Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mine Falls Fifty

When I mapped out my 2014 Race Schedule back in November of last year, I had originally planned to run the Pisgah 50k as my final tune-up race before Ghost Train. However, those plans changed when I became aware of a low-key, 50 mile run taking place on the same day in my “home woods” of Mine Falls Park. 50 miles in Mines?! I gotta be a part of that, right?

Of course, there were other reasons (besides proximity) which ultimately lead me to choose the Mine Falls 50 over Pisgah. And they mostly revolved around a single question: “Which race will better prepare me for Ghost Train?”

As I described in detail a couple weeks ago HERE, a critical part of preparing for my first 100 miler is training for the conditions I expect to see on race day, so that I can become comfortable with them prior to toeing the line. And the Mine Falls race pretty much had everything I was looking for. Flat? Check. Repetitive? Check. Long? Check. Dark? Check. The only thing it didn’t have was Cold and Ghosts. Of course, neither did Pisgah!

The other big reason for switching races had everything to do with me. More specifically, what I know about me. I know that if I showed up at Pisgah, regardless of what I said previously elsewhere, I’d end up racing it hard. And, a hard, hilly, technical 50k is not what I needed to get ready for Ghost Train. Particularly since the last two 50m races I did that were like that (TARC and Summer Classic) ended up in a 12-hour survival run and a DNF, respectively.

Of course, me being me also included getting involved in the management of the event. So, the day before the race found me spending an hour (before dinner) riding the 6.2 mile loop on my bike while flagging the trail and over-marking the corners. And another hour (after dinner) pushing, pulling, swearing at, and eventually hand-sawing down a tree which had fallen across one of the narrower sections of trail. Ideally, not how you want to be resting up before a 50 mile run!

The other cool thing about the Mine Falls 50 was that it was set up as a “Fat Ass” event. Meaning, show up when you want and run however many loops as you want.  No entry fee, no bibs, no timing and no aid stations. Every runner participating was responsible for bringing whatever supplies they needed. And, maybe something extra to share with the group. So, I showed up at 4:30am (to get my night running in) set out some jugs of water and some chocolate chip cookies for the other runners, and set off alone around 5:00am. In the dark and drizzle.

The 10k loop at Mine Falls was a pretty good mix of smooth/flat main trail and

undulating/interesting side trail. It was set up to somewhat mimic the course at Ghost Train – as many of the participants were gearing up for that race, as well. Going into it, I hoped to run between 9:30 and 10:00 minutes per mile, setting me up for an 8 hour finishing time, or about 60 minutes for each of the 8 laps that it would take for me to get to 50 miles.

I ran super conservatively on the first lap. Partly because it was hard to see, partly because it was getting progressively more rainy and partly because I didn’t want to blow up right out of the gate. About halfway through the first lap, the skies opened up and it felt like I was running through a monsoon. Stupid weathermen said it wasn’t going to rain until the afternoon! They definitely missed the boat on that one. And after a 57:18 on the first lap, I wished I had a real boat of my own for the second!

The small puddles I had seen on the initial “go round” were now huge (and growing huger) lakes. Right in the middle of the trail. I cringed at the thought of running through them for 8+ hours and I picked my way around the edges the best I could. At one point, the rain was coming down so hard that I had to turn off my headlamp, because the steady glare off the water droplets made it impossible to see anything beyond my face. Lap two came and went in a very soggy 57:45.

I dumped my head/waist lamps at the car and changed my soaked shirt. The rain was still coming down, but not quite as bad as before. After a quick pit stop - water, GU, stroopwafel, sport beans and GO! – I was back out on the course.  About a mile into the loop a couple of runners came up from behind. We ran together for a little while before I let them go. I was trying to be good about keeping an even and honest pace, and I saw no reason to change that now. 59:26 later and Lap 3 was history.

Now, by this point, I hadn’t seen any of the people who were planning on running with me. So, I decided to run out of the park and up to the traffic circle to see if anyone was up there. On my way back, I ran into Dave Dunham who was just starting his second lap. So, we ran my fourth lap together at a slightly quicker pace than I’d done the previous three. Thankfully, by this point, the rain had almost completely stopped and the skies began to brighten.

It was fun running with Dave and we talked pretty much non-stop the whole way. The only bummer was that Dave was wearing a GPS. Which told us (as we got back to the start/finish area at the gate house) that we had only run 6 miles. So, in order to get the 6.25 I needed, we had to run around the traffic circle and back. And, much to my chagrin, this not only meant that I’d need to run to the traffic circle for each of my next 4 laps, it also meant I’d have to add two more quarter mile “mini loops” at the end if I wanted my 50 miler to be legit. Damn  technology!

Fortunately, with the quicker pace and the increased visibility, we managed 58:56 on that fourth loop – which (like the previous loop) included the extra .25 miles. Lap 4 was done. I was halfway there! New shirt, more food and I was out (on my own this time) for lap 5. I was feeling strong, but still ran easy as I knew there was plenty of “run time” left and, with the sun coming out, it was starting to warm up. Still, lap five went by fairly quickly and I was back to the car again in 1:00:28.

I decided to change my socks before lap 6. They were completely drenched and I was starting to feel some “hot spots” on my heels. The extra time at the car allowed me to consume a few more calories (in the form of pringles and pretzels) which I think helped me power through that sixth lap in 59:57. Back under an hour! Plus, as an added bonus, I had promised myself that if/when I got through 6 laps, I could use my iPhone to listen to music – my secret weapon! YES!

No sooner had I pressed the shuffle button, than out of the woods popped Dan Dugan to run with me. Excellent! Tunes and company, we were officially flying! Unfortunately, about halfway through that lap (around 40 miles in) things started to change. The sun was beating down and the humidity was on the rise. It was getting bright and I was getting dark. I walked a bit to collect myself and eventually (after another GU) I started to jog again, but at a much slower pace. Ooof!

The music had pumped me up and pushed me to run out of my “zone” and now I was paying the price. Which is ironic, because I had just finished telling Dan that the reason I like to run “too slow” at the beginning of an ultra was so that I could control the race. And, now it was the race that was controlling me. I was dying from a self-inflicted, fun-shot wound! Needless to say, once we got back to the car, I quickly ditched the iPhone and prepared for the final lap of the day.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the up and down nature of that lap, we ran it in a reasonably quick 1:00:44. A number I knew wouldn’t be seeing again the rest of the day. Dan did his best to motivate me, but I was hurting for certain. After about a mile of shuffling along (and feeling sorry for myself) I said, “Fuck this Shit!” and immediately started running more quickly. This lasted for yet another mile, then I was off to the side of the trail - puking my guts out.  “That’s what I get for trying to run fast”, I remarked to Dan as I nonchalantly wiped the spittle off my chin.

Eventually, I started feeling better again. But, I certainly wasn’t moving any faster as a result of it. We trudged in silence through the second half of that final lap. Moving inexorably closer to the end of my day on the trail. I limped around the traffic circle (filled with football fans and cheerleaders preparing for a game at Stellos) and back to the car for the slowest (by far) lap of the day at 1:07:01. Ouch!

I dutifully did my two quarter mile “mini laps” to the traffic circle and back. And finished exhausted at the gate house in a running time of 8:07:54. Add to that the 25 minutes spent re-supplying at the car, over the course of the run, and my total elapsed time was 8:32:54.  Certainly not as fast as the 8:12 I’d run at Stonecat, but way better than either of my most recent 50 mile attempts. And just the kind of confidence boost I was hoping for going into Ghost Train.

Looking back, I’m feeling pretty positive about my result. I ran a wet, muggy, un-supported and un-tapered 50 miler with an average pace of 9:45. 10:15 if you include the time at the car. I ran 44 solid miles between 9:26 and 9:43 pace (9:35 avg), before finally succumbing to a 10:43 on that last 6m lap. And, I only puked once! More importantly though, it’s now just 3 days later and I’m feeling great. Like the 50 miler was just another long run!

Looking ahead, it’s hard to believe that, after all this time building up to Ghost Train, it’s nearly here! I have just 4 weeks of training left. And half of those are “low mileage” weeks! Where the heck did the time go? I’m proud of all the hard work I’ve put in and for the money I’ve been able to raise at 100 Miles for Sam. And, I’m downright giddy at the chance to finally see what I can do for my first 100 miler. I have a feeling it’s going to be a special day!


  1. Nice job, Michael! I guess your absence from Pisgah is excused!

    1. Thanks Greg! As much as I WANTED to run Pisgah (actually pre-registered and everything) I NEEDED to run Mine Falls. I think it has set me up perfectly for a good run at Ghost Train. Good to see you killed it out there, again.