The Labor Pains trail is a 5 mile loop, consisting of mostly single track. The trail has a few rolling hills and a couple of somewhat technical sections, but is mostly runnable and is definitely a good trail for logging miles. The trail conditions, coupled with the 12 hour time limit, makes this race the ideal venue for first time ultra runners and for people looking to reach a new milestone in their distance running career.
I went into this years race with very modest expectations because I'm still recovering from the 100 mile race in Leadville. I was still fatigued from that effort and I had contracted some respiratory bug as a result of tearing my body down during that race. I've read that illnesses are fairly common in the days following a 100 mile race, and that seems to be what happened to me. I just felt sluggish and lacked sufficient motivation to get excited about reaching for an impressive distance or time. This is my first experience with the symptoms of burnout, and I hate it.
The weather during the race added to the general malaise of the crowd. While temperatures in our area have been dropping recently, Sunday turned out to be very warm and exceedingly humid. It was oppressive and weighed heavily on most the runners that had been acclimating to the cooler temperatures during training.
In spite of my less than enthusiastic mood and my broke down body, I was excited to see so many great friends show up for the race. The scene was electric and it was almost impossible to ignore the energy of the crowd.
For a lot of us, this group is like a family, except we actually like each other. A big part of the success of the Pretzel City Sports events is the relationships that have been built at these races. And we all keep coming back to run and race with each other. But most importantly, we come to support each other, share stories, eat and drink together and simply enjoy being in the presence of people that we love and respect. It's a truly unique running crowd and I'm blessed to be a small part of it.
Team HCM getting ready at the start of the race. My good friend Derek is sitting this race out because he's in training for the Pine to Palms 100 mile race in Oregon. Left to right, JC Clifford, Bob Bodkin, Derek Schultz, and me. Three of the greatest running friends a guy can have and an inspiration to many.
The race was scheduled to start at 7:30. And as to be expected at a PCS event, the Ron Horn (race director) got us started at 7:38ish. It's part of the charm.
Like the overzealous idiot that I can be on occasion, I decided that I was certainly one of the fastest runners in the group, therefore, I needed to be leading the race right away. The picture below is a little fuzzy, but I wanted to make sure to include it as evidence of my delusional condition. I'm such a jackass sometimes...
I burned through the first lap WAY too fast, running every uphill, blowing through the aid station, and generally pretending this was a 10K. My plan was to average 55 minute loops all day. Loop one was right at 43 minutes.
Me coming to the end of the first loop. Still way out in the front of the group.
At this point, I felt like I had made my point for the day, and elected to adjust my pace to something more "Ultra runner-like". Meaning I drifted back into the pack where I belonged.
By the end of the second loop, some of us were already lapping some the slower runners.
This picture below is more evidence that I was running too fast for my current condition, because I'm in FRONT of Kelly Murdock (in the white shirt, not the black shirt). This has never happened before, and for good reason. Kelly is a tiny bundle of running fury. She's freakishly fast and makes most of us boys look silly. I adore the young lady, but she pisses me off with all that fast running. Come on KELLY! Give a brother a chance!
After making my fourth loop, it was time to start thinking about my goal for the day. Coming into the race, I wanted to run 50 miles for the day and call it quits. But with my current depleted condition, it didn't really make sense to push myself that hard just to achieve an arbitrary distance. So I decided to hit the 50K mark and be satisfied with that, making this my 10th ultra since my race here last year.
I made two more loops on the course, then made my 1 mile out and back to complete the 31 mile distance, and I declared my race complete.
This distance was uncharacteristically painful for me, and while I really wanted a few more miles, I was happy to make a responsible choice for once, and sit my ass down when my body suggested it. I'll take that as a sign of maturity.
This is a picture of me right after I finished 50K. As you can clearly see, I'm replenishing my nutrients with the best source of calories, carbs and fats. I'm hoping to be sponsored by a beer company for the 2012 race season. If anybody has any ideas, please speak up!
But my day was a long way from being over.
As I stated earlier, Labor Pains attracts a lot of runners that want to hit the ultra benchmark for the first time. I want to take some time in this blog to recognize those people and their inspiring efforts.
My good friend, and Leadville pacer, Paul Peters attended the race with his wife Heather. Her longest race to date has been a half marathon, but she's currently training for the Steamtown Marathon. She wanted so desperately to hit the 50K mark in this race, and she did. Heather gave me the honor to pace her into her first ultra finish and it's an experience I'll remember forever.
Our sport is emotional at times because of the massive feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of achieving things that were once unthinkable. Heather and I talked about her transformation from overweight to ultramarathon runner while we were running her final mile. That brief time running with Heather near her finish is an experience that I will remember forever. Heather inspires me and I'm so proud of her.
Here is a picture of me pacing Heather to her finish. An ultra runner is born!!!
But my day just kept getting better...
Derek Schultz's father was at the race to nail down his first 50K finish. Randy is a constant presence at a lot of these races, either running, or volunteering his time to support other runners. Derek is a brother to me and Randy is much like a father. I have endless amounts of respect for this man, and his enthusiasm for this sport is infectious. While most men his age are content watching the world slip passed their window or on television, Randy is out there, on the trail, living life to the fullest.
I was honored to pace Randy to his finish. Here we are running together at the end of his long journey. It was a priceless experience for me.
And to cap off a perfect day of running, I was pleased to get a chance to go back out on the trail and pace Rob Goeckerman for his final 5 mile loop. Rob had previously finished a 50K in the past, but today, he was smashing that distance by attempting to put up a 45 mile run. Rob has dropped a huge amount of weight and has started to do some truly impressive things out on the trail. He has a great attitude and I loved running his last 5 miles with him, providing support and encouragement to the finish. I was amazed at how strong he finished, keeping a good pace all the way to the end. I loved being a part of his achievement.
Rob, you're a freaking BEAST!
Having the opportunity to help bring these runners to the finish was a gift and it's one of the most satisfying things I've done as a runner. I appreciate the opportunity immensely.
Here are a few more people that inspire me...
Jeff Hills is an animal. Jeff, like me, is very new to the ultra scene but he's been eating up trail races like a fat kid eats cake! This guy is everywhere, running his ass off. Jeff took the sport up later in life and has been accomplishing great things. I love running with Jeff and sharing stories.
Jeff is AWESOME!
My friend and fellow HCM Team member, JC Clifford is another example of a great human being that works to better his life along with those around him. JC trains religiously for these endurance events and works equally hard to make a difference in other people's lives. I've never met a better man. His energy is intoxicating and he's inspirational to talk to. I was proud to be there to witness his first 50K.
Great job JC!
I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Tania before the race. She is a frequent contributor to the Runner's World Forums, and while I have read what she writes, I had never met her in person. Tania was at the race hoping to complete her first 50K. She was very nervous before the race and her mind was clouded with self doubt. I tried to provide her with encouragement and hoped she would gain some confidence, but she seemed pretty content with her current mental state. But deep down, I knew she would be fine. She just needed to get on the trail.
I thought about her constantly during my own run. I was anxious to know how she was doing and I wanted to help her if I could. So I planned to finish my race, then jump in and pace Tania on her final 5 mile lap (or 2 if she was that far back). But to my amazement, when she did come in, it was to FINISH her distance! She didn't need my help at all and she rocked her first 50K. I was so excited for her and proud of her for gathering herself up and making it happen.
Tania is one tough chick, and she should be very proud of herself. I was amazed by her! Here she is coming into the finish of her first 50K. ALL SMILES!!! Great job!
It's not often that a person can find themselves surrounded by so many great people, doing so many inspirational things. All of these runners are normal, everyday people. But they're doing extraordinary things. I've always said that trail runners are the best type of people, and whenever I witness these events, that fact is embedded even deeper into my mind.
I'm honored to call these people my friends and I'm humbled by their actions. There is so much positive energy, respect, appreciation and love in our group of runners. I wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything and can't wait to get back on the trail with all these great people!
After my 50K race, I ended up pacing runners for another 7 miles before I ran out of people in need of my services. That put me at 38 miles for the day. I can live with that...for now!