For such a long race, I was never more relaxed than the start of the 2015 Bigfoot 50K. I suppose since I put no expectations on how I’d run 31 freaky-deaky miles, I was less nervous than I was for my last race, the HC 5K (I suppose my only concern for that was to not blow out a hammie). The genesis of me running this race was the fact that I needed one more marathon to qualify for Marathon Maniacs (I thought the OBX Marathon would qualify me for it, but it was three weeks – not two – after Columbus). I searched the interwebz locating a marathon to run. Eventually I came across the Bigfoot 50K in December, less than two hours from home. I thought, what the hey, let’s do something different.
Columbus is the flatlands. Repeat, Columbus is very, very flat for anyone wanting to run a trail ultra. I suppose that didn’t phase me from registering because I was on a roll running. I would make do with the few places I could run “elevation” in the 614.
I ran the OBX 5K/Mary challenge November 7 & 8 and then the HC5K the 15th. I didn’t run the week between the marathon and 5K for a little break for my body. After the 5K, I went back on a “regular” running schedule. And boy did it feel good. It’s seemed that since the beginning of October I’ve only tapered, recovered, and raced. Although racing is fun for accomplishments and achievements, I love my day-to-day runs. It’s my “flow”.
My runs were nearly all double-digit distance. Mostly 12, 15, and 18 milers. I ran them by the feel of the day. I thought that since I’m going to run a 50K I ought to skip the short stuff and just go long. The Hoover Reservoir Dam is about seven miles from my condo and it has steps and “hills”, so I made a habit of running to it once per week for an elevation workout. That is, as long as my right hip adductor was happy (it’s happy, no fret!).
The cornerstone of ultra races are back-to-backs. “B2Bs” are simply to consecutive long runs, usually on the weekends. Their purpose is to emulate running tired, as most humans get tired during ultras or the second half of your second run. One weekend I ran 18 flat on Saturday and 18 “hills” on Sunday. I left that day feeling really good and confident, although no where near the elevation that I’d encounter on the Bigfoot 50K. Hahahalololhaha.
I also started eating “real food” more often. By “real food” I mean granola bars and crap from I purchased from Aldi. Nothing tooo exotic as this was only a 50K.
Pre-race Bigfoot 50K
I’ll call this the pre-race portion as I don’t know what else to call it. Catch-all?
I registered for this race Septemberish. On December 12 in Ohio, you can have conceivably every type of weather we carry. It might be 15 and a blizzard, it may be 40 and blah, or it may be 70 and surprisingly humid. We got the latter. I’m not joking — at the beginning on the race there were some pockets that were humid. Crazy. This also lead to me not knowing what the hell I should wear (I don’t own any trucker hats, if you’re wondering). In the end, I split the difference wearing my singlet and compression pants (I glide when I wear them!). Also I got to wear my Altra Superior 2.0s. I became an Altra Ambassador! the previous Tuesday, so I was super-stoked to wear them. They were like spikes on the trail! They’re a hair south of 9oz., so they’re also very light.
Bigfoot 50K took place at Salt Fork State Park, just outside of Cambridge, Ohio. I stayed at the lodge, which is conveniently located for the race that starts right out front, haha. It was seriously nice being able to sleep in being that there was no driving involved, just walking your ass out the front door. It’s a really, really pretty park that I wish I would have had more daylight hours to walk around. It’s almost all rolling hills (foreshadowing), so it’s pretty but most of it looks the same. I made myself food for the trip, as I wanted to make sure I could eat what I wanted to eat. There was a lounge where you could eat and drink, but I wasn’t
too terribly interested.
I became an Altra Ambassador Tuesday, and by “became” I mean I got the congratulatory email. Immediately, via social media, I became acquainted and friends with fellow Altra enthusiasts. To become an ambassador, one had to fill out an application. It was a legit application. You had to list your running accomplishments, what you do, what you hope to do during 2016, and you had to list your social media outlets. Basically, it looked like they want people with a history of running, with Altra, and social media to spread Altra cheer. I’m just guessing, but connecting the dots. One guy, Eric, mentioned he’d be at Bigfoot 50K since his wife was running. We exchanged numbers and met before, and after, the race. Another third ambassador, Joe, was also there. Both were cheering on their significant other while I ran it. Eric was visibly jealous of the runners as the course and weather were damn near perfect.
I knew ultra marathons are the hipsters of running, but it’s still something you have to witness for yourself. Beards and tats, beards and tats. We’re not talking about trimmed beards, we’re talking beards more in line with ZZ Top. And tats. I’d say 3/4 of the runners had them, and that may be lowballing it. It was definitely a different group of people. All very nice though. Ultras are more about the experience than really finishing. There’s not too much competition amongst the crowd unless you were racing it for a “fast” finish. As long as you finished, you won.
As with every race I’ve run, every mother sprints out of the gate. I even mentioned to a guy if we’re running a 50K or a 5K. He wasn’t quite into that as much as I. The first bit of the race is downhill. My poor quads didn’t know what was coming. It had briefly rained the night before, so the ground was damp, but my Superiors went through that shit like a Rubicon off road. For the first mile you could fairly easily pass people, if you had the right landing, soon after it became single-track.
For a mile or two I followed some people going a little bit slower than what I wanted, but since I’m running my first trail and ultra, I didn’t care too much. There was a lot of hooting-and-hollering amongst a few. One woman started bragging about going to see the Rose Bowl with her beloved Hawkeyes of Iowa (that’s college football). I found out that she didn’t go there, and she didn’t catch the fact that I’m a Buckeye fan from stating several times Iowa should be happy that we had a brain fart against Michigan State. Seriously, Iowa wanted no part of a motivated Ohio State squad. So, the conversation of football with Hawkeye ceased when I decided to make my move and run solo. I thought it was time.
I spoke with a guy from Western Reserve Racing, the Northeast Ohio company who puts a few races together – including the Burning River 100, and he mentioned the Bigfoot 50K is a lot of rolling hills. By “a lot” be means all but a few miles. Seriously, we’re not talking about mountains you have to run up and down, but when you’re not prepared for elevation and you nearly only have ups and downs, even if it’s only 10-15 feet, it still adds up. The scenery was very beautiful, but that only lasted 15 miles until you’re getting in the zone of how you’re going to finish the second half.
The course was three loops, with an aid station at the beginning and the halfway point. At about the halfway point you’ll encounter some roads. Some of which are an incline and some of which are a decline, but you could never really get a flat plane. It happens. I actually liked the loops because you can compartmentalize the race into segments. Once you’re at the aid station, you’re halfway done with a loop, at the end of a loop you’re a round closer to finishing… Ex cetera, ex cetera. Oh, and these are like 1 hour 40 minute+ loops.
In my naivety I thought I could run the whole course. I mean, I was “training” for this with marathons, right? And it’s only 5 miles longer, right? I forgot the elevation part of it. As I started to pick up speed a little bit during the end of the first loop/beginning of second and passed people, I continued to beat the living hell out of my quads. However, every time I passed someone, I heard something to the effect of “go, get ’em!” I’m not sure how, if at all, sarcastic that is.
Walking the hills is a big thing in ultras. It’s almost comical the first time you see a group of people walk up a hill during a race. But, we do this to save ourselves in the run. A 50K if you’re really fit can be mostly, if not entirely, run. It’d be hard, I imagine, for all but the most fit to run anything longer without stopping. About halfway through the race I started executing that strategy. My legs felt strained like they’ve never been strained before. Even with the 2014 Columbus Marathon, my legs weren’t as strained.
By this time I might have worn maize and blue to get a gallon of water. Who’da thunk people would complain about the weather being too warm in Ohio in December. One guy was mentioning dehydration, and he might have been right. In addition to Operation Hill Walk, I definitely started consuming more salt tabs and Heed at the stations. I had my Camelback Marathoner 2 liter hydration pack, but that bitch wasn’t big enough for me. I would eat Gu and grain bars as well, but I needed fluids and salts more. After the race, Eric got a chuckle when I mentioned hill walking and consuming more salt would have helped my legs (I think it would have taken the edge off, but I wasn’t ready for this race).
Most of the race was dirt path. Up the hills, down the hills, on the hills’ sides, etc. After were also patches and areas of grass as well for a nice, various mixed of terrain. Very few roads, only along the aid station and start/finish. About a mile from the start/finish was two-way traffic before the loop; it offered you a chance to see other runs. With few exceptions everyone offered mumbled words of encouragement. I can’t understate how encouraging and positive my experience with ultra marathoners were — no jerks or douches. And there were horses. Salt Fork has many bridle paths; most horses were “stationed” in a location with their owner, a member of the law enforcement.
The race is 50 kilometers, or 31 miles, but I never really thought about having to run that distance. Being that there was a lot of varied terrain (I nearly twisted my ankle a handful of times, once could have been really bad), you stayed in the moment. Plus, since there were three loops, you compartmentalized the race. Other than a brief, “halfway there!” I didn’t think about it. Plus, once it’s late enough to count down, you don’t really think that way. Or really think much at all. The last aid station was mile 26.8 for me — longer than I’ve ever run. I mentioned it to the volunteers and they also said only five more to go. I guess having a sense of humor is important.
Interestingly, I walk the last half a mile or so of the race until I got to the parking lot, because it’s uphill. Not Everest, but an incline great enough that I just didn’t have it in me. But seeing as I was in 12th, I could have been Top 10 if I have a last half-mile sprint. But, ain’t no way that was happening. I trotted over the finish line and found my way toward the foods and drinks, right after said finish line. A lady volunteer asked if I wanted “Coke, Ginger Ale, or Water.” I asked “all of the above.” During my healthy sampling of everything in front of me (cookies, pretzels, gels, and more goodies existed) one of them said it looked like I could do another lap. Sure, let’s make it a 40M! I asked if I’d get a prize. They really didn’t have an answer. I did feel really good all-in-all. My legs weren’t happy, but I didn’t feel physically spent, other than that minor detail.
I finished 12th overall in 5:39.06, or an 10:55. Only 17 out of a little more than 100 people finished in under 6 hours. That race is no joke. I’ll definitely take my time and place for my first ultra. And unfortunately no buckle for this race. After I run the Roots and Rocks 50K and 50M I’ll get a buckle.
Amazingly, my legs weren’t too sore after the race except for my quads. Those motherfuckers have never hurt so much. Piercing pain when I try to push down, like when I’m putting my feet into my shoes. Ouch!!!!!1 My toes were a little blistered, but they only hurt during the race after I ran through water or mud, wetting them. My toes nails were somewhat amazingly intact (wide toes from Altra!). My right calf/ankle felt like it wanted to cramp up around mile 27, but there was no such feeling afterward. Hammies and glutes were okie-dokie. Even my tightish hip adductor felt healed. Just the damn quads. Sitting down has never hurt to much.
I got a text asking me when’s my next 50K. Wink, wink. January 10th, duh. I haven’t run the course, yet, but the elevation chart goes in increments of 25ft., not 50 or more so that’s encouraging. I’m going to guess it’s going to be much of the same without all of the hills. Apparently there’s a water crossing.
After a home run interview Monday, I had a quick 4-mile run, and then another Tuesday and Wednesday. I had planned on taking the week off from running. But runners gotta run. Four miles wouldn’t do much for me other than loosen up some muscles and get the blood flowing and hopefully the gunk out. It’s still kind of gunky.
I also, finally, bought a bike trainer so I could train during the winter in Ohio. Since, it was obviously the best time of the year to buy a bike in Columbus, in October. I tell you, riding a couple of times of tremendously helped my quads. Oh my! There might be something to this cross training after all!
My final say of the Bigfoot 50K is that it’s a tremendously fun and difficult race. For a reasoned veteran, sure, it’d be easy. But you have to mentally prepare yourself for the hills even if you’re from an “ultra state”. Eastern Ohio isn’t the flatlands. I’ve never had such a hard run, and I’ve never had such a fun run. I felt free and like a real runner. I’m not sure how to describe or define that, but I felt like this is something I should be doing more of. Road racing is fun for speed, but ultras are about the experience and journey.
Oh, and I qualified for Marathon Maniacs, which I registered for that night!