Sunday, June 25, 2017

Goal setting for the EDU 50K

Pretty freaky how this wrist-band thing is working. For the April BRM, I hit my pacing goal right-on, arriving 8 seconds early for my 4 hr 15 minute goal. For the Highlander 1/2 I nailed my goal of 1 hr 35 minutes four seconds early. I tried it again for the Huckleberry Jam 7.4 race and exceeded my 51:40 wrist-band goal by 47 seconds. This is not for everyone, but I am going to stick with it for a spell. The one thing it does is take some of the thinking out of the process during the race - but you must do your homework ahead of time. Here is how I did it for the EDU 50K, in case it inspires you in approaching your next race and goal. Cut to the chase: By some miracle I nailed my goal of 5:33:00 EXACTLY to the second, over a 29+ mile course - this boggles my mind.

Mile split wrist band
Excel is your friend. Actually, I first came up with my mile-splits using for the April Blue Ridge Marathon before I started using Excel for calculating splits. The online tool is for marathons and half-marathons (in fact you can suggest races if they don't list one) and I actually paid the $6.99 to have one printed and mailed to me. I now make my own using Excel and literally cut it and attach it to my original with clear packing tape. Alternating the rows with white with black font, and green (or grey) with white font seems to make it easier to read while running. The trick to all of these is that each mile is basically a "mini-race" within itself and each mile is customized based on elevation change, and based on where you are in the race (slower at the start!). I also used my Strava track from my first EDU in 2016 and those of others and worked-over each mile bit by bit in the weeks leading up to the race. The night before I looked one more time, and finally got it to about the 5:33:00 goal, getting me to mile 29 just under 5:31, so I had about 2 minutes to sprint to the end, which I seem to manage in almost any race I do (Stephen Howard calls it the "famous Erik Olsen finish").

Big smiles 14.3 miles in
at aid station 3
(photo credit Holly Marrow
EDU 50, 14.3 miles in
Running with the wrist band is weird. You are sort of married to it, but have to remain somewhat flexible. I found during earlier races that when you are tired and it is hard to concentrate, adding in which mile you are running helps. For example for the Mile column I now put in "3-4" for mile 4, so when I look at my pace on my watch and I am at mile 3.2, it is easier to know what my goal is for that mile (e.g., 12:30 pace). It worked splendidly. I was 22 seconds slow on miles 2 and 4 (I took time to take a Bourbon/bacon shot at A.S.#1) so I made up the time over miles 6-9. You sort of do your best to balance math in your head with what your body can do and hope it turns out well. What also helps is the "Elapsed" column, so if you are off during a mile or two, you can still keep the elapsed time in mind as an on-going goal. At Aid Station #2 right at about 9 miles, I grabbed a gel, a Heed refill, and some Cheezits - yum! About 45 seconds of rest - a good investment.

A few of my bigger goals that I latched on to during the race was to get to Mile 11 in under 2 hours and Mile 22 in under 4. So this is all very heady I know. I did enjoy the scenery and was able to chat with some racers along the way. But yes I was focused. When I saw Sean and Josh C. at about Mile 12 we actually ran close to each other for a good 3 miles. These are the times when the mind starts the tricks. "Stay with Sean." And that's when you look down and think, "But your mile split says 9:45 so not too fast." Maarten and Magdalena awaited at Aid Station #3 (Mile 14.4); he had some nice flat Mountain Dew waiting by special request, which Josh slugged down a bit of too, and I grabbed a couple of gels for the trail having spent a full 60 seconds at this station - I had programmed in my second fastest mile for mile 15 with 8:50, followed by some moderate 13:00 to 15:15 ascents for miles 16-18, and I was able to stick with it overall.

Some of the many tools of 50K-ing
"Nothing takes the taste of shame of humiliation out of your mouth quite like..." a mustard pack. I felt a cramp haunting me in my good ole right hamstring - no surprise - But the mustard held it off. And the birds chirped, and the humid breeze tried to cool us down a bit. My ego was not screaming, but staying with Josh and Sean was not in the cards (or in the splits in this case) so I moved on up ahead a bit, thankful for their camaraderie. This was around the start of Mile 16, after the turn where we starting going back up the hill. I moved on up, and was 2 minutes ahead of my goal. By Mile 17, I was 3:30 ahead, which I held but which almost cost me a major cramp-stop session, of which I had 7 such sessions during 2016 totaling 35 minutes of not-moving time.

Darn ego. Another Mustard pack. And another Trevor/Jordan piece of advice suddenly remembered: "double gel at Mile 17!" - so I did just that. It can be like a slow train wreck - watching the ebb and flow of how your body responds to the fuel we feed it - and then the mind and ego gets in your business...Trevor's EDU 2016 comment huffed aloud at about Mile 10 that year was also haunting me, "The Blacksburg blow up is about to begin..." and I was monitoring the tell-tales - so I slowed down when I felt the leg tightening up again. Aid Station #4 was a Godsend where I invested almost 2 minutes refueling - stuffing down an extra electrolyte capsule and stashing yet another grape electrolyte Fizz for later. I think I had my Snickers (thanks Kirby!) there too (or was that A.S. #5?) - it's hard to remember now.

Approaching Aid Station #6 - Photo credit:
Kristen & Jordan Chang
Mile 19: 8 seconds slow. Mile 20: 29 seconds slow. Mile 21: 25 seconds fast. BAM. Tight hamstring. More mustard please. But I was out, and had to slow going downhill a bit. By the end of Mile 22 I was back on track just 2 seconds ahead of my goal. Aid Station #5 was about 80 seconds of stopped time, but extremely refreshing, and I was a little nervous with the Mile 23 split 2 mins and 46 above my goal mile split - but I'll take it - the stop was needed. Miles 24 and 25 were slightly faster than programmed, but I was still about 2 minutes behind goal.

Watermelon, pickles, Popsicles
at the Rave Station (#6) 
Photo creditRobbie Poff
The rave aid station #6 (see Rick B's video) was where I discovered the beauty of a pickle juice shot, followed by a chaser of grape Popsicle + pickle bite: De-lic-ious! About a 90-second stop - super worthy and satisfying! But I was still slower than I wanted. Josh C. passed me at about 26.4 going downhill looking strong with Sean close behind, nudging us onward, and upward. I was fearing another right hamstring cramp so I kept it slow, and waited for the pickle juice-miracle to do its magic. It was not until the end of Mile 27 that a renewed spring in my step appeared. I practically bounded through the rocky section "sprinting" an 11:02 pace for Mile 28. One mile from the end I passed Josh again just as we crossed Maintain Lake Rd and in true form (for the crowd, lol), I finished sub-7 minute pace for the last 2 clicks. The funny thing is, my wife is rarely able to snap a finish photo, because I am an adrenaline junky at heart, and usually find some hidden energy-store to tap into "for the crowd." Haha.

Steve England and Kirby Walke
Walkabout Outfitters at packet-pickup, Fri, 6/16
Final watch time was 5:33:27, and according to the race results an exact match of 5:33:00! CRAAZY. How did this happen? Planning helped. Smart training helped. Taking food and a Hammer Endurolyte every 30 minutes helped. Having an awesome Race Director and amazing, friendly, encouraging volunteers was key. Hanging out with crazies who think nothing of a 6+ hour run is huge, of course. For me, a pivotal tool I am now relying on is my handy wrist mile-split band. And all the other runners and supporters we have in this amazing community. And the natural beauty of them thar hills! We live a great region, and I am so glad I get to do this. Thanks again to Matthew for helping get us to the start line, and to everyone who volunteered, Kirby Walke, Steve England, all the other organizers and sponsors, everyone who ran, and to all the others who support us in our running adventures.
EDU 2017 racers just before the evening's Downtown Sundown 5K

Post Script: It's been a tough week mentally and physically. It was not until Friday night, 6 days after EDU 2017, while chatting with Kirby that he reminded me: "Dude, you're having post-race let down and depression - it's a normal part of the process," after I was commenting about my status, and inability to run faster than a slug this week. Yet more wisdom, and a great reminder to us all to slow down, get in some nice walks in, read a book, enjoy a summer concert, and sleep in a bit!

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