Monday, April 28, 2014

Out and Back Party Run 5K and Ironmasters Challenge 50K: Double Race Weekend Report

A weekend I'd looked forward to for a year since last year's Ironmasters had kinda snuck up on us.  Before we knew it, we were a week from the 50K which was a beast of a race last year, with me finishing at 8:33:15 and Kristen just over 9 hours.  It was a big weekend and a lot of fun, and I'd plotted some revenge.

A few months earlier our friends urged us to join them for the Out and Back Party Run in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.  They promised an awesome time.  Awesome times are things we enjoy so that was a no brainer.  We realized this race was the Friday before our 50K on a Sunday.  We chalked it up as a "fun run" that we wouldn't take too seriously.  Even if we did, it's just 5K, a 20-minute workout for me, nothing that would impact our big race.  I was excited to have 2 races in one weekend.
55K worth of bibs.
Out and Back was in the northwest Philly Fairmount Park area, which is a nice rolling and open park.  The course was pretty flat and the weather was perfect.  Having tried to break that 20-minute barrier a few times already, I was ready to cancel the fun run and make this a quick goal race, so I did.  As rain set in, we lined up in a pack of 688 runners.  I lined up in the middle of the field, kinda late to join the crowd behind the start line, unwilling to push my way up.  Bryn Mawr chip times their races so, I didn't think it would be a big deal to get to the sensors then navigate around the crowd.

At the start, I moved with the crowd to the actual start line then bolted like an asshole around as many people as I could get, before I knew it I saw about 10 runners ahead of me, the rest were toast (some just  momentarily).  I put down  my fastest mile ever on the first third of the race and each 1-mile alarm buzz on my Garmin thrilled me with terrific splits.  I sure didn't mind the rain and kept my focus on maintaining my pace.  Before I knew it, the race was over and I clocked in over 20 yet again but this time, I think I can call it my unofficial sub-20 5K as this had a bonus 0.09 miles as I finished in 20:12.  I'll freakin take it!

The post-race party was really cool.  At the Lemon Hill Mansion about a mile from the race, they'd set up a huge tent, a pretty good band, and TONS of beer and food.  I wound up sitting at a table with the guy that sold me his bike trainer on craigslist and talking triathlon with him for a while and caught up.  I knocked back a bunch of the Harpoon Rye IPA's and let Kristen drive us home.
The party at Lemon Hill Mansion
Post race party with Maggie, Dave, Crystal and her friend.
Saturday morning we took care of our 50K prep work early.  We bagged up our Hammer Nutrition powders, gels, even brought our own coffee, and gathered our race gear.   We tossed the gear in Kristen's car and made our way to Honey Brook, PA for a bluegrass festival at Wyebrook Farm.  If you're ever out that way, Wyebrook is an awesome place to visit.  Kristen took me there for a date night.  A beef butchering class date night!  While we're not exactly huge bluegrass fans, we had a blast.
Cruchy tunes, man
The farmhouse at Wyebrook.  A market and restaurant.
Curried goat and hot roast beef lunches
We left during the headliner act, some old fella' named Jesse McReynolds and his band.  Their second set was a Grateful Dead set, which we didn't really mind missing and we had to get out and get our pre-race BBQ dinner in Carlisle, PA before hitting bed early.

We prepped our Hammer, our bulletproof coffee, race outfits and I got to watch the Penguins win game 5 before we fell asleep.  We're getting pretty good at our big race prep these days- far less anxiety about what to bring, what to carry in our packs, what time we need to rise and get going.  To make it easier, I called Hammer's customer support line to consult with one of their product experts a week earlier.  I was sticking to the fuel I'd been using for long runs/rides, Perpetuem and I'd be supplementing that with gels and their Enduralytes fizz.  I'd finish the race and chug a Recoverite.  I'm sold on Hammer's products, they're all natural and they just work.
Hopefully a future sponsor....
Race morning was super smooth, we got our coffee, a protein shake and drove to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  We were there with just enough time to hit the bathroom, get our bibs and line up for race instructions that went kinda like this... "OK you guys, we're on the same course as last year, blah blah blah, here's signs you'll look for, blah blah orange tape, if you're hiking the 50K, please stay back on the start line for the runners ok? we're gonna do a ready set go start.  ready, set, go!"

Yep, that's how we started, I scrambled over to the crowd mid-instructions and started my gopro to try to capture the start.  I still haven't checked my videos yet so I don't know if I actually got it.  I do know this much, my gopro died around mile 3.  I believe the housing is activating the wi-fi which is killing the battery...  So much for capturing the race again but it would look exactly like last year's video: a lot of running on a hard course on a perfect day.

My race goal was well-thought out, much like last year's and my goal was to finish in 6 hours (give or take a little).  breaking down each leg of the race, I calculated what pace I could hold and came up with this:
SectionMilesPaceGoal timeTODCutoffAid StationMile
12.20:11:000:24:120:24:12first aid? who cares?2.2
35.40:13:001:10:128:40:12CP1: Dead Woman Hollow Road8.5
41.60:11:000:17:368:57:48DWH Rd and 223 (restroom)10.1
52.80:11:000:30:489:11:0012:00:00Woodrow Road, lower (water)12.9
66.10:12:001:13:1210:24:12Park campsites (restroom)19
70.40:11:000:04:2410:28:3614:00:00CP2: Brickyard Pavillion19.4
84.40:12:000:52:4811:17:00Pine Grove Rd and RR Bed Rd (Water)23.4
930:12:000:36:0011:53:00Water Station 2: Old Forge Road26.4
101.80:13:000:23:2412:16:2417:45:00CP3: Cold Spring28.2
113.030:12:000:36:2112:52:45FINISH LINE31.23
I allotted some extra time from the above goal and avg pace since I'd expect that the hills were again going to be a rude awakening.  6 hours was still a bit aggressive but a great goal time.  I hiked up the steepest hills and did my best to scramble through the rocky sections in the first 5 miles.  After ascending Blueberry Hill (mile 7), I knew the worst was over, my pace seemed slightly behind goal but as the miles got easier, I made up time without feeling like I was overcompensating.

Somewhere after the climb at mile 7, I'd noticed a little tinge in my right knee.  I though "huh, that's weird" and figured the climb might have tweaked it a little, it would loosen up and go away.  It passed for a while, I cruised comfortably and was making up some time.  The discomfort started to come and go and I eventually figured out around the halfway point it was only noticeable on downhill sections.  According to my Garmin, I was just under 3 hours at 15.5 miles in and through the hardest part of the course, excited and feeling great otherwise.  Not having really dealt with any injuries aside from a shin splint, I wasn't trying to self-diagnose it on the trail during a 50K.  I tried to manage it during each section and to this point, it was not impeding my ability to move forward at my goal pace.  I was still cruising and killing it.  The discomfort wasn't worsening over several miles so I'd really hoped whatever it was had just leveled off.   That would've been great, I was catching and passing a few runners until the pain grew.

Around mile 18, I had to slow down.  I did what probably most people do when they have a curious leg/knee injury, stopped, massaged up and down my thigh to my knee and kept going.  Soon I was caught by the lead female runner, she asked if I was alright, and I told her "maybe" but I'd like to run with her for a while.  Wendy was really cool, she was running her first 50K and was doing really well.  An asthmatic, she'd been running marathons for years, ran Boston a handful of times and had some race recommendations for me when I eventually try for my Boston qualifier.  She was having some hip issues and we stayed together for a a few miles stopping for a few seconds each mile for her to stretch out and me to try something new to release the tension in my knee which I was starting to wonder if this is the whole IT band issue I've heard about?  I'm pretty lucky to not know, I suppose.  At mile 21, I couldn't keep up with her, I let her go on and was walking down the hills now.

At about mile 21.5 I spiked my handheld water bottle on the ground in anger.

Two hours ahead of myself at last year's race, at mile 22.4 after refilling at a water stop, and trotting about 50 yds I stopped, turned around and began the DNF process.  The radio crew called in runner #111 was dropping.  A volunteer drove me back to the race finish and at times, I had to force myself to hold it together.  I was furious and completely frustrated.  For the sake of self-preservation, it would have been dumb to continue on.  I have a huge race weekend in only 3 weeks I need to be ready for.
22.4 miles (or 23.8 as marked on the course)
Course profile.  3600' of gain for this portion.
I sulked a little while waiting for Kristen to finish but slowly overcame the disappointment and some of the frustration.  Injury was nowhere on my radar.  I've been fortunate to run injury free for quite a while and I suppose some of these injuries are inevitable for distance running.  I chatted with some other runners and got fed and changed and cheered on the finishers.

Kristen came in well ahead of her goal time which I knew she could do!  I was happy to see her and very proud of her.
Look at that 31-mile smile!
After assessing the day, I was pleased with my performance to the point where I dropped out.  However in my event assessment, I don't know if I plan to return to this race.  I'd like to race it again but in different circumstances.

  • The trail is poorly marked.  I was off course briefly this year and a few times last year.  Everyone goes off course.  Maybe the organizers think it's part of the race's charm... who knows.  Mile markers are up to a full mile off from everyone's GPS as well.  Not a huge deal but seriously, get with it, it's not hard.  Bonus miles do nothing for any racers.
  • Volunteer support was non-existent late the race.  I appreciate the volunteers, many were fantastic help.  But checkpoint 2 was basically a table of candy, 2 coolers and a row of cackling hyenas sitting on the far side of the table, stuffing their faces with the food on the table, completely unwilling to assist runners, only offering "heeyyyyy we got candy! all kinds!  help yourseeeelff!"  Give me a break.  I was hunched over my camelback trying to rip it open asking them for help and they all gave me looks like I had 8 heads.  I had to ask 6 grown ass adults FOUR TIMES for help.  Kristen got snarky comments from these Pennsyltucky folk about her powdered Hammer Perpetuem fuel, "BAAH What is this stuff??  I hope this isn't something unhealthy!!"  Check point 2 is in close proximity (walking distance) to the start/finish area.  I suppose these are the guys the RD didn't trust enough to deploy out in the woods.  I can't for the life of me figure out how they construe their day as helpful toward others.  I'm aware of my unkind words, I wish I didn't feel so mean towards them but when I volunteer, I bust my ass for the athletes.
    Oh look- a runner helping himself.  
    I did not appreciate any of these people yesterday.  At all.
  • Post race receipt of runners.  Hey, you just ran over 31 miles.  Here's what you get:

I kid you not.  And only $10 for non-participants.  Hope you brought more food.  It was unlimited last year with more options, what gives?
Most of the other participants were happy and weren't under my dark cloud.  I have been to 5K's with better runner support.  I'll reach out to the RD as politely as possible to address my disappointments but next year is unlikely a return to Ironmaster's (for reasons other than what I've whined about).  It's still a great 50K course and it could be that the race fees and sponsors heavily support the Central PA Conservancy instead of the race.  I'm a big baby and sore DNF'er...

Still, I lightened up, met some cool people yesterday had a killer 20 miles and was happy to get home and be fed a great feast at Kristen's sister's house.  It was great to get pampered finally and share our weekend with Kristen's family.

I'll address this IT issue, as the last 18 hours of talking to others and online digging seem to indicate that's exactly what I'm dealing with.  American TTT is in less than 3 weeks.  That's a sprint, 2 olympics and a half-ironman.  The most frustrating part of an in jury at this point of the year, hoping I can heal completely between now and the next event.


  1. Loved reading of your adventure. Hoping you heal quickly. Way to go Kristen!!