Hello, BibRave Family!
For this Wayback Wednesday post, I’m truly living in the past – resharing a blog post I did in October 2013 when I won my first race ever! The race was the Farmdale Ultra 50 mile race, which came right on the heels of a rough go at my first Ultra Marathon, The North Face Endurance Challenge WI (50 mile).
Here it is, in all of its unedited, self-indulgent glory – complete with (obviously) a gear rundown at the end. OK, I did go back and add a few pieces of color commentary, noted in orange.
But in all seriousness, these race recaps are super valuable for posterity’s sake, and I’m really glad I have this reference point as I move farther and farther away from 2013. That historical milepost is also one of the main benefits of your race reviews on BibRave.com and why we launched the site a few months later!
Thanks for tolerating and taking a stroll down memory lane with me. Enjoy!
(This was pre-BibRave days, so please forgive the embarrassing lack of ORANGE!)
I signed up for the Farmdale 50 miler because the last ultra I’d done didn’t go very well. That was about a month earlier at The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) Madison – my first ultra ever – where I hurt my foot about halfway through and kind of limp-jogged to the finish. So I felt I had a bit of unfinished business.
All I really knew about the Farmdale Ultra was that it offered a 50 mile distance and was relatively close to Chicago. Farmdale is actually the name of the reservoir where the race takes place and, as it turns out, this reservoir is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Yep, that makes it federal land, so the race location was closed during the government shutdown.
Undeterred, the race directors pulled off a miraculous pivot. They secured an Illinois DNR permit to have the race at Jubilee State Park, then mapped and marked off the race route – all in about five days. They did an incredible job and somehow put on a very well-organized event. Big hat tip.
I actually brought quite a bit of foreboding to the line. My longest run since the last 50 miler the month before was about 13 miles on the trails, and that featured lots of foot pain and walking. Everything else was 5-8 miles pretty easy. Even if my foot behaved, I’d lost any calluses so blisters were my next big concern. You could safely say I was nervous about what lay ahead and how my body would hold up.
The new course was a 7.2 mile loop that we did seven times, and it was tough. The first half mile of the loop went steeply downhill, then we hit a 1.5 mile flat patch. The path continued incessantly up and downhill along a winding path for the remaining 5 miles. I knew one other racer (Great dude, Kyle Dietz, who’s coincidentally an Under Armour Trail Runner now!) who’d done TNFEC with me, and we both agreed this course was much more technical with a lot more hills. The point was further proven when two out of the five leaders DNF’ed due to injury (more on that below).
First loop in the dark I was with the lead pack for a while until their pace became just too hot for me (about 7:50-8:00 min/miles). I ran by myself most of the way, and the only real issue was that my legs already felt gassed and I took a pretty good digger right at the end of loop one. Not the best start.
This was one of the lowest points of the race. Legs felt sluggish, achy, and just plain tired. Then I tripped on a root and fell again, harder than the first time. As I went down I was able to tuck ‘n roll, but I still banged my hip pretty hard and sent my headlamp flying. I laid there for a few seconds in the dark just thinking “WTF!”
I was able to pull it together and finish loop two, where my saintly wife, Jessica, was waiting with more nutrition for me (I did both ultras exclusively on Infinite energy drink mix and water. No food, no gels.). She told me I was in 5th place, that the lead group was about 15 minutes ahead of me, but that the 4th place guy was only about 5 minutes ahead. So off I went.
Whatever she gave or said to me worked, because the third loop was definitely a turning point. The sun came up, my legs plateaued a bit, and I got my head back in the game. Sadly, I caught up to my TNFEC buddy who was hurt and eventually had to withdraw. But this meant I was now in 4th place so I tried to focus on regaining some time.
By now all the downhill started to build a pretty solid blister on my left big toe. I pulled over and wrapped it up with Leukotape (I HIGHLY recommend this stuff for blisters. Similar to athletic tape but with a much stronger adhesive). This stop only cost me about two minutes, and I finished loop three in much better spirits, despite being about 20 minutes behind the lead group.
About halfway through loop four, I caught the third place guy and passed him at a relatively strong clip. It looked like leaders’ pace had grinded him down quite a bit, and he’d slowed significantly. At the end of the loop Jessica told me that one of the leaders took a bad fall and had to withdraw. So, suddenly I was in second place and feeling pretty strong overall. I felt even better when she told me I’d cut the lead to about 13 minutes.
This loop was pretty uneventful – other than getting stung by a bee on the arm. But that actually kind of woke me up, and along with chatting up other runners (either from different race distances or other 50 milers at the back), was a good distraction. It helped me ignore the running pain and focus on catching up to the leader. At the end of loop five I’d cut the lead down to 7 minutes and was feeling good.
Here’s where I almost lost the race. At this point I didn’t know anything about the lead guy other than that he had a shaved head. About halfway into the loop, I caught another runner who had a shaved head and, as soon as he saw me he took off on a mad sprint over a hill and out of sight. This had to be the lead guy.
But I knew he was slowing down overall, and that his sprint was going to be an expensive one, so I just held my pace until I reeled him in about a half mile later. I got nice and close to scope out how fit he was looking, and he didn’t look good.
“Fine,” I thought, “I’ll just pace him out and pass him at the next aid station. Hopefully he’ll see how good I’m feeling and not want to give chase. Then my last loop will just be maintaining pace and holding the lead.
So I slowed WAY down to follow this guy, basically licking my chops in anticipation of passing him. Finally I passed him about a mile before starting the final loop. Things were great – the lead was mine, and the second place guy looked totally spent. As I came in for the last loop, Jess said, “You got this, you’re only about 3 minutes back.”
“I thought I was in the lead,” I said. “I just passed a bald guy – was that not him?”
“Uh, no,” she said. “The leader just left here about 3 minutes ago.” (Turned out the guy I saw was from another race.) RUEFUL FIST!
Needless to say, I had several choice expletives to curse my stupidity, but I was able to save those until I was alone on the trail. Not only had I let the lead guy “get away” I’d slowed down enough for the third place guy to gain time. “You. Idiot.”
Loop 7 (Last Loop!)
So I just took off and tried to run the flat 1.5/2 mile section as hard as I responsibly could. At first I still had thoughts of catching the lead guy, but by the time I hit the hills at mile 45, I was completely spent.
I still hadn’t seen the leader or the third place guy, so I was pretty much resigned to a second place finish. All I thought was, “Just don’t get caught. If this is a sprint finish, you won’t be able to answer. Just keep moving and don’t get passed.”
By mile 47 I was absolutely DONE with the trails and my attitude was trashed. The incessant winding and up-down coupled with my fatigue meant all I could think about was getting off those damned trails. I wasn’t even thinking about the race at this point, I just wanted to be done.
So, I literally started running angry. I was mad at myself for stupidly pulling up to follow the wrong guy, and the 9 hours I’d already been on the trail had me just spent. The faster I ran, the sooner the end would arrive. So I just took off.
About a mile later, I saw what looked like the leader. He was a guy with a shaved head, and I recognized his shoes from earlier in the race, so I was pretty sure he was the leader. But by now I was running like an absolute crazy person, so I caught up about 2 minutes after seeing him and blew right past.
I was running on fumes and knew it, so my only hope was that he would see me pass with authority and not want to chase. Again, I didn’t have confidence in defending against a sprint, so I just kept going as hard as I could to create what little distance I could. I blew past the final aid station about a mile from the finish and just prayed I could hold on.
Another mile of running like a drunk, asthmatic gorilla (anyone who saw me at the end knows that’s true) and I finally crested the last hill and reached the finish line. I ended up winning by less than a minute, with the second place guy graciously congratulating me on a “strong” finish (my lunatic panting must have started after he was out of earshot).
Finish time was 9:19 – a full hour slower than my TNFEC run, which was half running, half limp-jogging. So that should illustrate how much more difficult this race was.
Awesome day and I’m extremely grateful to my wife for her expert crewing skills, and to the Farmdale Ultra race directors for pulling off a miraculous pivot to save the race.
Obviously I can’t get enough of gear rundowns, so I thought I’d add mine for the also-obsessed :). I’d recommend everything on this list – was very pleased (though I did walk away with some pretty gnarly blisters – not sure if that was equipment or just from the time off).
- Shoes – Salomon Speedcross 3
- Socks – SmartWool PhDs Light
- Compression calf sleeves – Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves
- Shorts – Nike Running
- Underwear – Champion Men’s Tech Boxer Brief
- Shirt – Champion sleeveless tech T
- Race Vest – Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek edition (Love this thing – so light!)
- Inside the vest – 2 Salomon soft flask bottles – one 8 oz, one 17oz (absolutely love these), Leukotape, ibuprofen, visor (never used)
- Handheld bottle – Ultimate Direction bottle with kicker valve, The North Face handheld strap
- Headband – Buff
- Headlamp – Black Diamond Cosmo
- GPS – Garmin Forerunner 910XT