Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dahlgren Heritage Trail 50k - Race Report!

What a great weekend down on the Northern Neck of Virginia! Running the Dahlgren Heritage Trail 50k was the occasion, so Lizzy and I made the drive down to Colonial Beach on Friday afternoon where we met up with my running buddy Andy and his family. My awesome in-laws let us use their place down there for the weekend (perfectly situated 20 minutes from the race course), and we couldn't have had a better time!
Andy and I admire Luke's impressive skills with Jenga blocks. This little dude has unbelievably steady hands. "Cool Hand Luke", indeed!
Luke's little brother Noah mugs for the camera with his mommy on the deck.
Coming into the race I was a bit wary of my ability to pace a 50k properly since I almost never run "short" races like this. I figured if I went out somewhere in the 7:30/mile neighborhood, I'd be able to hold that steady through the finish and feel like I put in an honest effort. The trail itself didn't have much to worry about in terms of hills, so I saw the race as perfect chance to exercise some steady-pacing skills.

Things started off easy enough as Andy and I joined 100 fellow runners and we made our way down the trail at 6:30am. The early morning start meant humid air, but surprisingly reasonable temps (anything below 90 has to be considered "reasonable" this time of year here). Right from the gun, four guys I didn't know (I assumed marathon guys) took off down the trail ahead of myself, Brad Hinton (3rd place here the past two years), and Karsten Brown (last year's winner). The RD mentioned he was adding a bonus $100 for a new course record this year (on top of the winner's purse), so I'm guessing the four lead guys were motivated to grab a little extra scratch!

After a couple miles I realized I was running 7:10s and figured that was probably a little too hot of a start, especially since the extra effort it took to run quickly over the loose trail rocks meant it felt more like running 6:30s. I quickly learned that running much of this course was a bit like an exercise in running through sand...only it was really "big" sand in the form of loose railroad stones. Basically, you got about a 90% return on your effort with each step you took in many sections of the trail. About 4 or 5 miles into the race, I figured out it was useless to fight the rocks in the worst spots, so from then on I just let the trail tell me how quickly I could run at any given point.

Around mile 10 Brad was ready to make his move to reel in the Gang of Four ahead of us. We could see they were about 150 yards ahead of us in a semi-solid pack, and while Brad felt it was time to go get them, I knew my best chance for success on the day was to play it steady and hope they came back to me by the end. It's pretty hard to fight the urge to use your fresh legs and speed up to hang with the leaders, but I know I'm more "endurance trained" than "speed trained" right now, so blowing my chances in this race by dropping a couple 6:00/miles to catch up at that point didn't seem like the right call. Instead I settled in with my 7:20s and focused on drinking/salting properly to fend off the 90% humidity's draining affects.

As it turned out, I leap-frogged Brad at the next aid station (I didn't stop, he did), and shortly thereafter around mile 13 I came up on the guy in 4th place who wasn't enjoying the rocks much at all. We exchanged pleasantries and I moved passed him, leaving just two in the lead about 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. Just before the mile 19.9 turn-around, Brad caught up and pulled ahead again, putting me in back in 4th. This aid station was my only refill point all day, and I didn't even need to break stride as Lizzy handed me a full Camelbak on the fly as I gave her my empty one. This speedy transition meant I leap-frogged Brad again, but he quickly caught up and was ready to make his big move to reel in the top two guys. I believe I said, "Go get 'em!", and he was off!
Erin awaits Andy's arrival at the mile 19.9 turn-around while Noah practices early ultra-fueling skills with his container of Goldfish crackers.
I, on the other hand, was content with my pace (which I was checking regularly thanks to the existing 1/2 mile markers along the rail trail part of the course). I was still running my 7:20s, but it was starting to feel like it took a little more effort to hold them. That was enough for me to ignore the urge to push hard too soon and just hope my steady plan would pay off before the last 10 miles ticked by. Patience, patience, patience....

As it turned out, I slooowly reeled in the third place guy with about 4 miles to go, and with the finish so close from there, I figured that would be the extent of my progress up the standings. The course was technically long for a 50k (about 31.9 miles instead of 31.1), but I knew I needed it to be about 5 or 10 miles longer to have the other guys come back to me (especially a vet like Brad). Even though I didn't think catching the two ahead of me would happen, I kept pushing hard to keep my 7:20 pace out of fear of Karsten blowing by me in the end (he's got 2:39/marathon leg speed!).The next mile or two went by smoothly (I had definitely figured out the rocks at this point), and with just a couple miles to go I was surprised to see the #2 guy just head of me as I turned a bend. He was definitely hurting, so I passed him quickly.

At this point I couldn't see Brad ahead of me, but was definitely still afraid of Karsten reeling me in with his leg speed, so I just kept my head down all the way to the final turn-off toward the finish (about .5 mile to go from there). As I popped off the trail to cover the only section of pavement on the course (1000ft stretch of road), I saw Brad up the hill making his turn onto the final stretch of trail. Since most of this final section was uphill (and with a couple momentum-killing switchbacks), I didn't think it would be possible to catch him, even with an all-out sprint. Still, I gave it my best up the final trail section, but by time I popped out on the field crossing I knew Brad had run a great tactical race, and I had run out of real estate!. I cruised in for second place 18 seconds behind Brad in 3:54:29 (about 3 minutes off the course record). I was happy to have put in a solid and even effort all day long (7:21/mile pace), and proud that it was my buddy Brad who beat me with a great race plan (Full results here). Also, the rule is: 'Any day you get paid to run is a good day', so there are no complaints on my end!
Lizzy's view of the finish line just before...

Brad sprinted through for his big win...
...and I pulled up 18 seconds later.

Well done, Mr. Hinton! Brilliant race!
With Brad a little later on. You'll notice he cleaned up a bit, like a proper Champion does!
Luke shows the camera what place I finished...
...then it was off to the picnic benches for some serious super-hero coloring time!

The excitement waiting for Daddy built to a fever pitch!
We were too busy cheering for Andy to get a finish line photo of him, but here we are right after (with my golden railroad spike award). Andy had to deal with some hamstring issues in the 2nd half, but still toughed out a solid top 30 finish. Well done, Mr.Gingrich!
...and later that evening, even happier with a little bourbon in our great new glasses...
Talk about a brilliant finisher's award!
All in all, I'm happy with my effort out there and even happier that my training for Greece has ramped up successfully enough for me to reach the "peak training" period which begins tomorrow. I'm 100% healthy and ready to rack up some intense miles over the next 6 weeks before my taper. I'll be laying low in terms of no races or other distractions between now and Sept 30. For the past 14 months I've been repeatedly swallowing the bitter pill from my disaster in France at the World Championships, so I'm viewing the Spartathlon as my chance to make amends for that. In addition to racking up the big miles each week, I'll be studying every section of that course to devise the best race plan for my legs to follow. No doubt many in that field will be far more talented and accomplished than me, but with the right game plan and execution, I know I can surprise a few people!


Andy C said...

Great race report with some great people. Andy, Erin, Luke and Noah are good friends. Sad not to be near them anymore, but stoked that your families are meshing so well.

Casseday said...

Looks like your training is right on target for the Spartathlon. Keep hammering along and I'm sure you'll be ready for a great race.

nmp said...

Sounds like you had a great race and weekend! Always is nice to pick up some $$ as well.

Hope the next six weeks of training treat you well.

Ric Munoz said...

Congratuations on the great 2nd place finish, Dan. It's always fun to get the perspective of a speedball like you about a tough race like this one. Next year you'll be back at take first place (my fearless prediction)!

TK42ONE said...

Sounds like you had a solid race. Great job on 2nd place!

DanHartley said...

Enjoyed your report! Great finish and kick-ass time! Obviously, the training is going well. Keep up the stellar work, my friend!

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