|A panorama of the start/finish area. The finish is to the left. The course is in the distance, |
with the actual Terrapin Mountain over on the right. You can see a runner coming!
This year wasn't about being conservative. This year was about data. Improving my total time, running a consistent effort from the get-go, minimizing time spent in aid stations, and trying to utilize my heart rate monitor.
Race: Terrapin Mountain 50k
Location: Sedalia, Virginia
Date: March 22, 2014
Gain/Loss: 6,970 ft
Heart Rate Monitoring
I have been experimenting more with a heart rate monitor this season. Its a good data point to go off of since your heart rate always tells the story of how hard you are working. Whether you are going up hill on single track, running on flat surfaces, or bounding down a gravel road your heart rate will tell you your effort level.
The "zones" tell your story and they are all based on your maximum heart rate. These are different person to person, but its usually between 185 and 205 for people depending on various factors; I estimate mine at 195. The easy pace, or recovery zone, means you are exercising but should not be exerting yourself. This is often actually the best zone for losing weight and is fine for easy pace training runs. The aerobic zone is what I will typically race long races in, marathons and longer. The anaerobic zone really means you are at risk of burning out if you keep it up too long. This is better for shorter races, interval workouts, or special sections where you give it an extra kick. The max "red line" zone should rarely be reached, maybe toward the end of a 5k or in an interval workout (like "spinning" cycling classes). Yet another advantage of heart rate training is that the theory applies to all forms of aerobic exercise, from running, to cycling, to cross-country skiing - you name it.
|Get in the zone! No, not Auto-Zone...|
My basic idea with Terrapin was to stay "in the zone", in my aerobic zone. This would ensure an honest, consistent effort and (hopefully) not lead to burning out in the latter stages. I was trying to target between 150 and 160 BPM. If I started heading up a hill and was approaching 170 I would back it off and speed hike until things settled back down. The converse is that when I was heading down some of the many descents - even if the pace felt fine - if my HR was dipping below 150 this meant I really wasn't working to my potential and would speed things up. This even resulting in some sub 6:30 miles bounding down some of the gravel road sections. There was the inevitable risk of burning out my quads, but I was okay with that.
I've gotten advice before to try to carry most of your nutrition and to fill up your hydration the least times possible, ideally only once. The other school of thought being to pack light, maybe just a hand bottle, and then make frequent but very quick stops at aid stations. Since I tend to eat and drink a lot during races I decided to test out my new Salomon race vest, which I have been loving so far in training runs.
I filled it with some watered down coconut water to start, which has a ton of potassium and doesn't leave me with that stomach churning feeling that drinking an artificially formulated drink does first thing in the morning. I ended up only having to refuel once, thanks in part to the cool, dry weather that day. I refueled with watered down Gu Brew.
On a separate subject, I am back to just drinking whatever drink races hand out, be it Gu Brew or Gatorade. After trying out of the alternatives like Nuun and Tailwind, I have to say that I really see zero difference in energy or performance from them. They seem to have an x-factor of making you feel like some independent thinking expert, but I sure as heck can't tell the difference.
I packed (and ate) a few Lara-Bars, some Carb-boom gels, and a couple of salt tablets. I did also grab the occasional banana and orange slice at various aid stations.
As soon as we set off I started out at an honest clip, not quite up front but trailing a little behind the lead pack. Since there are half-marathon runners out there at the same time, you could be running next to someone with a much shorter day ahead but it actually looked like mostly 50k runners up front. The beginning section on the road was runable but within a few miles or so became steep enough to necessitate walking in some parts. I just had to go by feel for the first section. My heart rate kind of goes bonkers at the start of a run, either reading high or low, before settling to a steady rate.
Our largest creek crossing came in this first section. While I don't have a problem just trudging through, later on that hill my socks were getting bunched up and were not drying out and draining like they usually do. This bugged me enough to pull over, take off my shoes and wring out my socks. It was worth it and I immediately felt like I could run faster with lighter, less squishy feet, but it still hurt losing those 2 minutes.
I blew through the first pass of camping gap aid station and we started back downhill the other side. Keeping an honest aerobic effort now meant running faster than I normally would downhill but the time gains were worth it. I clocked a few miles under 6:30 pace here, and my quads could feel the pounding. Running through 2 more aid stations and on some flat parts we started back up again. One more time through camping gap, then turned off to the right into the next lolipop. I saw the leader coming into the aid station from the other direction. This guy was putting on an incredible performance and was over 10 minutes in front of the next contender. This section had a lot of gradual ups and downs and was pretty runnable as well, other than the climb up to the first bib punch of the day.
Heading back to camping gap for yet a third time I knew it was time to refuel. The race was more than half over at this point; we were something like 20 miles in. This was a valuable stop, but again I hate losing a few minutes unless absolutely necessary. Next was the final ascent to the top of Terrapin Mountain. This part certainly required power hiking and its hard to imagine anyone picking up their feet here. After going out to the rocky outcropping to punch our bibs again, I headed back down eventually toward "Fat Man's Misery", also known to me as "Tall Man's Misery". This is a series of several boulders wedged together that you must squeeze through. Fun!
We then experience an extreme loss in elevation down the backside of the mountain. This is the toughest section of the course to me. I have gotten better at downhill running on technical trails, but its just not worth the risk of falling for me to really go all out. About 2/3 the way down is a huge rock garden that runners must tip-toe across. Once we finally reach the bottom we are at the final aid station, where I got a quick drink and ate some more fruit. Back up a small climb to the last major section of the course.
We traverse the front side of the mountain, and while there are plenty of minor ups and downs here it can mostly be run. Having GPS enabled mileage tracking feels really advantageous in sections like this that can just seem to keep dragging on forever. At least I knew how far I had gone and approximately how much was left. In hindsight I wished I had ran more of this section and faster. My energy was dwindling but I don't think I was on the verge of bonking. My HR was now dipping below 150 consistently meaning a lackluster effort, but I was just too tired mentally to push it. Once I started recognizing the end of the course was a big relief since it meant only downhill running from here on out. We got back out on the gravel road and I was able to pick it up. The last mile is marked with a "1 mile to go" sign and it soon turns into pavement.
I kicked my pace up a notch really hoping to come in under 5:40. I was able to do so handily, just over 5:35, a 25 minute improvement over last year! This probably meant 10 less minutes in aid stations and almost a minute per mile faster elsewhere. Both huge wins in my book. By now it was warm and sunny out, which felt great after the finish. I gladly hung out to wait for the rest of my friends before heading on back to Northern VA.