On October 8th, I ran The Runner’s Flat 50k in Cedar Falls, IA. The race came only three weeks after my 41.5 mile DNF at The North Face Wisconsin 50 miler, in which I started out way too hard. After TNF, Scott Gall (winner of TNF and race director of TRF) suggested I learn how to run a 50k before moving to 50 milers. Thus, TRF 50k gave me a great opportunity to practice running a race.
The race had some high end competition. Devin Allbaugh is a stud road runner who began racing trails this summer and was competing in his first ultra, while Chase Nowak has been racking up ultra wins in Wisconsin and Minnesota – most notably the Ice Age 50 miler.
Due to flooding, the race course had to be moved to four loops of twisty and mostly flat mountain bike trail. The course was very runnable, but the tight curves would force you to slow down. However, it was still a fast course, despite being slower than the previous course.
I was running this race with a purpose, and I only had one goal. I didn’t care how slow I ran, and I didn’t care what place I finished in. My singular goal was to negative split the four laps.
Negative splitting is hard, especially on trail runs. To me, choosing your pace in a road marathon is easy. If you have properly trained, you should know the exact pace you can sustain for your road marathon. However, on trails, you don’t know the exact pace you can run (unless you train on the trails or have previously ran the race). In order to race well, you must really be able to listen to your body.
I admittedly tend to be a “go big or go home” type of runner. As I usually say, “I want to give myself a chance”. I still believe that is okay, but it is important to find that sweet spot where you give yourself a chance to run your best race, but you don’t kill yourself in the first half. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find that sweet spot in my two previous ultras. In both races, I unnecessarily spent time walking. Thus, the purpose of this training race was to run a race with a different point of view.
In the end, I was able to successfully negative split the four laps. I even had a huge negative split between the first and second half of the run. It felt awesome!
You should negative split a race sometime. Here is why:
It keeps you focused
During the race, I was solely focused on myself. I wasn’t racing Devin and Chase. I was only racing my previous lap. They were way ahead of me after the first mile of the race, and I never once bothered to ask anyone how far ahead the leaders were. I only focused on slowly picking up the pace throughout. It was great to not have outside distractions.
It feels great.
Usually, the last quarter an ultra feels like death. This was not the case for me. I felt stronger as the race went on, and I was smiling the entire time. Instead of walking during the final lap, I was running my fastest miles. I felt like I was flying – such a glorious feeling. I don’t care that I didn’t win. I’ve never had so much fun in a race before.
You can still go all out.
Typically, runners get slower during an ultra. This gave me an opportunity to gain good ground on the leaders during the last lap. I finished the race in third place, and the winner, Devin, put the majority of his ground on me during the first lap of the race. I was able to close very hard and almost caught second place. I really enjoy looking at the time gaps in the Strava Flyby. You can see a nice concave shape where I am running faster than the leaders during the latter stages of the race. Even though I started out slow, I still finished the last lap of the race as hard as I could.
Devin Allbaugh – 3:22:36
Chase Nowak – 3:31:20
Lance Cundy – 3:33:58
I was very happy with my finishing time. My average pace was 6:53, which I felt was pretty fast for those curves. I had also already put in 66 miles during the first 5 days of that week, so I was not running on fresh legs. In the end, I learned that negative splitting works. You should try it sometime!
Race result: DNF at 41.5 miles. You can see my race data on Strava.
The North Face Wisconsin 50 miler did not go the way I wanted, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the end, it was a great learning experience, and that’s exactly what I need right now. They say it usually takes a few ultras before you get the hang of them. I’ll start by walking you through the race. At the end, I’ll provide my overall analysis and what I learned.
Mark Thompson and I departed Iowa City around 2:00pm, and we picked up Joe Lahart in Cedar Rapids. During the car ride, Broccoli came on the radio. Mark got real excited because he heard a song that talked about broccoli, salmon, bagels, and capers. Then I told him what the song was really about. Haha! While driving into Madison, I alerted Mark that I could really use a pee stop. Next thing you know, we hit a traffic jam with a 25 minute delay. I barely survived. In Madison, we picked up our packets and grabbed supper at Great Dane Pub. My pre-race meal was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans.
We got to our hotel in Delafield around 8:00pm, and Brett Rosauer showed up shortly thereafter. After getting everything ready for the race, we settled into bed around 10:00pm. Alarms were set for 3:00am. I tossed and turned until midnight. It was miserable.
I woke up at 3:00am, showered, and ate oatmeal from a coffee cup. We departed the hotel at 4:00am and arrived at the race site at 4:20am. We put on our shoes, adjusted our headlamps, made last second bathroom trips, and went to the start line.
Miles 1 – 11.5
Scott Gall took off at a quick pace as expected. I hung back and eventually connected with two runners: Travis Lavin and Steve Lawrence. Within 3 miles, they had already saved me from taking a wrong turn. (Red and orange look very similar under headlamps.) That scared me. They were running slightly faster than I wanted to, but I settled in behind them. I figured I would back off once we finished our small loops and headed for the meadows. At mile 10.5, Gall popped out of the woods and joined us. He pulled Steve away, but Travis hung back with me. I hit the 11.5 aid station at a 7:02 pace. That was too fast! In the end, if I was averaging closer to 7:30 here, my race could have gone way differently. I should have listened to my own advice. Remember, when I said I couldn’t have any miles under 7? Well I did that 5 times.
Miles 11.5 – 21.5
During this section, I began to settle down. But first, I had to endure a painful mile. The terrain here was rocky and full of roots, and I got lazy. I tripped once, but saved myself with my hands. Within a quarter mile, I stubbed my toe and tripped again. This time, I completely fell. My headlamp went flying, I scraped up my leg, and I was covered in dirt. After limping for a quarter mile, I finally got back into a rhythm. But as soon as I got in that rhythm, I stepped wrongly on a rock and rolled my ankle. I have pretty good ankles, but this was a nasty roll. I limped for a quarter mile, but then I was fine.
Around mile 13, I finally hit the meadows. This is what I had been waiting for, and this was the terrain I was incorrectly expecting for the majority of the race. Here, I got in a really good rhythm. My breathing was controlled, and my legs felt smooth. However, I could begin to feel the buildup in my legs from the first 10 miles. Toward the end of this section, I slipped past Travis into a comfortable third place. Unfortunately, he would end up dropping with an ankle issue at mile 29.
Miles 21.5 – 26
This section got a little rough. The trail had a lot of quick, steep up and downs. I was smart on the ups, but I hit the downhill hard. I prefer to let gravity pull me quickly down the hills, which usually gives me an edge. Unfortunately, all this pounding was beginning to add up in my feet. They began to kill at this point. They hated the downs. Instead of wearing trail shoes, I had to chosen to wear racing flats. My feet didn’t approve of this. I need to roughen up my sensitive feet a little more.
Miles 26 – 32
This section was part of an out and back with the turnaround at mile 31. This was my chance to see how I fared with the competition. At the turnaround, Gall was 20 minutes ahead of me, and Steve was 18. Gall looked good, but Steve appeared to be in rough shape. Mark was 10 minutes behind me and looked great. I cruised through this portion and felt like I was in a great place mentally and physically. When I met Joe, he alerted me that I was only 10 minutes behind 2nd place. This meant I gained 10 minutes on him during this section. I felt really good here, and I thought an all Iowan podium was going to be a possibility.
Miles 32 – 35
This is where things started to go downhill. I took an extended stop at the mile 32 aid station to refill my bottle with Tailwind. Then, I had to hit the rough stuff again. I was just trying to survive this section. My miles got slower, my feet hurt even worse, and it was starting to get warm out. My morale started to get low, but I wasn’t out of it yet.
Miles 35 – 41.5
Brutal! Mark caught me at the mile 35 aid station. We ran together for a mile. He was awesome and tried to keep me going after the all Iowan podium, but after a mile, I couldn’t keep up. The sharp up and downs were destroying my legs and feet. I rallied for a bit, but my legs just wouldn’t go. Even though I was in fourth, I thought the podium was still in play. I just needed to keep moving forward at a decent pace. However, I couldn’t even maintain “decent”. The terrain turned to rocky gravel and sand. Pretty soon, I was walking gingerly. My legs had nothing left. This is when a drop become a real possibility. I told myself I couldn’t drop if I was in fourth. Between miles 39 and 40, I was finally passed. When I was passed, I gave one final effort, pushed on, and ran behind 4th for a quarter mile until he slowly slipped away. Next thing thing I know, I “ran” a 17:26 mile. My day was done. I dropped at 41.5 miles. My average pace had slowed to 8:41 per mile.
The final portion to the 41.5 aid station was miserable. We opened up in a meadow, so I could see the aid station in the distance. I knew I was going to drop, but the aid station was still a half mile away. It took forever to reach. It was tough to control my emotions at this point. And of course, a photographer was on the course right before the aid station.
Could I have finished? Yes. Would it be worth it? Not for me. I wasn’t going to gain anything by finishing. I would have won an age group award and kept some pride, but by dropping, I saved my legs and probably shortened my recovery by a week. It was a pretty easy decision. I never had a goal to just finish. I was out there to race. If you know me, that’s my personality. In the end, I made some early mistakes that jeopardized my race. I just need to be smarter.
After dropping, I quickly got a ride from race officials back to start. (Thank you!) The worst part about dropping was sending the text to my parents. When I got back to the start, I called Brett, who I knew would have already finished his 50k. He was surprised to see my call, and he asked me if I had seen my surprise at the finish line. I was confused. It turns out that my parents had driven 6 hours and planned on surprising me at the finish. I ruined their surprise. I found them and shed a couple tears. They gave me a hug and were the supportive parents that they always are. I appreciated them coming.
Gall won in 6:32. Major props to Steve who rallied and finished 2nd in 6:46. Mark hit a low point after 41.5 but was able to finish in third at 7:04. Joe finished in 11th and won his age group. In the 50k, Brett came away with 2nd place.
Mark, Joe, and I stayed the night in Madison. I got to enjoy my first Airbnb and my first time in Madison. We hit up State Street Brats and found an awesome craft beer bar named HopCat.
My sports world had a rough day. I had my DNF, Notre Dame lost, SDSU lost, and Iowa lost. I also suffered my first ever bee sting after the race.
I obviously went out too hard. Mark is a veteran at this stuff, and I should have hung back with him. I still think I could have challenged Gall, but that chance was lost in the first 11.5 miles. The course was also much more challenging than expected. I was expecting smooth trail with long, gradual climbs. This only ended up being about 10% of the course. Instead, we had rough trail with short, steep hills that definitely slowed things down. I should have adjusted my expectations when I realized this. I also think I should have worn trail shoes because of how much my feet hurt. On the bright side, I felt that I fueled pretty well. I took in my nutrition as planned and didn’t bonk. I felt like
I went into the race well prepared. I just didn’t execute. I feel very fit right now, and it sucks to have not taken advantage of my training. I will learn!
Ages of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd: 42, 38, and 38. Experience matters.
Despite running 8.5 less miles than Mark, Strava estimated that I still burned more calories than him. That’s what happens when you are 6’3″ and weigh nearly 40 more pounds.
What did I learn?
I need to be patient. 50 miles is a long way. Just chill.
I need to be confident and trust myself. I shouldn’t have worried about getting lost.
Did I say I need to be patient?
Did I accomplish my goals?
I didn’t run 6:15, but I did have fun! 1 out of 2 isn’t bad. Despite the DNF, I still had a smile on my face. The overall experience was great, and I still had an awesome time.
How do I feel now?
It’s been three days, but my legs feel great. However, my feet still kill. The big toe that I stubbed is black and blue. The forefoot of both feet are bruised, and my ankle still hurts. Once my feet get better, it should be a quick recovery.
Good question. I have some ideas, but first thing is first: recover. Once I recover, I’ll make a plan of action. I need some revenge!