Race Report: 2012 Earth Day 50K
I was very happy to stumble on this first-year event in Crystal Lake, IL. Knowing that I would be in the greater Chicago area for business, I checked a few race calendars to see what might fit into my schedule. I immediately signed up for the Earth Day 50k, figuring that I might just have to eat the entry fee if my busy work schedule prevented me from going. It took some really late nights (3am), but I was able to get enough done to create a hole in my schedule just big enough to fit the race.
The weather was brilliant. 40 at the start, 53 when I finished, and nothing but sunny skies and light winds.
The course was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t know much about it, and pictured some sort of wide gravel path around a park. Totally wrong. There was a ton a great narrow singletrack, lots of hills, rocks, trees, etc. – it was great! A very fun place to run, I really enjoyed it.
There were around 80 people in the 50k, which is a great testament to the running community in the Crystal Lake area. It was a great showing for a first year event. Kudos to the M.U.D.D. runners that organized the event.
I felt pretty fit going into this one, but didn’t quite have my ‘A’ game due to being sick with a cold that I picked up from a kid I sat next to on the plane earlier in the week, and feeling pretty rough from the grinding work schedule. I milked my ‘B’ game for all it was worth. Having my injuries behind me for the most part, losing a few pounds, and several weeks of cross-training with the TRX all picked up the slack.
I planned to avoid ‘racing’ for the most part and just settle into the level of effort that I had been practicing the past couple of weeks, then pick it up at the end if I had anything left. I was well aware of how sometimes being a little bit compromised in some area (like having a cold) actually lends itself to having a better race because you tend to run more conservatively. When I am feeling great, sometimes that can lead to going out too hard and then dying in the second half of the race.
After the national anthem was played on the trumpet, we were off on a short one mile loop. Then after that we would have 5 more identical loops of 6 miles each to do in order to get our 50k in. I settled in behind 3 guys for much of the first lap, and felt like surging ahead several times but stuck to my plan with a rare show of discipline. Things got spread out after the first lap, and I spent the rest of the race pretty much on my own. At the finish, there were four guys within a few minutes ahead of me, but I never saw any of them because of the heavy tree cover and meandering trail.
The course was marked with a combination of orange pin flags and paper plates with arrows. The marking was definitely adequate, but could have been better. There were also marshals at a few key intersections to show the way. Despite that, I witnessed at least 4 instances of people cutting the course. I’m positive it was unintentional, but it was a little demoralizing. I almost cut one section myself near the finish, but thankfully was shouted back on track before going too far. In another instance, a guy I was running with stopped for a nature break and then a couple of miles later he was up ahead of me on the trail and I had to catch and pass him again. That one really got me down and I was starting to have a pretty negative attitude. Thankfully I recognized my downward spiral and turned on my imaginary ipod for a while to focus on something else.
You can see on the map how there are several places where the course can be cut or shortened. I think doubling the number of orange pin flags would be a good start, and then adding some ‘wrong way’ signs in certain areas along with maybe some red flagging would help a lot.
After the initial parade lap, I flipped on the auto-pilot switch and kicked the seat back while the legs did their thing. I have been training over hilly terrain at a specific effort level so it felt very natural to settle into that groove.
My first three 6 mile laps were all within a 13 second window (52:16, 52:08, 52:03). I seem to have a knack for doing that on 5-10 mile loop courses. It’s a format that suits me well because I’m not trying to race to some far off finish line, but am just trying to turn in consistent laps. My heart rate was purring along at a 157 average.
Everyone at the race was fantastic, and it was great to see the marshals and aid station volunteers multiple times during the race. The Leg Bone Aid Station in particular was the high point of my laps. I never stopped for anything there, but the 10 people sounded like 100. What an enthusiastic bunch! I felt like I was floating on air running through there at a good clip getting a great boost from all the cheers.
I slowed down by one minute on the 4th lap (53:06, 157avg). This is when I think I was feeling the effects of my cold the most. My head was spinning a little and I was starting to cough more than I had been. I just wanted to be done with this lap, and then I could run a little harder on the final one.
It felt great to start the 5th and final lap knowing that I only had another 6 miles to do, and I started snapping out of my 4th lap funk when I pushed the pace a little harder. All day long I knew I would be deep into PR territory, now it was just a question of how much. This course was a lot more challenging than I expected, but was still the easiest 50k I’ve run. I was gunning for sub-4:30 and knew I had a great shot if I didn’t let up.
One last trip through the Leg Bone AS set me up like a slingshot to the finish line with one final round of cheers.
On the 4th lap I timed myself from a little mud bog to the finish line and clocked 28 minutes. When I hit the mud bog on the last lap I looked at my watch. 4:02. Dang!! It was good to know that I was right on track for 4:30, but I sure would have welcomed a minute or two worth of cushion to work with. That really got me fired up and I gave it whatever I had left to sail across the line in 4:27:28, 8th place overall (50:41 final lap). I was super happy with how I had run the race, and for having enough left in the legs to finish strong over the final few miles instead of completely imploding like I did at Psycho Wyco a couple of months ago.
The race was exceptional for a first-year event. You could tell that it was put on by folks with a lot of racing experience. The shirts and awards were great. I even won a sweet Inov-8 pack for being the entrant that had traveled the greatest distance to the race. Thank you M.U.D.D. runners!