Winter Beast of Burden 50 Mile

January 26th, 2013
Wide Water’s Marina
Lockport, NY

50 miles on a frosty, flat, snow-covered towpath with the potential for brutal wind and frigid temperatures…

As a girl who runs and hikes the mountains year-round, I was somewhat confident in my ability to prepare for any potentially extreme weather conditions. I was downright terrified, however, of the flat nature of the course. Most of the events I’d run up until the Beast had been mountainous or rolling in nature, and I truly had no idea how my body would handle running 50 miles on flat, snowy terrain. That said, the reason that I find ultrarunning so appealing is because the sport enables me to push my body and my mind into unknown territory. As frightening as it seemed at the time, a part of me was deeply excited to go into a race with absolutely no idea of what to expect. Shuffling about the start line (on what turned out to be a brilliant, bluebird Saturday) I decided that I would follow three key guidelines without fail…

  1. Pace myself 100% based on heart rate (which was not to exceed 160 BPM)
  2. Gel every half hour, protein drink at the mid-point
  3. Have a blast

These guidelines had served me well in 2012, so I figured that as long as I followed 1 (pacing) and 2 (fueling) to a tee, 3 would come quite easily. That’s what I hoped, at least!

With regards to supplies – even though I did have a drop bag at the 12.5 mile turnaround, I find that I typically do best when I carry most of the things that I need right from the get go. Therefore, I planned on starting the race wearing my UltraAspire Omega race vest, which with its ample cargo capacity easily fit all of my gear and fuel for the first 25 miles:

  • 2L insulated bladder/hose
  • 8oz gel flask + 2 spare gels
  • iPod Shuffle
  • iPhone
  • Face mask
  • Hand warmers
  • Extra base layer

At the 25 mile mark, I’d then assess my needs for the second out-and-back and resupply accordingly. I took comfort in knowing that if things were to go direly wrong, I would have aid at both the mid-point and the turnaround point on the course.

The energy at Wide Water’s was tangible as the start time approached. As hard as I tried to remain calm and focused, inside I was a bundle of nerves. Fortunately, my boyfriend Rob and good friend Anthony were also running the race – Anthony the 100 mile distance! – and it was reassuring to know that I’d see two familiar faces out on the course.

…and at 10:00am we were off.

The first mile of the race took us along on a paved, snow-free trail, which then crossed a bridge over the canal and onto the towpath proper. Boy, was the footing tough at first. Much of the snow on the towpath was unconsolidated, which made for slippery surface conditions underfoot. I’d never run any sort of long distance on snow without traction, so it was certainly a new and fun experience for me. By concentrating on my running form, I found that I was able to handle the conditions much better than anticipated, and within a few miles I found myself towards the front of the pack. A part of me worried that I was going out too fast, so I made sure to diligently keep track of my heart rate. With plenty of water and gel on hand, I passed straight through the Gasport aid station (mile 6.5) and made it to the Middleport bridge (mile 12.5) at approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes into the race. Crossing the bridge and feeling strong, I actually ran right past the aid station (which was located inside a building), though luckily was redirected by a runner’s friendly crew. Entering the aid building, I called out my number and quickly assessed my supplies. With plenty of liquid and gel still on hand, I had no need to stop so I turned right around and headed back to Wide Water’s. 12.5 miles down, 37.5 miles to go…

The beauty of an out-and-back course is that you’re constantly surrounded by other runners. As the race progresses, you soon become familiar with the friendly faces out on the course and look forward to the next time you’ll cross paths again. Even though interactions are brief – a high five, a smile, a few words of encouragement – the motivation they provide propels you to keep going. I soon ran into Rob and Anthony, both of whom looked happy and strong. I was pleased to find that the snow underfoot was now largely packed down, which seemed to make my running more efficient. Not having to focus on my stride so much, I was able to look up and take in the beauty of the scenery around me. On this windless, sunny day, the frosty landscape seemed to glitter.

Once again I was able to pass straight through Gasport aid. I made it back to Wide Water’s (mile 25) a little over 3 hours, 30 minutes into the race, and was glad to know that my splits had been quite even. Heading into the aid station, I was greeted by many enthusiastic volunteers who helped me refill my bladder and offered me two cups of  broth. Not wanting to stop for too long, I quickly swapped out my gel flask, downed a protein shake, and asked a volunteer when the sun would set that evening.

Right around 5:30.
Do you think I can finish without a headlamp?
You can do it! We’re going to hold you to it!

I now had a goal, though I made sure to pack a headlamp just in case…

Glancing up at the race clock, I noted the elapsed time (3:40) and headed out for my second out-and-back. Even though my glutes were starting to act up a little, I stayed focused on my form, pace, and music. The formerly sunny sky had clouded over at this point, casting the canal and surrounding countryside into striking, monochrome shades. Having run the route once, I was now familiar with several of the landmarks along the course – from the bridges above my head to the rows of grape vines dotting the sides of the canal – and took comfort in passing by them. I could think of nothing but chicken broth as I ran through Gasport aid for the third time, but decided that I’d push through to Middleport before taking my next break. I must admit, the thought of that salty broth really did keep me going…

About a mile from Middleport, the leader of the race flew by me. He looked so fresh and strong, and it motivated me to keep on pushing even though my glutes were becoming increasingly sore. Crossing the bridge for the second time, I jogged into the aid building and promptly chugged two cups of chicken broth. The aid station volunteers were wonderfully supportive, checking to make sure I wasn’t too cold had everything I needed. Although I wasn’t hungry, I decided that I’d take two bars from my drop bag with me back to Wide Water’s in the event that I completely crashed during the last 12.5 miles. About to leave the building, one of the volunteers called out to me…

You’re in first for the 50!

I was speechless. I knew there were two runners ahead of me, and had assumed that they were also running the 50 given their blazing pace. 37.5 miles down, 12.5 miles to go…

Steady, focused, consistent – the phrase has become my mantra of sorts whenever I embark on an endurance event. I repeated those words in the back of my mind over and over again, making sure to keep track of my heart rate to ensure I was within range. I soon crossed paths with Rob again, and then Anthony. Both of them were running extremely well and seemed happy which quickly rose my spirits.

The 6 miles back to Gasport stretched on for an eternity. A large group of snowmobilers had passed along the towpath, churning up the snow and making the footing difficult. I could feel myself starting to tire due to the unstable surface conditions. Nonetheless, I refused to become discouraged, reminding myself that there would be more broth at Gasport. I was starting to find my fixation with broth quite amusing, which funnily enough helped me stay positive. Reaching the aid station, I was greeted by two friendly volunteers and all-too-enthusiastically downed two cups of broth. 6.5 miles to go…

Pastel colors streaked across the sky, reminding me that dusk was steadily approaching. My heart filled with excitement at every landmark that I passed, as I knew that each marker meant I was closer to the finish. With two miles to go, I could see the bright blue Wide Water’s tent across the canal. My iPod must have sensed the end was near, as my favorite running song miraculously popped up. My energy levels immediately soared. Crossing the bridge that final time, I let everything go and ran as fast as I could for that final mile, crossing the finish line in 7:18:35 – first overall, a new 50 mile PR for me by 3 hours and 22 minutes… and no headlamp required. Rob ended up placing second in the 50, and Anthony third in the 100! I am so proud of both of them.

IMG_2669

Even as of this writing, I’m still a bit in shock over my result. Ultrarunning has truly enabled me to achieve things that I never deemed possible, and I feel tremendously lucky that I continue to make progress year upon year, race upon race. My recovery is going well so far, and I’m very much looking forward to running the Hyannis Marathon next month.

A huge thank you to Bob, Ken, the aid station volunteers, and the police officers for putting on such a fantastic event. The 8 hour drive from New Hampshire was more than worth it, and I’ll certainly be back again. I also cannot thank StrongerFasterHealthier and Honey Stinger enough for fueling my adventures with their excellent products.

Some fun facts…

Fueling/Recovery

  • Gels consumed – 14 (8 Honey Stinger, 6 Vega Sport)
  • Cups of broth consumed – 6
  • Water consumed – 3.5 liters (NUUN mixed with BCAA powder)
  • Salt consumed – 3 SaltStick tabs
  • Protein consumed in-race – 1 packet Vega Sport Recovery (vanilla)
  • Protein consumed post-race – 2 packets SFH Recovery (chocolate)

Calories/Heart Rate

  • Calories burned – 4,110
  • Average HR – 153
  • Max HR – 161

Gear/Clothes

  • UltraAspire Omega race vest
  • CamelBak 2L bladder and insulated hose
  • iPod Shuffle
  • YurBuds headphones
  • Polar FT4 heart rate monitor
  • Pearl Izumi Infinity Windblocking hoody
  • CWX Insulator Endurance Pro tights
  • CEP compression calf sleeves
  • Hoka Bondi B2s
  • Darn Tough socks
  • Dirty Girl gaiters (fabulous pink camo)
  • Mountain Hardwear beanie
  • Ryders Nitrous sunglasses
  • LL Bean power stretch gloves
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