Afton Trail Run 50k Race Report
I always think I’m prepared, but I’m never really prepared. In a lot of ways, I was ready for the race. I was hydrated, salted and carbed up. I knew the course intimately, having trained on it for the last few months at least once a week, and using the published course loop. I had my nutrition dialed in as far as avoiding my former cramping problem. At the Zumbro 17 I got hobbled by blisters and almost lost a nail because of shoes, but now I had gone back to my Nike Trail Kigers and everything was good there — ankles were recovered even though they never really got to rest, and the IT band issues were gone.
In other ways, I was characteristically naive and optimistic. I had never run a 50k before, but thought getting up to 26.2 would be “just fine”. Adding 20% on race day… maybe that works for some folks, but it didn’t feel right to me. The reason: I’m not a racer. I’ll never be on a podium, and I’m cool with that. This is only my second full running season in my life. I’m not fast, but my main goal is to finish, have fun, and not get (too badly) injured. I hit two of those goals, but could have definitely had more fun from around miles 27 to 31. We’ll get to that.
I got up at 4:30 in order to arrive at Afton State Park at 5:30. The coffee machine was pre-set, my bag was packed, all was in order. I got there on time, used an off-the-path bathroom that no one in the long porta-potty line knew of (and I didn’t tell, because — next year!), checked in and did a little shopping. The proceeds of this race go back to Afton State Park, and I love this park, so I bought myself a light beanie that I needed, got an older year’s tech tee thrown in for a buck, and headed back to the car. Bib on, last slurps of coffee, band-aids on nipples, salt tab chased by my Nuun drink. The 50k folks got to leave a drop bag since we would be doing two loops. I opted out since I didn’t really need anything. In theory, and in practice, this was another Saturday out at Afton for me, but with aid stations!
We gathered for a couple UMTR pics with our banner. I love these guys. It’s great to have a group to meet up with and plan trail runs. I chatted with Carl, a guy around my pace. He was volunteering, and the RD let him run for free after setting up the day before. I know I’m like a skipping record, but Rocksteady Running is the shit. Do their runs; you will love them too! I drank the Kool-Ade, er… Heed, and I’m hooked. John Storkamp, the RD, said a few words, and we were off.
I started out too fast, because that’s just what you do. The course opens down a wide, grass, gradual descent to a gravel road. You then hook a left and head up a long hill. Now for some numbers: In the 50k you have around 9500 feet elevation change. There are some big hills out here, up and down the bluffs next to the river. So I hit the bottom of the hill and started walking. Naively, I thought I could maybe run the second loop faster if I ran the first conservatively. Next time. Really!
I settled in behind a couple young women around the Africa Loop of slowly rolling grass. We saw a deer, chatted a little, and dropped down into Trout Brook Loop, which is pretty much single track with some stairs and hills, and is a lot of fun. Now that I had an audience, I decided to get my first ever trail rash. Going down the hill, it was like a hiccup. I was running, then falling, tucking, rolling, popping up, and running again. Everyone was impressed. I was embarrassed and grateful that I escaped with a slight scuff on my knee and elbow. That hill is rocky, and it could have been a lot worse.
At the aid station I ate some foods, refilled my hand-held with Heed, and went on, eventually dropping the young-uns. Back to complete the Africa Loop, then down to the river in a long, fun descent. Then back up the other side in the never-ending hill, which I just decided I would walk the whole of. I walked with Mike, who had just run Grandma’s. At the top some other guys who had also run marathons caught up to us. As usual, this is my euphoria section, and without meaning to, I dropped them all. I kept thinking they’d catch back up, but they never did. I hit the river bottoms again and kept going, back up again to the campgrounds. Steep. Drinking a lot. I haven’t peed yet. Huh. Drink more.
Back down out of the campgrounds to the aid station, more food, more Heed (hm, this stuff tastes worse than I remember), then the long section (over a mile) of flat gravel road next to the river. I settled in behind a young woman (it’s a coincidence, I swear. I am too damn tired while running to be a sicko!) and just zoning out, staring at the ground between us. We got to a hill called The Meat Grinder. I thanked her for pacing us, and Rob from UMTR was there taking photos. It was nice to see a familiar face. He said I looked good. I told him not to stick around to see what I’d look like in a few hours. It was good advice.
At the top there’s a little grass, another aid station (food, Heed (ugh), yadda yadda, still no pee?), then on to Deer Valley Loop, a fun and hilly single track loop. It was awesome. I was getting tired, but no biggie. I hiked up the last big hill, and trotted left of the finish for the 50k loop aid station. Eat, drink, and woohoo! I peed! I said hello to another UMTR fella, looked around, saw no one else ready to roll, and started down the hill.
This loop requires much less detail. I ran alone more often than not, hiked the hills, walked some slight inclines I had ran before. Passed some, got passed by some. It was getting pretty darn warm. I had a popsicle at Trout Brook Loop that was the best damn popsicle in the universe. I finished Africa Loop at a jog, rolling hills and all, because I wanted to get out of the sun. I dropped a few folks, which felt weird. Down the hill, up the hill. I hiked up with Kamie, a fairly experienced ultrarunner. Very cool woman. We talked a lot, about running, spouses, Afton. She gave me some great advice, but was worried about my lack of peeing. She also told me that ultrarunners don’t really consider a 50k an ultra. I laughed and said, “That’s just mean!” I kept up with her for a while, but eventually opted to stay back and force down another GU, and she slowly moved off. Up to the campgrounds, now feeling a little hurky, walking some runnable stuff. Being patient with it. It was okay, it was in the bag, I had hours before the cutoff. Back down to the aid station, definitely foggy. An aid station guy kept looking at me and asking if I was okay. Finally I made eye contact and dead-panned, “I’m a little tired.” Then I smiled, we chuckled, I got more freaking disgusting Heed to force down and a cold sponge.
Then the section of road. My plan on lap two was jog and walk. Somehow I just kept running, and even passed someone. Then The Meat Grinder. Consider me ground. The woman I passed, passed me. General malaise and upset stomach settled in. This was it. I could be done, but I wasn’t done yet. So, you just keep going. I got to the aid station, but it was in full sun so I grabbed some gummis and delicious water and kept going. Caught a couple guys just into Deer Valley Loop, then caught two other guys until IT happened. Lately I’ve been getting light-headed and faint on hills at the end of my longest runs. With two miles left, it was hitting me. I would pass a guy, then would have to actually sit down on a hill so I wouldn’t pass out. Then I’d catch him again. Repeat. There’s a really steep section climbing out, and I got passed by three people. I didn’t mind that, but was still annoyed/ worried about the whole thing. I got to the top, walked a bit and decided I would not be passed any more.
I ran, managing a good clip in the last quarter mile. It really paid to know the course so well, because it seems like the finish line is a ways off, but I knew it would be on me sooner than I thought. After around 6 hours, 25 minutes, John put the wooden medal around my chest, and I wandered over to a bench in the shade and in a daze to drink water. I got a veggie burger and really had to force it down. The rest of the day was a battle with my stomach, which I finally think I won by drowning it with wasabi soy almonds. I was too shy to just walk up to the other UMTR folks, who I had only met a couple times, so it was off home.
Overall, I’d say it was an awesome day. I learned a ton, and had a lot of fun. There was suffering, but would it be an ultra without some suffering? I’m looking forward to suffering more for the 50 miler at Surf the Murph in October, and in getting back to Afton to train for it. It feels good to actually have finished an ultra distance, because, damn it Kamie, it counts!
Okay, Afton Trail Run 50k! I had a lot of various and disposable goals for this run. One was taking more photos, which, as you can tell, didn’t pan out. But. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Rocksteady Running puts on the best races. You are taken care of.
I think I’ll do a proper run report later (or not at all) but I need to get to bed soon if I’m to run in the morning. Main points: I finished, goal one accomplished. No injuries, goal two, check. And those were my main two.
Quick stats on the run: 31 miles, two loops, 9.5k feet elevation change. Took me almost 6.5 hours, putting me at an almost 12’30” pace. Not great, but it’s the longest I’ve ever run. I thought my last training run of 26.2 miles would be a good set-up, but I realized tonight that 31 miles is nearly 20% farther! Whoops. But I have three months until the Surf the Murph 50 miler, which is less hilly. Should be fine.
Yeah, I’ve got to do a proper race report later. There’s too much to say, all the highs and lows, and no one else gives a crap. But I can pretend you all do! I’m alive, I’m still running, and now I can read Ultrarunner magazine without feeling like a faker. And check out the swag! The nice cotton tees this year have, as usual, art made by the RD. The medals are wood. I bought a beanie, which I did need for fall/ winter. And awesomeness of awesomenesses — the proceeds from the race are donated to Afton State Park!
And 31 miles sure does a lot for the Nike FuelPlus band — I logged 50k steps by the end of the run! I’m bridechamber (don’t laugh, it’s my biz). Add me, yo.