I had one goal for the Lean Horse 50 mile this year: finish in under the official cutoff of 12 hours. Last year I managed a 14:50 in my first 50 mile finish. I knew I’d have a tough time given the hilly nature of Argyle Road which is miles 11-16 and 34-45 of the race.
I pushed my pace from the very start of the race. Since the first 4 miles or so are really flat, this wasn’t all that difficult. While I was very comfortable, I was very focused on both walking fast and maintaining around a 12:00/mile jogging pace or less. I also made it a point not to linger at the aid stations.
After making it through downtown Hot Springs, past Evan’s Plunge, and through the neighborhood, we started up the hill where the pavement turned into a dirt road. The course was all still very familiar from last year and I knew I wouldn’t have long to go until I hit the Coldbrook campground and first aid station. Since I had my Nathan Hydration pack on, I wouldn’t need to fill up with water until the end of the Argyle Road, about 11 more miles. I decided to just truck it on through the aid station since I had plenty of GU, salt tabs, and water. Also, I was actually still with a pack of people and it would be a bit of a pile up.
Thus began the strong march along the Argyle dirt road. The surface was a bit more packed than I remember from last year but that first hill was still a doozy. Most everyone was walking it though a few hardy souls did manage a very slow, methodical jog. I had my iPod cranked up and was holding a good pace. Every 30 minutes I would take an endurolyte capsule as I usually do to keep the cramps at bay. I also made sure I was taking regular sips of water from the hydration pack because I expected the return trip to be pretty toasty (mid 80s predicted).
Though hilly, I really enjoy the scenery along Argyle. There are big open pastures with views of the Black Hills in the background. Occasionally there are cows on the side of the road behind a fence and there are a number of cattle guards (this year there was plywood on the left side of each one which made crossing them much easier–thank you to the race director for this!). At one point, after a bit of downhill, the road turns sharply to the right and several cows stare at me as I make my way along the course. Here I can see a good mile or two ahead and see the small dots of runners making there way along the path. The long views are pretty but it can be hard to stay motivated to keep going when you see how much is in front of you.
As I pass the red barn and head up the slight hill, I’m reminded of this spot last year where I started feeling a blister develop. Though not yet 15 miles into the race, things last year were already going badly. This year, I was feeling great with no issues at all. And looking at my watch, I’m making really great time for a 25K! Just a little over 3 hours have gone by and I’m really feeling like everything is going well for me.
Soon I am where I know there is a big uphill where I’ll be able to get my first glimpse of the camper trailer parked at the Argyle Road aid station. It’s here that I dig out a blueberry pomegranate GU and start to work getting it down. I really dislike the texture but I get a bit of water in my mouth and take slow draws from the foil pack so I can dilute it down. Now I’ve got the GU down in time for it to kick in a bit before the uphill so I power up it with a fast walk. Once at the top I realize I’m almost done with the dirt road and all the hills for a while and start looking ahead to picking up some time on the Mickelson Trail.
I roll into the aid station ahead of the big pack I’ve been running with to try and not waste too much time. It’s here that I refill my 2L hydration pack. I was down to about 1/3 left which meant I was drinking about the right amount. I didn’t feel thirsty or sloshy, I’d had 2 bananas now, a Slim Fast at the start, the GU, lot of chips and grapes, and a quarter of a PBJ sandwich. I really didn’t want to feel like I didn’t have enough calories in or get dehydrated. Still, the race plane seemed like it was coming together and I was well under pace to finish in 11 hours 30 minutes. Life is good and my spirits are high so I head down the path out of the aid station and onto the trail. Soon I pass the 4.5 foot tall concrete mile marker that reads 25. I don’t even have to get to the 34 marker before heading back.
The trail that used to be an old railroad track descends gently out of the Argyle Road aid station down to Lime Kiln. There are tons of grasshoppers on the trail and I always feel like I’m stepping on one even though they are getting out of the way because I don’t see many dead ones. The tall embankments on either side of the trail and the more wooded landscape provide some much needed shade. A slight breeze blows through the air to cool down an already beautiful morning. I’ve ticked off about 17 miles now and things don’t seem like they could go any better…
Then they hit. First in my right hamstring and then the left. Both of them are starting to get really tight and it comes rather suddenly. I’m jogging now but not too fast and I know I’m not pushing myself too hard. My breathing is fine and I haven’t even come close to getting that urge to vomit I sometimes feel when I get going too fast for too long. But then the cramps take over and decide I shouldn’t move. So I step to the right side of the trail and stand still in and effort to let it pass. A woman who I’d been running near the entire race stops as she passes and I let her know I’m okay. I’m out here all by myself but I’m not worried. I’ve fended off cramps before and gone on to finish marathons and 50K races without a problem. The problem here, though, is that I’m only 17 miles into a 50-mile run. There’s a lot of race left to be dealing with this so early. At Tahoe Rim, too, less than 16 miles into it, I had the same issues. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I pushed it too hard on the hills given my training.
After about a minute, I decide to push on even though the cramps are not totally gone. I really want to keep my pace and have a bit of padding for making my goal time. I decide it is better to keep up a fast walk than to risk them flaring up again by jogging. I don’t want to waste downhills like this but I remind myself that patience will pay off. I roll into the familiar Lime Kiln aid station where last year at the 30-mile mark I made the decision that there wasn’t anything that would keep me from finishing. That mindset did payoff and I got my first 50-mile finish. This year, the same friendly Culligan water man was working the aid station and the canopy on the camper trailer provided some great shade. I sat in the chair while stuffing down another banana and drinking a few cups of soda. But quickly I got out up and pushed on to Pringle Road.
This section seems to drag on a little bit as there are a few turns that separate long straight sections. I pass the old Lime plant to my right and it’s in the same disheveled state I remember it from last year. There is a bench that looks right at it and it invites me to sit down but I decide my 12-hour goal is more important. I’m still walking for the most part, but I know I’m making good time because I look at my watch as I pass each concrete mile marker. I’m still about 14:30/mile with only minimal jogging thrown in. I try to jog through an entire song as it plays over the iPod but usually make it only half way through. Still, this pace will get me to the finish line just fine.
As I see the outskirts of Pringle, I feel the cramps coming back. I’m not even pushing the walking that hard and I’ve increased my e-caps to one every 15 minutes. Things don’t seem to be improving. I slow my walking down a bit hoping that they’ll go away. But then my calfs start to react. Now I know it’s actually getting worse rather than better. I make the decision to get to Pringle and take some time to get a lot of calories in.
I roll into Pringle just after 11am and in just a little over 5 hours I’ve already knocked off 24 miles. I’m well ahead of where I expected to be and doing much better by the clock than last year. But my body is in poor shape. I sit down and start going through the aid station picking up things and eating whatever looks good. Most of it does and I have potato chips, grapes, and some more soda. My crew arrives and I sit down against the shelter and get into my cooler. I explain about the cramps and they encourage me to at least go to the turnaround and come back. I’m discouraged and decide I need to sit a bit longer and get more calories in.
Sitting at Pringle, drinking a Slim Fast for calories, trying to get my cramps to go away
I drink an entire Slim Fast and grab one of the energy drinks. After sitting about 20 minutes, I decide I need to get out there and keep knocking off the miles.
After some convincing, I head out to the turnaround at 25 miles
The mile out to the turnaround seems so long. I see the 50 milers in front of me on their way back and realize that I was in front of a lot of people that are still moving quite well. I know I should be even further along than I am but the cramps were keeping me back. At least now I’m walking more comfortably, though I’m not going very fast. I’ve got a big grape energy drink in one hand that I’m focused on getting down quickly. Soon I see the turnaround marker and mentally pick myself back up. I’ve now only got to retrace my steps back and though the Argyle Road is hilly, I get more downhill than up. Though I’m probably not going to hit my 12 hour goal, I should still be able to pull this off.
After the turnaround, I head back on the trail and again am reminded of my situation in this race last year. I was already right up against the 12 hour time limit then but doing better now, even with the stop at Pringle. I daydream a little bit here until I look down as I cross a small footbridge on the trail and notice a big thing on the side of the path. It’s a big black and yellow snake. Dead and rotting, but it’s big. Yuk. I keep pushing ahead trying to convince myself I won’t see anything like it alive on the trail!
As I roll back into Pringle, I start feeling bad again. I take a seat and think about my options. I’m really demotivated now as I watch the minutes tick by and know that the 12-hour goal is quickly becoming highly unlikely. I still feel the tightness in my muscles. I’m explaining the situation to a veteran ultra runner who is waiting for his wife to come into Pringle. She’d be having stomach issues and was sick much earlier but he said she was doing better. He recommends I take two Advil to help with the cramping and reluctantly I decide this is a good option. He suggests if it doesn’t work, I’ll be able to drop at Lime Kiln anyway but reminds me it will take around 30 minutes for me to feel it kicking in.
I head out to Lime Kiln focused on making good time but still down because I’m not going fast enough to make 12 hours. I decide I need to shift my focus to getting rid of the cramps and taking it on into the finish line. And sure enough, about 2 miles out of Pringle, which at my pace is about 30 minutes, I start to feel a lot better. I’m walking strong at this point, much to my surprise given how I felt back at Pringle. My spirits are improving and I roll back into Lime Kiln feeling good. I sit down though to have more calories. I take some more soda, a turkey sandwich, and a couple of endurolytes. It’s only 3.4 miles to the next aid and then I will have to tackle the dirt road and hills.
Returning to Lime Kiln aid station – 30 miles
From Lime Kiln, the trail starts a gradual uphill that seems to take a long time. There is plenty of climb on these 3.4 miles but I feel like I’m making good progress with my walking. I’m not feeling too down and my body is feeling ok for the first mile or so but my legs are still tight. I decide to press on and keep holding the pace. It isn’t long before I get to where I can see all the way up the last major climb but can’t quite see the aid station. My legs are getting tight again and the slight uphill isn’t helping. Finally I’m back at Argyle Road aid station and this time there is a welcome committee!
Girl hands me water as I come into Argyle Road aid station after 33.4 miles
I sit in a chair at Argyle and try to get more calories down but soon my left quad starts to spasm. This isn’t uncommon for me but it usually doesn’t happen until well after I’m done with my run. Compared to past runs, particularly Lean Horse last year, I’m not stopping at the aid stations to rest near as much. I know it’s not that my muscles have gone cold. The temperature is continuing to heat up and I’m sweating a lot. I’ve done everything I know to do to keep the cramps away but they just don’t seem to leave. Disappointed, I let the aid station volunteers I’m stopping here and thank them for their help.
I don’t get my finish this year, but I’m still happy with my race. I did what I could to meet my goal of 12 hours and I probably just didn’t have the right training. I could do more hills and log more miles. I also think I’ll switch back to Succeed! caps instead of endurolytes as I’ve had more luck with them overall. Looking ahead, I’m hoping the 14 hour time at Heartland will be more than what I need to bag my second 50-mile finish. Well see in October.