Tuesday, April 8, 2014

chicago lakefront 50K course

(All pictures in this post were via my Google Glass.)
Many months ago I signed up for the 2014 Chicago Lakefront 50K because I wanted to complete an official 50K in 2014. I knew at the time that it would not be my longest distance because two weeks before I had planned to complete my 40/40 event where I would run 40 miles for my 40th birthday.  I also had completed a 50K at a Fat Ass event last July.

The only question was, would I recover in time to complete the 50K and stay injury free?  I decided to just sign up and get over the fear of injury, failure, etc.  The worst thing that could have happened was I wasted the money. 
New Leaf Ultra shirt
After two small but frustrating injuries in 2013, my thought process at the end of last year was that I was going to approach my training differently and smarter so I could make 2014 an ultra year.  I was going back to enjoy running ALL year long, even if it was going to be completed at a slower pace.

If I completed this 50K, I would have started the year conquering two ultra distances which would kick the year off in the right direction. Finishing before the 7 hour cutoff was my only true goal for the Chicago Lakefront 50K. 

I struggled to complete 40 miles 2 weeks ago and the slow recovery I experienced from soreness did not make it easy to train for this 50K.  So I only had one choic...Finish un-injured under 7 hours...that's it.


  • Kit's Organic Fruit & Nut Bar
  • Smoothie: banana, dates, chia seeds, peanut butter, almond milk, water, glutamine, maca powder.  I drank this during the first hour of the run.
  • Water - Carry a bottle with me the whole race and fill up at aid stations.
  • C2O Coconut Water - Switch between regular water and this every 10 miles.
  • Nuts & Raisins - Have some every 10 miles or so.
  • Starburst Jelly Beans and Pretzel M&Ms - Only in case of emergency
The plan was to keep my nutrition pure and simple.  (No gels, no fake supplements.)  I only wanted to rely on the aid stations for extra water and maybe a bit of Gatorade if I was desperate. 

Everything else I was going to carry in pockets or placed in my cooler that was in the drop bag area that we would go back to every 10 miles. The intention was every 5 miles (turnaround or drop bag area) or so, I would eat one of my Kit's bars.

When I woke up in the morning after 6 hours of sleep, I made some coffee.  Then I created the smoothie I mentioned above and poured it in some empty water bottles that I would be able to grab and drink when necessary during the race, every 10 miles or so.  Then right before I left to the race I ate half a banana.  When I arrived one hour before the start I ate a whole banana.

I arrived after an easy 1 hour drive listening to podcasts.  After saying hi to a few people, dropping off my bag, taking a couple of pictures of Lake Michigan and going to the bathroom I was ready to go.  I also went for a 1/2 mile warm up to see if I could get my heart rate up and to prevent it spiking when the race started like it has done in the past.  Unlike other races I really was not nervous since I believe I had a conservative goal.  In an ultra event you never know what the day will bring you, but since I struggled in my 40/40 I knew I was mentally prepared for this 50K.

Chicago Lakefront 50K race

#throughglass ultra running

The Start
At about 8:25 am I lined up in the back to get ready to go at 8:30am.  I was freezing and shivering because I started the race with shorts and no winter hat since it was supposed to get up to 50 degrees during the middle of the race.  I knew that once I started running that I would get pretty warm. 

As usual, I was here by myself.  I never expect my son and wife to be there, especially since this was far away.

As the crowd got going, we were running on crushed gravel along Lake Michigan.  It was a perfect day weather wise and there was not a cloud in the sky (I have a sunburn on my head to prove it).  The view was fantastic and a great way to start.  I had my bluetooth headphones on listening to podcasts.

After a mile or so a guy (Martin) came up to me and asked me if that was Google Glass I was wearing.  So we started talking about that and a bunch of other topics (like him doing the Comrades Marathon).  This was rare for him and I since we found out that we both run alone on most of our training runs. 

However, the conversation this day made the time go fast and before I knew it we were into the race 19 miles and that is when we went our separate ways because I started to fall apart.

50K chicago lakefront pictures

The 3 Lessons Learned

When we began, my thought was I would run at about a 11:15-11:30 pace so I could have some cushion to make sure I met the 7 hour deadline and hopefully keep my heart rate down around 140-150 bpms.

Both didn't happen and I did nothing about it.  My pace was a bit faster than 11 minute miles and my HR jumped up into the 150-160s right away.  When I was training, my first few miles even at a 11 minute pace would typically be in the mid 130s.  Getting out of my fat burning zone so early was not good.  No bueno.

Lesson Learned: Slow down if necessary.  When I noticed the numbers were not good, I should have slowed down a bit and even walked if necessary.  But I was too stubborn and 'afraid' of not having enough extra minutes for later to meet the cutoff.

So as I stated, I ran with Martin for about 18 miles...at his pace or a pace 'we decided to run'.  Maybe he was running my pace, maybe I didn't want to slow down, but the mistake I made was I never went back to my 'race plan'. I looked at my watch a few times, I knew it was too fast, but I never stepped off the gas pedal.

Lesson Learned: Run your race, no matter what.  Run the pace based on your goal.  If I felt really good, I could have used the extra gas at the end not the beginning.

Since he and I were chatting away, I overlooked my nutrition.  The original plan was to eat a bar every 5 miles, well that didn't happen until about mile 15.  DOH! 

Lesson Learned:  I should have followed my nutrition plan. I never should have let the circumstances, scenery, etc get me off of my nutrition schedule.  I paid for this later on.  Boy did I.

The Struggles and Mistakes

Because of the mistakes I made above, the pain and suffering started at about mile 19 or so.  My right leg started hurting like it did during the 40/40 and my left ankle was bugging me again.  However, the right leg was not as bad as that one day because I stopped and stretched it out a bit more than usual.  The left ankle though was disturbing and affecting my cadence.  Either way, finally at about mile 19 or so, I started walking for a bit.  Not for too long, but every half mile, I would walk for about 2 minutes. 

Then right after mile 20 the lack of nutrition caught up to me.  My stomach was bugging me, I was hungry but yet didn't want to eat anything.  Starting at mile 19 I tried to eat one of those bars, but I just couldn't eat and swallow it.  I had some Gatorade at one of the aid stations.  It didn't seem to help.  I drank a lot of my coconut water and that seemed to eventually settle it down a bit.

Because I was not feeling well, hips were sore (from running too fast) and my left ankle was aching, I decided to walk...a lot (miles 21-24).   I had figured out that even if I would walk the rest of the race at about 16-17 minute pace I would barely meet the cutoff, but...I would at least meet my original goal. 

Therefore at that moment, I had determined since nothing was broken and I knew some of this pain (stomach) would disappear that I was going to get through this no matter what. 

Hancock building during run

Finally at about mile 24 the stomach issues were starting to go away.  I ate 2 of those bars while walking 3 miles and drank water and some gatorade to help with the recovery.  So since I felt better, I decided to run to a certain destination and then walk fast.  Then I would run again, and walk faster.  I noticed the more I ran, it produced a faster walking pace.  I was quickly figuring out that if I kept this pace up, I could finish at about the 6 hours and 50 minutes mark.

As the miles left were ticking down, the realization of completing this adventure was starting to become a reality.  I knew my finishing time was not going to be impressive, but what I experienced was mine to keep forever.  The new friend, struggles, experience and the pains created during the 31.1 miles journey were all worth it and they were something to build on for my future ultra adventures.

I have seen it too many times lately where people are afraid of what others think or say about them.  Please, just let it go.  Don't let anyone's thoughts of you or their beliefs hold you back from accomplishing what you want.

  • I know some people believe 'treadmill running' is not real running.  I could care less.
  • I know others believe a ultra distance like this on pavement, flat or crushed gravel is not real ultra running.  "It must be done in the trails."  Yawn.  I don't give a damn what they think.
  • Some runners think 'running' at a 13 minute pace is embarrassing.  Their thoughts, don't even bother me.
It also would not of bothered me if I didn't finish the race.  Now, when I have a goal, I try to stick with it as much as possible so I will not quit, but if I was hurt I would have stopped.  However, even if it was not my day, I would not of thought less of myself even if I did not finish.

  • What mattered most was that I made a decision to sign up and train for this race and the 40/40.  Looking back at this race yes I made a lot of mistakes in training and race day...but I still finished.  If I never would have signed up, I would not have this experience to build on. 
  • I let go of having to run a certain pace during the race.  The goal was simple...finish.  I am done getting caught up in the numbers, I am there to enjoy running. 
  • At some point, I decided to let go of having to run at a certain heart rate.  I train by heart rate, but I now have realized that it seems like it is not going to go perfect on race day.  Therefore, I need to train above my limits a bit more so I can handle the situation better. 
  • I just went with the flow on race day.  No it didn't go perfect, but I accepted and dealt with the situation and came up with solutions to resolve the problems. 

Mistakes are made so you can learn from them.  Without them, you do not grow.  Without taking chances, you don't make mistakes.  Without any of this, you will never grow as an individual.

Live with no regrets.  Live, don't just exist.
Next Up: Christmas in July 24 Hour Race (Runners 4 Wellness Christmas in July 24 Hour race), please mention coupon code CIJ24HRAL1 if you decide to join me.

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  1. Fabulous reading, Fred. I especially like the first 3 afterthoughts.
    Thanks for taking the time to detail your nutrition and also the challenges with racing and training by heart rate. As always, I am impressed with your words as well as your actions.
    Keep it up :)

    1. Aw thanks so much Raina. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I am still trying to improve on expressing my thoughts and ideas but for now I just like to document what I learn so others do not make the same mistakes.

  2. Fred, we don't know each other; I stumbled upon your blog by accident while looking for online pictures from that day. I ran that 50K, too. I have enormous respect for everything you said about running your own race and doing it your own way, regardless of other people's definitions of "real running." That was a rough day for me too, and I barely finished, but it was an amazing feeling when I did. Great job!

    1. Thanks Rose, I appreciate your comment. Congrats on finishing, it is a big accomplishment!