This past Saturday I laced up my Hoka’s for the Snowbird Challenge 50k race. This was my first ever 50k – actually, the longest race I’ve ever completed before was the Lady of the Lake 4 hr race in which I ran 21 miles, so this race was my longest race by about 10 miles.
An Ideal First 50k
I think the Snowbird Challenge made for an ideal first 50k for two reasons: the weather was perfect and the format of the race provided plenty of built-in rest breaks.
Saturday morning was cool. It was right around freezing when I pulled into Seneca, SC at 8 AM and had warmed to just above freezing by the time the race started at 9 AM. The warmest point of the day was in the low-to-mid 50’s, and the entire day offered clear skies, sun, and mild breeze. You couldn’t ask for better running weather.
The format of the race was unique. The course consisted of a ~2.6 mile loop. Roughly half of the loop consisted of a wide hiking trail and the other half consisted of a paved bike path circling some baseball fields.
To complete the 50k, you ran the loop 12 times (12 * 2.6 = ~31 miles or ~50k). The unique twist to the race was that you didn’t just run 12 laps as fast as you could. Instead, you ran a lap, and then waited until the beginning of the next lap. A new lap began every 45 minutes. So the first lap started at 9 AM, the next at 9:45, the third at 10:30, and so forth until the last lap began at 5:15 PM.
Another interesting twist is that not everyone was running a 50k. There were also folks completing marathon, half-marathon, and 10k distances (10 laps, 5 laps, and 2 laps respectively). So as the day went along more and more folks joined until the entire group was there for the last 2 laps.
The result of this format is that everyone ended up with a break between laps. In my case, I generally ran laps between 24-25 minutes, meaning I had 20 minutes to rest between laps. That was plenty of time to take a quick bathroom break if I needed one, get some water, swallow a few bites to eat, and rest my legs and feet for a few minutes before starting back up.
How Did It Go
I’m really pleased with how the race went. My lap times for the first 10 laps were very consistent. By lap 11 my quads were shot and I had to slow down quite a bit on the last 2 laps, but I still managed to average a 9:30 pace over the entire race and finish with a total cumulative time of 4:55:18, good enough for 21st out of 69 total runners, and exactly middle of the pack for my age group (4 out of 7 for males between 35-39).
Considering that this was my first 50k attempt. I’m extremely pleased with those results. Even more importantly, I don’t think I hurt myself. 😅
What is My 50K PR?
It’s not 4:55:18. That’s for sure.
While that is the total cumulative time on the race clock, I do not consider that to be my actual 50k time. That time is only meaningful within the context of this specific event. If I had tried to run 50k continuously there’s no way I would have been able to maintain that pace and finish under 5 hours. Realistically, had I run 12 laps continuously I’m not certain I would have finished in under 6 hours much less under 5 hours.
The total time that elapsed while I completed the race was 8:42:44. That’s my current 50K PR as far as I’m concerned. Nothing to write home about, but still, 50k ☑️.
My Garmin Says I Didn’t Quite Make it to 50k
I used my Garmin Forerunner 935 to track my laps. I paused it between each lap so it only counted the time I actually spent out on the course. If you look at the data from my Garmin, it shows I only completed 30.6 miles, which is about a half mile shy of 50k.
So you might be tempted to be pedatic and say “Aha! It doesn’t count as a 50k!”
Let’s talk about that. Setting aside the fact that two different GPS’ will show slightly different distances, even if my watch was accurate to the foot, I still covered 50k. Between each lap I walked about 300 feet from the finish line, to my vehicle, and then back to the starting line. So, since there were 12 laps, that means I made that 300 foot walk 11 times. 11 x 300 = 3,300 or .625 miles, and 30.6 + .625 = 31.225 miles or 50.25 kilometers. So, yes, if you’re looking at the total elapsed time like I am, there’s no question I covered at least 50k.
Since this is the longest I’ve ever run, I learned a lot – or at least, realized I have a lot to learn.
I Need to Learn About Nutrition
I went into this event without any sort of plan for nutrition. I took a variety of salty and sweet foods: some light (chips), some heavier (chocolate and peanut granola bars). I also took a half dozen bananas, plenty of water, some black coffee, and three electrolyte drink packets to mix into my water.
I bonked pretty good during lap 7. Thankfully, I realized what was happening and between laps 7 and 8 I drank a lot of fluids, some with electrolytes mixed in, and ate a bunch of cheap calories (chips and cookies). Then my legs gave out entirely after lap 10. I have no idea if nutrition could have helped with that, but certainly knowing more about nutrition wouldn’t have hurt.
Having completed the event, I’m really not sure what I should have done differently, I just know that I had no idea what I was doing. I need to at least have some kind of strategy next time so that I have a basis of experience to iterate on. My non-plan during this event was so scattered that I can’t even draw any real observations from it other than: I was ok until I wasn’t, and then I was ok-ish again, until I wasn’t again.
I Need to Take It Easier on the Downhills
There was about 200 feet of descent and climbing in each lap. For most of the race I ran the downhill portions of the course very hard. I did this strategically. I’m a good downhill runner and I was able to shave a significant amount of time off of each lap by running the downhill portions hard.
I over did it.
By lap 8 I could tell my quads and calves were done and by lap 11 I had to slow to little more than a shuffle on the downhills. I need to be a little more balanced on the downhills next time, either that or I need to really ramp up my downhill training.
I Need to Get Some Squirrel’s
Squirrel’s Nut Butter is a popular anti-chaffing product for runners and other athletes. Without getting too graphic, I could have used some Squirrel’s in a variety of places on Saturday.
Racing in a Pandemic
Participating in this race was a risk. I recognize that. The organizers did take measures to try and run an event that was as safe as possible:
- Runners were encouraged to provide their own food and the aid station only offered packaged foods. I did bring all my own food, though after I bonked hard after lap 7 I did go get some chips and cookies from the aid station to try and get a lot of calories down fast.
- Each loop began in a fairly large field where runners were able to spread out and maintain some distancing.
- Face masks were encouraged anytime you weren’t able to maintain social distancing. Most folks complied and I did wear one at the start of each lap when everyone was relatively close.
- We were outdoors nearly the entire time. Check-in was inside a large metal building, but the building had large roll-up doors, which they had raised so that there was plenty of airflow and you were able to get in and out quickly.
I think the organizers did as much as they could to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus. The only realistic step that would have reduced the risk further would have been to just not hold the event. While I don’t think it’s likely I contracted coronavirus, I do plan to pay close attention to my body over the next few days just in case.
Hats-Off to the Organizers
I’ve run about a dozen races. This event was as well run as any other event I’ve participated in. The race was put on by Upstate Ultra and timed by Go-Green Events. Having run one event put on by these organizations, I’d happily recommend any other event they put on.