Stephen Bohn submitted this clever challenge:
"18 loops (or "holes") around the McCabe Golf Course on the Richland Creek Greenway for 50 miles."
I was supposed to run the Pistol 50 Mile ultramarathon in Alcoa, TN, on Saturday. It, like basically every other race in the world, is either canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. I had run this race once before (starting on New Year's Eve 2016 and continuing on into New Year's Day 2017). I also ran a terrible 50K back in early January -- turns out that trying to run an ultra on 15 miles per week of training for the previous three months is not the smartest idea!
In my ultra career (would we call it a career? I'm gonna call it a career.) I've always just kind of "winged it" when it's come to a training plan. You know: run 20 miles, eat a pizza, drink two beers, fall asleep on the couch watching golf, and call it "recovery". Oh, and above all else, never, ever, EVER do any speed work... because who wants to go fast? Not me! I wanna suffer! But after the aforementioned 50K a couple months ago, I decided to hire a coach. My friend Olaf Wasternack recommended Tony White to me. After a phone call, I venmo'd (I have no idea how to spell that) him some money and he built me a training plan.
My PR at a 50 mile race distance is 12:29:04, and I set that when I ran the Pistol a few years prior. My goals, in ascending order, were to Finish, to set a PR, to go sub-12:00, and to go sub 11:00.
I am not fast. I am never going to be fast. I hate running fast to try to keep up with people who are fast. I don't like doing speed work to try to get fast. Tony started putting it on my schedule, though, because that's what coaches do. And since I was/am paying for his services, I figured I might as well do it. I noticed that my overall top end speed wasn't improving much but that my overall endurance was. I mentioned this to him and he said "Good, that's exactly what we want! Unless you want to start doing track workouts." Which, of course, I don't.
During this two month training cycle, I was also selected to be an Ambassador for Cumberland Transit. I've purchased a ton of gear there over the past few years and will purchase more in the months and years ahead for further adventures.
I trained hard for these two months: averaging 45-50 miles per week for the previous 6 weeks leading up to the race. I think I only skipped one workout the entire time. I also set a PR at a 15K (I got a free entry through work -- a free shirt is a free shirt!)
Everything was lining up for me to set a PR at this distance. And, of course, the race got postponed a week beforehand. So, I did what any dumbass would do: I decided (after some coaxing from Olaf and our mutual friend James Suh) to the Richland Creek Greenway loop around McCabe Golf Course 18 times for 50 miles.
Saturday morning rolled around and Sue (wonderful, awesome, book-worshipping, coffee-loving, fiancee of mine) and I went over to the trailhead after stopping by Olaf's house to pick him and his table up. We moseyed over to the trailhead just down the street and met up with Jason Thienel (one of the owners of Cumberland Transit and an OG of Jogalope. Jason and Olaf are both incredibly accomplished ultrarunners (go stalk them on Ultrasignup if you don't believe me) and agreed to pace me for some of my earlier loops. Off we went at about 7:10am.
The beautiful thing about running on a greenway is that you know exactly where you are at all times. The terrible thing about running on a greenway is that you know exactly where you are at all times. Jason ran with Olaf and me for the first two loops before having to peel off to head to work. He said he'd be back later in the day. Olaf stayed with me for the first four loops and later told me that he was glad to have shared the easy miles with me. Sue took Pippin (our wonderfully excitable, wonderfully strong, and unfortunately wonderfully pukey) dog back home.
I ran lap #5 solo and when I got to lap #6, who showed up to join me but... some guy I'd never met before. Kidding. It was Tony. We ran for a few laps together. We talked about his family, grad school, his wife, my future wife, races we've run, and the usual stuff that you talk about during a race. It was nice to meet him in person!
After lap, uh... #8, I think, Tony headed back home. I ate some more Gu gels, drank some more coke, and continued on. I knew at the end of this loop, I would be halfway home! I finished my 9th lap after about 4:40 which is exactly where I wanted to be. I ate some more junk food and started my 10th loop. About halfway through this loop, I ran into Jeff Dalzell, another local ultrarunner who shared about 5 miles with me. I saw Ashley, Barry, and Haley (also, part of the Jogalope crew) at the end of the loop. Here's a picture of us after mile (30)ish practicing safe social distancing:
Jeff split off after loop #11. This completion of this lap also put me right at the 50K mark in a little under six hours -- again right where I wanted to be. I think at this point in time, Sue decided to move the aid station about 50 feet away over to the truck. I changed into a dry shirt and went back out for loop #12. This is where things started to get tricky. Anytime you dip your toes into a long run, things can get a little strange once you hit an ultra distance
My legs felt good but my feet started to hurt a little. Paved pathways are unforgiving.
I saw ANOTHER local awesome ultrarunner and Jogaloper Kelsey Conner and her friend shortly after starting loop #13. She asked me how I was doing and I replied with "You're lookin' at it." I was feeling, uh... ok? I guess? It's hard to focus knowing that you're 37 miles into a run with another half marathon to go.
I started out on loop #14 and realized shortly thereafter I needed to pee. BADLY. The greenway was getting crowded by this point in the afternoon so I took a quick detour on a side trail to remedy that situation. All I could think of was "Please don't let this look like a hazy IPA. Please don't let this look like a hazy IPA." Thankfully, it didn't. That's also what that little spur looks like on my Strava in case anyone is checking this for validation. I finished the loop and thought "Woohoo! Only 4 more laps to go!" I had also been told to let people know when I had two loops left so that those that wanted to could run my final lap with me.
I was starting to feel the lack of electrolytes in my body at this point in time and it was starting to show on my outerwear: they were both covered in salt. I'm not very good at hydrating and following a nutrition plan at races. It's something that I need to continue to work on.
I went out for loops 15 and 16. Both were pretty uneventful. At the end of loop 16, I texted a few people to let them know that I only had two loops left and that if they wanted to come see me finish or run the last loop, now was the time to head back to the trailhead. I finished loop #17 and at the truck/aid station saw Olaf and his wife Liz, Coach Tony, and Sue. None of them were dressed like they were going to hobby jog these last 2.85 miles with me. Sue asked me what I needed and I replied (probably too tersely) with "I need to get out of here." I was in a pretty good amount of pain. I had been pushing myself pretty hard all day. I 'ran' out onto the greenway for the 18th and final loop of the day.
It was the final time I would see those stupid bridges on the west side of the greenway. It was the final time I would smell that stupid trash can on the south side. It was the final time I would see that stupid bench that was just begging for me to sit on it (oh, good one, Potsie). I just kept moving forward with my slowest loop of the day.
I came around the final bend and crested the small hill near 51st and Wyoming. As I did, my watched beeped for the 50th time, letting me know I had hit my 50 mile goal, and I saw a small group of friends who were waiting and cheering for me. The other people out on the greenway looked at all us like we were crazy. Which we kind of are. Barry and Haley set up a finish line made out of toilet paper:
I crossed in 10:19:47 according to my Suunto. Strava, I guess, only shows the total moving time (which I think is ridiculous) of 9:38:12. I'm going with 10:19:47... which means I MET ALL OF MY GOALS BY A TON! Also, it looks like no one has ever attempted to run a 50 miler on this route before, so I guess I've got the Only Known Time and (by default) Fastest Known Time! I expect and hope that someone goes after and takes it down at some point in time. :)
Here I am pictured with my finisher's medal: a roll of toilet paper.
I learned that I still have to do some work on my nutrition to get it to where it needs to be. I should continue to do speed work because it really helps. I still need to lose about 10 pounds before I'm really in decent race shape. And, maybe most importantly, I learned that you don't need a race to run an ultra distance. Just go out and have fun. And maybe a beer at the end.
Thanks to everyone who came out in supported me on this: Sue Black, Olaf and Liz Wasternack, James Suh (for the idea), Jason and Amber Thienel, Ashley Robinson, Coach Tony White, Jeff Dalzell, Barry Bizarre Bright, Haley Huffman, Kelsey Conner, and Ryan Rado. Thank you Cumberland Transit for the Ambassadorship. Also, virtual thanks to Daniel Larkin and Newton Dominey: Dumbasses forever. Sorry if I missed anyone.
Good job - I like the little spur on the Strava track! And thank you for noting that FKTs are always Total Elapsed Time, never Moving Time, just like in a race (Strava will show both btw). Taking pictures, admiring the view from a summit, and "natural breaks" (as they say in cycling) all count toward ones time and all are a worthy part of the outing!