Race Report: Psycho Wyco 50k
I made the 8 hour drive to Kansas City to run in the 4th annual Psycho Wyco 50k (31 mile) trail race. It was a long haul, but well worth it. I was seriously questioning my sanity as I left work early to drive almost 600 miles across Kansas, but I reminded myself that this race was the motivator I had used through the winter to keep me going in my training. Now it was time to enjoy the fitness I had earned. I looked forward to testing my legs in my first ultra marathon of 2008.
Wyandotte County Lake Park (the ‘WyCo’ in Psycho Wyco)
The race was put on with the excellent organization of the Kansas City Trail Nerds. Those folks know how to do it right! The course was a tough combination of hills, rocks, dirt, stream crossings, ice, and mud. Everything a trail runner could want. In addition to the 50k, which would circle the lake 3 times, there were also 20 mile and 10 mile races. This meant that almost 400 runners were on the course for at least one lap – that’s a HUGE turnout for a trail race! I think it speaks volumes as to the quality of the event and the organizers.
I got a good night’s sleep at a nearby hotel, and woke up feeling ready to run. The temps were in the 30’s and would climb to around 50 by the middle of the day. I chose to run in shorts and a short sleeved shirt – it felt like a heat wave after the deep freeze we’ve been in this winter. In fact, with the exception of a light undershirt and a thin pair of gloves, I was dressed exactly like I would have been for a run at the peak of summertime.
I knew my legs were good, but my strategy needed some work. This would be the first ultra that I was really trying to ‘race’. This wasn’t a course conducive to fast times, so I didn’t want to focus on that too much. Instead, I would try for a good placing. Last year I was mainly concerned with just going the distance. This year would be different. My training had been excellent in terms of distance and speed, but I seriously lacked hill work – and I would need it on this course. The hills were relentless (in Kansas!?!) and the course was a steady barrage of steep ups and downs. The total elevation gain worked out to 4,500 feet. More vertical than I had run in the past 3 months combined…
Looking at the results from the prior years, I felt like it would be a good goal to try for a top ten finish and/or a sub-5:30 time. Trouble with that was, I would be running against a bunch of locals with good course knowlegde – while I would be running blind. If I were a more experienced runner, that might not be such a big deal. Since that isn’t the case, I tried to do my homework and read all the accounts of previous races, study maps, look at Google Earth, etc. I still felt inadequate.
Heading up the first hill
After a few words of instruction, the thundering herd was on its way. Crunching the styrofoam-like snow and frozen grass with feet that felt light and springy. Not knowing how hard I should start out, and knowing I would invariably get caught up running against people doing shorter distances, I tucked in around 15th spot right on the heels of a guy that I knew was a local. I had overheard him saying he was shooting for a 5:00-5:30 finish. Perfect.
I was concerned about the fast pace we were going, but figured as long as I stayed with the runner I had picked out, things should be ok. Plus, I felt great! I was RACING!
The guy I was running behind started walking on a hill very early in the race, turned out it wasn’t his day. Now I was on my own again. For some reason, this flipped a switch in me and I just started going harder and harder. Passing people left and right.
I pushed hard down this hill and passed several people – notice the nice clean shoes…
I knew I would have the benefit of a lower altitude. I live near 6,000′ and the park we were running in was around 1,000′. Instead of holding on to my oxygen card and playing it smart, I put all my chips on the table and played it all in the first hand. I felt like I had gills and was swimming in pure oxygen. Sucking the O’s, as they say on Everest. It was awesome.
My heart rate was in the 170’s, which is pretty high, but I was barely breathing. I foolishly thought I could run as hard as I wanted, without suffering the effects. It was good while it lasted…
Finishing the first lap
I was aiming for a 1:40 first lap, and came through in 1:32 – even after backing off quite a bit during the last few miles. This put me in 4th place out of the 50k runners. I knew it was just too fast and backed off even more, thinking I would hit about 1:45 on the second trip around the lake. Once all the 10 milers finished their race, it got pretty quiet out on the course. One guy passed me 3 miles into the second lap, and that was the last runner (other than those I would lap) that I would see for the rest of the race. My motivation started to drag a bit without anyone around to chase, or to push me. My legs started cramping and I felt slow. I finished that lap in 1:43 and was pretty surprised that my time was still that good. I cruised through the aid station and headed out for my final loop.
By now, the day was warming up and the course was deteriorating rapidly. It started to get really muddy. Hills that I ran up on earlier laps, were almost impossible to walk up now – after 400 pairs of feet had churned up the soft dirt and everything had melted. I looked forward to the 3-4 stream crossings as a way to clean off my shoes. It was like running in creamy peanut butter a foot deep that had been sprayed with a fire hose for about an hour. I fell while running a slippery downhill and caught my forearm on a tree trunk. Ouch.
My legs, mind, and body all started to turn to mud as well. I had been skipping aid stations and just grabbing a new bottle from my drop bag when I ran through the start/finish in hopes of saving some time. I clearly hadn’t been drinking enough as my legs started to cramp more often and more violently. I was short on calories, too. So I finally made a 15 second stop at the 23 mile mark and grabbed some more water – and a Krispy Kreme donut to go. Wow! That tasted fantastic!! After doing a very technical singletrack loop, the course took you through the back side of the same aid station and I grabbed 2 more donuts to go! My body was starving and I hadn’t been paying attention. I sucked down 2 gels and drained my water bottle in hopes of jumpstarting my system.
It was too little, too late, but I did feel a tiny bit better. I started passing more and more people now that were on their second loop. Many of them would say something along the lines of them not believing I was still running in all that mud. I was tired, and I hadn’t executed a very smart race, but I kept telling myself to trust in the training. I knew I had put the work in, and that I could keep running to the end.
I had no idea what place I was in, or if anybody that I was passing now was on my lap or their 2nd. I just put my head down and ran as hard as I could. Man, it felt great to cross that finish line! I came across in 5:22, which put me in 6th place out of 108 runners that started the 50k (4th place in the 30-39 age group – 73 total finishers). I had achieved both of my goals!
Mud and blood – just another day on the trails…
My last lap was a 2:06, which had me pretty disgusted, I had fallen apart badly – but I got over it. Considering the conditions, I cut myself some slack. I wondered if a more conservative start, with more even lap times would have netted me a faster result. It’s hard to say, because I covered a lot of ground while it was still frozen. I think I probably should have backed off just a bit and respected the course more, though. Too easy to get cocky coming from Colorado to a race in Kansas. I’ll definitely respect it next time!
Me and my shiny new medal