Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile Race Report - Disappointed, But Not Upset

I won the Lakefront 50 Mile on Saturday in 5:32:25, or 6:38/mile.  I'm a little disappointed with the result, even though objectively speaking, I wouldn't call my time "bad."  The disappointment comes from my high expectations going into the race.  I really thought I was capable of a time in the low 5 hour range.  In fact, I still think so, and believe I will eventually break the 5 hour barrier.  I wanted to do something special, but I was missing a piece of the puzzle on Saturday.  That piece wasn't fitness, but muscular endurance.  This has been a common theme this year, as I'm simply not running enough mileage to hold up at race pace in some of the longer stuff.  The fix is tantalizingly simple: run more!  Yet this is easier said than done in the real world.  Nate Jenkins once told me that "everyone sucks in their first year of working full time"—it's an adjustment that takes time.  If this year has been me sucking, I'll take it.

As for race day, things got underway at 6:30 a.m.  We had perfect weather, and I knew I had a great opportunity to run a quick time.  If it felt relaxed enough, my plan was to run 6 flats from the gun.  The course consisted of four 12.5 mile out-and-backs along the Lakefront path.  Miles are marked on the path generally, but the course sometimes took side paths, or re-routes around construction areas, so that you could only catch splits in a few places.  As such, I didn't actually know what pace I was running (I don't have a GPS watch) until about three miles in.  Turns out I was running 5:45-5:50 pace.  I kept trying to back off, but kept seeing splits in that range.  After about six miles, I finally settled in and eased off the pace a bit.  I came through the first loop in 1:15:09, or right at 6:00 pace. 

As the sun began to rise during the next loop, I slowed slightly.  By this point, I could tell it wasn't going to be an incredible day for me, but I was still running quickly and relaxed.  I completed the second loop in just under 78 minutes, hitting the halfway point at 2:33:00.  My feet were starting to get a bit sore from all the pavement pounding, so I changed shoes.  I usually run in pretty minimalist footwear, so I didn't have many pairs of more heavily cuchioned shoes from which to choose.  As such, I was running in a pair of Mizuno trainers that probably already had 500+ miles in them.  Perhaps not ideal.  I knew I was going to need to change shoes at the end of the third loop if not now, so I went ahead and made the switch. 

As I set out on the third loop, it was a bit discouraging how poor I was beginning to feel.  I knew that loop wasn't going to be fun, and that the fourth loop would be worse.  I held it together relatively well for the third loop, running about 82 minutes, putting me at 3:55 overall as I headed out for the last loop.  Some quick math reveals how awful my split was for the fourth loop.  I actually maintained fairly well for the "out" portion of the loop, hovering around 7:00 pace.  But shortly before the turnaround, my quads had finally had enough.  You can only muscle through something for so long... in my case on Saturday, about four and a half hours.  I walked for about 10 seconds, shook my legs out and then started running again, albeit much slower.  I didn't have cramps in the charlie horse, muscle-seizing sense.  I was just too fatigued to move quickly any more.  I stopped for a minute or so in each of the two aid stations on the way back to the finish, grabbing some food, but really stopping more for a mental break than anything else.  I had close to 20 minutes on Inov-8 runner Mark Lundblad in second place, so I knew I was going to win, but it was a daunting and painful trip to the finish line. 
In the end, the monotony of 50 flat, paved miles got to me.  I think I might have held up and ran significantly faster on a gently rolling course.  It makes me wonder how I would have fared against Wardian last week at Tussey Mountainback, though Tussey is more than "gently rolling" to be sure. 
While disappointed that I didn't meet my goals, I'm not upset with how the day panned out.  I went for it, and I don't think there's much I could have done differently on race day, so I have no regrets.  I'll just learn from the experience and keep moving forward.  As I mentioned above, I certainly need to be running more miles.  If you're running 120+ miles a week, you're going to stand a good chance of holding up muscularly.  Additionally, I could probably benefit from greater specificity of training.  Either back to back long runs in the 25 mile range, or even a specific block of sorts—I'm thinking 20 miles at 6:00 pace in the morning, followed by the same run in the evening. 
But...  there's "time and time and time."  I'll be back for the Lakefront 50 again in the future, I'm sure—maybe two or three years from now—seeking atonement and, perhaps, that ethereal sub-5. 
"It ain’t about how hard you hit.  It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.  How much you can take, and keep moving forward.  That’s how winning is done!  Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth." —from Rocky Balboa

Running Times coverage