Thursday, January 29, 2009

Swinging Bridge 50k

I have finally acquired the nickname "Wrong Way Bailey". Why it took this long, I have no clue?

The Swinging Bridge 50k is the only ultra trail race hosted by the Richmond Road Runners. This year, the January race had record low temperatures at the start of the race. At the 8am start time, the thermometer displayed a brisk -1 degrees F. It was by far the coldest I have ever run in, easily beating out the 13 degrees at the 2007 Holiday Lake 50k, and the 19 degrees at the 2008 JFK. I had no idea about how my body would respond to running in such cold. There were a few key details that I new were going to be crucial if I wanted to finish.

START: I wore 3 layers of clothes, and yes also my cute new tights. The pre-race briefing was held around a couple of warm fires, which was nice, but made it feel that much colder when we had to walk to the start located about a hundred yards away. In total, we had around 100 folks who braved the cold to run. I made sure to be at the front of the pack when the race began. My face immediately went numb, and it was so cold I could barely feel my breaths going through my frozen nose. Within 10 minutes the sweat on my face was already freezing, thus creating a white "beard". Attempting to talk was foolish and my words sounded like gibberish coming from my numb lips.

Miles 1-3: Less than two miles into the race, I stop twice to tie my shoes. The lead pack darts off into the woods, and I am losing precious time as my frozen fingers attempt to get my laces tight. I end up running behind a big group of runners, but push ahead as soon as the trail widens. It only takes a few minutes before I realize that I am not on the trail, and no other runners are near by. I run back the way I came, and sure enough I find where I went off trail. The runners I just passed are now ahead of me. This cycle occurs several more times. Run ahead...get lost...have runners I passed catch up. It was frustrating knowing that my extra effort was being negated by my inability to stay on the trail. All of this occurred in the first 8 miles, and added up to around 20 minutes of lost time.

In the mean time I am having other issues. The water in my hand bottle is completely frozen solid. There is nothing to drink. The lid is also frozen closed, so the only way to get liquid is to stop, bang my water bottle on a tree, and hope it breaks away some ice I can chew on. The other big concern on mine was the creek crossing. Most of the creeks were frozen solid, however one still required getting wet. While the water wasn't as bad as I thought, it did freeze me shoes solid. It felt like I was running in shoes dipped in concrete. The ice on my shoes got so thick that the shoes would not flex, and ended up cutting my ankles.

Miles 8-11: With all of my navigational and ice problems, I decide to make this race a training run. I decide to run with some folks who haven't gotten lost, and run at an easy pace with them to the turn around at mile 11. At this point we are starting to see a few of the lead runners who have already been to the turn around, and are about 20 minutes ahead of us. When I arrive at the turn around I realize that I still have 20 miles to make this a good run. I decide to step it up to a higher gear and see what kind of ground I can cover. I am somewhere around 20th place at this point. When I reach mile 22, I have moved about a half hour ahead of the folks I was with at mile 11. I start to catch up to some of the faster runners, but the big effort over the last 11 mile stretch leaves me a little tired going into the final 10 miles.

Mile 22: The RD tells me I have moved up to 3rd place. It appears as if I passed a good number of runners, and a few other top runners dropped. I know I should be able to hold onto a top 3 spot as long as I don't get lost again....I spoke too soon. Yet another mistake puts me off the trail about a mile from the aid station. At mile 27 I pass by the 4th place runner, Michael Huff, during one of the out and back sections. He is about 10-12 minutes behind me. Again I push hard over the last 4 miles in order to secure 3rd place. On the way back I stayed on the trail and managed to space about 21 minutes over Mike. I finished the day with a time of 5:38. Third place overall. First place finished in 5:11, and second in 5:30. It was by far my sloppiest 50k run, and I really need to take a course on navigating.

This year had much slower finish times, and a very high drop out rate due to the extreme cold. Last year six runners finished under 5 hours. The top two runners last year were both under 4:30. This year's field was not as deep, but probably run in tougher conditions. Congrats to Justin Faul, an up and comer on his 2nd place. Also, great job to Dave Snipes on his 5th place finish and PR on the course.

Wrong Way Bailey strikes again!