Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Event Report: 2016 Jackson County 50/50 (50 Mile Ultra-Marathon)

Event: Jackson County 50/50 - 50 Miler
Brownstown, IN


2016 was supposed to be the year I took my running to another level and went beyond 50k. I was planning on running my first 50 Miler in April (the IT 50) and my first 100k in September (Woodstock); however, my plans changed rather abruptly after I broke my ankle in January.

I was not completely cleared to begin running again until May, which meant no 50 Miler. I did make it the starting corral for the 100k, yet I wound up dropping at mile 41 (see previous event report). It was my first ever DNF, and it stung. While I remain confident it was smart to drop, I definitely wanted another bite at the apple. It didn’t take long and I was soon shopping for another >50k race. My options were limited for various reasons, but I really wanted to finish one in 2016.

Lesson learned -> Use a more robust criteria when shopping for an event. As it turns out, this course was extremely difficult, and perhaps not the best choice for a first 50 miler.

The event is organized by DINO (Do Indiana Offroad), which hosts triathlons, adventure races and other trail events (including the Tecumseh Trail Marathon). This was my first DINO event, and I was pleased with the professionalism and organization. They did a fine job. Swag includes a nice beanie, a long sleeve tech shirt and a medal (no buckle). For the price, it’s a good value.

The event takes place at Pyoca Camp, Conference & Retreat Center. Facilities are nice. You can use their lodging, which is available in two options: standard ($20/night) and upgraded ($30/night). The more expensive option means you might have fewer roommates, but I went standard and had only one roommate. The cabins are heated and have a fridge/microwave with separate sleeping area. It’s better than several hotels I’ve used.

The main lodge is open for meals throughout the weekend (Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast). Food is good, and definitely more convenient that going into town to find a place to eat.

Lesson learned -> Stay on the grounds the entire weekend. It’s inexpensive and high quality. I’m glad that I didn’t try to drive home immediately after the event.

The Course
It’s advertised as a ten mile loop, yet is closer to 10.3. There are substantial hills, tricky terrain, a couple of paved sections and some beautiful scenery. The “hills” are of varied difficulty level. The first major hill climb is relatively long and steady, yet not too steep. There are two separate sections of substantial length and steepness (both up and down) later in the loop. Overall, there’s about 1700 feet of ascent per loop (8500 total).

If I were to grade the difficulty level of each mile in the loop, I would assign the following letter grades (A = standard, F = very hard): A B C B D F C B A B.

I generally enjoyed the course, but it was definitely the most difficult course I’ve ever run. At times, it was so steep I occasionally used my hands on the ground to scramble upwards. On the steepest descent, I also sat down once or twice and scooted along on my butt simply because I was too nervous about picking up an uncontrollable amount of speed.

Oddly, it was less nerve wracking in the dark. When I was going through these steep sections during the day, I thought “oh boy, it’s going to be extra bad at night” but that really wasn’t the case. I could not see all the way to the top or the bottom and I think that kind of helped my anxiety.

One of the things that made the steep sections intimidating was the uneven terrain. It looked like rain water had eroded deep/wide ruts in the path that were initially filled with leaves (and roots, rocks, etc). As the day wore on, the many runners had semi-cleared a path through the deep leaves and that made it much easier to navigate with confidence.

Lesson learned -> I let the course dictate my pace and didn’t go faster than I could manage. I made sure I still had something in the tank on the last loop, and that worked out quite well.

Aid Stations
First, I’ll say that the aid stations were fine. The people were really nice, helpful and encouraging. Stations are at mile 4, 5.5, 8, 10 (which is also where you can check a gear bag).

I do have a minor criticism, which is likely due to being spoiled by the IT100 group. Don Lindley and those who manage rolling aid stations for IT100 training runs have set the bar high. That this event didn’t measure up to that standard isn’t saying it was bad, but that IT100 is just that good.

I was disappointed in the fare. It was not very diverse. For food, at first it was pretzels and full-size candy bars (Snickers, Hershey’s, etc). Eventually, they had hot tomato soup (which hit the spot). Drinks included water, Gatorade, an energy drink (didn’t try it) and eventually some hot chocolate.

There were no chips, M&Ms, sandwiches, potatoes, etc. I was expecting this kind of stuff, and it simply wasn’t available. I had little choice but to try stuff I hadn’t used before. I wound up eating one full candy each loop (breaking it in half and eating the separate pieces about an hour apart).

Fortunately, I was able to adapt. I had some of my own nutrition (something called QuicDisc) that I had brought with me, so I leaned more heavily on that than I might have otherwise. Considering the situation, I think nutrition worked out well enough. I was never hungry, had indigestion, etc.
Lesson learned -> It would have been a good idea to put familiar food in my gear bag. This could have went badly for me if I had struggled with the candy bars.

I was extremely blessed! The temperature was perfect (35-45 all day).No rain or snow either in the days leading up to the event or on the day of it. Creek crossings were not a problem. I’ve heard that in past years the weather had made the course a nightmare. Even under ideal circumstances, it was extremely challenging. I know that if the difficulty level was higher then I might not have finished. I am very grateful for answered prayer for good weather!

I wore running tights, a wicking base layer shirt, a thin jacket, wool throw away gloves, and a buff over my bald head. I carried my own water and nutrition in my UD vest. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual. No problems. I did change shirts twice.

I had just got a new GPS (Garmin 920xt), and was excited to use it in a race. I still don’t know how I want to configure the data screens, etc., but it worked really well for me. I really like it. It records a lot of advanced metrics (cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, etc). I don’t think it does a particularly solid job gathering this kind of data on the trail. Over the five loops, it was consistent on pace and distance.

I used Garmin’s LiveTrack feature to keep my wife updated throughout the whole run (she was a nervous wreck, and really appreciated the instant updates). I used the HRM to manage my effort level, i.e., avoid spending too much time in the “red zone.” I think I did a nice job in this area (overall average heart rate was 138 bpm and 85% of the run in zones 3-4).

The battery is supposed to last about 20-25 hours, but only if you configure it correctly. I haven’t got that stuff figured out yet, so I got my first “low battery” warning about ten hours into the race. I was going to be disappointed if the Garmin died before I finished. I prayed several times that God would allow the battery to make it all the way through, and I think He answered. There were no bars left on the battery meter when I crossed the finish line, but it made it to the end. Does God answer these kind of prayers? I won’t argue with you, but you won’t change my mind either.

I also had a new high quality Petzl headlamp. One of the major components of my failure at Woodstock was a faulty lamp and a useless backup. This event went much smoother.

Lesson learned -> Learning from your mistakes is really cool (i.e., the headlamp fiasco).

Of course I’m going to talk about my broken ankle. It’s kind of what I do. I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but dang it, it’s been a daily part of my life for months. Two interesting things about it:

1) It is still not quite healed in regards to tissue. The bone is fine, but I still have a limited range of motion. Going up or down the steep hills, I could place my right foot flat on the ground, but I couldn’t do the same with my left. For much of the steepest parts, I was going upwards on my tippy toes, which put a lot more strain on my calves and heels. Post race, the sorest parts of my body are my left ankle and my right knee. I think the knee is from compensating for the ankle. Overall, it’s just sore and has felt much better each day since the event. I am very thankful to have completed this challenge without injury!

2) Following my injury, I’d have flashbacks multiple times a day. Random and even silly things would trigger a flashback where I’d just replay the fall in my head. My wife notices when it happens because it’s accompanied by a noticeable tic or twitch. It even happens when I run, usually multiple times.

Throughout the entire 50 miles, I did not have a single flashback. I don’t know what that means. I even thought about the fall several times throughout the run, but never had one of those bothersome mental images or twitches. My single greatest fear about this event was that when it got dark, the flashbacks would get really bad. That fear never materialized.

I have had some flashbacks since I’ve returned home, so I don’t claim it’s completely gone, but something happened on the course, and for that I’m very grateful, even if I’m still unsure what to think about it all.

This was one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever attempted. The margin between finishing and DNF was razor thin. I was extremely fortunate that so many variables lined up perfectly for this weekend. With just one or two negative changes, I might not have finished.

Would I recommend this event to others? Sure. There are race options of one, three and five loops, so there’s something for everyone. It’s very difficult, so if this is your first 50k or 50 miler, perhaps you should keep looking until you find something a little more appropriate to a first timer.

I was not fast, but I was competent. My training had adequately prepared me. I am extremely grateful for the many people in the local running community who have ran with me, offered me encouragement and advice, staged training runs at night, and so many other things. If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably one of those people. I owe you. Thank you.

Final Thought
I wound up running almost the entire race alone, and I was fine with that. I had a lot of time to talk to God and think about life. It was a peaceful and serene experience. I tried to count my blessings, but I’d needed a course much longer than 50 miles to list them all.

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