability to fight. The FL50 is a fun race, one that I think could be more fun without the mud.

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Author: Ron Heerkens Jr (258 Articles)

President of multimedia studio GFMedia Entertainment. Key areas of focus are Film, Photography, and Sound Design. I'm a musician, actor, love comics, and my family. In the past year I have become an avid trail runner and love posting and digging thru my training. I share that here, thru photos, articles, gear review and more. You can follow me on Twitter: @gfmedia My lone disclaimer: The articles contained herein are opinions. I have not watched every film in the history of cinema. I have watched a lot, but not all. Hence my articles are opinions, not facts. If you take offense or disagree, that's great, you are welcome to your opinion, and welcome to share it, just don't make it into a war, attacking others is not allowed. We each have many ideas and tastes on what is art and what isn't. One mans garbage is another's masterpiece and vice versa.

  • Katie O

    Thanks for sharing! Way to push through! Sounds like might have some underlying stomach issue that is not just sub-par race nutrition. Psoas or some deep muscular issues? I’ve known some runners who complain of “side-stitches” and focus on nutrition only to finally learn that is was a muscular or mechanical problem. Or maybe too much of a good thing, like gels with high sugar content? Either way, I’m sure you’ve thought long and hard about it, so just throwing out some suggestions. Hope you get it figured out! Happy trails!

  • http://onemansobsession.wordpress.com Greg Rowe

    Hmm. Do you think the reduced pressure had anything to do with your success? The watch was gone. Your training was not regimented but still probably fairly intense. You got tired of mud. That’s good! ;)

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  • http://www.scottpdawson.com Scott Dawson

    Ron, that’s a great race report! I was in the 50K, and cannot imagine having gone out for a third loop (and a baby!). You did a great job persevering and listening to your body. I knew when it rained earlier in the week the mud was going to be worse than normal. And it delivered. See you out there!

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