Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Just Beat It: Chasing a PR at Green Lakes

They told him don't you ever come around here
Don't wanna see your face, you better disappear
The fire's in their eyes and their words are really clear
So beat it, just beat it

Such was the the gospel according to Michael Jackson that played on repeat in my head for much of the 50K race. The wisdom was a constant reminder not to hang around the aid stations too long, to keep running whenever I felt a walk break was necessary, and most importantly, to finish ahead of my time at the same race last year. "Just beat it." I had blasted the song on the short car ride to the park, and needless to say, the 1982 hit provided adequate fuel and motivation to get me going at the predawn 6:00AM start.

The Green Lakes Endurance Runs 50K and 100K participants started together, with the 50Kers covering four loops around Green Lakes State Park and the 100Kers running eight loops. This allowed for a conveniently placed drop bag at the start/lap area, which could be accessed at the end of every loop, or about 7.75 miles. The course was primarily flat, double-wide park trails, with a bit of hills and single track mixed in. Held on August 23, the GLER also served as the fifth race out of eight in the USATF Niagra Ultra Series. The park is located in Fayetteville, NY, just east of Syracuse, and the race is put on by the club Ultrarunning Matters.

Pre-race, I met up with four of my fellow FLRTC teammates. Craig and Amy were stoked to have arrived at long last at the starting line of their first ultras, as was Amy's friend and training partner Jen. (Amy's race report can be found here.) Chris has run more lifetime ultras than anyone can count, and she was tackling the 100K while the rest of us were "only" there for the 50.

FLRTC teammates. (L-R) Amy, Craig, me, Chris

You better run, you better do what you can
Don't wanna see no blood, don't be a macho man
You wanna be tough, better do what you can
So beat it, but you wanna be bad

The first lap was pretty easy going, with the first 20 minutes or so in limited daylight. I made the mistake of leaving my handheld in my bag near the lap area, thinking I wouldn't need it, but the unexpected humidity had me wishing for water after about a mile. First lesson of the day: "Bring the damn bottle even if you don't think you'll need it." The first loop went easily enough, however, and I finished the lap in 1:08, just a little behind pace for the 4:30 finish I was aiming for. After swapping my shirt for my handheld bottle, I took off again.

Lap two again felt easy, while MJ continued to play on repeat in my head. At times I imagined I was one of those extras in Back to the Future 2, stuffing food down my mouth and peddling hard on the stationary bike in the Cafe 80's. This while "Beat It" blared over the restaurant speakers as Marty walked in and was confronted by an elderly Biff Tannen.

An eclectic  imagination, I know, but it kept me going to a 1:06 second lap. I crossed the midway point in 2:15:18, nearly right on target. I knew a negative or even split in an ultra is a rare feat, but I felt I had the reserve energy to make it happen. I was tempted to linger and rest up at the race HQ aid station, but the King of Pop's words proved more powerful than my will to stay.

Just beat it, beat it,
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
Just beat it

After cruising down the flat path along side the park's two lakes, I took a left to follow the course up the steepest (and only significant) hill. It was here that I finally felt the onset of fatigue. The funky strong was now gone from my fight. After having twice run up the hill and, presumably, wasting precious energy in doing so, I was reduced a walk this time around. Second lesson of the day: "Walk the damn hill even if you think you can run it." 17 miles in and suddenly I was having my doubts about that 4:30 finish. I made it up the incline, and a mile and a half later came to the course's section the race director likes to call "The Serengeti." This little three mile stretch runs through flat, grassy trails, but lacks the trees to provide any inkling of shade. The lack of cover in the first two laps didn't matter, but by now the air was warmer and the sun was nearly overhead. It was certainly cooler than the previous year, but still no walk in the park.

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The Serengeti

I came upon the midway aid station, toward the end of the Serengeti stretch. The fresh fruit here was so refreshing and hydrating that I just wanted to gorge myself on oranges and watermelon for the rest of the day. Finally I decided it was time to beat it, and a few forgettable miles later found myself at the end of the third loop in 3:31. The 1:15 third loop dashed any hopes of running sub-4:30. I rested a bit, then pressed on thinking maybe a 4:45 was possible if I somehow got a second wind.

They're out to get you, better leave while you can
Don't wanna be a boy, you wanna be a man
You wanna stay alive, better do what you can
So beat it, just beat it

Now 23 miles into the 50K, I was really starting to hurt. I trudged up the hilly section slower than I ever imagined. I felt like my whole body had been kicked and beaten, and once the rain started falling, it just didn't seem fair. The steady rain quickly turned the dirt to mud. I felt like someone was messing with my psyche, but now it was time to show them I'm really not scared. The 4:45 was history, but I still had a reasonable shot to at least better my 50K PR of 5:15, run at Green Lakes the previous year.

You have to show them that you're really not scared
You're playin' with your life, this ain't no truth or dare
They'll kick you, then they beat you,
Then they'll tell you it's fair
So beat it, but you wanna be bad

"Yes, Michael, I want to be bad." 5:15. Just beat it.

This time around, I was in and out of that final aid station in a flash. I still didn't feel that great, but was hoping to finish as high in the standings as I could. Getting passed while taking a lunch break wouldn't exactly accomplish much. After all, they're out to get you. Better leave while you can.

That coveted surge of energy finally arrived in the home stretch. One of two brief sections of the course where runners go in both directions (outbound and inbound) is on the aforementioned hill. As I was now inbound, I had the pleasure of bombing down it at my leisure. It was here that I encountered Craig power hiking up, near the start of his final lap. We exchanged flying high fives. "You got this!" I screamed. "The fourth time is just a victory lap!"

I soon arrived at the level ground and continued around the lakes for the final one and a half miles. As expected, I had to battle with the urge to walk when my body kept telling me to stop running. The home stretch took a little longer than I had hoped, but made it to the finish in 4:53, far from my original goal but still a formidable PR.

Just beat it, beat it,
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
Just beat it

I stuck around long enough to see Amy and Craig finish and to cool down with a dip in the lake. By now, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining bright overhead, and the music of The King began to fade gradually. Thus began a slow and steady decrescendo that would never truly reach 0 dB, but merely approach the x-axis on the cusp of human perception as time approaches infinity.