Seashore 50k Natural Trail Marathon / December 15, 2018
I have been delaying in writing this in order to put some distance from the event. Since this was my first 50k and an ultra marathon length I want to give why I ended up doing it.
First of all, the event was a highlight of what I have been training for last two years. I did not start out wanting to do an ultra marathon. I always think that it is not for me. I don’t want to suffer pain and discomfort of running an intense 4-6 hours race. There is nothing to prove in running an ultra and I am quite happy with just doing a marathon. However, there is always a small desire inside me to go and try.
I did start off running a marathon as my goal, which by definition to most people is a long ardous race, so it is natural once I got the hang of a marathon to move into the ultra world.
The idea to run an ultra started last year when one of the ladies in my running club finished a 50 miler (JFK), and since then I want to do the same, just because that was so awesome and I wanted to be her pacer if she ever is going to do a 100 miler. I feel I could at least run part of the way, a marathon length (26 miles), but to able to run the full length would be way cool. So I looked around for ultra races to run. A few of the ultras I came across required having done a previous race to enter. Many have a cap on number of runners. Seashore 50k doesn’t require a previous race but does have a cap. Registration opened on June 1. For some reason, I think I was on a trip to Peru at the time, I did not register until June 11, by then the race was full. For some forgotten reason, Seashore 50k was one I really want to run and I didn’t want to look for another.
I wrote to the race director about how quickly the race filled up. The race director told me to still sign up and be placed on the waiting list and he said usually many people will drop out as the race approves and there will be room by the race day. I won’t be charged to be on the waiting list, so I signed up. I checked the status weeks after weeks and I think by October I finally got in.
I have been training on and off. I had an ankle (left) injury in June and was repeatedly reinjured it over the course of summer. Still my left ankle is quite weak even now. My real training came during fall. I have signed up a marathon for November (NCR) and was training for that. I felt it would be a good preparation for the 50k. For some crazy reason, I felt that wasn’t enough and signed up another (Potomac River on the C & O Canal) for September. I wrote in previous entries how I felt my training was inadequate and I would wing through these races. I was pretty happy with them in the end (see my race report for NCR).
By December came around I was as prepared as I could be. The two marathons I just did before this, I couldn’t be more pleased.
Race condition. The weather wasn’t something any of us could control. Because of the time of the year, being in December, I expected bad weather. I expected it being cold. I watched some of previous year videos, I saw the course, and other experiences. People said the bridge is slippery and it was. We watched the forecast. It was forecasting rain and cold temperature (32F/0C). I have raced in the rain before, but I don’t think I could handle both cold and wet. Luckily by the night of, condition has shifted. Temperature has risen to 55-60. It held steady through out the evening and on race day. The night before, it forecasted heavy rain with the heaviest downfall occurring around 11-12pm and also the rain would be accompany with moderate to high wind (at least high to me). It was not favorable at all. By race time though, weather was cloudy, and no rain.
The air was damp. The course was wet. The race director, a day before, has told us that the course would be muddy. Rain did start once the race was under way but it was never as hard as forecasted. I had my rain jacket with me throughout but it wasn’t necessary. The wind did not come. The temperature was a little too warm at times but also there was a brief time I felt cold, but bearable.
My outfit was a rain jacket (totally not needed; many ran without one), t-shirt and shorts. For shoes, I wore Salamon 3 trail shoes. I have visited the course the day before and it was a relatively flat and nice. The ground was solid, small gravel, and firm. It was well maintained. I could run using my regular road shoes. However, I wore the trail shoes because they matched my outfit, that was the only reason. Silly, I know. I glad I did, because I didn’t want to mess up my precious road running shoes.
The first mile of the race was on road. That was a good idea for everyone to find their pace. We sorted ourselves out quicky. Those who wanted go fast, would go fast (many did). I was quite please most people were experienced runners and did not start too fast. I ran extra slow compare to a normal marathon. Anyway, this was my first ultra and I didn’t want to die halfway. I felt we sorted out pretty well. I was in the middle of the pack. I don’t remember passing too many people nor too many people passed me. Our position at the first mile pretty much determine our finishing place. I was happy with my pace. I did moved up a bit at the halfway point when many people took a break to change clothes etc.
We entered the trail after the first mile. It was mostly single file event. I followed the one in front and the person behind followed me. No one passed. The course is out and back with a little loop at the end (Osmanthus trail). We would do the out and back twice. There were three aid stations one at the beginning, one at the middle, and one at the end. They said there were about 3-5 miles apart. Later on, that became my strategy to run from station to station (aid to aid stategy). Someone called out to me they were doing A2A and I was confused until later on, I was told what it was. I thought it was a pace count or something.
The aid station was well stocked with everything I ever dream of compare to in a marathon. I used my usual strategy to have a break at every station. I carried my own water as did many other runners but still I drank from the station. My own was a 16 once water bottle. I know it wasn’t enough but it would allow me to drink any time once I was away from the aid station. I was used to this on my normal long run.
As for food, though I had breakfast already, the station already had sandwiches out, I took a piece and started eating (they cut into quads). My trialthon friend told me I have to eat early in the race to keep my energy up at the end. I think that was a successful strategy. I did.
My strategy was not to go too fast as I tended to do in many of my previous marathons. I treated the first five miles as a warm up and after that get my mind to think it was just another normal marathon. It kind of work. I did not use my Garmin watch to pace myself because I forgot to charge it. I didn’t think it affected my running. I ran based on gut feeling (and having done so in the last part of the NCR helped). I did get tired in the end, but I didn’t really “hit a wall” as in the usual marathons, e.g. in the NCR. I had “plenty” of reserve left even to the very end. This is relatively speaking of course. I think eating at every aid station certainly helped. I had on me two chewy bars too. I ate one during mid course when I was at my lowest energy. When I reached 26 mile mark, I knew I would finish. The last few miles were not a struggle for me as at the NCR.
I never drank pickle juice before until this race. At one point about halfway through the race, I passed an aid station, I took one by accident. The guy manning the station said drinking water is not enough. Later on, I gulped those yucky liquid down whenever I passed by. I had Tailwind (like Gatorade) too; mountain dew and other soft drink the stations offered on my last few miles. I kept myself away from the sodas to avoid having sugar crashes. I don’t think sodas were necessary but it felt good to have some!
The pickle juice helped me to avoid cramp. There was a point I think at 20 mile where I started to cramp up in my calf. I felt it and I slowed down. Once I got to the aid station, I went for the pickle juice, by then, it was no longer disgusting to swallow.
Cape Henry Trail was a bit muddy. It couldn’t be helped. Overall, it was not as bad as the Manassas National Battlefield, which I ran at a few weeks before. I was secretly pleased to be well prepared for mud. There was a guy who slipped and felt and I felt bad he had to drop out. I didn’t see it happened but I was there when the support cart came for him. I saw he could still walk but racing was done for him for that day.
I ran a relatively slow pace. I finished at 6:13. Occasionally I passed people and other time people passed me. The course was not crowded. Of course because of the weather, and some did not start (DNS). There were times I was all by myself. The course was beautiful and provided me with plenty things to see. There was a lake on one of the trails. The trees were quite nice. The worse section was Cape Henry Trail (main trail) but the trail is wide and allows you to pass others (no complaint really). Other trails are narrower, but still are wide enough for a two way traffic. People were quite nice, no one I saw run side by side unless the path is wide like on Cape Henry. The trails were open to public during the race, so you can have plenty of supports. There were probably rules on pacing etc, I didn’t need pacers so I couldn’t tell you about this if your support can help you on the trail outside the aid station. Cape Henry trail allows cyclists/horse. We didn’t come across horses that day.
I made it back to the starting point on the first loop without problem (16 miles now). Many people had bag dropped there and they swapped gear. I prepared a dropbag too but decided not to use it. I ran with wet socks by then and would have been nice to swap shoes and socks (I decided to keep my dry clothes for end of the race to change in). Some people reapplied glide. My crew (mom) wasn’t there, so I kept on and went back out for a second loop. Unliked at the NCR, I didn’t get rub-burned. I used a lot vasoline this time in places that are known for rub burn (I wore normal underwear too instead of “high performance” ones and it helped). Some people put stuff on their feet, I didn’t. My feet did ended up looking pretty bad at the end for being soaked for too long.
I lost one toe nail but nothing to cry about. I had no blister. I wore my thick Merino wool reserved for hiking. I didn’t know there were things called running socks too until after the race. Also some people had on mini gaiters (shoes covering) and they were so cute. It was my first time seeing such thing. My mom told me ladies are so smart because they wore long socks/stocking so once the race was over they could take them off and be cleaned, while I had a hard time cleaning off the mud from the back of my legs before getting into the car (in the end I gave up).
I started doing run and walk on the second loop about a fourth way in. Luckily, I met a fellow runner “Ann” with her friend “Lorrie”. I followed them for several miles. There were times they disappeared ahead or behind, but it was encouraging to see familiar faces from time to time. People were encouraging each other on. I had Ann there from time to time.
The hardest part of the race was to keep going. Whenever I saw Ann, I would start running again. My limitation was not my heart rate or muscle but just plain tireness, so a little motivation got me started again. I guess the training plan called for learning to run when you are exhausted was the key to finishing.
I felt I could have break 6 hours. I did take the race a bit too leisurely. I felt I didn’t really press too hard to pass people. It is easy to look back and think I could have run at this pace at this segment… anyway, it was my first race, so it provided a reference how to run better next time. Maybe due to the weather, many didn’t finish (DNF). You can check the statistics on the race site to see if this race is for you to do. On second loop as I was returning, I passed a lot of people who were just starting out on their second leg. I had a sinking feeling they wouldn’t be able to make the cut off time, yet I cheered them on. So I should be glad, I did finish at the time I got. The total course time was 8 hours. They let the last person finished at 8:01. That’s grace.
The rest of the race was uneventful. Ann caught up to me at the last couple miles. I was walking of course. She provided me the needed push to finish. I started to run with her. She had a good speed going at that time, I think we were doing 9:30-10 mi pace. It was a decent pace at the end of a 50k! That was the reason, I felt I still had my reserve untapped.
The best point during the race was an assurance that I would finish. I know at the last couple miles, I felt a surge of energy coming out from me. I was running on adrenaline or the sugar rush from the sodas. It was an amazing experience. The race was finally over when I stepped over the finishing mat. I did it. Note for those who looked up my time, I think the time was a bit off (it recorded me finishing about a bit faster than I should – I have a photo to prove, and I wrote to the race director about it, he said it doesn’t affect the ranking, but he would send it to the time keeper to review; my age group ranking though has the right finishing time).
I would like to run it again. It was a beautiful course (minus the mud). Nothing can be done with the weather. I considered myself lucky. Parking was plentiful that morning. Also finding a inexpensive but decent hotel wasn’t a problem at this time of the year (I had a good stay). There were bathrooms on the course. Logistic was well handled. Race director communicated well and had a well run staff. We had an after race party at a brewery (free beer and pizzas!) Thank you to the volunteers who were out whole day and even at the party. It was a good race. I would recommend it as a good race for first timers. This was a very good trail race in an urban center. 1 to 5, with 5 as the highest, this is a 4.5. It is not a prefect 5 due to one can’t ever be sure with the weather, which could turn this into one of the worse race ever.