As I dive deeper into ultrarunning and running in general, my propensity to try new things just to see if they work can have positive (substituting music for conversation helped me PR in Arkansas) and negative (camping in FL helped me convince myself to DNF) effects on my races. So, as I was preparing for the DWD Devil’s Lake 50k in Baraboo, Wisconsin, I decided to experiment again. This time, it was with fueling.
First, a little bit about me: I like to eat. I enjoy food and while I’ve been lucky enough not to have to battle real weight or health issues because of it, I can sometimes obsess over it. When I run long distances, I also like to eat. It gives me a break and a lift, and especially at races, I find it interesting what makes it to the aid station table (baked potatoes, raw potatoes, chips, pretzels, gummi bears, peanut butter Oreos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beer, etc.). What I can’t stomach are the gels, which I attribute to my jaunt in the desert last year, in which I was eating them for 20 hours straight and had a few issues. Let me be really clear, gels are now in the same category as apple schnapps. High School Graduation put me off apple schnapps permanently, and I’m as violently opposed to gels.
So, usually I carry a few waffles or other food on me, but because the aid stations are so close and so well stocked at DWD events, I decided to try handheld bottle only and then eat and refill the bottle at the aid stations. There was also a voice in the back of my mind that came from reading about others and how they fuel that suggested that I might not really have to eat at all over a 7(ish) hour timeframe, because others don’t feel the need to. Remind me to stop listening to voices…
The dawn broke brilliantly as we waited in a field below a ski slope at the Devil’s Head resort. Since the first few sections were supposed to be fairly hilly, my plan was to start near the back and take it easy. Pick up the pace a bit on the downhills and flats, and generally run about 7 hours and some change and have a fun day. The area we were running in was carved out by an ice age glacier, so I was looking forward to the scenery. The horn went off at 5:30 (50k and 50m starting together) and about 300 (check) runners took off into the woods.
The first 2.75 miles were uphill (600ft by my watch, 960 according to the race documents) and then you descend about the same as we did the first 5 mile loop. My plan was to do that in an average of 15 min miles and at this point, I was feeling good and ahead (maybe too far) of that plan. Mile 6 had a 420ft hill and mile 7 had a 280ft hill, but I finished the first 10 miles in 2:10 about 2 min/mile ahead of my plan (even running the last mile in a 9:40) We had climbed about 1600ft, and it was about at this point that I started entertaining thoughts of jumping up to the 50 miler. Silly thoughts like that have no place in my racing…
The next four miles were mostly downhill as we approached the lake and I maintained steady 11 min miles. So far I had passed through about 4 aid stations, two that had food, but that voice in my head kept my eating to the odd potato. Then we were climbing the bluffs by the lake.
The sun was starting to come out and it was starting to get warmer, and mile 20 (across a warm field with shoulder-high grass )brought us into the “bug pit” aid station (and then a 1.3 mile out and back brought us back there), so at about mile 21, I had a chance to change my socks and eat. I accomplished one (socks), but not the other.
At this point, I wasn’t on pace for a PR, but I was doing pretty well by my standards. The picture-taking had cost some time, but I had done 20 miles in 4 ½ hours and was ahead of plan, so I headed back out across the field.
It had definitely gotten warmer (the high crept up to 82), but I was now running with someone and the great discussions kept my mind off the distance. We ran the next mile faster than my average, and then started climbing. She was much stronger than I was and climbed the 433ft of mile 23 much better than I did. On the descent, I started to get a bit hungry, and miles 24 and 25 saw me sitting down for a few minutes on a bench and generally trying to remember where the next aid station was (and hoping it had some food). My minimal fueling strategy was not working out so well.
Mile 26 will look slow if you’re looking at the splits <Click Here>, but what you can’t see is me shoving about 12 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my face during that time. I filled my water bottle with a mixture of Gatorade and water and headed out. I think it worked, as I ran the next mile in 12:27 and passed a few surprised people who had seen me sprawled on the bench. I caught up with a group that was taking a break a the top of a hill just before mile 28. One of them, Andy, agreed to run with me the rest of the way and, knowing Guinness had long since left and taken their record book with them, we took it easy, swapped stories about our young kids (he had just had a baby. Well, his wife had) and cruised into the finish.
Overall a pretty enjoyable race. There were a lot of people out there (at some point there were 10k, half marathoners, marathoners, 50k and 50m runners on the trail) and it was great to be able to give and receive encouragement from different runners throughout the day. The volunteers were great, especially at the couple of road crossings and the aid stations, and the scenery was unbelievable in places. My hope is that I remember not to listen to that voice in my head when it’s saying obviously preposterous things.
Note: Reading back through the report, I noticed that even though I titled it “The Devil’s in the Details”, I didn’t really talk about any specific details. The report itself is pretty detailed, but then what am I implying? Discuss…