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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Race Report: The Tie-Dye 50K 2011

This race was an unanticipated add-on to my schedule. I stumbled upon it whilst looking up the results from the ORRRC Marathon and simply couldn't pass up the bargain price, proximity to Columbus, and of course the opportunity to kick trail.

Tie-Dye ended up being my first ultra of 2011, taking the place of the Capon Valley 50K that I'm running in early May. It didn't take much to get me excited about running this, just because I was already kind of getting road raced to death, but then the closer it came the more reasons I had to get really geeked out over it.

I found out that two of my friends and fellow runners, Rachel Nypaver and Steve Hawthorne, would be joining me there. I have really looked up to both of them as runners and also just as really great people since meeting them in December when I ran with Rachel and her sister Sandi during their "I Believe Run Across Ohio". The chance to run with them at Tie-Dye was something I definitely looked upon as a privilege.

I anticipated several other friends, running buddies, and acquaintances to be there too. One of the things I love about ultras that I don't really see in marathon running, is the really close knit community and the bond between runners, and circumstances leading up to this race really looked to be forming a special picture of exactly that.

One of my newest friends, Nathan Zangmeister (Zang), was set on losing his ultra virginity with this race and if you read my previous blog from the Bigfoot 50K, you'd know that I love seeing people fall in love with ultras almost as much as I enjoy running them myself.

Preparation for this race probably topped any of previous efforts in training and I actually took it much more seriously than I typically do, which is exactly what I was hoping for in packing my schedule. I had been making it a weekly habit of driving to John Bryan State Park (the race location) spending time hiking the trails with my girlfriend and her son, then running them for several hours after she left for class. I probably spent about 12 hours altogether out there before the race, hiking or running every potential route. To say I was well acquainted with the area by race day would be very accurate.

I was putting some serious trail mileage on my legs and knew more or less what I would be running into for race day. All these ducks lining up had me very confident that I could destroy my 50K PR. I had never really had the chance to put a solid effort into a 50K, so I was curious as to what I was capable of.

During the final days leading into the race I decided that my secondary goal to beating my PR was to run a sub-5 hour time, and if I could manage it I wanted to roll with Steve (who is a much better runner than myself) as long as I could handle it. Closely following the updates on the race website proved more necessary than normal because of the excessively rainy month we had been having. The preferred course took us into Clifton Gorge, which is stunningly beautiful with rock formations, waterfalls, and wildflowers. The problem with that route was that the Little Miami River that runs in the gorge was more than a little high... flooding parts of the course, destroying bridges we had to cross, and making some parts extremely dangerous... in the tune of 200 ft cliff drops.

Gotta die somehow... why not death by waterfall? Epic.

Last minute rain ensured that we would run an alternate course that was way less fun and not nearly as scenic as the original. (I scoffed at the RD's choice when I found out, but when I ran the original course two days later I came away feeling that he had definitely made the right decision.) Final prep going into the race went smoothly, though I would have preferred a little more sleep than I got the night before. I got off work at 11 PM and was planning on carpooling with Zang to Yellow Springs, which meant a 4:45 AM departure from C-bus. Oh the joys of waking up before sunrise.

Zang, myself, and his girlfriend began our journey with an hour long ride down I-70, rocking out to some Fleet Foxes if I remember correctly. Once in John Bryan we had more than enough time for last minute gear check, some pre-race banter, and the normal things of the like. Kayla had met me there to see me on my way and to meet some of my friends that were worse than an overly involved mother or aunt (Steve). I kissed Kayla goodbye and headed to the start line with Steve, Rachel, and Zang.

I honestly was a bit nervous to run with Steve and I almost considered not even attempting to run at his pace. I was more nervous for Zang though, because I didn't want him to go out too fast in his first ultra and pay for it in the late miles that would already prove to be a foreign experience for him. Despite all of this, I still decided to follow close behind Steve and gave no warning to Zang either.

We stepped off into our journey at exactly 7AM, and almost instantaneously a small group of about 5 or 6 runners formed a pack and jetted off at a pace I probably reserve for speed work. Just as quick, a second similarly sized pack developed that included Steve, myself, and Zang. Rachel had opted for the more logical strategy and was running her own race. We set off on a fairly aggressive pace that I guess started around 8:15/mi and leveled out somewhere still under 9:00/mi. We ran a short road section and then entered the tree line for a short loop. We came back to the start in good time and our pack stayed nice and tight.

The eventual female winner is the one in the back.

We then went through a stretch of grass and onto the mountain biking trails. As we descended down the access trail it became clear that this run was going to be a bit muddy. At the bottom of the hill we turned onto single track, and we were off. I had run and hiked this section of the park the first time I had went out there with Kayla and Braxton and remembered that the tight (and completely unnecessary) turns were akin to the feeling you would get from staying on a merry go round too long. In addition to that, the footing was reminiscent of a slip 'n slide, which made for some interesting acrobatics as nearly everyone had their feet taken out from underneath them unexpectedly. Zang gets my vote for best recovery though, early in the first loop he almost face planted, but caught himself just in time. Our group maintained our cohesion for an unbelievable amount of time, I was surprised at how good my lungs were feeling and began to believe I could keep it up. I was also really impressed with Zang, who was right there the whole time. Steve and two other runners traded turns leading up front, and no one was really pushing to go ahead on their own. I wasn't looking back much to see if anyone had dropped off pace, but it sounded like we had good retention and none of us stopped at the first or second aid stations. 

Not long after the second aid station, the course takes you out of the woods and within view of the start line, but only very briefly before you go back onto the trails for the most technical section of the course. Steve and I picked up pace and flew down the trail, this was the only portion of the course that would even remotely play to any of my strengths so I took advantage of it. This is pretty much where are group began to disperse a bit, and gaps opened up. 

Coming out of the first loop Steve was in 5th place overall and I was about 30 seconds behind him in 6th. This was about 12 miles into the race and we were hauling ass. Zang finished the loop about a minute behind me after which I never saw him again until the finish. He knew he went out quick and wisely corrected himself. As I was coming into the aid station I saw Mikayla, who was resting an injury to fight another day. She promptly insulted me, then took a picture of my ass which I presume is for Jeremiah who we all know is totally building a portfolio of such pictures that he began at the Xenia Marathon.

This isn't nearly as bad as when I accidentally snubbed David Horton at the Masochist.

Even though he got there first, Steve stayed at the aid station longer than me, so I went out ahead of him only to be caught on the mountain bike access trail a few minutes later. I let him go ahead of me and lead but I could tell he was starting to slow down a bit, which I was more than happy to follow suite with for a few miles. I was still feeling fresh and knew the whole course now, so I decided to pass Steve and see if I could gain some ground on the front runners (I had no delusions of actually catching them though). 

I ran almost the entirety of the second loop alone, except for one runner who had passed me a bit earlier. I caught glimpses of him in the distance and was attempting to return the favor. Although it never happened, it was the motivation that kept me running the entirety of the second loop. By the time I was making the last climb up to the start line I was really starting to feel fatigued. Looking back on it I would have to guess a combination of poor sleep and dehydration was starting to get to me. I finished the second loop in good time, sitting almost 4-minutes ahead of Steve, 15 in front of Zang, and happily in 12th place overall.

I had taken a long break at the last aid station in the woods, so I skipped the next one, but I began intervals of walking. I was alternating between walking and running till about half way down the mountain bike access when I was passed by two runners, so I decided to pace off of them for a bit. They were going faster than I felt I could maintain so I dropped back and tried unsuccessfully to play games in my head to get me to run. Then I found one that was legit. I could only take a walking break if 1) Steve caught me. OR 2) I made it to the last remote aid station. I knew Steve had probably gained ground on me because I had been slacking off, so I wasn't surprised when I saw him a few minutes behind me on another part of the trail. I yelled to him to get a status update as we both continued to trod down the now mess of a trail. 

Not long after that I caught a runner who refused to be passed, so we had a solid 20 minute battle back and forth before I gave up. He tracked me down after the race and we both agreed that that little competition was exactly what we both needed at that point in the race. While that was true, it also kicked my ass and I had to take a long break at the aid station to regain some sense about myself. Steve caught me there, but I knew I was starting to flatline and there was no way I wanted to get into another pace war like the one I just had, so I left him and went ahead(which was funny because he thought I was waiting for him there, which in turn made me look like kind of a jerk.). 

I tried getting into a groove, but couldn't maintain a pace. I was extremely dehydrated and it was a bit too late in the game to fully recover from it. It didn't take long before Steve caught up to me and passed. I told him hopefully I would see him in a few minutes, which was true, but it was at the finish line and not on the trail. 

I forced myself along as best I could, trying to string together some solid stretches of running, which really was all I could do at this point. A finish and a PR was almost a certainty now, with just a couple miles left and more than enough time to complete them in. As I came out of the woods, it was was like blood in the water and I started to charge toward the finish. When I was within view of the end, I managed to pull out as much of a sprint as someone could muster at the end of 32 miles. 

I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 23 minutes and 57 seconds and in 19th place overall... demolishing my PR by a half hour, despite a really really muddy course. Steve, who finished about 5 minutes ahead of me, was there to congratulate me on my PR and we talked with each other and some of our fellow finishers as we waited for the rest of our runners to come in. 

I asked Zang's girlfriend how he looked when he came through last and her report was promising, but I was a bit concerned that he was going to kill me for getting him into this muddy mess. About 20 minutes after I came in, Rachel came cruising out of the woods to take 3rd place female and 23rd place overall. 

Steve and Rachel watched a few more runners come in before saying their goodbyes and heading back to Parma, which is when I really started to wonder what was running through Zang's head at this point. I pictured him knotted up with cramps shaking his fist at the heavens and cursing my name. But just as I was talking to his girlfriend about my concerns, he came bolting down the hill towards us and the finish line shirtless and with a smile on his face. I initially thought he might be delirious, but quite the contrary, he was enjoying every second of it. A successful baptism by mud. So let it be known that Nathan Zangmeister is now a fellow ultrarunner, finishing his first 50K in a time of 6:19:14. 

Awkward looking picture. But I swear we aren't gay.

This race was a great start to my ultra season and really highlighted the adversity, the fellowship, and all the other things I love about running these things. I have full confidence that this is going to be a really good year of running for me. My goal for the next one? Break 5-hours!

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