Big Basin 50K: Training and Post-Race Analysis

It’s taken me 3 weeks to write this post. I’ve had so many thoughts after Big Basin 50K, yet no desire to write whatsoever. Let’s tackle this in discrete sections, shall we?

Training

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I’ve written previously about some of the non-running things I felt that I did right and wrong, so I won’t repeat them here. In terms of training, there’s a mileage gap from weeks 10-12 where I was sick and didn’t run very much. This was followed by a recovery period, after which I didn’t pushed myself very hard to complete 100% of my weekly mileage goals. Did this hurt me come race day? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I felt pretty strong going into BB 50K (too strong, perhaps). I don’t have any doubt that I was fit enough to do well at BB 50K, so I’d give myself a B+ as far as training goes. If I were to do it all again, though, I’d incorporate hill repeats into my training — either every other week as a weekday strength session, or as part of my weekend long run.

Race Day: What Went Wrong

If you’ve read my recap, you’ll know that I struggled mightily on race day. I’ve had plenty of time to mull things over, and while I can’t point to any one reason why things went as badly as they did, I can think of a number of possibilities:

– I went out too fast. I got caught up in the excitement and found myself running on single track with a group going faster than I should’ve been running for the first 5-6 miles.

– Related: I foolishly thought I would bank time in the first section. This is a case where too much pre-race recon can backfire. I had read that the first section was the most runnable stretch, which was true. However, this translated in my head as: MUST RUN FAST. I got caught up in banking time, which is almost always a mistake in anything longer than a 10K, really.

– I set unrealistic expectations. It think it’s always good to aim for big goals, but being that this was my first 50K, perhaps it was unwise of me to assume that I could hammer out paces that exceeded most of my trail half marathon performances.
– I didn’t drink enough. It was humid, but deceptively comfortable in the shade. I was only taking a few sips from my hydration vest whenever my Garmin signaled a mile split. By the time I got to the first aid station, I was soaked with sweat. The more I drank, the better I felt; it took me the first 20 miles to drink all of the water in my 2L Hydrapak bladder, whereas I finished another 2L in the last 10 miles (where I got my second wind).

– I started freaking out and couldn’t calm down. Yes, I had gone through some tough training runs (see Canyon Meadows Marathon), but I relied too heavily on my general reserve of mental strength and didn’t develop enough Plan B solutions. Also, while I had anticipated suffering during the race, I didn’t think it would happen so early on (mile 7), which made me freak out even more. Even if I went out too fast and got dehydrated, it doesn’t make sense that I could physically bonk so early in the race. (More on this below.)

Race Day: What Went Right

I’m no Debbie Downer, and I recognize there were a lot of things that went well at BB 50K. Here’s a short list:
– I finished. Period.

– Logistics, weather, and fueling (minus a short nauseous period) all went smoothly. I had no chafing or blisters. My stomach cooperated and I never had to run off into the woods for a pit stop. I did not twist, strain, tear, or break anything.

– I got to run with friends.

– I got a second wind in the last 5-6 miles. In my opinion, this was proof that my training was solid. Without physical and mental strength, a second wind would’ve been impossible. And even though I don’t have the Garmin data to prove how fast I was going at the very end, I felt as if I was able to tap into a final kick and sprint to the finish.

Recovery
It took me about 6-9 hours after the race before I was actually hungry, at which point I became ravenous. I even woke up at 3am to eat! I had trouble falling asleep, which I attribute to the lingering effects of race-related adrenaline and very sudden but short-lived pain and cramps shooting through my legs. I wobbled like a penguin for 2 days; stairs were especially tough to navigate. By Wednesday morning, I was finally able to walk relatively normally, albeit slower than usual. I took a 2-mile walk on Friday and ran 3 slow miles (sans Garmin) on Sunday.

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve resumed a regular routine of running 4 times a week, averaging 27-29 miles per week. Besides very minor niggles in my right hamstring, left knee, and left foot, I’ve had few issues post-50K.

What Now?

Everyone keeps asking me, “So, are you going to run another ultra?” For now, the answer is a resounding NO. Not because of the race itself, but because training was really demanding time-wise. I’m lucky that I have a supervisor who was very supportive of my training, because without it, it would’ve been infinitely more stressful to juggle everything. However, I don’t want to take advantage of her generosity, nor do I want to tax my relationship with the Gypsy Runner. I miss sleeping in on the weekend and doing normal things like going to brunch and the farmers’ market. Moreover, one of the the things that made 50K training bearable was having great training partners – 2 of whom have recently moved out of the Bay Area. So my motivation to train for a 50K is basically nil at this point.

Something I was extremely grateful for during training and during the race itself was drawing motivation from my Running for a Better Oakland fundraiser. Knowing that there were people who had so generously donated money because they believed in me was extremely encouraging. When intrinsic motivation failed me, external motivation like the fundraiser kept me going. When I wanted to quit, I thought about all of the people cheering me on. So, as long as I wasn’t in any physical danger, I knew I had to keep going.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot since BB is my inability to overcome the episode (or whatever you want to call it – when I freaked out/bonked at mile 7). I’ve experienced this exact thing before in the last 10 miles of MCM and Oakland Marathon. I don’t know if it’s a true bonk or if I’m having some sort of mental meltdown, but the effect is the same. The common thread between all of these situations is a combination of physical fatigue and a realization that I can’t meet a predetermined/expected goal or pace. Then, I enter a very counterproductive cycle of self pity (usually accompanied by a strong urge to walk), followed by self-directed anger and abuse (usually accompanied by a lot of cursing). There are the rare occasions where I’ve been able to escape this cycle – e.g., Big Sur, Kaiser Half 2014 – but I’ve yet to figure out how tap into this resilience as needed. It’s frustrating to me that I’m capable of demonstrating so much determination and discipline through months of training only to fall apart on race day. It seems like every time I think I’m getting closer to figuring it out, I get a bit too cocky and self-implode. What I need to do in the future is not only visualize success and general suffering, but what I’ll do when faced with this mental/physical inner demon. And knowing myself, I need several different plans of attack. I guess that’s the addicting part of endurance events — it’s like a puzzle, but the pieces are always changing. (Ooh, so deep! Haha)

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Big Basin 50K
4 comments on “Big Basin 50K: Training and Post-Race Analysis
  1. EB says:

    Great reflection. I agree that 50ks are a huge time commitment and not something you squeeze into life without some changes. It’s awesome that you have such a great support system. The mental aspects of ultras is one of the hardest things to train for. They are long and exhausting and something is bound to go wrong at somepoint. Great job sticking through the ‘downs’ to find the ‘ups’. I always find it helpful to remember particularly hard runs at that point and remind myself I got through those hard moments and I can get through these. It was really fun to follow your 50k adventure! 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, EB! You’re definitely right about how long 50Ks are — I think I totally underestimated that component. Everyone told me that if I could run a marathon, I could do a 50K, which is true, but considering that I had only run road marathons up until July of this year, a trail 50K is seriously so much longer (time-wise)! Anyway, thanks for following along and for your support. I hope the rest of your training goes well. Can’t wait to see how you do!

  2. JS says:

    very proud of you! 🙂

  3. Jan says:

    Okay seriously, the fact that you finished? That’s amazing, period. What percent of the population do you think could run that far? You’re inspirational.

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