Monday, January 26, 2015

Clearwater Distance Classic 50k Race Report

Race Stats
Date 1/18/2015 (7:05 AM)
Gun Time: 3:40:50
Chip Time: 3:40:45
Overall 1/136
Male 1/63

For Christmas this year I received a trip to Florida and entry into the Clearwater Distance Classic 50k from my wife and daughters. I had been looking for a couple of 50ks to include as extra-long long runs in my training for the Carmel Marathon this year. In the past I have just done these as self-supported runs but that is a very daunting way to go about it. I figured with a fully supported race and plenty of other runners it wouldn't be such a mental task.

My wife and I left for Florida on Thursday afternoon. We flew out of Indianapolis and into Tampa Bay. It was great to get away from the single digit temperatures for a few days. The race wasn't until Sunday so the plan was to spend a few nights at our favorite Disney resort and then drive down to Clearwater on Saturday Morning and check into our hotel for a couple of nights on the beach.

I slept remarkably well Saturday night and woke up around 5:00 AM to eat breakfast and get ready for the race. My nutrition and hydration plan for the day included a cliff bar and 2 bananas plus a cup of coffee as soon as I woke up and 5 gels during the race drinking water and gatorade as indicated by thirst and limited enough to keep it from sloshing in my stomach. My wife returned sweaty and out of breath after her run with this advice. "It's humid, drink plenty." With that I decided to drink at most aid stations.

We got to the race start with plenty of time to spare and after a few minutes my wife left to get outside of the course with the car so that she could drive and cheer at as many spots as possible. It was just a little chilly so I headed over to find groups of people to stand in. The race start time was 7:05 and the corrals began filling up just before 7:00. We had the national anthem and started pretty much on time.

There were about 2000 runners spread across the 5 different events at this race. I lined up near the front but didn't worry to much about where I was. This was just a long training run and my pacing strategy was to be super conservative and run around 8:00 to 8:15 miles. At least that is what I kept telling myself and my wife. But somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I would end up racing or at least there was the real possibility of that so I didn't want to have a chip time to different from gun time.

The race started in downtown Clearwater at Coachman park and the first mile ended at the top the bridge over Clearwater Bay. This was just 1 of several bridge/overpass crossings that presented themselves as hills that were steep but relatively short. The first half of the race was along Gulf Boulevard and was very scenic including views of the Gulf of Mexico and some very nice real estate.

The bridge over Clearwater Bay

Around mile 4 or 5 I heard a runner behind me call out "Go Patriots!" presumably in response to a spectator wearing Patriots gear. this race was on January 18th 2015 the day the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots were meeting for the AFC Championship game. I looked back and asked him if he was looking for a fight. I'm not a huge Colts fan but being from Indiana and the particular situation I thought it would be a short diversion in a long race to talk a little football. Jason, the Patriots fan, was running the marathon.

We had a nice conversation mostly about football and running. Jason asked me about my fueling strategy and I realized I had forgotten to take a gel. I had planned on taking them every six miles or so and we were closing in on mile 8. No aid stations in sight for a drink so I decided to hold off a few minutes longer.

Around mile 8 I found myself in need of a porta-pot and told Jason I would catch back up. I never could get comfortable running 8 minute miles but we were running what felt like an easy pace around 7:20-7:30 and felt I could drop the pace for a while and catch back up with him.

This motivated me to not loose any time because of my stop. It took me about a mile and a half of running around 6:30 but I finally caught him at around mile 9.5. He was surprised but I wasn't. During my sprint my wife drove up behind me and offered me a cookie. One thing I like about smaller races like this is that the spectator can get so close. I figured I had a long way to go and the cookie would be good fuel so I took it.

Jason and me at about mile 10.
Jason and I ran together the rest of the way until the marathon and 50k split at around mile 16. When I went off into the 50k extension I asked the court marshal my place. He didn't quite seem to understand why but told me "3rd or 4th I think." Luckily a bike medic came along a few minutes later and reported that "There are 2 runners about a 1/2 mile ahead of you."

I've been running very high mileage since my last marathon in November trying to stay above 75 miles a week. This 50k was closing the books on a block of 2 100 mile weeks and I had just had 2 very low mileage/ very high calorie days leading up to the race. All of this combined put me in a position to feel like I was just getting warmed up at this point. Knowing that there were only 2 ahead of me and that the gap was so small I knew that the race was on and this had ceased to be a training run. I dropped my pace down to around 6:40 and got to work.

By mile 18 I had the number 2 runner in my sights and could see that he was struggling. I just kept working and caught him right after the turn around. My focus and drive intensified. Next I saw the lead runner and watched the gap close. I had caught and passed him a little after mile 20. I was in the lead and feeling strong. I was fully aware of the opportunity at hand, that I could actually win the first 50k I ever ran and there was no way was I giving up the lead. Head down, get to work!

The back half of the race took us away from the spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and away from the high end real estate. We were running along the Pinnellas County Trail. Jason, who is from the area, encouraged me to take in the great views on the front half because there was nothing pretty about the trail we would finish on. He was right except for one thing, I saw my wife several times on the trail and she is always adds an element of beauty (too sappy? too bad, it's my report).

I was now running with what was probably 3:50-4:10 marathoners so I was passing runners quickly. I heard several exclamations and shouts of encouragement as I would pass these runners and they would see my strong pace and my bib indicating that I was running the ultra. This served to fuel me even more and made the last 9 miles really fly by. I saw my wife again around mile 22 and she asked if I needed anything. I said I didn't need anything but to hang on for the next 9 miles. At each mile I just kept thinking run this mile strong and pad the lead just in case it all falls apart. But at the end of each mile I still felt strong. Hanging on wasn't going to be a problem.

The last couple of miles we came off of the trail and were on city streets. I started recognizing things from the driving around we had done the day before. I knew the end was near and felt pretty confident that the victory was in hand. Rather than feeling like a shell of a man after having run 29 miles already with 2 left to go I was full of excitement and confidence coming down this final stretch.

Crossing the finish line knowing I had secured an actual win was a surreal feeling. I had never dared to say it out loud but I had a feeling I could win this race when I opened my gift on Christmas morning and now I had actually done it.  I crossed the timing mat, paused the watch, dropped to my knees in praise to God and made the sign of the Cross closing out the run and victory offered up as a prayer.
Crossing the finish line and securing the victory!
This race has confirmed for me the high mileage approach to training that I have been taking. It has also solidified my belief that I am built for longer distances. I have avoided racing ultras for a couple of years to focus on running the marathon faster. I have been planning to continue focusing on marathons until the PRs dry up and then shifting to the longer distance races but this experience is making me reconsider that approach. I ran the first half of this race conservatively and the last half I raced and I was 100% recovered after just a couple of days.

1 comment:

Chris Lauber, Race Director said...

Christian - what a treat to stumble onto your race report. GINORMOUS CONGRATS to you for such a great performance. You should have received your champion award by now - we mailed them a while ago. Thanks for joining us and I hope you will make your way back to defend your title.