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50-Mile Coldwater Rumble Report

Ultra Trail RunningNormally, I call these posts “Race Reports” but there was NOTHING about racing yesterday.  Well, maybe I was racing against myself and, to a lesser extent, the clock.  But, I was certainly not racing against any of the other runners.  Sure, I would have loved to have come in first but, the reality was, there were some faster than me (and I had zero chance of beating them) and some slower than me (and they had zero chance of beating me).  While I certainly had some time goals (what a farce those turned out to be), my only real goal was simply to finish.  And, thankfully, that is exactly what I did.

Triple Sports Ultra Trail

A little description to start… The Coldwater Rumble (all of the various distances) take place exclusively on trails.  Everyone was trail running the entire time.  No roads, no sidewalks, and no grass.  Just miles and miles of trails.  While ultra trail running is the way to go for sure, I now know there’s a big difference between “trail running” in the desert and “trail running” everywhere else.  The desert, composed of hard rock, sand, and extremely variable surfaces, is tough.  The most forgiving surface I encountered all day was packed-dirt.  Unfortunately, those parts were infrequent.  Brutally, the norm was rocks and/or sandy riverbeds.  I did a three hour run in northern california, recently, in a redwoods preserve.  Those running trails were night and day to that which I encountered yesterday.  Fifty miles of ultra running is tough.  Combine that with trail running and trail running in the desert and, well, it is a whole new level of difficulty that I had never experienced before.  Ultra running, I learned, is a no-joke event.

The 50-mile distance at Coldwater Rumble was done by trail running one large loop (19.5 miles) clockwise and then counter clockwise.  This was followed by a smaller loop (11.8 miles) run clockwise.  If you can do addition, you will quickly note that it was actually 50.8 miles.  (Side note, I could have done without my “bonus” 0.8 miles of trail running.)  Besides the variable terrain, the large loop had but two aid stations and the small loop merely had one.  (At the start/finish line, there was also an aid station and each runner could have a drop bag.)  This made hydration and nutrition very challenging.  The longest stretch between aid stations was 8.8 miles, or in the ultra trail running world, an eternity (that’s how it seemed to me).  As the temps rose, those aid stations just seemed more and more distant.  Normally, 8.8 miles to an aid station is no biggie with some advance planning.  But, as fatigue and decay set-in and grew, that distance became enormously tough.

Ultra Elevation Graph

Additionally, as you can see from the graph above, there were just a few hills in the course.  By “a few”, I mean a TON.  My Garmin data showed a total elevation gain of over 4,000 feet.  That’s a decent amount of climbing on a bike in fifty miles, let alone done on foot in fifty miles.  Somehow, I think those 4,000 feet may also have added to my fatigue…

Elevation Gain

But, enough with the details, onto my report…


Given that I had never done anything like this before, I really didn’t know what to do.  I got up at 4:45am (later than for an Ironman), drank a little coffee, ate a small amount of oatmeal, and relaxed.  Given that I had a little ultra run that day, I wanted to be mellow and stay off my feet.  After eating, I checked my bags for the last time, loaded the car, and headed to the race start.  Upon arrival, I got my drop-bag ready, put on my running clothes, and waited until just before race start to emerge from the warmth of my car into the cold, still-dark morning.  Very shortly thereafter, the “gun” sounded (it was just a dude with a mic who counted down from ten and said “Go”; just a little different from a triathlon!) and I was off!

Loop 1 (19.5 miles)

Ultra Miles 1-20My plan, following the advice of every ultra runner I knew, was to start slowly and very conservatively.  I feel I did this very well.  I ran at what I considered to be an “I can hold this forever” pace.  I did not push it when the terrain would have permitted such an effort.  When I was passed, I offered positive comments but did not give chase.  As I passed others, I also offered positive comments (and hoped for some in return).  Basically, I just tried to pretend that I was starting a long, but very easy, run and nothing more.

While running, I am able to consult my Garmin data to know my mile splits, but at the time, I didn’t know what they were.  I really didn’t concern myself with thoughts of speed or pace.  Rather, I just focused on running comfortably and nothing more.  I “ate” two Jolly Ranchers and one Stinger Waffle, while consistently sipping from my water bottle.  My splits ranged from 8:16 to 11:07, with the majority in the mid-9s; a pace that seems perfect.

Finishing the first loop, I actually felt great, as ridiculous as that might sound.  I wasn’t overly tired, my feet didn’t hurt (yet), and I felt like my nutrition/hydration was right where it should be.  No complaints at all.

Loop 2 (19.5 miles)

Starting Loop 2, I did a few things.  One, I changed my running shoes to a brand new (but well-known) pair.  The pair I used to start were good, but a little used and the trail was already beginning to take its toll on my feet.  I knew the new pair would be totally fresh and feel great.  (They did and probably saved my feet from a ton more pounding.)  I refilled my water bottle and I ate a bites of this and that at the aid station.  I also grabbed a peanut butter and honey sandwich to munch on while starting Loop 2.  One thing I failed to do (and this was probably a big mistake) was chill for a minute and drink a few glasses of water and/or soda.  I had just finished the 8.8 mile “no aid-station” section and could have used some extra hydration, especially as the sun was climbing in the sky and bringing the heat with it.  I hate to admit that I simply was too focused on changing my shoes in a timely manner and then getting back on the trails.  I should have been more focused on what I needed to do, like drink some extra liquid.  Additionally, the sandwich may have been a bad move.  I can’t say for sure but I only ate half and then ditched the remainder in the desert for the bunnies.Ultra Run Miles 20-39

The 8.8 mile stretch between the start of Loop 2 and the distant aid station lasted for an eternity.  I was rationing my water and being careful with my consumption.  I knew I needed more liquid, simply for hydration, but definitely for digestion.  (Again, failing to drink some liquid was becoming a larger and larger mistake.)  I suspect that my fatigue and pervasive exhaustion that grew larger as the day progressed was made much, much worse by that simple error at the end of Loop 1.

My mile splits show that I severely decayed early and increasingly as Loop 2 continued.  Ranging from 10:01 to 14:44, there’s obviously a big drop-off from Loop 1.  In retrospect, failing to drink anything at the end of Loop 1/start of Loop 2 was a small thing that I believe had a huge impact on my day.  Being somewhat dehydrated already from 19.5 miles of running, I then drank nothing when available and started to eat.  Just a tiny, yet incredibly critical, bad move.

Ultra Run Team TobyOne side note, WOW do the volunteers from this event deserve some credit.  Each time I reached an aid station (other than the very first one around 8:15am), there were hundreds, upon hundreds of bees.  I felt so badly for the people manning the aid stations; at least I was there and leaving.  They were stuck.  All my admiration and appreciation for their efforts!  Especially to the EMT who let me use her phone to call my family.  Some of the Founding Members of Team Toby, specifically my in-laws George and Marilyn Nagy, my wife Shirley, and (of course) The Boy and The Girl, were waiting for me at the end of Loop 2, but were waiting based upon my best-guess pace, which was grossly wrong by this point.  I used the EMT’s phone to give my family a head’s up on how slowly I was progressing.  They were just about to leave (my four and five year olds had experienced enough fun in the desert for one day) but decided to stay and wait for me.  Knowing they were there really helped carry me to the end of Loop 2 with greater urgency and pace than I ever would have mustered otherwise.

Loop 3 (11.8 miles)

Kids at Ultra RunLet’s start with the high: seeing my family.  They were like a magnet, just pulling me along as I was struggling to finish Loop 2.  As I rounded the last corner to where they were, my son and daughter broke away in a sprint down the road to me.  I almost cried it was so wonderful.  They came with me to the aid station and my drop bag.  I then returned to where they were sitting and chilled for about 5-10 minutes.  It was a real treat to be able to see them and know I “only” had 11.8 miles remaining.

Ultra Run

Sadly, that high dissipated far too rapidly.  Upon leaving them and returning to the trails, my legs returned to lead and my feet reminded me how much they hated me.  I wish I had some great story of redemption or reclamation.  The reality was pretty boring.  I ran when I could and as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast).  I walked any parts of the trail that were too steep, up or down.  The descents here flat-out painful.  My feet felt like there were nails in them; not a good feeling.  Climbing may have been more exhausting but at least it was less painful.

As ridiculous as it sounds, when looking at my splits, I was actually rather proud of myself.  When I was running, which may have been less often than I would have liked, I ran fast under the circumstances.  If the terrain permitted (e.g., relatively flat and decently stable), I could hold around an 8:30 min/mile.  I don’t feel my splits represent the effort I gave during Loop 3, with a range of 9:39 to 14:47 but I take some solace in that the last 5+ miles were pretty hilly.Ultra Mile 40-50

As the end neared, I just started focusing on making certain I finished in under eleven hours.  Since earlier time goals were now long-distant memories (and I am too embarrassed to even share them), somehow finishing sub-11 became important to me.  Passing the second to last junction, the sign noted “Mile 49.5” and my time of day was 5:40pm, so I knew I had 20 minutes to cover 1.3 miles.  That was very doable, but I still gritted my teeth and ran with all my might, which admittedly wasn’t much.  Nonetheless, I felt a massive feeling of accomplishment seeing 10:5x:xx when crossing the finish line.  I have to admit, it was a pretty cool day, in spite of the discomfort that came with it!

Amelia The GirlOne little end note, this being my first ultra running event and a trail running event at that, I really had no clue what to expect.  Nearly all of my other races are triathlons, which are generally attended by many people, have tons of spectators, and have pretty impressive finish lines.  At Coldwater, I believe there was one guy with a mic (who may or may not have called my name), two ladies huddled by a heater, one dude waiting for a friend, and about two or three volunteers at the aid station.  It was shockingly different to say the least.  No less cool, but extremely different.

Thanks for reading and below is the finishing line shot!  That’s what 50 miles of running will do to me!

Ultra Run End

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