As I warmed up with Team Inov-8 runner Ben Nephew, we agreed that the day had a lot the right ingredients for a breakthrough PR. Although the temp was in the high 30's, the sun would warm up the day to ideal low 50's by the halfway point. Short of some wind gusts, this was MUCH better than snow/sleet/sub-zero Caumsett 50k's of the past. Plus there were a lot of great runners here - 2x defending champ and course record holder (2:56) Michael Wardian, Scott Jaime (pronounced Hi-Me) from Colorado, 50k Masters American Record holder Dan Verrington, 24-hour American Record holder Mark Godale, 24-hour National Team member Phil McCarthy, Montrail runners Annette Bednosky and Jill Perry, the great Scott Jurek, and a half dozen more that could go sub-3:30 on a good day. I felt like a kid meeting my favorite rock stars!
My personal goal for the day was to improve on my 50k PR (3:37 at the 2009 Ruth Anderson 50k). My speed work was going INSANELY well over the last three months, particularly by teaching me that I could be in a lot of pain and still hold my form. To achieve a PR, like any stretch goal, you need three things. First, you need to show up (check). I know that sounds simple, but as we all know, getting the start line healthy and ready can be tough. Second, you need the opportunity, like a day of perfect weather and runners faster than you (check). Third, you need to believe that it is possible to achieve something beyond your best (check, thank you speedwork). Let's DO THIS!
At 8:30am, Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper sent off the 50k runners (30 minutes ahead of the 25k runners) and the front pack quickly spread out. Wardian, Jesse Regnier (in his first race beyond 8 miles), and 2:19 marathoner Malcolm Campbell went out hard, running 5:30 min/miles. Scott Jaime and Malcolm Campbell each ran solo at a sub-6 pace a few steps back, and Dan Verrington, Ben Nephew, Mark Godale and I clocked 6 min./miles in the next chase pack. Dan was doing most of the work in our pack, letting us know right up front that he was shooting for "3 and low teens since the 45-49 50k American Record is soft at 3:17". I guess he would know - it's his record! We finished the first lap in 18 minutes. My God, this was fast.
We got sight of the Womens race on the out and back section, and front runners Annette Bednosky, Jill Perry, and Yolanda Flamino were sticking close to each other. Last years champ and course record holder, Kami Semick, was not present today so it was anyone's race. They were all keeping each other in sight.
Ben Nephew was nice enough to help pace the pack with Dan, but around lap 3 (mile 9) Dan picked up the pace charging the uphill grades and dropped us. Mark Godale fell off the pace, and Ben and I speculated that he probably wasn't in peak shape thanks to daughter #3 recently arriving. We both had 3-year-olds and knew how that could crimp a training plan, but #3? Fuggetaboutit.
On each subsequent lap, we molted layers of hats, gloves, sleeves, wool, etc. until we were down to our tank tops in the 45-degree air. Ben continued to do the lion's share of the pacing, running with a short and powerful stride from all his snowshoeing. I was nursing a sore shoulder from a sex-related injury (best if I don't provide detail on that one, but let me recommend that you stretch out before ANY strenuous exercise), but otherwise feeling strong. The aid station volunteers at both stops were amazing, and we barely had to slow for whatever we needed.
On lap 6 (mile 18), my body demanded a bio break and I made a absurdly efficient 20-second stop at the port-a-potty. Ben wished me well, and from that point on he would be little more than a dot on the horizon. That was okay though - I knew the last third was going to be a three-night stay in the House of Pain, and it felt proper to venture into that valley of darkness alone.
I wasn't alone, however, since thanks to the loop format I got to see EVERYONE. The New York Ultra Runners were having a great day and making the most of the early signs of Spring. I exchanged atta-boys with 78-year-old Sam Soccoli from North Babylon, NY, and the famous Roy Pirrung who was defying his 62-year-old age with a sub-5 hour pace. 70-old Patricia Delaney was also making good time, and always had a smile on. They sure breed 'em tough out here!
At Lap 8, I hit the marathon mark in 2:48 (almost a PR!) and fought desperately to hold my form. Michael Wardian gave a few words of encouragement as he lapped me, slowing but still on course record pace. At the turnaround, I could see that Dan Verrington had passed Scott Jaime, but Scott was keeping him in sight. Ben was still holding on strong and was about a minute ahead of me now. The Womens race found Yolanda Flamino in front after dropping the hammer on lap 3 and gapping the other women by a good 15 minutes. Annette Bednosky, however, was picking up speed in one of her classic negative split finishes.
As I entered Lap 10, my stomach knotted up, my head started spinning, and my muscles began twitching like crazy. My pace had slowed to a 7 minute mile as I walked the two aid stations to try and get more liquids in. The pain. My God, the pain! I could feel my heartbeat in the back of my eyeballs. But as the mile markers reminded me, this was almost over. Annette was kind enough to pick up the pace and run along with me until the last 1/2 mile, and I gave it everything. I crossed the finish in 3:20:48, good enough for 6th overall.
I laughed out loud as I crossed the finish line. Did that just happen? Did I just take 17 minutes off my PR? Either the training is going well, or I have been seriously sandbagging for a long time now. As I spoke with the other finishers, it turns out many of them had breakthrough days. Michael Wardian (2:55) had beat his previous record by 40 seconds, with Malcolm Campbell (3:04) getting second with a great performance. Scott Jaime (3:13) had passed Dan Verrington (3:15) to claim third and the Masters win, but Dan set a new 45-49 age group American Record in the process. Ben was quite pleased with his 3:18 best on this course, and Mark Godale charged in the last laps to finish a few minutes behind me. Jesse Raginer clocked a 3:28 in his first 50k - not bad at all!
Yolanda Flamino won the Womens division in 3:34, with Annette Bednosky (3:43) taking second and winning the Masters division in a time well under her goal. Jill Perry (3:47) fought through some tough spots to hold onto third. (full results)
I felt like an Olympian with all my medals (a gorgeous finisher medal, a USATF medal for 6th overall and a USATF medal for 2nd in 40-44), and was tickled to get the $50 check for third Master. Paydays are rare in this sport! My thanks to RD Amy Goldstein, her wonderful volunteers and sponsors, Howard Nippert and the crew at USATF, and the nice folks of Long Island for putting on a great race. Thanks to the opportunity, assistance, and support you provided, I had a breakthrough day!