Monday, April 11, 2011

Race Review: Winona Lake Ultra Trail 50 Mile Race

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...Image via Wikipedia
    By: Brent

At 2:10 I arrived at beautiful Winona Lake to get signed in and receive my swag. White running gloves. Very nice. I have always been given shirts and other odd things so a pair of legit running gloves was a nice change of pace. As I met my teammates, mostly for the first time, I could tell this was an enjoyable group and we were going to have a good time at this run. The plan was to shoot for 90 minute, 10 mile loops. I knew from the beginning I was going to struggle with that 90 minute formula for a couple reasons. First off, the furthest I had run in quite some time was 5.5 miles and secondly, when I launched, at best would be around 9 p.m., so I would be dealing with the dark.
As the field lined up there were 3 groups. The 10 milers lined up and launched, 5 minutes later the 30 milers and then another 5 back started the 50 mile runners. If you were in a relay, you still started with the distance overall you were competing with. I thought that a little odd. You would think you could pace better with the 10 mile runners, yet with the breakdown of people it was probably better. There was roughly (60) 10 mile runners, (30) 30 mile runners and (10) 50 mile (fools) runners. Impressively this race, in its second year of existence about doubled in size. The field was from all over. From Wisconsin, Georgia, Ohio and everything in between.

As the 50 mile group took off you could tell fairly quickly how people were going to do. There were all sorts of runners. Some that looked like they did this every weekend, and of course some looked like they had made a wrong turn out to this trail and had no intention of doing this. Alas, everyone left the chute. Knowing I now had about 6 hours before my lap, I then ran into town and grabbed a Subway. Some for now, some for later. It was going to be a long wait.

Whilst partaking of my tuna sub, the first runner from the 10 mile race came through at a BLISTERING 1:00:29! Insane! I didn't know the course at that point in time, but looking back at it now, I can't even begin to figure how someone does that. Second and third came in at 1:05 and 1:06 looking just as impressive. A short time later, the future first place 50 mile runner came in for his first lap running it at 1:10! Our first runner came around our figured 90 minute time frame, handed over the bib and runner 2 took off.

As time went on the parking area cleared out significantly. You could see the faces of the support groups and family members who were in for the long haul. People sleeping in cars with doors wide open. It looked like a Grateful Dead concert without the grilled cheese sandwiches. Temperatures jumped up 10 degrees from the day before so Indiana was touching its first 80 degree day of the year. Time kept running and so did the people. Runner 2 stomped out a time a bit over our 90 minute hopes, but there was no cares in the world. Runner 3 put in our best time just under 90 minutes. As my friend Trevor was heading out I tried talking him into taking a light of some kind. He refused saying he knew he would be back in time.

When 8:30 started rolling the sun really started hiding. Temp's started dropping so I made a wardrobe switch to long sleeve's and stood in the chute, headlight ready, flashlight in hand. Finally the stomach started telling me how nervous I was getting. Nervous for 2 reasons. One, Trev wasn't back in yet and most of the runners crossing at this point were wearing headlights, and it was now over 95 minutes in to his lap, and second, I was next. A few minutes later Trev popped into sight and you could only see him because of his "please don't hit me with your car, neon yellow" shirt that must have lit his way on it's own. I grabbed my GPS watch from him, the bib with our timing chip, clicked on my lights and began my trek out in to the wild.

All started fine. I had not seen this course before but luckily I have ridden on mountain bike single track before so I at least had an idea what I would be running on. The down side to it is that the bikes that are normally on these trails really dig a groove so when you are running on them your ankles constantly fall inward.

At roughly 2 miles in I came to a spot that stopped me. I figured I missed a turn so I went back. Nothing. After running back and forth and shining all my lighting on anything I could, I never found the trail forward. As I was becoming frustrated and debating starting to head back to regroup and find my trail, I saw another headlight in the distance. I hollered over to them to figure if they were coming up behind me and they were so I waited as patiently as I could. Finally the other runners headlight poked out from behind a hill and I started running toward him. I got turned in the right direction and went on. I probably gained a minute on him and kept pushing. The Winona Trails are impressive. On bike I can't fathom some of their climbs. You had to side skip down some hills and get a running start on some of the ups. I was grabbing trees on the way down one stretch just so I didn't face plant. I ended up catching and passing 2 girls along the course. One at about 6.5 miles who still had another 10 mile lap to go and one lady at about 8 miles that had 2 laps still to go! After seeing the results the next day the first girl I passed finished at 1 a.m. and the other finished at 6 in the morning. 15.5 hours after starting!

After the results coming in here was the breakdown...
Runner 1 1:31:19
Runner 2 1:38:21
Runner 3 1:29:40
Runner 4 1:37:47
Runner 5 1:59:30
Total time 8:16:37

How did first place do in the 50 mile SOLO? 7:00:40!!!!!

I had a great time. Our team was great and everyone did very well. I told the team before I went out "just know now, if I come in at 90 minutes, I cheated like crazy!"

Nothing you can do about getting lost in the dark of night. I feel I could hit 1:45 on the same course, in the same conditions, but you can't make up for walking around for 10 or so minutes. Either way, I look forward to doing it again next year.
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