That last time I attempted a 50 mile run was in September 2009. I had not properly trained for it and wound up throwing in the towel after 34 miles. Since then I have run three 50k races but had not felt the urge to take another bite of the 50 mile apple. Ok, that’s enough of the clichés for one post. Back in May I decided I wanted to run the Howl at the Moon 8 hour run in Illinois but by then registration had closed. What to do? I needed to run a race longer than a 50k to prepare for the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim run in October. Just my luck, the Summer Beast of Burden added a 50 mile option this year. Awesome! The start/finish area for BoB is at Widewater Marina in Lockport, NY just 10 miles from my brother’s house. Nothing wrong with killing two birds with one stone. Sorry, I can’t help myself with the clichés. Visit family and run a race, awesome!
My brother’s in-laws have a dairy farm. The milking barn is maybe 100 yards from my brother’s house so the sound of cows bellowing is pretty much constant. They also have three pet goats. The goats were Amber’s senior project. Anyway, this is Bucky the Goat up on his perch. Bucky escaped on Friday afternoon. This led to some fun on the farm, goat herding edition. Think “City Slickers” except I didn’t pay for this fun and as far as I know no one died. Ok, enough fun on the farm, time to get back to the Beast.
The BoB consists of three distances, 100 mile, 24 hour, and 50 mile. The race is run along the Erie Canal Towpath between Lockport and Middleport. It is 12.5 miles to Middleport so the 100 mile consists of 4 round trips and the 50 is 2 round trips. The race starts at Widewater Marina on the south side of the canal, goes west for about a mile on a paved path then crosses over to the north side on the Exchange Street lift bridge. On the north side the course turns east. On the north side the path is fine crushed gravel almost all the way to Middleport. There are just a few very short sections of pavement. In Middleport the course again crosses the canal on the Main Street lift bridge. Just over the bridge is a Moose Lodge or Masonic Temple (can’t remember which or perhaps something completely different). The aid station and timing matt are in the building. This is the turn-around. The course now follows the same route back to Widewater Marina. Besides the aid stations at the start and turn-around there is only one other aid station by the lift bridge in Gasport which is almost 7 miles from the start. On an 85 degree day that was too far for one hand-held bottle, but after the first pass they added an unmanned water stop at the Day Road bridge, about 3 miles from the start. Since the course is along the towpath of a man-made canal it’s pretty much flat as a pancake (buttermilk pancake at Cracker Barrel, yum). Somewhere I read that over the 100 mile distance there was 300 feet of elevation gain/loss. You’ll have to run on a track to get any flatter than that. In a few spots there were very slight inclines for a few steps, but at no point do you ever feel like you are running up a hill.
The race started at 10am. I don’t know what the temperature was then but the sun was shining brightly. The high eventually reached 84 or 85. Humidity didn’t seem too bad. The course has virtually no shade though. There is a little shade on the north side but at least 90% of the time you are exposed to the sun. I used some Coppertone Sport 30 SPF spray on sun screen. This worked very well; I did not burn at all.
I started out at a nice slow pace, but after a few NY minutes I could no longer fight the urge to go faster. The first trip to Middleport seemed easy. I covered the 12.5 miles in about 2 hours. Easy except for the distances between aid stations being too long for one hand-held bottle in this heat. Next time I’ll carry two bottles. I was at least smart enough to make sure I drank several cups of water before leaving the aid stations. The aid stations were fairly well stocked; however, they didn’t have pretzels which are usually the only thing I eat. What they had didn’t look good to me, lots of sugary stuff. They did have Heed for my water bottle and except for the first stop in Middleport they had Hammer Gels so that is what I ate. The return to Lockport also seemed relatively easy; however, a few miles from Lockport my left calf started to cramp up so I stopped to massage it out and took another Enduralyte. The calf didn’t bother me the rest of the day. As I was about two steps from exiting the Exchange St lift bridge the lift warning bell started to ring. Scared the sheet out of me. I made it across before the bridge came up but there were a few runners behind me who were stopped by the bridge going up. Return time was about 2:18. Not as slow as it sounds because that included my time at the turn around aid station. At 4:18 the first lap was faster than I thought it would be so I beat my dad there. I told him it would be closer to 5 hours.
The second trip to Middleport didn’t seem so easy. I probably wasn’t taking in enough calories. I didn’t feel dehydrated though so I was getting enough fluid and I was taking Enduralyte capsules frequently. They had the unmanned water stop set up at Day Road by now. Still that wasn’t enough water. As I was running I was thinking I should have told my dad ahead of time to ask at the timing table if I had been through yet. Turns out he did just that. God blessed me this day because just as I was approaching the Canal Street Bridge I looked up and there was my dad just starting to cross. He beeped his horn and I waved. He then drove up to the Orangeport Road Bridge to wait for me. Earlier there had been several spectators there watching the race. As I was nearing I really needed some water so I decided I would just ask someone. Just as quickly I decided I wouldn’t ask because I didn’t want to impose on them. If every runner asked them for water they would need a several cases of water. I would just keep running since Gasport was just a mile ahead. Then I heard someone yell “hey Jeff, you want some water?” There was my dad with a bottle of cold water. Yes, thank you Jesus.
This time at the Gasport aid station they had sno-cones. I had a cherry flavor. That hit the spot. Even with the extra water from my dad and the sno-cone the remainder of the second trip to Middleport did not seem easy. I was trying to run for 10 minutes and walk for 2. That worked pretty well. I knew I was slowing down and wanted to get to Middleport in 7 hours. That would give me 3 hours to get back to Lockport and still beat 10 hours. This trip took about 2:38 so I beat7 hours by almost 4 minutes.
I had arranged to have a pacer run with me for the last leg from Middleport back to Lockport but I wasn’t 100% sure she would be there. Several weeks before the race I mentioned to my niece that she might like to do it as a training run if she would still be in NY at that time. She’s training for a half marathon. She wouldn’t be in town but she talked her friend Sara into doing it. I’d never had a pacer in a race so I didn’t know what to expect. When I crossed the Main Street bridge I saw Sara and her mom sitting there waiting for me. At that point just knowing I would have someone to run with was a pretty big adrenaline boost. After taking on some water and eating some watermelon Sara and I headed back to Lockport.
Running with someone with fresh legs made me run for longer stretches than I had been on my own. Sara’s encouragement was very subtle but very effective. It was nice to have someone to talk to. The combination of shorter walk breaks and longer runs really did the trick. We made it back to Gasport in just over an hour. Now with just under 7 miles to go I was cautiously aware of the fact that if my wheels didn’t fall off I would easily beat 10 hours. Fortunately once again my dad was at the Orangeport Rd Bridge with water. We also had water at the Day Rd Bridge. Now just a couple of miles to go. My hamstrings were starting to cramp up so I had to stop to stretch and take more Enduralytes. Legs don’t fail me now. Now back across the Exchange St Bridge for the last time. Only a mile to go. I didn’t run all of that mile, but probably most of it. I was running strong the last couple hundred yards. Huge adrenaline rush will do that to you. Of course it always feels so good to stop. With the help of my talented pacer the last leg only took 2:29, nine minutes faster than the trip out. Total time 9:25:35, a PR for 50 miles and good enough for third place overall in the 50 mile race.
Definitely enjoyed the BoB and would recommend it for anyone looking for a summer ultra challenge. I should also mention that they run the Beast in the winter too, brrrr! I’m already thinking about returning next summer for either the 100 mile or 24 hour. Next up, the DINO Trail Series resumes this Saturday at Town Run Park.