Sunday, October 10, 2010

When a plan fails, but you succeed . . .

For yesterday's New River 50k, my goal was to be an official finisher and beat the 7 hour race cut-off (I did!).  I knew this would be a real stretch for me -  this blog got it's name appropriately!  I am a plodder and more then a little hard headed.

So I knew the 7 hour cutoff was going to be a very hard challenge for me (sad but true!).

So I knew I needed a plan.  After consultation with running friends and a few beers,  my plan was done.  I was going to go out fairly hard (for me) and see just how long I could hold on!  Basically, I was going to run 3 minutes and walk one, then repeat.

When I actually run, my pace isn't really all that bad for an overweight 60 year old!  Maybe a 10:30 to 11:00 pace usually.  And I was going to practice 'fast' walking.  My normal walking pace is hardly more then a stroll and I know I need to pick up the pace of my walking.

So my plan was set.  And quite frankly I executed the plan perfectly!  But it was a BAD plan!  Very bad.

The New River Trail 50k is an awesome event.  RD Annette Bodnosky, a top level ultra runner herself, put on a fabulous event!  And the volunteers!!  Wow!  That's all I can say!  This is probably the prettiest race course I've run.  A very easy course totally, on an old railroad bed.  Terrific running surface.  This course is made for running a 50k PR!

But Annette set a 7 hour cut-off.  That's a pretty strict time limit - Even with an easy course, I knew the odds were against me making the cut-off.

We had five RMEC runners at this race - Scott Wingfield, Ted and Liz Lord were here for their very first ultra and my buddy Ron Fleming.  This was going to be fun!

The morning was perfect!  Low 40s and a beautiful fog along the river!  Saw so many of my running friends before the race!  Pre-race is almost always my favorite part!  Once the race started, I couldn't stop taking pictures along the way!  Check them out!!

I felt absolutely GREAT!  I was thinking this was going to be my day- and in some ways it was.  I tried to stay mentally focused on my pace . . . especially my walking pace.  I really pressed hard through my walks and my runs were relaxed and strong.  I was encouraged!

Early on I fell in with Jade Wei, the wife of my running friend Jim!  Jim had suggested that Jade and I might be going at a similar pace and I totally enjoyed getting to pass some trail miles with her!  But I was feeling strong and decided to pull ahead.

Bad decision!  Also, ran a while with Donna Macguire, a awesome ultra runner.  Same thing.  I was feeling strong and pulled ahead - Same thing with Jim Plant and Connie Howe.

What was I thinking???  I should know better.  But I had a PLAN!  And a cut-off time to beat!

After about seven miles following the New River itself, we crossed a trestle over the river and started a slow easy grade up Chesnut Creek all the way to Galax, VA.  Very pretty with lots of things to see along the way and with the good footing of the trail, you could actually look around some!  Loved it!  But I stayed so focused on my goal.

From mile 5 or so I met Amos and Abby from Washington, DC.  Amos was obviously a very experienced ultra runner and he was pacing Abby on her first ultra,  spent all day long going back and forth with these two fun folks!

About half way up this leg the lead runner passed me and 10 seconds behind him #2!  Would love to be able to see how this one played out!  One more and then Jonathan Savage came by!  The the first female . . . flyin'!!  The one that really surprised me was my friend Rick Grey!  Rick had finished the Grindstone 100 the week before, but he was up there in the lead bunch!  I couldn't get my camera out quick enough . . . but did catch this shot!

Rick even stopped and turned around!  Sorry Rick!
Awesome Jenn!
I really love looking ahead to see friends!  Soon Jennifer Nickols came hauling down the trail . . . but took time out for a quick hug!  Thanks Jenn!  That picked me up!

Scott and Liz flying down the trail!
Was looking for the RMEC crowd and soon Scott Wingfield and Liz Lord passed looking VERY strong.  Was surprised that Ron Fleming wasn't with them, but it turns out he had some knee issues and turned to walking.  Still beat me by a wide margin!  Saw Frank Macguire at the park about 1 mile from the turnaround. Then, Bill Keene came by with a 'high five' between us!

At 15.9 miles we hit the turnaround aid station!  Fun group there.  Don't know what was wrong with me (or my eyes!) but Beth Minnick was there.  I talked with her but for some reason I didn't realize it was her!  Weird!

Maybe the last mile to the turnaround I started to shorten my run and lengthen my walk some.  But not much.  I was thinking the return trip was going to be downhill and I would easily be able to hold a good pace.  Well, I did for maybe two more miles.  Then reality set it!  I bonked!  My 3/1 changed to a 2/1 and then changed to a 1/1 half way down Chesnut Creek to the New River!  Oh no!  Not good!  Not good at all!  Finally turned off my watch!  Just ran when I could and walked when I had to!

I started getting passed.  Donna came, but continuing her solid running.  I would have been so smart to try and 'hang' with her the whole race.  She would still beat me, but I would learn a lot from her!

As I approached the tunnel (guess I forgot to mention the cool tunnel we run through!) I got a cramp in my right ankle.  I had been popping s-Caps all day, but I just took two more right then and walked a little.  Once the cramp passed I started running again.  But within 30 feet, another cramp in my inside upper leg and ankle.  Again, walked through it and ran again.

This continued all the way to the end.  There was no running through the cramps ... they would just get worse and worse until I just 'locked up' in pain.   All day I had been so focused on making the 7:00 cut-off and I could just feel it slipping away.  But I didn't know for sure.  There are no mile markers and I didn't have my Garmin with me, so I had no idea as to how far I was.  Got to the New River and found out I had 5.7 miles to go and my watch said 1 hour 10 minutes to cut-off.  I was crushed!  Given my cramping and degreed of bonking . . . this seemed impossible.  I was mentally giving up.

Run 20 - 30 yards and the cramp.  This sucked!

Then, Jim and Connie passed me!  But we did spend a few minutes together and Jim said, 'You've got this!  You can do it!' ,  then we talked about the distance left and the time to go.  Soon, Connie and Jim pulled ahead and I was left wondering if Jim was right.
'One thing I figured out, running 'fast' didn't cause me to cramp any more than running slow, so when I ran, I ran fast (for me!)  maybe a 10:30 pace or so.  Some runs lasted almost a minute, and some only 30 seconds, but I kept giving every single ounce of effort I had in me.

And then I was passed by the last place runner, Scott Giddions.  Scott and I hung together for quite a while.  We passed a point where someone said we had about a mile to go and my watch said we had 12 minutes.  I told him to not hang with me and to go for it!  Thank goodness he did!  Soon I heard a cheer in the distance and knew the finish line was near . . . but I couldn't tell how near.  My watch told me I had about six or seven minutes.

I just kept on running and cramping.  Maybe 30 yards running . . . but then the cramping.  Damn!   I heard a car or truck behind me!  I was totally lost in my effort and my focus on the finish line.  But the cramping . . .

Then . . . I saw the finish line . . . abnd I looked down at my watch and saw I had 5 minutes or so left to cutoff.  I TOTALLY knew I had made it!  I almost cried!

Liz , Ted and family had come out to meet me and run me in - even Annette came out to encourage me!  And then, Jade (who had just finished!) came back to run me in!  How cool!  And I looked at the finish like and saw a ton of friends there cheering . . .  Rick Gray stood out, so encouraging and happy for me!  And Scott!  And Ron!

So I did it!  I finished in maybe 6:56 or so.  Mission accomplished!

But my plan sucked!  Pacing is so important.  I'm sure my cramping was  partly caused by pushing too hard, too quickly.

But looking back I'm not sure I enjoyed my success as much as I thought I would.  For me, the fun is in the running, the friends and the experience.  But the cut-off pressure . . . not so much!  All day long I stayed so frickin' focused on time I didn't enjoy this beautiful run as much as I could have.  I just don't need or want this needless stress.

"Hurry slowly . . . but Hurry" is a perfect theme for me.  I just don't want to hurry so much I miss the experience.  Success was great, but the joy of running for me was, to some degree, missed.

But I know that for this race I gave almost 7 hours to total effort!  I left nothing out there.  I totally spent myself on the effort.  And I did achieve my goal!  Sweet!

But the best moment of the day was just after I finished.... Amos (who with Abby had finished several minutes before me!) went down on one knee and proposed.  And she said yes!!!


  1. YAY!!!!!!! 1. SO glad I got to see you, and run another race with you, Frank!!!

    2. I am so extremely proud of you! You really gutted it out and hung tough!!! it was hot ( I was SO miserable the last 6 miles or so!!)

    3. stealing your picture of me for my blog! and the one beth took of you.. for my race report if you don't care:o)


    hope to see you again soon! I just hate, hate, hate, I had to leave to go get my kiddies or would of loved to see you finish!! ATTA BOY!!! WELL DONE!! :o) :o)

  2. Frank, That was a wonderful race report. You did a fine job finishing yesterday. Congrats on yet another strong accomplishment.

    If you didn't take so many damn pictures maybe you wouldn't have to worry about the cutoff. ;)

    LOVE the pictures. Thanks for taking and sharing them.

  3. I'm going to steal some pictures as well.

  4. Great race, Frank! Glad you had a successful day!

    One of these days, maybe I'll try an Ultra..... maybe. :)

  5. What a race you had. Annette's cutoff is not easy and what an accomplishment for you to make it under the 7 hours. Everyone was so happy to see you make it in fine fashion. Ultras sure are great. We had an engagement and you made your goal. A very special day out there with friends who are actually family! Great run Frank. I am so happy for you!

  6. great report. Very suspenseful at the end!
    Even pacing is a lesson we learn over and over.
    it's making me rethink my marathon plans...

  7. I really enjoyed this story of your run. I came over to your blog because I was attracted by your title "When a plan fails, but you succeed." that caught my eye over on ac's blog.

    I'm not a person who runs very far distances but I love to read about these kind of races. There's something about just keeping going that inspires me. I'm glad you had a happy ending!


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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.