Yep, fifty miles. Five-Zero. At the start of my 32nd year I told myself I was going to run a 50 mile race before my next birthday. I made it…by 4 days! After struggling with some tendonitis in my foot most of the first part of the year, I am surprised this actually came to fruition. In January I was barely run/walking 3 miles without pain, but low and behold with the help of some rest, my acupuncturist, and grit I accomplished the goal. And today everything is hurting. Everything. But I feel really good about this accomplishment.
So, I signed up for the L.L. Bean Pineland Trail Running Festival 50 mile distance in February. I didn’t do too much research on it (more of that to come…), but figured ‘hey, Maine in May will be much cooler than Arkansas in May, and Maine is near the ocean so it should be pretty flat, and I haven’t run a Maine race yet so this will check off state number 32’. Yep, that was the thought process. Brian agreed to run this one with me as it is my first fifty mile run and he’s got a few under his belt. I am so glad he did join me or the last 25k would have gotten oh so lonely (Note: we didn’t see many folks because I turned into a turtle)!
We couldn’t have asked for a better race day. We woke up to 45 degrees with a light north wind (at least it felt like a north wind to me) and the day topped out around 65. And sunshine, so much good sunshine – the kind of day that makes you happy to be alive! There was about a two hour period where it was a little warmer than I would have liked, but just as I was feeling heat sick we would duck back into the woods and the breezes would start again. As we pulled into Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine we were two of about 130 folks running the 50 mile distance. Between all the distances (5k, 25k, 50k, 50 miler) there were around 2000 people. It was a perfect sized race. The 50 mile distance started at 6 am. I loved the early start! So, we dropped off our drop back, waited around about 20 minutes and then by 5:55 am the race director called a little pre-race meeting and we were off. No frills.
The 50 mile course consisted of a loop around the 5k course and then three loops around the 25k course. The first 5k loop was a nice trip around some scenic wooded trails, a nice sprinkling mud puddles, and a few open pastures. We crossed back through the start area at around 3 miles and then restarted that 5k course where about halfway through we were split off to make about a 15k loop. This loop quickly become my least favorite! Not only did each time I made it (three in total) it get longer…at least in my mind…it was so damn hilly! Back to the aforementioned ‘flat’ Maine course – the elevation chart for this course stayed between 125 and 375 when I looked at it. Having run pretty tough trail runs I figured that would be easy peasy. Nope. That elevation chart tricked me! After the race Brian and I realized each 25k loop was just under 1000 feet of gain. As soon as you had the tiniest bit of flat or downhill, you were right back up. The hills were relentless. They. Never. Stopped.
Back to the first loop! The trail was beautiful, despite the hills. The terrain split between two distinctive sets of scenery. We’d run through trail mowed fields and then we’d have long sections on very soft dirt roads. The dirt sections were by far my favorite – being enveloped in tall trees with scents of pine and dirt. There was something very special about that. The field portions were much more exposed, but you did get a better breeze on those. Both sections of the trail had big mud puddles and bogs in the fields. This race would be so much tougher if it were raining. It was already super muddy with a couple of sunny days drying out spring showers leading up to Sunday. I can hardly imagine if the day would have been misty or raining. What a mud fest that would have been! As for Sunday’s conditions, you could have still called some of the spots in the fields very lake-like. Needless to say, the shoes did not stay dry! Within a few miles in my socks and shoes were already wet and caked in mud.
After completing that first loop, we hoped back on a piece of the 5k trail and looped back around to be splintered off to a second loop that ended up coming out to a little shorter than 10k. This was my favorite loop! It started with what seemed like so much downhill after so much power hiking up hills on that first bit. It did contain two big field loops, but not nearly as many open fields as the first loop. The abundance of soft dirt paths, babbling brooks, and lush forests on this section were sights that I could stare at every day!
To recap by loop – we made really good time for the first 25 miles of the race. We clocked that just after the 5 hour mark. As I’m not the fastest trail runner and the massive amount of hills were unexpected, I was very happy with that. The last 25 miles were slower as by loop three I was doing all I could to keep power hiking up them. We finished the last 25 miles in just over 6 hours. Before we started the last 25k (loop 3), we did a sock/shoe change and without that I think it would have been bad news bears for me. I had two blisters starting by that point and it was pretty painful. With some slather and fresh socks I was able to keep one of them from happening. Overall, it was a really nice run. If I’m honest, I picked a harder first 50 miler than I probably would have. Moral of the story – study the elevation chart a bit more and research a race of this distance with more rigor! I did love the course and would recommend it for the 25k or 50k, but doing the 50 miler again is probably not in the cards for me. I don’t think I’m done with 50 milers (dare I say that out loud!), but I’m ready to have my weekends back for a bit! I’ll stick with marathons for the rest of this year and maybe even next.
As far as the logistics of this race, it was super easy to get to and find parking. I loved the wave start between the three distances. The aid stations on this race were quite good. We saw them every 3-4 miles and all were stocked with potatoes/salt, Oreo’s (which I never eat, but for some reason really enjoyed today!), dates, peanut butter, and lots of other non-vegan goodies which I can’t quite recall. I tended to stick with those four items and grazed throughout the day.
We did come in at the caboose of the race. We crossed the finish line in 11:49. By the time we came in most of the festivities were gone. There was a 13 hour cut off for this race and a couple of check points a long the way that you had to reach by a certain time. The lack of folks at the end (which I totally get considering most finishers were sub-10:30…crazy with the hills!) was a bit of a let down. Most of the race goodies were gone at that point and they were starting to tear things down. I get that we were some of the last folks in (I was just happy to finish sub-12 on this course), but I would have loved to have had all the hubbub happening when I crossed the finish line. When all is said and done, I am very proud of this accomplishment. It’s a big deal. With all the puddle dodging I tried to do and I’m also bad at running tangents on trails, I ended up just over 51 miles for the day. Crazy town!
Toenails (that will be lost): 1
Miles Run: 51.2 (yes, I’m counting all the ‘bonus’ I added in there!)