Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Evergreen Lake 50K Race Report

This past weekend I ran the inaugural Evergreen Lake 50K trail race at COMLARA Park in Hudson, IL.  I finished in a time of 5:30 which was good enough for 7th place overall.  Seventh sounds impressive, but it was a small event, with approximately 32 runners starting the 50K (they also had a 25K event). The race results haven't been posted, but I believe 3 men and 3 women were ahead of me.  Not sure of their ages...maybe I was first masters runner?  All the people ahead of me at the finish line looked young...or I'm just getting older and older.

The course consisted of 2 loops around Evergreen Lake.  The trail was a combination of single-track through forests around the lake, well-worn grass/dirt trail in a few open areas, and very uneven grass "paths" around the park. There were small sections of road to connect the various trails.  Except for the wobbly grass sections, it was a nice variety of terrain.  While there were a few hills, nothing was too tough and the course was actually pretty fast (except for those uneven grass areas).  I am quite certain that the advertised 50K distance (31 miles) was actually more like 32-33 miles. My Garmin GPS watch registered 31.4 miles...and it always under-measures trails. I was running pretty well, and thought I was on pace to finish around 5:05-5:15, but the finish line never came!  I would love to see the course altered next year to minimize the uneven grassy sections and maximize the single-track trail.  Otherwise, I enjoyed the location and course.

For a first-time race, I felt it was well-organized.  There were 4 basic aid stations on the loop (including the main start/finish area), parking was adequate and close to the start, the registration check-in went smoothly, and the race start was managed nicely (the director delayed the start a few minutes to allow us a little more daylight so we wouldn't need headlamps on the trail).  The course itself was marked with painted arrows on the ground, ribbons tied to trees, and pie-plate on stakes. Occasionally, there would also be course marshals at intersections. I had never run the trails before, but found all markings adequate...with only one exception. One fairly sharp left turn (that I took correctly by seeing a ribbon further up the turn) was not marked well (no arrows on ground, no pie plate) and at least a couple of runners incorrectly continued straight on the trail.  Even taking the correct turn, I felt uneasy--I stopped and started walking back to the intersection, then found a runner coming toward me who was confident we were on track. To the RDs credit, on the next loop, this spot was extremely well marked.  Well done.

On my first loop, I intentionally held back a bit so I would have something left for the second half of the race. While I wasn't super confident, I thought with intelligent pacing, I might have a great day and finish around 5:10.  I kept checking my heart rate monitor and slowed if it showed I was above 150. I ran with a small group of about 4 runners most of that first loop.While there weren't many runners in the race, I could almost always see someone in front of me and someone behind me on this first loop.  The second loop was a bit more lonely.  A steady light rain started about two hours into the race and continued on and off the rest of the day.  It felt good to run in the drizzle and it kept the temperatures cooler (overcast, drizzly, and in the low 60s all day).  Unfortunately, that same light rain started to make the course slippery in spots.  The wooden bridges were very slick and the hard packed dirt didn't get muddy...just extremely slippery...especially on the hills. As the race went on, I kept thinking my GPS was probably measuring things short and the actual distance covered was a mile or so more than being reported on my watch...which gave me hope that the finish line would appear sooner rather than later.  This helped keep me motivated to run the best I could and strive for that elusive PR. Once the 5:00 mark was passed, and I was not near the finish line, I started to give up hope. Then 5:05, 5:10, 5:15 came and went...and I was still not done. Oh well. No PR. No problem.  At least I'll break 5:30 for the 50K...or so I thought.  I reached the final major trail turn that led to the uphill finish...and my watch read 5:27...my sub-5:30 was within reach!  I pushed hard on the continuous uphill trail to the finish...but every turn failed to reveal the darn finish clock.  Finally, the finish line revealed itself...and my watch read 5:30.  I finished in 5:30:16.  Damn. 

The race director gave me my finisher award--a nice arrowhead necklace with small charm indicating the race name and date.  And, as a top 5 male finisher, I was given a groovy walking stick.  Very cool.  I was done, uninjured (except for one blister), and satisfied with a strong effort that likely would have been equal to a 5:15 or better on a true 50km course. Yeah, I still think the course was long by 1-2 miles...but it's OK. I plan on returning for the second year of this fine event. And I'll know what to expect.

Things I would change to make the race even better:
  • Start at 7am instead of 6:15am
  • Decrease the use of uneven grassy sections
  • Aid stations include more food/drink items
  • Mark the major turns with extra attention
  • More post-race food and drink
  • Add mile markers--even if just at aid stations
  • Re-measure and make it closer to 50km!

Here are a few stats from my Garmin GPS/HR watch:

Average HR = 146
Max HR = 161
Calories burned = 4200
Elevation gain = 3246 feet
Distance covered = 31.4 miles

Overall, this was a very good first-year ultra race. For a reasonable race fee ($50), I received two shirts, a walking stick, finisher necklace, and a varied 50K+ course.  What more can you ask for?


Run 100 Miles said...

Enjoyed the report - nice work on the 5:30

No reason to sweat a couple o' seconds. Perhaps a moment to too long at an aid station

a few of my GA friends ran this race. Looks like a nice one.

Chris said...

Yep, a couple seconds here and there and I would have easily broken 5:30. No big deal. I'm happy. Sore, but happy. Funny that people from far away (TN, GA, AR, WI) would come to such a small event in the Midwest. Hope they enjoyed the race.

ed said...

Yes, you have endurance & speed -- nice run!

Chris said...

Thanks Ed. I did feel this was a good overall race for me...balance of speed, stamina, and endurance. Darn...if it was only 31 miles it would have been truly impressive. Oh well. What did this effort get me? A nasty cold. Been stuffed up and coughing all week.

Anonymous said...

I also think that it was a good 2 miles longer. I was expecting to run 15-20 mins faster if I was running well and I felt much better than I expected. Nice report!

Chris said...

For now, I'm satisfied with the course being about 2 miles long which translates into about 20 minutes extra running time. So I "really" finished the 50K in 5:10 (instead of 5:30)...nice!!!

Shannon mac said...

I was the person that finished just in front of you, and I am quite certain it was close to 33 miles. Very similar critique, and had a blast doing it!

Chris said...

Good job Shannon! It was long, but still fun. I'll be back next year.

Natalie Hildebrandt said...

Glad to find this blog! I will run this race for the first time this year! Looking forward to it! I want the same rain! :)