Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Successful DNF at the Quicksilver 50m

Yep, you read that right, it was a successful DNF! Not that I set out for a DNF and achieved my goal, but that in receiving a DNF I learned a lot more about running and know that I will improve some more in the upcoming races because of it. And this was the strongest I have ever felt at the end of a race. Too bad I had to stop at the 50k finish.

Quicksilver 50k - 6:16:23 (11:57 pace)

I was primed and ready. I had eaten a big chicken burrito with a side of beans - beans are a great carbohydrate source, better than pasta - and then ate a big pasta meal with a lot of bread for dinner. I had my bag packed and my Shot Bloks ready to go. I had everything planned out. Consume a minimum of 200 calories an hour and stay hydrated. This would be easy. One bag of Shot Bloks is 180 calories, so all I had to do was make sure to eat some at each aid station and I would be well over my goal. By the way, was reading A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning, edited by Don Allison, and came across a great article written by a scientist who analyzed how much a runner burns when running in the mountains and how much you would need to consume. He came up with 220 calories an hour. So logic had it that all I had to do was eat that much and I would be fine. It worked, but more on that later.

Even though the race was practically in my backyard I still had to be up by 4 AM in order to get ready and get there in time to make sure I got parking and to be there for the 6 AM start time. Tons of people everywhere. Biggest turn out they'd ever had. So the atmosphere was almost electric as we waited. When we started it was a mass rush up the fire road that soon turned to walking as the road was uphill, and the hill was a pretty steep one. This soon ended a little over 2.5 miles in and we went on this beautiful single track trail for six miles. I'd never been there but I will certainly go there for some more running in the future.

The trick with this course was steady running, as there were a lot of long stretches of uphill. This was what worried me coming into this one, because I don't run hills too well, and I hadn't trained enough to feel confident coming into it. I had done some last minute hill running last week and the beginning of this week, but I wasn't sure if it was too little too late. Alas, this was one of the successes of this DNF! My hill running was drastically different. I had shortened my stride and, voila, I was now able to run the hills! I mean, this blew my mind away as I had always struggled with hill running, yet here I was running the hills and making great time!

A brief backtrack. I started out slow in the beginning on purpose and hung back with a slow and even pace, not wanting to start out too fast too early. But by the time we got to the single track I was stuck behind a grizzled old veteran of 100 mile races who was content to run his pace despite the train of 10-15 runners behind him. Granted, some runners got tired of this and started yelling "On your left" as they tried to charge past everyone, but I didn't feel comfortable doing this, so I waited with everyone else. In fact, I would continue walking when they started running, knowing that as soon as I start running I would be stuck behind them again in no time even though they were running the whole time. So by the time we turned on to the fire roads again my pace was a lot slower than it would have been.

But I digress. Back to the hills. I was ecstatic. I finally gained some confidence with hills, the one part of trail running that every trail runner should do adequately, and to that point I didn't do well at all. Yet, I learned something with this DNF, and I know I am a better runner because of it.

My eating and drinking was on track. I was feeling stronger than I had ever before this late in the race. I think I even set a new trail marathon PR, but can't be positive as my Garmin was off my about a mile or so. Then mile 28 came. I rounded a corner and looked up. What the? I'm here, and runners are way up there and that close? Yep, miles 28-31 were unbelievably steep hills. Some of them were so steep it was hard walking up, and even harder walking down as you slip and slide down the other side. And there weren't just one of these, there were three or four at least. Up to that point I was really strong. In fact I had no intention of stopping. But these steep inclines demoralized me. And the 50 milers were returning from the aid station and having to do some of these hills again! So I made the decision to stop at the 50k finish. All for the simple reason that I did not want to be out there for another 5 hours. I felt stronger than I ever have at that distance as I came into the 31.5 mile aid station, and yet I still decided to stop.

Of course I am disappointed that I didn't continue on. I still want to finish a 50m race. But right now at this time I am not ready. Mentally I am not, which is partly because of the physical as well. Once I can get my trail 50k down to around 5:15 then I will be able to begin thinking about trying the 50m distance again, because that would then mean that it would take me about 9-10 hours instead of the 11-12 hours I was looking at yesterday.

Oh, and I almost set a PR for the 50k distance as well! 3 minutes off of my PR for that distance, coming in at 6:16:21 (I took into consideration the fact that this 50k was .3 miles longer than my previous 50k at Rodeo Beach, which was a 31.2 distance). Amazing.

So I learned through experience how to run hills. A huge plus, perhaps the biggest positive I could take away with this DNF. I also figured out a method to keep myself fed and hydrated, another huge plus. I've found my limits, for now at least, and know that I need to focus and train better and improve my 50k before I can move on to the 50m distance.

It really is amazing how much can be learned and taken away from a DNF. I at first thought the DNF would be a downer and I would be disappointed, but I am very pleased with the surprise that a DNF has left me with. Someday I will try the 50m distance again. I will need redemption eventually. But for now I am content to take away a few nuggets of knowledge from a successful DNF.


Breezy said...

Your running is great. I know I'm trying to run a 1/2 marathon this year, and sometimes I can't get the energy to get up and do it. I'm trying this new supplement, RECOVsport. Have you heard of it? Thanks for the burrito advice, I try pasta, but it fills be up to quickly.

Running Ragged said...

What a way to look at a DNF. Great that you walked away learning something!

Andy B. said...

Brian, you really do have a great attitude about the DNF, and it sounds like you made some great improvements and learned some fantastic things to apply in the future. I'm sure you will rock it the next time you run a 50 miler.

And almost running a PR for the 50k distance! Sounds like a very successful DNF. Way to go.