Wednesday, March 9, 2011

US 50K National Championship

On Saturday I drove down to Long Island to run in the US 50K National Road Championship (results) that was to be held on Sunday in Huntington, NY at Caumsett State Park.  I was very apprehensive about even giving this a go after having my training get a little stale this winter and the past couple weeks I just haven't felt sharp.  Sure I've been snowshoe racing quite a bit, but have only done 1 road race this year and essentially zero speedwork.  My big plans for more miles and frequent tempo runs disappeared as fast as they were typed into my super-secret spreadsheet detailing my planned world domination.  I had been back and forth with 70 and 80 mile weeks, but no real marathon/50k specific 'work'.  My taper week turned into a week with missing 2 days due to various things that were out of my control, and my recent scares with health issues knocked my mind out of race mode.  But alas, on Friday night I booked my hotel room and on Saturday afternoon I drove down (solo) to the island and went straight to the hotel to ponder my decision and sulk in my own undoing.  As soon as I walked into my room, the infamous Josh Ferenc rang me up and notified me of his presence in town (he had already alerted the local media) and he had brought the rest of the Keenyans (Greg Hammet, Justin Fyffe, and George Adams) along.  Greg and Justin were running the 25K (JV race) and George and Josh were giving the 50 a go. It was to be Josh's first race over 16 miles.  George, on the other hand, is an experienced ultra guy (who looks more like a rugby player).  I joined them for some grub and then it was back to the room to TRY and get some rest.  Unfortunately there was 1200 elementary school idiots there running a muck and bolting down every hallway in the hotel, banging on doors, turning door handles, and screaming like the idiots their parents were raising them to be.  I laid in bed and waited until the clock ticked over to 11 and then I called the front desk.  They apologized and immediately sent 2 security guards up who caught some kids in the act and gave them a talking to.  Then they banged on doors and notified parents.  You'd think that was enough, but it wasn't.  The noise continued on through the night.  I eventually turned the fan on high in the room to try to drown out the noise and was able to eventually fall asleep.  In the morning I got up early, headed out to Dunkin Donuts to do what Greg Hammet said is always best before an 'ultra', and that was eat a hearty breakfast.  Then I made my way north to Huntington for what I thought would be disaster in the making.

I was the third car in the lot (I think the other 2 were race workers).  I walked over and took some pictures of the area with my phone (you can see them here).  The park is beautiful and the weather was looking like rain, but mild.  I made my way down the quarter mile walk to the registration area but they weren't ready yet.  I milled around a bit more and slowly people began showing up.  I talked with a few people about the race and met a couple of locals who were giving the 50k a go.  Eventually I grabbed all my gear and walked everything back over to the nice heated tent they had setup for the racers at the finish line.  The Keenyans arrived as well as Dave Dunham, Dan Verrington, and Ben Nephew (all CMS teammates).  Dave wasn't racing but rather just there as the USATF liaison. With Ben and Dan and George all there, it gave us 4 guys, which was perfect seeing as you need just 3 to score in the team competition.  It was looking like another National Team Championship for CMS, but I didn't want to get ahead of myself.  First I'd need to get through this thing.

As I started to get ready for the race, I got more and more nervous, especially seeing other experienced ultra folks there like Dan and Yolanda Flamino (last year's women's winner), who both setup their own aid stations with little bottles and GUs.  I had nothing.  Talk about being unprepared.  I pinned a couple of GUs in my half tights and stuck a couple of NUUN tablets in a plastic bag and stuffed it in my arm sleeve.  I figured I could get enough water at the aid stations (there was an aid station at 1.5 into the 5k loop and one at the end of it, meaning you got 2 aid stations per 5k loop).  I waited in a modest line to use the facilities and then it was over to the starting area for my 'warmup' which was some very easy running back and forth in front of the starting line.

Lap 1:

As the race went off the skies seemed to darken immediately and the rain was only moments away.  Michael Wardian (VA) shot out into the lead like he's won the thing every year for the past 3 years (oh wait...he has!)...I didn't even think for one second about trying to go with him....OK maybe I did, but it literally was only for 1 second ;).  I was content running comfortably along with Josh and a few other guys including Ben Nephew, Josh Myers (FL), and Corey Jenkins (WA).  Mike Wardian was already crushing us by 3/4 of a mile in and Josh and I sort of stretched out ahead of everyone else after a mile or so.  Near the second mile I was probably starting my solid position of being alone in 2nd place.  Josh seemed to be in no rush and was content in letting me go.  I started to widen my lead as the course has only a couple of hills (one just before 1.5, one just before 2, and then a minor one near 2.75.  I remember being with Josh at the first hill because I asked him if we were on the hill at the time and he confirmed.  By the second hill he may have been starting to fall back.  I noticed that the 2nd mile for me was by far my slowest mile (on essentially each lap) as the race continued on and I think a lot of that had to do with the hills and the long stretch that goes through the 2 mile mark, in which the wind really was a factor (whipping you right in the face).  That same wind made for a nice tailwind for the first mile of each loop though, so I couldn't really complain.  The third mile is twisty and has 2 essential turnarounds that slow your race down to a crawl. The first one is about 2.75 miles in and you literally run around a cone and shoot back in the other direction. It is enough to bring you to a dead stop and also gets worse and more dangerous the further into the race you get. On this stretch of mile three you also go over an unpaved section of road w/ a ton of potholes and loose rock and puddles.  The good part of that section though is that you come back against the field, so you can see who is in front and behind you and how close or far away they are.  When I first hit this section, Mike Wardian came back past me and looked to only be 45 or so seconds up on me if that. Josh was a little closer to me than I was to Mike, but I knew that this section would be crucial later in the race, to judge race position.  Right after this section, you run back down a little hill and up and around to the finish area, where you take a sharp left into the finish, go over the finish mat, and around a little turnaround and back out for the next loop.  It was pure chaos here as there were random people walking across the course, etc.  I would bump into/run over no fewer than 3 different people in this section over the course of the race. I clicked through the first 5k in just over 18 minutes, which was the pace I was actually thinking was attainable for the whole race (ya right)...

Lap 2:

Over lap two, it was more of the same except it may have started to rain a bit and the wind seemed to pick up.  I kept building my lead over Josh and by the 1st mile marker I could barely make him out behind me on the long looks back. I could still see Mike Wardian up ahead on the long stretches, but he was dusting me.  The second lap seemed to go by way slower because by this time I had already seen the course, so there was no mystery to it.  I also started to think that 10 laps is a lot. Each mile I clicked through was too fast.  I was running 5:20s high to 5:30s, which isn't even really my marathon pace, let alone a 50k.  It was rather ridiculous of me to think I could maintain that pace, but I was committed and running like a jerkoff, but I was determined to keep going even though I kept telling DD every time I ran by him that I was running too quick and was backing off.  I thought I was backing off, but I wasn't.  Interestingly enough, when I got to the cone turnaround, I was about the same distance behind Mike, as he went past me in the other direction.  I also seemed to have increased my lead through this point on Josh, as I went past him on the way back.   I could see Corey Jenkins in 4th, also in roughly the same spot I had seen him in on lap 1.

Lap 3:

I continued lap 3 and really started to feel like I was moving too quick to maintain anything past 5 or 6 laps and the small ups were starting to bother my foot and hips.  I indicated to Josh in the very first mile of lap 1 that my foot was killing me for some reason and it was brutal by laps 2 and 3.  I kept thinking it would go away and eventually it would (until I finished). I built up a huge lead on Josh by the third lap and through 15K I was alone in 2nd and could still see Wardian's white singlet on the very long stretches.  But by this time, we started to really lap people (the lapping started on the 2nd lap actually, but by the 3rd lap it was ridiculous).  I was constantly in and out of people but it wasn't too too bad, as there were only 104 50Kers out there....but by the time the 25K started (one hour after the 50k started), there were even more people out there and they were running even faster.  Mike Wardian seemed to be still about the same distance ahead of me on the turnaround section as he passed me going the other way.  Josh seemed to definitely be getting closer to me now and it was only a matter of time.  On lap 3 I started to really feel some moments of doubt.  I was pretty solid through 2, and 3 went 'ok', but by the end of 3 and the beginning of 4, I started to see Josh getting closer and closer.  I knew he'd be definitely passing me but hoped it would only be him.  I could live with 3rd, but the moment I started to get mowed down by others, I would seriously consider dropping out because there is no coming back from that (at least the way I race).

Lap 4:

Josh passed me around mile 1 of lap 4 and looked to be on a mission. I knew from the lead I put on him over the previous 10K or so that he was hauling arse. He looked to have his eyes set on Wardian and was gone before I could even think about trying to go with him.  I couldn't see anyone behind me on any of the sections except for the turnaround.  As I hit the out and back cone turnaround again, Mike Wardian was definitely now getting further ahead of me and Josh was closing the gap on him a little bit, and also way ahead of me.  I was now pretty far up on the 4th place guy and could still see him on the way back to the start, passing him going in the other direction.

Lap 5:

As lap 5 started, I was still running solo, but as Josh went by me (in the opposite direction) on a small section of course where the laps begin and end, he yelled to me 'have we done 4?' to which I said 'yeah, 6 to go'.  That almost made me puke.  I had only run 20K and I was looking at 30K to go and I was feeling it.  I went from feeling kinda strong to horrible real quick.  On laps 2, 3, and 4, every one of my miles was under 5:40.  Not one over 5:40 except the first 5k which we went out conservative.  I had borderline hammered laps 2,3, and 4 and was now starting to feel it.  Josh continued to blow doors on me as I started laying down 5:40s (low).  I thought that that was OK, considering I wanted to try to average 5:50 or so (in my dreams). I knew I wasn't in Baystate Marathon shape, but figured I could do 5:50s.  By the end of lap 5 I started to have serious thoughts that I'll just drop at 25K and call it a day.  I'll have gotten a good workout in, and wouldn't be too disappointed....but then I thought about trying one more lap.  One more lap where if I was still in 3rd, I'll continue until I wasn't.  I figured that the moment I start getting humbled by the experienced guys who know how to run these things (like the Ben's and the Dan's and the Mark Godale's that were out there), I'd call it a day and cut my losses.  On the out and back section, I wasn't even seeing Mike anymore and Josh was killing me.  But the good news (for me) was that I could no longer see 4th place at all...anywhere in sight of where the out and back was.  I knew I had a good lead at that point, but wasn't sure if I could hold it in the 2nd half of the race.  I came through 25K in 1:28 high and laughed, thinking that 3 hours was definitely out of the question.

Lap 6:

Surprisingly, even after I started to feel ridiculously hopeless about my chances, I continued to click off high 5:40s and a 5:50.  I thought about just keeping it under 6 for as long as I could, but knew my middle laps were too fast to keep that dream alive.  I took a GU during lap 3 and decided to take another one on lap 6 but wasn't feeling bonky at all. I felt really strong in that respect, but my body was just breaking down and mentally I was done.  My breathing was fine and I felt very much in control and fit as fit could be, but my body was just losing the battle.  My hips and lower back were extremely tight and my calves and hammies were twinging.  I started to take the NUUN tabs I had and would break a piece off and unfortunately just pop it in my mouth without water.... letting it dissolve in just my saliva.  It's a little much on the stomach, but I tried to time it right, as I would go through a water stop and take a Gatorade and water to try to wash it down.  I made sure (except on the first lap) to take a water and/or Gatorade at every stop. On the turnaround section, I could still not see the 4th place guy behind.  At this point I wasn't sure who was back there, but figured I was maybe going to be able to hold off for another lap or two before someone could possibly make up that much ground on me.

Lap 7:

The rain was really coming down and the wind was pretty bad on the 2nd mile of the loop. I'd say this was one of the tougher laps mentally to deal with but I kept thinking 'just 2 to go after I finish this'... I was praying at this point to just keep my hamstrings and calves in check. I was wearing compression socks which I swear kept my calf muscles from popping off my body.  I also became very aware that I was 'officially' hitting the wall.  I made my first visit into '6's' territory during this lap, with a brutal last mile on the lap in a 6:19.  But as I came to the turnaround point, I was still completely alone in 3rd, with only a vast amount of lapped runners around me and some 25k folks.  DD and the crew started to give me some encouragement around the finish area as I would start the next lap and I noticed Dan Verrington now standing at the finish with his warmups back on, so I knew he had run into a problem and unfortunately called it a day.  I still wasn't out of the woods yet.

Lap 8:

More rain and wind, more 6+ minute miles. My watch had stopped getting the splits to recall, but I could still see what the miles were as I was hitting them and I was just trying to keep it at 6:30s or under.  I told DD at the start of lap 8 that 'I am just going to try to keep it at 6s'....well that was short-lived.  6:10s' it was...but the difference now was that I was focused on just getting 3rd and I'd be fine w/ that.  I had all I could do to think about anything else other than not cramping up.   I took more NUUN and water/Gatorade all I could and I still felt my body locking up more and more with each step.  I found myself passing by the same points in the race, the same spectators, and the same out and back sections at around or close to the same time on each lap, just a few seconds slower each time, but enough to make me think that I was still running OK and that to catch me now, the folks behind me would really have to crank. I came to the turn around point and again, no one in sight behind me other than the lapped runners.  Somewhere around lap 7 or 8 (I think), Justin Fyffe (running the 25k) whizzed by me and for a split second I thought he was in the 50k. I was glad it was just him winning the 25k. He was the only 25k guy that would end up passing me.

Lap 9:

As I came through and started Lap 9, DD asked me if I was ok and wanted to know if I needed anything.  I said no, but said that I was now just going to 'try to keep it under 7' and he said that's all I needed to do and just to keep going.  I had my first thoughts that I just may end up finishing and rolled along, hitting low to mid 6s still. Just trying to keep my composure and always thinking about the guys behind me, I looked up and started to see Josh again.  Then I started to hear spectators tell me that the 'guy in yellow is coming back'.  I was beginning to think maybe I have a shot, but with only 2 laps left (not even by that point), I wouldn't have enough race to catch him.  I obviously didn't want to see him blow up, but it is what it is and if he was coming back, I'd just do my best to run as fast as I could and finish with what the race dishes out.  He had run VERY hard in the middle laps and was now feeling the affects.  In this lap, I clicked through the marathon in 2:32:30 and thought I'd maybe be able get around 3:06 or so with the way things were going.  I just kept thinking '5 more miles...4 more miles'.... as I came to the turnaround section, I noticed Josh was now pretty close and there was still no one behind me.

Lap 10:

As I wound down around the finish area and back up for the last lap, I heard one of the officials give me the '1 to go' notification and I really felt that I could hopefully now just hang on for 3rd.  I went by DD and told him 'I'm just going for 3rd' and then grabbed one of Dan Verrington's prepped water/GU combos and headed out for a last lap shuffle where I'd average a blazing 6:38 pace.  This whole lap I was thinking about my time, place, and legs just staying in check. I was now carrying water, which definitely saved me, as I don't think I was getting quite enough from the half-filled cups at the aid stations (most of which just splashes out when you grab it).  Everything was rushing through my mind and I was also dealing with Josh coming back faster and faster.  Spectators were telling me he was falling back, but so was I. With 1 mile to go I couldn't believe it.  I hit just over 30 miles and was still standing.  I made my way to the turnaround point and saw Josh on his way back, now very much within a minute of me, but there was not enough race left to catch him.  Just one more lap (had this been, say a 55k ;) ) and I would have caught him! In the end, I ended up finishing in 3:05:37 to Josh's 3:05 (yes, 37 seconds in a 50k!).  Mike Wardian destroyed us, running 2:55:59 and just missing his course record (although that is debatable because it was technically a slightly modified course apparently).

Immediately after finishing, I could hardly stand.  The 'marathon/ultra' legs hit me like a ton of bricks.  Everything seized up right away.  I had all I could do to waddle over to congratulate Josh and make my way back into the tent.  I was thrilled to not only have held 3rd place (and almost came back to 2nd) but to have run a fast time. I knew that my time was under 6 minute pace and I would have never guessed, based on my training recently, that I would have been able to swing that...I knew that had I been in the same type of shape I had been in before Baystate last year, I would have been able to maybe hit lower 3's or around 3 hours, but I would certainly take 3:05 any day. Ben Nephew (5th) and George Adams (8th) rounded out the scoring for CMS by running 3:13 and 3:18 respectively.

Once in the tent, I stood there hovering over a barrel in the corner and tried to keep from puking.  For some reason (it may have been the salt I was ingesting without much water) my stomach was ruined.  I wasn't really hungry or thirsty at all and the thought of food was making me sick.  I also couldn't  move at all, in any direction. I stood there locked up.  Greg Hammett came over and graciously helped me by working on my calf muscles while I stood there trying not to barf.  That was a big help.  I eventually managed to get my clothes on (slowly) and I sat down near a heater for about 45 minutes or so and talked with Josh Myers (4th place from Atlanta Track Club and out of Jacksonville, FL), Ben Nephew, and some others.  Meanwhile, the wind seemed to have picked up, the rain was coming down pretty good, and there were lots of other folks still out there braving the elements.  I shuttered to think about being out there still racing and wondered if I'd ever be able to do anything longer than 50K.  I think if it is road, no.  Trail, maybe.

Top 10 (CMS in blue, BAA in hot pink).

Place Name Age City/State Time Pace
1 Michael Wardian  36 Arlington VA          2:55:59 5:40
2 Joshua Ferenc    29 Westmoreland NH       3:05:00 5:58
3 Jim Johnson      33 Salem NH              3:05:37 5:59
4 Joshua Myers     27 Jacksonville Beach FL 3:12:07 6:12
5 Ben Nephew       35 Mansfield MA          3:13:21 6:14
6 Cory Jenkins     23 Lynden WA             3:15:51 6:19
7 Mark Godale      40 Aurora OH             3:17:16 6:21
8 George Adams     40 Gilsum NH             3:18:07 6:23
9 Jodie Schoppmann 26 Levittown NY          3:20:12 6:27
10 Aaron Robertson  32 Altamont NY           3:20:12 6:27

104 Total Finishers.

Above is yours truly w/ the infamous Ferenc.  I'm still trying to figure out where on the course he cut off that 37 seconds... ;)  Also noteworthy is Josh's steady streak of being a NH resident every other race (swapping with VT of course).  Whether it's Westmoreland, Keene, Bellows Falls, Alstead, South Acworth, etc.  You never know which Ferenc you're gonna get.

Here are my 5K splits (10x5k loops). My watch unfortunately only stores 30 laps, but the race keeps track of your 5k splits. I should have known.  I have my first 30 splits (that include the .1 after each 5k), so I'm missing quite a bit of time unfortunately.  I should have caught that, but this is the first race I've actually maxed out the splits on!  I'll know for next time (when I run an actual ultra that has mile markers).

Lap Time Pace Race Split Place Split Rank
1 18:02 5:49 5k 18:02 2 2
2 17:22 5:36 10k 35:24 2 2
3 17:31 5:39 15k 52:55 2 2
4 17:41 5:42 20k 1:10:36 3 3
5 18:01 5:48 25k 1:28:37 3 3
6 18:24 5:56 30k 1:47:01 3 3
7 18:57 6:06 35k 2:05:58 3 3
8 19:19 6:13 40k 2:25:17 3 3
9 19:50 6:23 45k 2:45:07 3 2
10 20:34 6:38 50k 3:05:41* 3 5

Splits rounded in results. Actual time was 3:05:37.

As you can see, I was in 2nd through the 15k split and then Ferenc must have cut the course ;) as he mowed me down before the first mile marker of loop 4.  Then he went on a rampage for 4, 5, and 6 before coming back to Earth.  My 9th split was the 2nd fastest of anyone's with a 19:50.  WOW, talk about everyone blowing up (well, everyone except Mike Wardian who kept it honest over the last few laps).  My 10th lap was a disaster.  I was in finish mode and carrying water and taking salt and taking gel and just about anything else you can think of.  I was shuffling along.

I found this interesting.  Here are the 10th lap split-rankings by time:

Rank Name Time Pace Finish Place
1 Michael Wardian 18:42 6:02 1
2 Mark Godale 19:25 6:15 7
3 Josh Myers 20:16 6:32 4
4 George Adams 20:33 6:37 8
5 Jim Johnson 20:34 6:38 3
6 Josh Ferenc 21:09 6:49 2
7 Jodie Schoppmann 21:11 6:49 9
8 Aaron Robertson 21:12 6:50 10
9 Ben Nephew 21:17 6:51 5
10 Shanna Ailes Istni 21:42 6:59 13

So the moral of the story (with Wardian being the exception) is that in a race like this, you have no idea what you are going to get when everyone's been warn down for 45k.  George and I ran pretty much the same time for our 10th lap.  Mark Godale (former US record holder for 24 hour run) showed his ultramarathoning prowess by running a nice 10th lap split.  If I didn't go out like an arrogant S.O.B, I would have gotten smoked later in the race.  I ran my race, my style, and though I slowed considerably in the later miles, I held it together enough to finish where I wanted to finish and run a time I was very happy with considering my training.

After the race I unfortunately had to deal with poor planning and I eventually waddled over to the car to attempt my 5 hour ride home in the pouring rain. Not only was I now barely able to move my legs or any part of my lower body without intense concentration and excruciating pain, but now I had to drive my manual transmission car all the way back up through 4 states in a monsoon. I did manage to eventually make it home in one piece and was very happy I decided to head on down to the race this weekend.  I'm happy for Josh, very proud of CMS for once again winning a national championship, and excited to see what happens for the World Championships now at the end of August.


  1. Pretty damn awesome dude - but I have to admit I have come to expect that of yah.

  2. thanks bro! Still holdin' on to these colorado clay stained adidas! See you in June ;)

  3. Nice write up and race Jim!

  4. why thank you sir! you are next! next year the Pisgah Twins will both be ' layin' down some law ' at the 50k (as Josh Ferenc would say).

  5. Good move not labeling this post "nutrition plans."

  6. Nice race. Congrats. You've had a great start to the year.


  7. Congrats on a great race in what looked to be horrible conditions.

  8. What a great race and recap. Thanks for sharing it.