Diez 50km Race Recap

All photos in this post: Scott Robarts

They say practice makes perfect, so we practice a lot of different aspects of racing in our training programs.   It may sound obvious to practice ideas such as what goes in your drop bag or what you eat during a run, but I recently wanted to take it a step further by practicing pushing my pace outside of my comfort zone to learn how my body and mind would respond.  

Why? 

Good question. 

Call me a slow learner on this one, but I have now run at least eight 50km races and with each of them I have finished feeling quite 'safe' in regards to my pace throughout the race. So, by this point I have become more curious about what it would feel like to run hard. I have learnt a few key things prior to this experience that made me think this would be the right test: I can manage a 50km at a moderate effort,  I recover quite well from my 50km races, and I know my fuelling system and trust my strategy. So all things considered I became curious about what would happen if I pushed hard during each aspect of the race.  I set my goal, I was going to run 50km at a pace that felt more like a 25km pace and see what would happen. Can I run pushing each step rather than safely striding,  can I climb with quick ascents and descend without holding back and not burn out too soon, and can I mentally manage myself as I attempt to tolerate discomfort in my pace for...well, however long it would end up taking? And of course, in the back of my mind was the question, if it all goes horribly wrong can I persist and still finish the race? 

The test: Diez 50km race with roughly 6,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. 

Here is how I approached my goal and how it went for me along the way...

On race day I was well prepared. I took my usual approach of writing out the elevation profile in relation to aid stations and kilometers on course. I had prepared my pack to be efficient for refuelling  (further breakdown at bottom of post for those who are curious) and did not plan for any drop bags. I purchased my shoes the day before the race, I love a new pair of Nike Wildhorse runners (I have used them for quite some time and know I can trust this shoe). I checked the weather, planned my outfit, and read the pre-race email in it's entirety. 

On course I started near the front, I like the adrenaline rush and push that comes with starting near that front pack despite knowing I was not going to stay there or even take their pace right out of the gate. Then we headed up the familiar jeep track, where I approached the first few hundred of feet (almost 1,000) with the same pace I do when I race this as a 25km course. I ran to my usual spots and over the first few hills and climbed at the same section of rocky steep ascent prior to heading up towards the true climb. 

Up Diez I was leading a fairly large group of people and told myself I really did not want them all to pass me. So, I shortened my stride, ran the brief flat spots on the switchbacks, and kept a rhythm in my head. I know this trail well, so I knew how that climb should feel and as it turns out I looked at my Strava and had times extremely similar to my previous years 25km Run Ridge Run race, so I can use that as evidence I stayed true to my goal here. 

Next was the ridge, which is a flowy and distracting section with various views and technical terrain. I love this section of trail. Overall, no major challenges here, just enjoyed and again went for that quick leg turnover which the trail demands of you and worked to fearlessly cruise. This is the only section of trail I have had an over the shoulder rolling fall on (twice) so I was determined to stay quick and not let it bite me again! Success. 

Then it was off to the first aid station, around Buntzen to the second aid station and up the far side of the lake. This is where we reached the 25km marker and I had my moment of realization that the race did not end here. I was fortunate to see my Abbotsford Trail Running Crew family at the aid station who basically told me to get to it and charge forward. So I did. 

Somewhere around 30km the realization of the effort exerted started to challenge me. I have been focusing a lot of challenging my perception of effort, pain, and fatigue so around 30km I began to find myself checking in with this concept. Am I truly fatigued or just starting to get sick of this feeling? Am I wanting to slow down because my mind does not want to stay focused and wants to convince me to wander from my goal? After all, that would be comfortable and easier. Are my mind and body just not conditioned to accept this sensation and level of sustained focus? These are the conversations I have with myself. 

It was somewhere around 35km that I thought to myself, why do I feel like I might cry? I know people who are extremely strong runners and they cry on many race courses, it's almost part of their process, but I have not had that experience (yet). I am more of a happy crier, holding back tears at the start because I am just so excited to see everyone out to have a great day! Around 35km for some reason my mind was telling me I wanted to cry, my emotional brain centers were all disregulated because I did not want to listen to them and kept pushing back anything other than positive thoughts. And here with this question about maybe crying, I pushed reactions back further. I did something I do every now and then on course. I stopped. I stop for maybe 5 seconds to take a few deep breaths. For some reason this work for me, I ground myself and hit pause to refocus and then hit go again. 

Throughout the rest of the race I forgot that I had even felt like crying for a brief time, because I don't quite accept that I felt that way, I think my brain just really wanted to distract me.  I drank a bit more mainly for increased calorie consumption incase the emotional reaction came from any signs of hunger, and carried on through the (ugh) out and back wide gravel section. I also utilized an energy booster to change up my energy, you know, because why not at this point. This out and back area was tough and thankfully coming up to see my friend Tara on the trail she reminded me it was so freaken hard. Hearing this was an 'ah-ha' moment for and I was able to remind myself that everyone agreed this section was hard and I was not suffering alone, or nearly the most because the 100k races were going to cover it twice! 

I started to compartmentalize the rest of the course, knowing there was a beautiful single track ahead, flat section, 1 steep climb up lower Diez and then a cruise down the jeep track and into the finish. I built up the idea of the infamous FUG stairs (their official name) and they truly weren't all that bad. From 35km on I knew where I was headed and my mentality shifted one final time to a slightly overused statement of mine "do not waste the effort you have already exerted." In other words, do not let anyone catch you now! I pushed forward to eventually catch 1 or 2 other racers and forced my feet forward striving for that 25km pace and into the finish. 

I finished in 4th for females, 16th overall and with a time of 5:45. But, most importantly I learnt a lot. I learnt about my mind and body's reaction to tolerating increased intensity over a longer period of time, fuelling for a more intense race (for the first time ever I only have water mixed fuel sources and did not use gels etc), my ability to push past comfort and certainty, and  that I should probably be able to run a 25km a lot faster than I have. But, that is a goal now for another time! 

Here is a breakdown of my fuelling for those who are interested: 

  • Before my run: 45min - 1 hour prior: 1 portion of Prepare
  • During: Carried 2 x 500ml soft flasks, re-filled for a total of just about 6 used over the 50km (dumped remaining at aid stations when it was not empty yet so my fuel portions would remain consistent)
  • Each contained or had added to it: 1 portion of CR7 Drive & Every other had: 1/2 portion of Beverage mix  (read as: so delicious I gulped it and it has protein so I was not getting hungry). 
  • Energy boost: LiftOff - took 1/2 portion for a change and to boost my mental energy! 
  • Post Race: First I finished by run fuel because the beverage mix literally tastes like fuzzy peaches, then I had my Rebuild to start the recovery process. 

Most of the above products are part of my sponsorship with Herbalife, but I tell you about them because they taste good and they worked really well for me. I have never used purely liquid calories as fuel in a 50km or even a 25km, I have always felt I needed a gel or food, so this was a big deal for me. I found that while running at that higher intensity I did not want to eat and am not sure I would have tolerated it well so I was even more excited to not be hungry when I finished the race. Items I choose to purchase add to my fuel plan and I continue to use various products simply by preference and at times for convenience of healthy, complete nutritional options, but more on that another time!