On the eve of the Carver Cranberry Classic, cranberries on our mind here in Level Land. Jason Bui provides a great recap of his recent 50k.
I earned another PR, but all I really had to do was just finish.
Great Cranberry Island (GCI) was going to be my first attempt at the 50K distance. I didn’t really know what to expect from this race, since most of my training for this event had to cross over with my training for the Timberman Triathlon in August.
My running mileage leading up to GCI was between 45-70 miles per week in the final month, with only two of those weeks over 60. I did a 30 mile training run with Reno Stirrat, about three weeks before the race, and I pretty much died a little after the marathon mark. The heat of that training run got to me, so I had to get acclimated quickly since GCI was going to be in the middle of the one of the warmest summers on record.
Things finally began to click after the demoralizing training run, but then two weeks before GCI, when I was finally getting some speed back into my legs, I seriously tweaked my hamstring at the Good Times 5K in Lowell. Fortunately, the tweaked hammy was just a pulled hammy and not a tear. I suffered a tear last year and that took months to recover from.
Since it was taper time anyways, I just rested and ran a little every other day leading into GCI, hoping the hammy would be back closer to 100%. By the Friday before the race I was no longer compensating for the hammy, and I felt that the hammy was at about 95% by race morning.
The hammy felt fine around the 7 minute pace, but it would act up as soon as I tried dropping it below 6:30. Fortunately, I didn’t plan on going much faster than 6:45 at GCI.
This was as good as it was going to get, and that I just had to make do with what I had and pin on that race bib. I also had to remind myself that the power of the race bib acts in mysterious ways.
I arrived on the island, via ferry, by 9:45AM for the 11:30AM start and was quickly greeted by the wonderful island locals who hauled all of my camping gear to the “runner’s village” near the start and finish area. There are so MANY small touches at this race that make it feel really personal, such as our names and towns printed and hung on the telephone poles all along the 2 mile course.
Yep. A two mile long island for a 31.07 mile race.
Reno was the first person to greet me as I arrived at the center of town. Reno was here to go after the American age group record for the 50K. The co-race director extraordinaire, Gary Allen, soon found me and gave me a big hug! Where else do you get this kind of welcome?
With about an hour to go before race start, I went about setting up camp for the post-race. Most runners stay and camp out overnight for the festive after party that includes fresh lobster, “refreshments”, fireworks, karaoke, and a hearty breakfast.
The race course itself is an out and back on a two mile stretch of island road. Yep, out and back, and up and over, the same two hills situated on both ends of the island, about 8 times. Total ascent for this race was going to be 3000ft.
The gun went off at exactly 11:30AM with the bright sun directly above us. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and barely an ounce of shade on the course. It was warm, but not unmanageable.
The early pace was very comfortable with about 7 runners in the lead pack. Nobody was making any sort of move at this point. Reno and I quickly settled into a 7 minute pace and watched as the race unfolded in front of us. It wasn’t until about the 5K mark that any of the runners took charge, and even then, the pace was still relatively pedestrian. Reno and I just hung back by about a minute or two through the first 10 miles, and discussed race strategy while running our 7 minute pace.
The lead pack of five became three as they began to splinter around the 15 mile mark. Reno and I moved up and slowly reeled in each runner. We could now clearly see the battle taking place up front at each turn around point. The lead runners’ faces showed Reno and I everything we needed to see. They were both wearing each down, and tiring quickly.
It was great talking race strategy with Reno during this part of the race. It helped me keep my mind off of my hamstring and to stay relaxed. I gave a mini-surge around 17, but Reno held me in check and told me that we would have plenty of time to catch them, even if we made a move at the marathon mark.
So I was a little surprised when Reno made a move around mile 21. I checked my pace and confirmed that I was still moving at 7 minute pace. Reno was just getting faster!
Reno smelled blood and now wanted to taste it. Even though he was already 7 minutes ahead of the American age group record pace at this point, Reno’s competitive side wanted the overall win.
I tried to follow suit but could only manage to hold my 7 min pace, and actually, my pace began to drop to the mid 7’s. It’s amazing the effect that running with someone else can have on you, especially over long distance.
I was now an island on an island.
Reno pulled farther and farther away and would soon catch up to the leaders and pass them both. I was still only about a minute thirty behind Reno at mile 23, but then something strange happened around mile 25. I managed to catch up to the 2nd and 3rd place runners that Reno had just passed. They were both beginning to do the death march. Reno was now in first!
I easily moved into 2nd place behind Reno, but then two runners, who were part of the lead pack earlier in the race, came up from behind and passed me like I was standing still. They had been stalking Reno and I over the past five miles, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on us, and that’s exactly what they did.
In the span of about 30 seconds I had gone from 4th place to 2nd place back to 4th place! It was surreal.
Then the leg cramps started a little after the marathon mark. Just like during the training run. Damn.
I managed to get through the certified marathon mark in 3:07 (insult to injury – I didn’t qualify under the new Boston standards), but every step after 26.2 was accompanied by a twinge of cramping, either in my calves or on the inside of my right thigh. The inside thigh cramp was really strange and it felt like something was going to snap at any minute. I was seriously worried about being able to continue.
I gingerly kept on moving forward, one step in front of the other, up and down the same hills. The most painful cramps, thankfully, subsided by mile 28, with only the calf cramps asserting itself on every other step, especially on the up hills. I was waiting for the “big one” to happen and seize up my legs for good, but it never came.
I caught a glimpse of Reno at the 27.1 checkpoint and he appeared to be fatiguing too. I saw him do a quick stutter step and slight walk, grabbing his hamstring area. I told him I was having the same issues.
It was at this point that I was only 7 seconds behind Reno, and would eventually overtake him for 3rd around mile 28. There wasn’t much I could say or do after passing him other than offer a slight word of encouragement. We were all hurting.
Unfortunately, the two new leaders managed to build upon their lead and pull away from the rest of us. My pace dramatically slowed down over the final four miles (low 8′s) as I just hung onto dear life just to finish and to hold onto 3rd. I usually never look over my shoulder during a race, but I was slowing down so much that I had to make sure that nobody was sneaking up on me. I wasn’t sure if I would have a finishing kick in me if one was required. I finally crossed the line in 3rd with a time of 3:47:12. I was proud to later learn that was I was also the first American to finish this championship race! I felt that this was probably my most disciplined and gutsiest race to date. It took a lot over the final five miles to not pack it in.
I definitely gained a ton of experience points during this one, and it should come in handy for future races, including Timberman. Even though neither happened, congrats to Reno for having the courage to go after the record and overall win. We both plan to return to this island paradise next year to improve upon our PR’s, and perhaps more.