So this was the third running of the Hawkeye 50K. This race is on my list of favorite races because it was my first ever ultra marathon, it is really close to my house, and I personally know the race director Tim Smith. I have ran all three iterations and the weather has been different for every running. This year it decided to be 7-20 degrees and snowy as opposed to last year when it was up in the 80 degree range.
I woke up the morning of the race and made my way to the start in the Coralville lake area about 20 miles south of where I live. As in past years the 50K course was two 15.5 mile loops of road/trail around the lake. The 25K race was one loop of the same course. I arrived and made my way to the small lodge where the runners where congregating. I chit chatted with a group of friends most of whom were doing the 25K but one friend Lacey was going to attempt her first 50K. We talked about race strategy a bit and I mentioned that a sub 6 hour time was my goal. Our friend Ross told her that if she could see my red Team Red White and Blue shirt she would be in good shape.
So at the appointed time we all lined up behind the large snowbank about 20 feet in front of the starting line.
With a Ready, Set, Go we were off, in a display of jubilation I hurdled the snowbank rather than go around it. Eventually though we all funneled into the single track trail for the first mile or so we would be running in the woods. I was getting my running legs together and just easily followed the pack through the woods until we were dumped out on the service road that led us to the highway we would run along for about 4 miles. As in past years this first third of the course was fastest as everyone had fresh legs and subconsciously I think the 25K runners pushed the 50K runners somewhat. I tried to keep it easy as I listened to Planet Money on my iphone. About the 4 mile mark of the race we turned left into the town of Solon and hit the first aid station. I was feeling so good at this point I just grabbed a handful of M and M's and kept running.
As I turned back into recreation area on the gravel pack that ran along side the reservoir Lacey came from behind me. We decided to run together for awhile and we chatted and ran the next 9 miles until we hit the dreaded spillway crossing. I think it was in this section where unbeknownst to me my race started to fall apart a little bit. I was having so much fun talking and running that I forgot to stay up on my hydration and nutrition plan.
Once crossing the spillway, which despite my fears, I managed to do without getting my feet wet this year. We started the hardest part of the course. I had lost contact with Lacey during the spillway crossing so I just headed up the hill. The next 5-6 miles of the course were snowy,steep, muddy, and an all around ball buster. It was almost impossible to run uphill as the cross country skiers had chopped the snow up on the trails making it slippery and mushy. I found that if I powerwalked or took really short choppy steps I was able to get up the hills fairly efficiently. This section took a lot out of me and although I finished the first lap in 2:41, I was starting to feel nauseous.
At the halfway point I refilled my and bottles and took off a layer of clothes as it was starting to get a little warmer. I briefly talked to my friend Ross who had won the 25K in a time of 1:40 and was going to pace Lacey on the second lap. I mentioned that I thought they might catch me and I was going to get started on the next lap. Miles 15-20 reminded me that 50K are ultramarathons too. I had come into the race with somewhat of a complacent attitude. I mean I have complete 50 miles races, I ran 90 miles during my attempt at the 100 mile distance. I had just finished a 50K feeling pretty good on not much training 4 weeks prior, what was there to worry about? The problem was I let myself get behind on nutrition , a cardinal sin of ultrarunning. Ross and Lacey caught me at the first aid station as I was coming out of the woods after I had attempted to vomit. I must not have looked very well because when I told them I was going to run my own race they didn't even argue with me. Soon they were out of sight. For the next few miles I tried to get the nutrition issue under control, I pounded the fluids and continued to eat as many gels and Honey Stinger waffles as I could stomach. It started working and I started feeling better. Now that the temperature had risen somewhat the part of course that was frozen on the first lap was a sloppy mess on the second. But wonder of wonders I started passing people. By the time I got to the second aid station I was feeling pretty good. Another friend of ours Brian was the aid station captain and I asked him how far ahead Ross and Lacey were, he told me 3 minutes. I grabbed a few PBJ and headed out. My thoughts kept going back to the 2010 Western States race when Geoff Roes had been 15 minutes back from the lead and feeling bad, but he had regrouped and eventually won the race. This motivated me and when I got to the spillway it was in my mind to catch them. I felt much better going through the rough section on the second lap. I was on autopilot with one goal. I actually saw Ross, Lacey and a few other of our friends at one of the switchbacks. I yelled to them that I was going catch them. It was not to be however, as Lacey ran a great first 50K finishing in 5:33 and coming in 2nd female. I finished in 5:50:16. I felt pretty good about this race overall however. I learned that you can't underestimate any race. I learned you can bring yourself back from the darkness. Although it wasn't my fastest ever 50K time it was my fastest on that course. I beat my time from the year prior by 20 minutes in much much worse conditions. I call that progress.