Sunday, February 9, 2014
Paved to Waves: Maysville to Macon 50 Miler
One of my biggest desires in upcoming years is to run new unique and challenging events. I've never had a desire to be a 10 time, 20 time, 30+ time finisher of any event. With so many great concepts popping up in the running and ultrarunning world, I believe life is too short to do the same races over and over again.
That very idea is what got me to the starting line of the Maysville to Macon 50 miler. Initially, I saw that there was a brand new 50.3 mile race in North Carolina, it was reasonably close, inexpensive, and I would probably get to catch up with some of my runner friends. But, as I learned about the details of the race, that's when my interest really piqued. The event had a 12:01am start, just like the Hellgate 100k, and it would be run on 23 miles of roads (route 58) before turning and running up 27 miles of sandy beachfront (Emerald Isle). So much for the idea of a nice easy 50 miler....
On to the race!
After nearly a 5 hour drive through traffic, I finally arrived in Atlantic Beach, NC. When I got there, we still had an hour long shuttle ride to the cozy little town of Maysville, NC. I was pleasantly surprised how the town went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The mayor, the police commissioner (Dan Ryan, the man behind the idea of M2M), and a local mascot all came out to our starting point, a small diner in the middle of town. It occurred to me that this was my first 50 miler in about a year and a half, and only my second in the past three years. 50 miles is a fun distance because you can definitely blow up if you go out too fast, but you also don't want to go out too slow either.
12:01am. After the Pledge of Allegiance the race finally began. The 23 miles of roads were basically broken up into several segments. I ran the first couple of miles up front, but sure enough two other guys caught up and eventually passed me. The first 10 miles to the aid station went through dark county roads, but seamlessly passed by in an hour an twenty minutes. The eight minute pace was a bit faster than the 8:30's I had planned, so I backed off a bit more. By the way, we had a police escort that stopped oncoming traffic the first ten miles which was pretty awesome!
13 miles. I caught up with one of the guys who had passed me earlier, and he ran behind me for a mile, or so. His bright headlamp directly behind me was causing some awkward shadows so I picked up the pace just to get a little bit ahead. A few miles later I glanced back to see how he was doing, and didn't see a soul in sight.
ERROR number 1 (+0.5 miles, 5 minutes): At around 17 miles I realized I hadn't seen any signs for route 58, which is the road we were supposed to be on. Apparently, by running on the left side of the road, I naturally followed where it went and completely missed a fork in the road where I was supposed to bear right. It wasn't a huge mistake, but I added a half mile, and five minutes trying to find my way back.
About twenty five minutes later I crossed the only "hill" on the course, which was a pretty bridge going over into Emerald Isle. Though short, the uphill and downhill of the bridge was a nice change of pace for the muscle groups. From there we made a right turn and ran for three miles until we reached the oceanfront.
3 hours and 14 minutes. The 23.3 miles of road were done, and I can honestly say I was glad to be switching over to running on the sand. As soon as I passed through into the beach area I was welcomed with a massive oceanfront of white that stretched beyond the view of my headlamp. The area was so wide and open that it was a bit disorienting to figure out where you were supposed to be going. Since I knew to go left, I just followed that until the shoreline narrowed down to a more defined strip of sand with the ocean to my right. From this point to the finish the pace of running, aside from fatigue and weather, would be dictated by the type of sand we were on. It would either be very loose granular sand that you would sink ankle deep into, or wet packed sand that was ALWAYS off camber closer to the water.
The first "marathon" of the run went by in 3:43 as I arrived at the aid station overseen by RacENC mastermind Brandon Wilson and his son Andy. This was mile 25.8 on the course, but actually my mile 26.3. Subsequently, the lead runner already had a 12 minute gap on me, but I viewed the next 24 miles as either an opportunity to close the gap, or let it grow. The next six miles to aid station 3 were by far my sloppiest. I struggled to find good footing as the tide was a bit higher and shrunk down the running path options to mostly the deeper sand. My slow pace during this stretch was mostly due to the soft sand and spending too much time zig zagging from hard packed sand to the flatter stuff when the hard packed got too slanted to run on.
31.8 miles. I arrived in 4:50, which is a decent time (31 mile split of 4:42), but it looks faster than is was due to all the road running at the beginning. The slowest part of the course was still to come, and there were still 18.5 more grueling miles of sand to cover. From here, the next two aid stations were both 7.5 miles apart. I figured a 10 minute mile pace, which was much tougher than expected to maintain on sand, would get me through each segment in 1:15, and give me a good shot at breaking 8 hours. The passing of time through the night and early morning wasn't as bad as I expected. The dark beach was certainly quiet, but I had some good tunes playing on my headphones, and I just settled into a rhythm. Every mile or so I would take a moment to jog backwards and take the strain of my left side. Running on a constant angle can cause major muscle imbalance problems, so I figured to take some time to relieve the physical monotony.
6:30am. Almost 42 miles covered and the ambient light from the sunrise meant I could ditch the headlamp. However, a chilly rain was already beginning to fall, and made the 38 degree morning all that much cooler.
Entering Fort Macon: I entered the Fort Macon beach access at 7 hours and 30 minutes, and had a little over three miles to the finish. I knew if I pushed it, I could break the 8 hour barrier, which would have been a great accomplishment on this tough course. However, the last few miles of the course were not how I pictured, and I found myself rather uncertain as to where to go. I followed my gut and found both of the hole punches we needed to prove we ran around the outer most portion of the fort beachfront. As I made my way into the fort area, that's when I got confused.
ERROR number 2 (+1.8 miles, 18 minutes): When I arrived at Fort Macon, I had only seen one sign that said "this way", which was located in a parking lot. I assumed it was pointing me to run down the only paved road in the fort area. And so I did. After almost a mile I saw nothing and realized I was running AWAY from the fort. It didn't seem right, so I stopped, asked a few passing cars if they knew where the finish was, but they were all employees and didn't know. I then ran back up the road to see if I had missed any signs, and when I was almost back to the beach area, a volunteer told me to turn back the way I had JUST run. I was literally a quarter mile from the finish when I had turned around. (f-bombs everywhere)
Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off at myself for adding 1.8 miles and 18 minutes at the very the end of a 50 mile run. Had I just trusted my gut, as wrong as it felt, and run another 0.1 miles I would have seen the turn sign into the finish area.
Finish Line: 8 hours and 21 minutes. My anger over the added miles subsided quickly after finishing. The third place runner came in three minutes after me, which was way too close for comfort, given that I was 20+ minutes ahead of him at mile 49. The winner, elite Iron Man Rob Hilton, finished his first ultra in a blistering time of 7:36. Rob is a 2:30's marathoner with an Iron Man PR under 9:20 (beastly), which explains how he just floated by me with such ease. Anyway, given the added 2.3 miles over the entire course, and 23 minutes of lost time, I am certain I would have been under 8 hours. Why so much fuss about breaking 8 hours, you ask? Well, breaking 8 hours was my goal from the start, and although just a number, I really wanted to know that I could achieve a goal I set forth to conquer. The good news is, the added distance did not cost me the win, nor second place. In the end, sometimes you just have to laugh it off, and realize that 8:21 over 52.6 tough miles is still a solid day. Other than that, I essentially ran every step of the race, aside from a few moments where I walked a few seconds to eat something, which means my endurance has finally bounced back.
Final Thoughts: Thanks to race director Brad Mitchell and all the volunteers for putting on this event. Running in the rain, when temps are in the high 30's was cold enough, so I know standing out there all night and all morning to volunteer was even colder. It was certainly a unique and tough challenge. A 12:01am start, 23 miles of dark roads, followed by basically a 27 mile ultra on sand was definitely something I had never considered doing before this weekend. Congrats to all the other runners who endured hours and hours of freezing rain and wind, including my buddy Dave who gritted it out despite some muscle issues. Those conditions were just miserable, but the runners did what they do best, and that is endure. What an awesome day (or night) with a fun group of the toughest SOB's I know.