Gator Trail 50K February 9, 2014, 8:00 am
The 12th annual Gator Trail 50K was held on Sunday February 9, 2014 at Lake Waccamaw State Park. Lake Waccamaw is about an hour west of Wilmington, NC. This race was originally scheduled for Saturday February 1, but it was delayed because the state park was closed due to snow and ice the last week of January. The race was held on state park trails and it appears that the course had been modified from previous years. This year there would be 6 ~ 5.2 mile loops. The elevation change was minimal but there were some short hills/humps. The trail gave quite a variety of surfaces and obstacles: sand, straw, leaves, roots, vines, stumps, board walks, mud, grass and asphalt. (You can see some pictures of the trail from Nathan Maxwell’s 2013 Race Report.) There was a cap of only 50 racers allowed by the state park permit. Twenty eight runners started and all finished.
Due to the minimal training that I had done through the winter, I did not have high expectations for a finish time; however, I was confident that I would find a way to finish. I wanted to get in a good long training run and avoid injury. I wanted to purposely slow down the first lap and try to smooth out the effort across the whole run. The pacing plan I can up with was 11 min/mile for the first 2 laps, 12 min/mile the second 2 laps and 13 min/mile the last 2 laps. That would come out to the following approximate lap times for the 5.2 mile laps: ~0:57, ~1:02 and ~1:08. Overall that would lead to a 6:14 finish. I would start from the beginning to walk 0.1 out of every mile and add additional short walks as needed by the course terrain. It did take some tentative foot placement through some muddy spots and one section of boardwalk was fairly treacherous.
The morning started out about 32 degrees but by the 8:00 am start time it had warmed up sufficiently to lose some extra clothing layers. I arrived at the State Park about an hour early and had plenty time to get prepared, mill around and visit the bathroom several times. The Start/Finish was located in the parking lot directly in front of the visitor’s center. Several tables were set up with food and beverages here and you would pass this point every lap. There were also bottles of water available at a couple other locations on the course as marked by inflated unicorns. It was nice that the visitor’s center was open during the entire race including access to real bathrooms. Our car was parked right before the Start/Finish line. We set up a folding table with my supplies here with really easy access for every lap.
Lap 1 – 0:56 (target 0:57)
After a very brief pre-race talk we were off. There was a short section of asphalt road before entering the trail. The first section of trail was through a sparse young pine forest. You could tell that this area had been burned over some time ago. The trail was covered with a light layer of pine straw and had short leafless bushes sticking up about a foot high. I was immediately glad that I had on full length tights because these bushes were whipping my ankles. I had entered the trail about mid pack but by the end of the first couple miles I knew that the majority of the field had passed me. Ok so who are these beasts, don’t they know this is a long race? I knew I could never keep up at that pace and I needed to stick with my plan. So I resisted the race adrenalin, took it easy and mapped out the trail features and how I would need to run this on future laps. On to a section of fairly primitive trail; it appeared that this area had been cleared not too long ago and the trail rerouted through this new section. There was packed sand with roots, stumps and some vines and small branches. About midway through the loop you passed through a campground. A little further along the trail was very close to the lake. This lake side area is where there were several muddy sections. You could get around most of the mud if you slowed a lot and pushed through some bushes. One longer muddy section was covered by a plank walkway. The boards essentially sat on top of the mud. Water squished up through the boards when you stepped on them. On along through some more sand and roots to a fairly long boardwalk. The first half of this board walk had reasonable footing… this kinda lured you in to think that this was a good section for running… until after you passed on to the second half which was very slick. The boardwalk came out behind the visitor’s center. From this point you took a short section of grass and park road to get back around to the Start/Finish. (Honestly, I don’t know if I got all of that in the right order, but at least you get an idea of the loop variety.) It was a very smooth first lap. I was pleased that I was right on target and I didn’t run any miles too fast. When I passed by the car I dropped of the hydration pack. I thought that the loop was too short to really need this and I didn’t want to carry the weight anymore. I picked up a mini Almond Joy and a bottle of Accelerade.
Lap 2 – 0:58 (target 0:57)
I headed out for the second lap. Not too far along three more people passed me but I kept them in sight most of the loop. At 7.6 miles I found myself in a slow motion superman move flying forward… something had grabbed my right foot. After about 4 steps I had a soft landing on one knee and one hand. I had stepped on a small branch with my left foot and my right foot was trapped underneath. I jumped up, brushed off the trail debris and continued on. I still felt good at the end of this loop but thought that a little caffeine jolt would be timely. I picked up a 2nd Surge Double Espresso gel and chased it with water. I grabbed another bottle of Accelerade and headed to the Start/Finish. I crossed the line at 1:54, right on target!
Lap 3 – 1:03 (target 1:02)
On to lap three. By this time I had learned the course rather well, so instead of timing walks at the end of every mile I tried to walk more based on terrain: the short hills, muddy spots and slick boardwalk sections. Overall this lap was a fairly uneventful smooth run. Back at the car I got another mini Almond Joy and another bottle of Accelerade. I hit the Start/Finish at 2:57. That was halfway and still right on target.
Lap 4 – 1:12 (target 1:02)
Heading out on lap 4 my legs suddenly felt quite fatigued so I decided that here at the halfway point I would go ahead a take a little longer walk before getting back to the regular run/walk plan. After a half mile I got back to running but it was starting to take a lot more effort. I worked on this lap to try to keep up the pace. I was starting to get GI issues of the rumbling stomach pukey feeling kind. For some reason I had been having this stomach issue about every morning for a couple weeks so I expected that it would be a challenge. I had bought some antacids the day before and took a couple right before the race start. At the end of this lap I chewed two more antacid tablets. I took a salted caramel Gu chased with water and picked up another bottle of Accelerade. It had warmed up enough that I had to ration the Accelerade in order for one 12 oz bottle to make it the whole lap. Since I didn’t want to carry 2 bottles, I chugged down some extra water. I crossed the Start/Finish at 4:09. The pacing plan was starting to slip and I was not feeling well.
Lap 5 – 1:26 (target 1:08)
Heading out from lap 5, I forced a short run by but mile 21 the legs basically shut down. OK I don’t have to panic at this point – relentless forward progress – just fall into a powerwalk for rest and wait for the muscles to recharge. I think that this was a glycogen bonk, basically the marathoner’s “wall”. I thought that I was going slowly enough for this transition from glycogen burning to fat burning to be a lot smoother. Alas, the poor training had caught up with me. The powerwalk worked ok in the pine forest section but when I got to the rooty section, well the powerwalk depends on essentially a shuffle and the roots required picking up the feet. So I tried an easy pick up the feet run and aghhkkk, the stomach was having no part of that. Double whammy. The rest of this lap was about a death march. Thankfully my blood sugar never drooped so my mind was lucid enough to think clearly the whole race. Back at the car I had some Ginger ale with ice and picked up another bottle of Accelerade for the last lap. I crossed the Start/Finish at 5:35.
Lap 6 – 1:22 (target 1:08)
One more lap to go, but I didn’t want this to take all day. I made up my mind to start running very short sections and to slowly start increasing the running each mile. By mile 28 I was back to running about 50%. I noted that I could still make a sub 7 hour finish if I had a good last mile. At mile 30 I was feeling relatively strong so I set into about 11 min/mile pace the rest of the way to the finish. Too bad this race wasn’t longer, I was now back and ready to go. I crossed the finish at 6:57 and picked up my finisher’s medal. That time was a bit disappointing after the strong first half but at least I found a way to finish and didn’t feel any significant injury.
Great people – these ultra-runners are great company!
Good weather – It started out nicely cool and warmed up a bit but not too much
Good course – A nice soft surface for most of the course was easy on the joints. There was enough technicality and variety to make an interesting run without being overly difficult. The course was not particularly scenic except for the short bit by the lake.
The foot protection combination was dialed in just right for this race. I chose the Inov 8 Roclite 295 trail shoes because I knew that the majority of the surface was soft, the extra grip may be beneficial for the muddy spots and there should be few if any sizable rocks. This would be the longest run by far that I have made in these shoes. They worked perfectly. I had lubricated my toes with Hydraguard. I wore lightweight Injinji socks as liners and Trail LT DryMax socks on the outside. With this gear, my feet never got sore and there was only one pea size blister on the left instep.
Hydration and fueling went well. I never felt low on blood glucose and had good mental clarity throughout the whole race. Accelerade is some awesome liquid fuel.
No Knee/ITB pain, minimal joint soreness, minimal muscle pain, no cramps.
Minimal training led to a difficult second half on this run and it didn’t help that I carrying around some extra weight.
The glycogen bonk and GI issues turned a pretty good run into a death march for about 7 miles.
This made for a really good training run. While the finish time was a bit disappointing it was not entirely unexpected. Overall it was a fun day and a good trip. This made good practice for longer distances since I was starting to come back at the end and was ready to keep running… that’s one of the tricks to the ultra game… just find a way to keep moving forward.