Leatherwood Ultra 50k
Leatherwood would be my first “real”50k. ( I have run a 50k fatass in my backyard for years, and this fatass is anywhere from 30-35 miles depending on who markets the course each year, and is right after Christmas so its usually a post overindulgent waddle-food and friend fest.) So I really had no idea what to expect, how to pace myself or exactly what my race goal would be. Coupled with the new HR training I have been doing I really just didn’t know what kind of performance to expect. So I looked online at the course, and made an outrageous pace plan; A goal; course record. The previous CR was 6:19, so I set my goal at 6:15…you know, sometimes you need a crazy outlandish “A” goal.
My “B” goal was what I thought was more realistic was 6:30. With 9k feet of gain over some short but steep UPS and downs (as seen from the elevation chart above) I wasn’t sure if my few weeks of hill training thrown into lots of slow flat mileage would wreck my quads or not. My “C” plan was just to finish and have a good time.
With my husband signed up for the 10 mile we, plus our friend Nathan, set off for rainy Leatherwood. This race is notorious for super greasy, slick, NC clay and lots of rain. Spring here is wet wet wet! We were fortunate to have a dry week leading up to the race, but arrived at a rainy packet pickup. As I got into the race I found that my shoes were really great in the slippery mud and rocks. I was super impressed that I didn’t slip on anything.
We grabbed our bibs and headed up to the house to settle in. Other friends trickled in later in the evening as they got off work and could head to the race start.
I’m not going to lie, what had me the most worried was that since this race is held on private land, a mix of horse trails, hiking trails, and mtb trails, it folded back onto itself a lot, and loop directions had me a bit concerned that I would take a wrong turn. We started off on a road and went by a cabin, that we would pass in different directions at least 3 more times… so the turn flagging could have been confusing. Fortunately it wasn’t. The RD had said he’d put something like 700 flags out on the course, which sounded extreme, but in the end was well worth it since we were running different loops that had contestant intersections, some were other trails, others were paths to private residences.
The course was really beautiful, it popped in and out of the woods, allowing for some pretty views. Even one of Grandfather mountain in nearby Boone.
SO back to the race, the course begins with a 4 mile climb up (there was a little dip down, but basically up for 4 miles uphill.) On the way up I was listening to all the chatter around, we began with the 50 milers, so it was hard to tell who was running what. Different colored bibs, but who has time to look at those when there is steep uphill climbing. I think at one point my Garmin data says 30+% grade! I heard someone say ” let them go ahead, so many people don’t pace themselves at the start of an ultra,” which stuck in my head. I began to assess how I was feeling and realized I was probably not running fast enough. I am so used to pacing for 50+ miles. I was thankful for the comment and picked up the pace, even though I know the opposite was meant, it helped me think about what I was running and what my goal was.
I would say a majority of this race was on single track, with a 1 mile paved start, and a 2 mile paved connection between trails later in the race. So it was green, lush, and curvy. If you look at the Garmin map all those squiggles were really steep and tight up or downhill switchbacks. In the first 10 miles I think I thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into, this is more like the trails at Cruel Jewel than anything I was expecting. It was hard to get into a rhythm in the first 8 miles because there was no break..either uphill hiking hard, or practically free falling downhill trying to avoid breaking your ankle on the rocks…. it was kinda thrilling though. Fortunately I got into a rhythm by mile 12, only falling once on one of the rocky-leaf covered sections of trail.
At mile 16 we circled back through the start/finish, which is oh so tempting for many people to stop. Unfortunately one friend did, though she was running only because her husband was, and she was happy that she saw the 16 miles and was done.
We runners were sent back out for the second loop, which was easier than the first. I had written my splits on my arm, and sometimes would hit right on for my “B” goal, and sometimes be behind in the first 16 miles, which was a little disheartening. Little did I realize that the second half was so much more runnable and downhill that I made up a lot of time. This is where things got a bit confusing. Because the trails were so winding my Garmin dropped a lot of mileage, so when I got back to that last 1 mile stretch of road and only had 27 miles on my watch I started to panic. I walked back up the hill to an intersection that was basically a 4 way intersection of where the race went in and out of… I re-read all the signs, and then started to get down on myself. I slowed, I asked a woman on horseback if she knew if I missed a turn, I asked a few 50 milers if they had done a little loop… and then my brain said “oh man, all that work and you just lost first place and the CR because you missed a little 3 mile loop…” the minute that thought entered my head I had to counter it and replied to it, “you know what, I’ve had a good day, I am really enjoying this race, if I missed a turn I’ll just grab Nathan and finish it out with him after I come though the start/finish.”
I picked my pace back up and headed to the finish. Because my friends had seen that I was behind my “A” goal after the first (harder) loop they didn’t expect me for another 30 minutes… so I surprised them as well! After figuring out that my Garmin, and everyone else’s watches weren’t catching all the mileage, I finally relaxed and allowed myself to celebrate. 50k pr, 50k first place, and a new CR for Leatherwood 50k at 6:05!
Even though this race went so well, I still think I learned from this race. I think its important to me not to just celebrate a well executed race, but to also take something away from it.
My take away;
- HR training does work, at least for a hilly 50k!
- It was my first time EVER eating gels/gu’s and not having them revolt at the end. I think, even though I was racing, I was still keeping somewhat of an even HR the whole time, only spiking in the first mile or so as my HR settled into running.
- One honey stinger an hour keeps the effort level and this girl happy and even.
- Always swish the honey stinger plus water around in my mouth, it helps it settle into my stomach, and doesn’t hit like a sugar bomb when I just eat it straight.
- Use the people ahead as motivation
- trust yourself! Man this is a hard one for me to do, especially as fatigue sets in later in a race… self doubt does too.
- Strength training is just as important as any other part of training. I had slightly sore quads after, everything else felt good. I didn’t have much of a chance to practice downhill running, but I did lift (squat etc)
- 3 honey stingers, 3 strawberry banana gels (by the way why are so many gels full of caffeine?! I don’t need to poop during a race..hehe)
- 3 pieces of watermelon
- Bunch of pickles
- 1 vespa pre race
- My Orange Mud VP1 of course! Made it easy to carry all my gels-wispfriends for a discount on all their products
- Carson Footwear Blue Tigers with their sticky traction kept me from slipping on many of the steep inclines, fyi these are as minimal (also 0 drop)as I would wear on any rocky ultra, but they worked well for this race, and I have been wearing them all winter for training to get my feet and lower legs strong- discount code: wisp
I gotta send out a thanks to both Orange Mud and Carson Footwear for making great gear and supporting my running. And a special thanks to my knowledgeable friends at Balanced Movement Studio, where I take most of my yoga classes, get body work, and help tweak my strength and mobility! Of course to my husband and training friends who help me stay accountable, motivated, and keep me balanced, sane and on an even keel. Especially Nathan this training cycle! Thanks for being a great early morning-long distance partner!