Race Report: Runamuck 50k, Pomfret VT

My 50k day dawned bright and snowy. There had been an April storm the day before, and as I drove north to Pomfret, Vermont, every branch and twig was delicately outlined with snow.

A 50k is 31 miles long, and it's the shortest typical ultramarathon distance. (Technically anything over 26.2 miles could be an ultramarathon, but events often seem to be 50k, 50 miles, 100k, or 100 miles.) Here is where I note that I have run the distance before, twice, as part of the Hamsterwheel 6-hour race both in 2015 and 2016. But I wanted a real 50k to my name, so I chose the Runamuck 50k so I could get it done early in the season.

Runamuck start-finish is at the Suicide Six ski area

The first silver lining of my race came right away, when the Race Director suggested I get started about an hour early, along with two other runners who were there and ready to go. I was grateful to not have to wait for many minutes in the snowy parking lot. The RD noted our bib numbers and the time (7:13 am), and we were off.

There seemed to be about 4 inches of snow once we turned off the paved road and onto the back roads where we'd spend most of our running time. The roads had not been plowed, so we ran in vehicle tracks when they were there, and ran in others' footprints when there were no tracks yet. (A few more runners had started even earlier than we did.)

I had studied the course elevation profile, so I knew there was going to be a big ole hill every 10 kilometers or so. My preferred ultramarathon method is to walk up hills and run down them (as well as running anything close to flat). I hardly noticed the first hill, as I was chatting away with my fellow runners. One was a serial marathoner/ultramarathoner who had flown in from California the day before and slept in his rental car in the race parking lot. He planned to drive to Rhode Island as soon as he was done, to sleep in his car again and run a marathon the next day.

My other companion was a 71-year old Endurance Society member who told me stories of the 10-day 888k event that the group puts on every year, as well as their other insanely difficult events. We figured out that we'd been in the same race two years before, the West River Trail Run, and that we'd cross paths again in early May at the 7 Sisters Trail Race, 2018 edition.

Eventually though, we each settled into different paces, and from there I ran alone.

Around mile 11 I passed an unmanned aid station: a table loaded with fruit, sandwiches, candy, and water, like a nutrient-dense Easter buffet had appeared by the road. I began hill #2 after that, and the frontrunners who had started the race around 8:15 am finally caught up and passed me. I was passed for the rest of the day, and sometimes felt like telling runners, "Don't worry! I'm already an hour behind you!"

The first half marathon of the race (13ish miles) was very pleasant. I felt fine, it was sunny, the sky was a brilliant blue, Vermont was idyllic, and the mid-30s temperature made for perfect running weather. But at the beginning of the third big hill, my stomach felt a little off. (Confession: I made a classic race-day error and tried a new energy chew flavor. I stopped eating them as soon as I figured out they weren't sitting well.) I again slowed to a walk and concentrated on eating a fruit & nut bar to get some real food. This hill was very steep and seemed to last forever, but by the time I got to the top my stomach felt solid again and didn't bother me the rest of the way.

I was now around mile 19-20 and the course had an out-and-back section where I got to see a lot of other runners as we passed each other. As I got closer to the turnaround point the returning runners kindly pointed out where it was (at the top of a small hill, naturally). Next the course went down hill again, and I discovered my knees no longer appreciated any speed on a downward grade. I experienced sharp knee aches, but only if I was running—walking downhill was fine. So now my hill plan consisted of walking both up hills and down hills, which felt very slow.

The last big uphill was winding but not super-steep. I got out my iPod and walked and walked. And when I got to the top, I walked and walked down the other side. At this point the route connected back up to the first section of the course, so the last 7 miles or so of the race I was retracing my steps back to the starting point. The main thing I noticed about this section was that it seemed MUCH longer than it had been hours before. I had not even noticed 2-3 miles of flat, extremely boring pavement at the beginning of the race, and these became the last thing I had to tackle before I could claim my 50k finish. I'm proud to say that I did run most of the way, resorting to tricks like not looking at my watch until it beeped to indicate I'd gone another mile, or counting my steps from 1 to 28 over and over and over again (I call this "moon counting" and I've done it for years, I don't know why), or assigning myself to run to a certain landmark before I took a small walk-break. This section lasted approximately 300 years.

The second silver lining came at the end of the race, thanks to GPS being somewhat inaccurate. I think it has something to do with the frequency of the satellite communication, or maybe it's tree cover, but my GPS watch was showing about a mile less than the actual course length. (This is not uncommon, especially in trail running.) So when I thought I had another long boring mile to slog through... it turned out that the finish was around the very next corner. YAY!! It took me just over 7 hours.

Final thoughts:

Many point out that the main part of any race is the training you do beforehand. One particular long run that I did on February 25 turned out to be the perfect training experience for my actual 50k. I journaled about it that day: "Today's run was supposed to be 16 miles but I only got in 13—and it took me 3 hours. It was literally a slog with rain, unplowed roads (I ran in vehicle tracks), and feeling very very unmotivated. I decided some runs are for speed, or vert [elevation], or strength, or time, and some runs are just putting up with SHIT for hours on end, because race day will have a level of shit at some point. I walked up a hill for about 1.5 miles at one point just because I was mad at the road I'd already run. I just had to keep moving. I refused to give up, but I hated where I was running. So if my 50k has me taking 3 hours to run a half marathon... or even less distance... that will be OK. That's what I practiced today."

Thank goodness for that crappy run back in February, because when race day came, with all the snow and hill walking, it was something I'd already grappled with and conquered. That frozen, nasty run came to mind several times during the race, and I felt confident that because I'd gotten through that day, I could certainly get through a much nicer day.

Also, the 50k is not my final goal for this training cycle. I consider it a training run for the upcoming 7 Sisters Trail Race in a few weeks. For all of the climbing and descending that I did over 31 miles—about 3400 feet of elevation—the 7 Sisters will be even more climbing over just 12 miles. When that day comes on May 5... I'll be ready to hearken back to my snowy, steady day on the back roads of Pomfret, Vermont. PREVAILING.

A big Vermont thank you to the race organizers and volunteers--the local vibe of the Runamuck is delightful, and the course was gorgeous and serious. I loved the snow and could not have asked for a better first 50k experience.

My knees were fine, by the way. They never hurt again after I stopped trying to run downhill. I experienced sore calves and quads for a few days after the race, and was super hungry for about a week. Now I've switched over to trail running with lots of vertical, to fine-tune for the 7 Sisters. I'll let you know how it goes! Goal A: Beat last year's time of ~4:30:00!