Last weekend I ran the last 50k of the year for me. It was the Blues Cruise 50k in Leesport, PA. This race was the tenth one at marathon distance or longer for me for the year , and I was really feeling tired. If it had been any other race, I would have backed out, but I really wanted to do this one. It was on my calendar last year as a goal race, but my ruptured spleen kept me from going. There was no way I was going to miss it this year. It promised to be everything I love: small race, low key, beautiful course, good bling, and a race director who has a way with words (if you don’t believe me, just take a look at the application). I also had an ulterior motive. My dad lives just about 25 miles from the race, so it was a great way to get a visit in with family as well as pick up a new state for my collection.
As I headed for Pennsylvania on Thursday I got an
unexpected treat. It was a perfect time for a drive across the state. The fall foliage was beautiful, with bright sun and blue sky. I had been born in PA and spent the first 12 years of my life there, but had not been back in about 20 years. I had forgotten how pretty it is there. However, even as I was appreciating the beautiful weather, I was aware that the forecast for the race on Sunday was about ten degrees cooler, with showers expected. I checked weather.com every few hours, and it kept getting worse. I was preparing myself for a wet and muddy day.
The day before the race we drove up to check out the park so that I could find it in the morning. The race is at a place called Blue Marsh Lake. It is a huge lake with an equally huge trail system. The race circumnavigates the lake and is primarily on really nice single track trail, slightly wider gravel trail or horse trails, with just a few short sections of pavement to cross roads or navigate through the park to connect trail sections. The course is run in opposite directions around the lake in alternating years. The race director does a nice job describing the course on the site. It is mostly rolling hills, with only a few really technical sections, and almost all very runnable. It is a great course, but the continuous up and down does wear on the legs (especially legs that are as worn out as mine are at this point – but more on that later), which is exactly what the race director had said in the course description. To give you a better idea of what I mean, take a look at the course profile:
|Yes, it is a little lumpy|
The race was small enough that packet pickup was race morning. The race start time was 8:30, which was a pleasant change from the super-early races I had been to lately. When I got up race morning, the first thing I checked was the weather. It was indeed cloudy and cool (about 50 degrees), but thankfully there was no rain. As I got ready to go for this one, I tried something new in my pre-race preparation. I have always avoided solid food before a race because of potential stomach problems, but I had really been feeling a lack of energy early in my 50ks. For this race I decided to eat a piece of pita bread with peanut butter and honey. I washed that down with my usual pre-race two cups of coffee and headed for the race site.
I got there very early. The crew was just getting everything set up. The race is put on by the Pagoda Pacers, and they seemed like a really friendly bunch of people. It seemed like a lot of the people there knew each other well. I picked up my packet and spent most of the prerace time alternating between staying warm in the car and doing time in the porta-potty line. Thankfully the lines were short because I had an uncharacteristic three trips in the hour or so before the race. Obviously I had hydrated well the day before.
As 8:30 approached we headed over to the start. As we milled around waiting to go, I met two guys, both of whom were in their 60s. One was a veteran ultrarunner, wearing an old U.S. Postal cycling jersey, and the other a newbie to ultras out for his first 50k. They were chatting good-naturedly when the U.S. Postal guy noticed I was shivering. He grabbed me and attempted to keep me warm while the race director gave the pre-race announcements. I could only hear about half of what he said, but one thing that did come through loud and clear was “Oh, and by the way, just a heads-up that there is a fox hunt going on in the park today.” A fox hunt?? Really?? Do they use guns for that? Nobody else seemed concerned, but I was a little worried. I had a long reddish brown ponytail hanging out of the back of my hat. My hat was a bright yellow, though, so I was hoping for the best.
The race started as all ultras tend to with everyone shaking out the cobwebs and trying to get going. We ran a little ways across the grass and down the park roads before we came to the single track, which gave the field enough time to spread out. The weather was holding, and it was actually a really nice morning for running. The first ten miles went by smoothly. The trail was beautiful, and I was feeling good. The eating before the start seemed to really be working for me. I was holding steady at around a 10:30 average pace and was just happy with life.
|No I didn't take this, but thought|
couldn't resist adding it in.
Somewhere around this point, we got to the part with the fox hunt. We could hear the hounds howling and every once in a while a foxhound, which looks like a beagle only bigger, would come bouncing down the trail. At one spot, the trail crossed a horse trail, and I saw a horse and rider. I had been running with this guy from Ohio that I met and at one spot where the hounds sounded particularly close, I said to him, “Do you think we should be worried?” He said, “I don’t know, but maybe we should make some space between us and the redhead we saw at the last aid station.” That cracked me up, but a few minutes later that redhead passed us, so I guess she got the last laugh in that one.
So in general life was good, and I was having a great time until about mile 17. Once again, as in the race at Hell, my legs just decided to stop working. One minute I was running along feeling okay, and a minute later my legs were aching so bad that I felt like I needed not only to stop running, but to stop walking, just to get a handle on the pain. Miles 17 to 20 were absolutely horrid for me. My pace dropped from around 11:30 to around 14:00, as I was spending most of the time walking.
Thankfully, just when I was feeling my worst, I ran into a trail angel, otherwise known as Tom from Baltimore. He stopped to talk and walk with me for a few minutes and gave me lots of encouragement. We stayed together for a little while, but then I encouraged him to go on. I felt bad holding him back. For the rest of the race, though, we did the leap frog thing. Sometimes (most of the time) he was ahead, sometimes we ran together, and sometimes I felt better and got ahead. One thing I know for sure is that I would not have done as well as I did during that rough time if I had not run into Tom. (Tom, if you managed to find the blog and are reading this, you have my deepest thanks!)
|Tom and me at the finish|
Just as had happened at Hell, though, somewhere right after the last aid station at mile 27, I started to feel better. It started to feel better to keep running than to walk, even on the uphills. The more I ran, the more I started to pick up speed. Then I started passing people I passed 11 people in the last three miles of the race, including 4 women. I had just been having a long conversation with Tom about how I was trying to adopt a more zen-like mindset and not be so competitive, but when I started passing people, I could not help it. The competitive juices kicked in, and I was feeling good. I was really happy to be able to finish strong and was actually able to have a finishing kick in the last quarter mile. If only I had felt that good earlier in the race… My time was 6:20, which put me 5th in the 50-59 age group out of 10 runners. It was also about average for my 50ks for the year. I believe that if I targeted this race, though, instead of running it on tired legs, I could run it at least 45 minutes faster. I think that will be my goal for next year.
At the finish, they were waiting to greet us with one of the main reasons I had entered the race: the bling. No, it was not another medal. It was a finisher’s jacket and a really nice one too. It was impressive and a nice change. (They also had given a really nice hat rather than a shirt to all entrants, but to get the jacket, you had to finish.)
|Race Bling: Jacket and Hat|
For such a small race, the post race food was outstanding. There were homemade breads, like pumpkin raisin, as well as brats. I wish I could tell you more about the food, but I had to control myself because my dad was taking me out to dinner just two hours after the race, so I needed to restrain myself. It sure looked good, though, and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. The volunteers were so nice.
As I mentioned before, I will definitely be coming back to this race next year. Of all my trail races this year, this one is my favorite. It is a beautiful course and a well-run little race. If you are looking for a good fall 50k, you should definitely put this one on your short list.