November 2, 2013
Willowdale State Forest
Post-Hartford, I jumped back into training a little too enthusiastically and ended up with some minor discomfort in my right hamstring/piriformis. Not one to push through injury, I instantly reduced my mileage and spent some quality time reconnecting with the
evil wonderful arc trainer and my beloved foam roller. As Stone Cat inched closer, I started to question whether it would be wise for me to start the race. Fortunately, a last-minute business trip to San Francisco provided just the opportunity I needed to cut back on training and fully heal that nagging hamstring of mine.
Heading into the race chock-full of good food and gluten-free treats (why must San Francisco have such an incredible culinary scene?), I did not have high hopes of achieving a 50 mile PR. Nonetheless, I was grateful to be injury free and figured that I’d use the race to try out some new fueling strategies I had been experimenting with during longer runs. I’ve always followed a “train low, race high” approach when it comes to fueling. That said, since reading up on superstarches I have become increasingly intrigued by the possibility of racing low fuel as well. I’ve trained my body to the point where I require very little (or even no) fuel during long runs, and was eager to see if I could employ a similar strategy at Stone Cat.
My rough plan:
- Consume one serving of Generation UCAN and one pouch of VESPA pre-race
- Gel as needed beginning after mile 12.5
- Consume a second serving of UCAN and VESPA mid-race
- Keep HR in the 140-150 BPM range
Saturday November 2 dawned far warmer and humid than is seasonable, so I knew I’d also have to keep a close eye on my electrolytes as well.
A little after 6:15am and we were off under the glow of headlamps. I settled in towards the front of the pack, keeping close watch on my heart rate and silently chiding myself for having started the race with a dim headlamp. Fortunately, my friend Jason was kind enough to share some early miles with me. His exceptionally bright light and enthusiastic conversation kept me steady and focused as we twisted our way along the leafy singletrack. Reaching Al Cat’s Lounge at mile 4.2, daylight was finally upon us. I wished Jason good luck, powered up my iPod, and settled into my own pace.
Stone Cat is held on a wonderfully windy and rolling 12.5 mile loop – a perfect mix of single and doubletrack that weaves runners through the beautiful Willowdale State Forest. Sometimes rocky and always leafy, the terrain is just challenging enough that one must always pay close attention to her footing, as I soon learned after rolling my left ankle twice in quick succession. Nonetheless, other than that one clumsy incident the first loop went smoothly as can be. I took a short break at the start/finish to retie my shoes (very tough with cold hands!) and refill my water bottle. All in all, my energy levels were quite good, though I decided to mix a little UCAN into my water for some extra calories during the second loop. I was interested to see how it would work out if sipped while running, vs. taking a full serving mid-race.
During the second loop, I was occasionally passed by speedy runners tackling the marathon distance, and found myself in awe at just how swiftly they seemed to glide along the leaf-strewn trail. It was especially thrilling to watch Aliza Lapierre fly by (en route to setting a marathon course record). She has been a tremendous inspiration for me since I picked up the sport, and truly makes running look effortless. If only I were so graceful!
Approaching the midpoint of the race, I found myself hitting a bit of a mental low. My glutes were starting to ache, and the thought of having to complete another two loops seemed overwhelming. Fortunately, my negative thoughts immediately dissipated as I reached the start/finish for the second time. The aid station was abuzz with the delightful energy of friends, spectators, and volunteers, which promptly put me back in good spirits. Per my fueling plan, I took a VESPA and topped off my bottle with more UCAN. Heading back onto the course, I took comfort in the fact that I was now past the halfway point.
Temperatures were on the rise as I tackled that third loop. No longer acclimated to warm weather, I made sure to closely monitor my fluid intake to ensure that I was drinking enough. Interestingly, the ache in my glutes gradually subsided as I increased my electrolyte intake. I was excited to learn this, as I’ve experienced similar issues in previous races and hope that I’ve now discovered the fix. Body feeling strong once more, I pushed right through Fast Freddie’s Cafe and made it back to the start/finish approximately 6 hours, 39 minutes into the race. At that point I knew I had no shot at a 50 mile PR. Nevertheless, I knew if I were able to maintain a steady pace I could potentially still break the 8 hour mark. Not wanting to linger, I scarfed down a gel, topped off my bottle with NUUN, and set out on the course for the fourth and final time.
As tough as loop courses can be mentally, I always get a tremendous boost during that final lap. Every time I pass a familiar landmark, I’ll remind myself that it’s the last time I’m running past said object/location… and that each step I take is propelling me closer and closer to the finish line. The other runners out on the trail were lovely and encouraging, offering motivating words and cheers as I jogged past. Reaching Fast Freddie’s, I stopped briefly to top off my water as I was completely out. 5 miles to go – and did those last miles fly by! I broke into a sprint as I ran across the field for the final time, crossing the finish line in 7 hours, 37 minutes, and 4 seconds – first woman, and eighth overall.
As happy as I was to have run a consistent 50 miles, the best part of the day came after the finish. The magic of Stone Cat lies in the fact that it’s so much more than a race. It’s an event that brings the New England ultrarunning community together, and I feel honored to be part of such an inspiring, welcoming group. Catching up with friends – new and old – truly made the race one of the highlights of my year. A huge thanks to G.A.C., the volunteers, the runners, the spectators, and to all who work hard to make Stone Cat one of the best races in the Northeast!
…and what about the fueling experiment? Needless to say, I was surprised and pleased. I consumed about half the calories that I usually do in a 50 mile race, and my energy levels were consistent throughout. Here’s a rough breakdown for each loop:
- 20oz water (mixed with NUUN and BCAA powder)
- 20oz water (mixed with NUUN and half a serving of UCAN)
- 2 VFuel gels
- 1 SaltStick tab
- 1 pouch of VESPA
- 20oz water (mixed with NUUN and 1 serving of UCAN)
- 2 VFuel gels
- 2 SaltStick tabs
- 40 oz water (20oz mixed with NUUN, 20oz plain)
- 3 VFuel gels
- 2 SaltStick tabs
If I were to do one thing differently, I would have started taking gel about 20-30 minutes earlier than I did. That said, I’m very excited to continue experimenting with a low fuel approach in future races.
Some fun facts…
- Pre-race – 1 serving of Generation UCAN + 1 NUUN and 1 pouch of VESPA
- Gels consumed – 7 VFuel (6 peach cobbler, 1 chocolate)
- Water consumed – 100oz (mixed with NUUN, BCAA powder, and 1.5 servings of UCAN)
- VESPA consumed – 1 pouch in-race
- Salt consumed – 5 SaltStick tabs
- Protein consumed post-race – SFH Recovery (chocolate)
- Calories burned – 4,230
- Average HR – 148
- Max HR – 161
- UltrAspire Alpha race vest
- Amphipod 20oz Hydraform handheld
- Polar FT4 heart rate monitor
- iPod Shuffle
- Yurbuds headphones
- Flag nor Fail “All Day All Night” tank
- Pearl Izumi Infinity Run skirt
- Hoka Bondi B2s
- Darn Tough socks
- Dirty girl gaiters (skulls)
- Headsweats race hat
- Ryders Nitrous sunglasses
- Petzl TIKKA XP 2 headlamp