Monday, March 7, 2016

Mississippi 50

Jack and I flew into New Orleans Friday evening where his Dad picked us up to make the 2 hour drive to Laurel, MS where the race would be held. Mr. Daly would be running the 50k, with 7 or so 50 mile finishes already under is belt. We chatted about strategy and nutrition; I still had no idea what my plan of attack was. Jack being in the best shape of his life was planning on holding 7:30's till he couldn't. I was split between trying to run a smart, conservative and evenly paced race and going for broke and hoping to hold on.

We spent the night in a hotel 25 minutes from the starting line and woke up at 4:15 Saturday morning for the 6AM start. The race runs three 12.x mile loops and two 6.x mile loops through Desoto National Forest which is generally flat, muddy and wet. Thankfully, this year was relatively dry, so aside from the crossings, we had sure footing. The trees are tall southern pine with a dense bushes underneath, certainly a lot more plant life than I'm used. The start was cold enough that we both elected to wear gloves for the first loop.

Chatting with Jack at the starting line.
At the start Jack shot off at low 7's with a couple other guys while I held back and settled in with another guy at 7:40's.There is a short out and back on the 12 miles loop where I was able to see Jack and gauge my place as 3rd/4th with the other guy I was running with. After a conservative first 12 miles I felt well warmed up; when the guy next to me slowed down to eat a gel I thought "Oh, what the heck let's see what we can do" and dropped the pace down to 7:20's. I was feeling fantastic, the early morning rays of sun were piercing through the canopy of foliage above and I was having a ball thrashing through the mud pits (even if I was covering my bottle and gels with mud I would later eat). I assumed 2nd place around mile 16 where the other guy was (already!?) walking. At the out and back, Jack hadn't gained any time on me.
Trying to stay cool as the temperatures rose, luckily, never too hot though.
I came through the marathon at around 3:17 (PR) still feeling good but conscious of impending fatigue. Keeping the mile splits below eight minutes became progressively more labored, but with enough effort I was able to average 7:50's on the final 12 mile loop. Although he was well ahead of me, Jack's gap hadn't grown. Having lead until the final 4 or 5 miles last year, I would learn Jack was scared at this point, but I knew he had nothing to worry about. On the out and back pass I put on my best poker face to look fresh. I'm sure the efficient stride he was running at was no show, though.
Re-supplying at the car before another loop. (photo: Mr. Daly)
Starting the first 6 mile loop I was really starting to feel it. I had been drinking far more water and electrolytes than I normally do along with Coke, though I believe I still wasn't keeping up with my sodium needs. On this loop I would have to make a couple trips to the bushes; of which during the first I experienced the first of the oh-so-familiar leg cramps. This happened in my last 50, only this time I knew how to deal with them and I was almost close enough to the end to smell the barn. My splits fell back into the low 10's including one standout 11:06 where I had to make a trip to the bushes. It was a very long 6 miles.
Mostly naked and mostly miserable trying to get the legs moving again after my last resupply. (photo: Mr. Daly)
Jack's dad had done "only" the 50km so he had already finished - with a 2nd place and near PR - and was now helping us finish up. "Is Jack up there in another galaxy?" I asked, "Oh, he's still flying!" he replied. At this point I was firmly in 2nd and clearly out of the running for 1st barring supernatural intervention so I set my sights on staying under 7 hours. I voiced my doubts and Mr. Daly immediately shot me down. All I had to do was hold low 10's for the remaining 6 miles and I would break 7 handily. It was a real tooth grinder, with some admitted walking but in time I found myself at the threshold where it was time to empty the tank. As my watch ticked over the 6:40 mark I now set my objective as going under the 6:50 mark. I felt like I was at an all out sprint (Strava would indicate it was close to 8:30's -- at best) and every now and again my stride would flinch with a calf or hamstring cramp that had been firing for the past 90 minutes. Turning a corner I could see the finish and pushed it to the line. The clock read 6:47:30
To the finish.
The first thing I wanted to know was Jack's time, his goal a few months ago was essentially what I ran, and he had been out of sight and never really faltered in his pacing. He ran 6:18, 7:37 pace (certainly deservant of whatever explicit phrase I exclaimed)! Jack would be the 4th fastest person ever on the course, my 6:47 put me in 7th all-time (farther back if you include multiple finished by one person). Our "crew" of sorts (Jack, his father and myself) were able to leave with a good haul of hardware all with time to grab some Cajun fried chicken for lunch! Mr. Daly informed me the only time its okay to get fried chicken at a gas station in Mississippi is after an ultra.
John Brower (3rd, 7:03), myself and Jack all clearly happy to be stationary with finisher medals (and visors). It was great day for us all. Race director Dennis Bisnette is on the right.
All of the ultra-running focus may be on big mountain races with insane scenery, but I think I learned a lot from this Mississippi race. The ultra-running scene down south felt so pure and simplistic, these people straight love running and there aren't many bells and whistles to distract you from the reason you're there to begin with. You don't hike, scramble or stop and admire views -- you run. Its cool, and I have a lot more respect for the obvious passion for the simplest form of this sport that is so evident in the flatter-lands. This of course is beside the simple fact that the course itself is super fun. It felt like a high school cross country course combined with a sufferfest with an intimate small-town feel. I was certain I would never want to come back, but with free entry next year (podium get's free entry!), who knows, maybe I'll come back and see if I can go faster!
Bringing home the goods.

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