For me the Stone Cat 50 is as much about community as the race, so let’s start with me touching down in Boston just after noon on Friday. Upon arriving at the baggage claim area I was greeted with a point from a man across the room – it was Sparky! To those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of the Haverford College men’s running team, “the point” is a traditional way of greeting a teammate you spot at a distance and “Sparky” is Gavin Boyles, HC ’98. Sparky would be attempting his first ultra at Stone Cat the next day, which was my entire reason for heading to Stone Cat in the first place.
From the airport we headed to Gil’s Grocery in Topsfield. For those who don’t know him, Gilly founded/heads Gil’s Athletic Club (or GAC, as it’s more commonly known) which has its headquarters in the basement of Gil’s Grocery. When we walked into Gil’s I asked if anyone was downstairs. I was told “No, but Gilly and some others are in the attic.” Sparky and I headed up and chatted with the guys for awhile. After asking about where to find a good lunch, we head back down to the grocery and were about to head out when Gilly said, “It wouldn’t seem right if we didn’t share a beer with you boys,” at which point Gilly reached into the grocery’s refrigerator, grabed a six pack of Stone Cat Blonde Ale, and led us to the basement through the back room where his 87 year old father was doing the books. We traded stories about running and friends before Gilly headed back to work. Sparky and I headed to the Doyon School, site of the start/finish of the Stone Cat races, where we walked the first three quarter miles of the course at dusk. The rest of the evening we spent relaxing with his friends, Isaac and Marybeth.
Saturday morning began early and cold, in that order. Following a 5 a.m. wake up, we hit the school just in time to pick up our packets before the race briefing. After the briefing we had five minutes outside in the cold before the start.
Starting a 50 mile race the weekend after a 50 mile race is less than intelligent and quite doltish when said starter is woefully far from peak fitness. That said, Lap 1 started off well enough. Like last week at MMTR, I intended to go out conservatively and see if I could carry the effort through the day. This time around, I had my friend and college teammate, Gavin “Sparky” Boyles in tow. It was his first ultra only three weeks after his first marathon and I wanted to make sure that he went out conservatively enough. We hung together for a few miles, letting a slew or runners head off up the trail in front of us. In the morning chill, I was having some trouble keeping pace with Sparky. He looked like he was under control, but every time we hit a hit, my heart rate (HR) climb above 165 beats per minute (bpm), an effort that signals that I should ease off. As we weren’t moving too much faster than I had hoped, I hung with Sparky until about mile 6. At that point another runner caught us very gradually. It turns out that he and Gavin had met three weeks earlier at the Green Mountain Marathon (Gavin’s first). Sparky and GMA man slowly moved away from me, I didn’t speak up as I felt their effort was sustainable.
Truth be told, I don’t think that I could have hung with Gavin and his GMA friend for very long. With barely a tenth of the race under my belt my my upper quads/lower hip flexers of both legs were both tired. My legs were heavy. I wonder why.
At some point after the second aid station (7.6 miles) I was already giving up. While at the time I thought that I merely didn’t have it in my legs so soon after MMTR, in retrospect my head was just as big a part of the problem. With already heavy legs and the frustration of two minor detours I closed out the first loop out of it mentally.
Lap 1 total time: 1:52:20
While my race was sinking fast, my spirits were buoyed a bit once I crested the first and only “big” climb (and by big, I mean 150 feet) about a mile into the lap. The morning light had risen high enough to penetrate the autumnal New England forest, but was at shallow enough angle that direct rays made the yellow elm leaves explode in flame on the ridge top. Awesome. The spectacular scenery distracted me for about a mile at which point I remembered my not so cooperative legs.
I decided to take two Advil – a desperate move 14 and a half miles into a 50 miler. Half an mile later I downed my third Clifshot of the day – my one and only Double Espresso, which I was saving for dire times. These were such times. This combo had worked the previous week, but still nothing. I knew I would drop at the end of this lap. With nothing to lose but the ache in my legs, I entered Aid Station 1 at mile 16.5 looking for something good to drink. After a bit of insinuation, the aid station volunteers got my drift. One asked, “Scotch? Rum?” “No,” I said, “I’ll take the Jack Daniels.” So I picked up a Coke and they poured me a double. I raised my glass to GAC and to Jeff Washburn. With a final sip accompanying a GACer’s toast to me, I was off. About a mile later my race turned around.
Around mile 17.5 I noticed that my legs were neither so heavy nor so achy anymore. By mile 18 I felt good. I shifted out of apathy and into pleasantness. It wasn’t so bad to be running after all. With my legs feeling better, I moved my effort back up to an average of about 160 bpm. A chart of my heart rate throughout the race clearly shows that I picked my effort back up when the ibuprofen/caffeine/ethanol combo kicked in.
I made good but reasonable progress through the remainder of the loop. Dropping out at midway was no longer in my head.
Lap 2 total time: 2:00:42
Even before lap 3 started, my anesthetic began to wear off. Despite the gradual return of heaviness to my legs, I knew I could pull myself through the first 4.5 miles of lap 3 to visit Aid Station 1. Not long after AS1 came into view I cried, “Bartender.” He knew what to do. By the time I came into the aid station, the Jack was open. Bartender mixed another Jack and Coke while I had my water bottle replenished … with sports drink, I swear.
mewhere en route to aid station 1 I passed Sparky. When I saw him, he was double over on the trail. When I caught up to him, I stopped and walked while seeing what was wrong. It turns out that he was having acute hip pain that was preventing him from running at all. Unfortunately, his first ultra would end just shy of 30 miles when he dropped at AS1 on lap 3. Rumor has it that Gavin will post a race report to iRunFar shortly.
The rest of my loop was fine. For long stretches of the third loop I caught a few runners … very slowly. This was great. I felt no need to race at this point and could pace myself off others. It must have taken me half an hour to catch one runner, who I know as Spaff through previous exchanges over on the Coolrunning bulletin boards. Once I caught him, we ran together for a little while – it was nice to meet an internet acquaintance in person. After a while Spaff pulled away and I ambled into the start/finish for the third on my own.
I must admit that I consciously upped my effort heading into lap 3 and felt I maintained that harder effort. Indeed, my HRave for each section was higher than the corresponding lap 2 HR. Despite that effort, this lap was nearly 3 minutes slower than lap 2 – a bit disappointing. I think two breaks probably cost me a minute total, but I’m not sure how another 2 minutes snuck in there. Oh well, I guess 2 or 3 minutes over the course of 2 hours is pretty inconsequential. In part, I think I pushed the first part of the third section while running with Spaff and then overcompensated when I realized I was pushing harder than I wanted.
Lap 3 total time: 2:04:10
I headed out on lap 4 having just completed the first three laps in a total of 5:57:12. That meant I had 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 47 seconds to finish the final lap in order to break 8 hours. Prior to the race, I had posted on the coolrunning board that I predicted that I would finish in 7:59 and told Sparky that I wanted to break 8 hours. I had three reasons for these goals:
* I had run 7:59:07 at Stone Cat in 2003, my first 50, and I didn’t want to run slower
* I liked the idea of running 8:30 at MMTR, 8 at Stone Cat, and 7:30 at JFK
* 8 hours is a nice round number
Having just run 2:04 and change for the previous lap, I had my work cut out for me.
Honestly, as I headed out for the lap I didn’t think I had a chance. I had just pushed hard to a 2:04. Somewhere near where I had seen the glowing trees on lap 2 I figured out I had a choice – I could resign myself to not breaking 8 hours or I could go for it and either fail or succeed. I chose this latter option. I dropped the hammer and started barreling down the sweet single track. As I came into AS1 for the final time, they tried to get me a drink – I rolled through without stopping. No time. I had figured out that I roughly needed to drop two minutes off my previous lap. Through 4 miles I had eeked out 45 seconds.
Locked into “go time” pace, I moved well towards aid station 2. As I progressed, the thought that I could not keep up this effort kept growing. Oh well. I had decided to burn out rather than fade away. In and out of AS2, no passing go, no collecting $200. I had, however, gained another precious 30 seconds.
I knew if I could keep up my pace for another five and a third miles, I’d be golden. Despite the good news, this section dragged on. For miles I waited for the open field stretch to come. It felt like ages before I got there. Then the goal was the final double track. Upon reaching the double track, I asked two guys if it was straight in for there. “Yup.” Um, not so much. Some fraction of a mile later, a hard right and more double track. At this point the number of minutes until 8 hours was nearing single digits, if it wasn’t there already. I knew where that the deviating point for the outbound and inbound runners was three quarters of a mile from the finish and took between 7 and 8 minutes to run in the slightly harder outbound direction. I finally got there. I don’t recall the exact timing, but I knew I was ok so long as I kept moving. No time to relax though, I pushed for the finish.
Lap 4 total time: 2:00:49
Total time: 7:58:06 (a minute and a second faster than my 2003 time)
Overall, another performance I am pleased with. Despite a 10 mile down stretch early on, I gave a very consistent effort (161 bpm HRave this week) and made my time goal. Next up, JFK.
For more detailed information on the course, split distances, my split times, and my heart rate data go here: Motion Based – Stone Cat 2007