Saturday, September 8, 2012

North Country Run 50 Miler Race Report

First of all, I want to thank Jami, my wife and best friend for putting up with all the time that I spent running to get to this point and to be able to train to tackle my first 50 mile race. All those weekends where I would be gone for 4-6hrs at a time running.
I am forever grateful.

Where to begin... 11 months ago, I remember telling Jami that I wouldn’trun unless I was running for my life or behind a dog (we show German Shepherd Dogs). One month later, I had a change of heart and started running.  My friend Scott from Chicago ran the Chicago marathon and I was quite inspired by his efforts.
Upon starting my running journey I met Jesse who I asked to coach me.  He was a recent college gradand is a ultra running stud. After the first of the year, I knew I wanted to do an ultra marathon and talked about entering the North Country 50 Miler.  So back in April I signed up.

My wife, our four kids, and myself headed up to Wellston on Friday afternoon for the weekend.  We rented a cabin on the Little Manistee River about 3mi away from the Big M wherethe race was being held.
We went straight to the Big M so that I could pick up my packet for the race the next day.
I dropped the family off at the cabin and got them settled in and then I headed over to where Jesse was camping. I wanted to say hi and visit for bit before the race the next day.  I chatted with Jesse over a beer… he was telling me about running the Leadville 100 the week before.
I headed back to the cabin about 930p and ended up in bed about 11p reading and finally falling asleep about 12a.
Had the alarm set for 6a and finally crawled out of bed about 6:15a.
Got dressed and had my usual big bowl of oats with strawberries,blueberries, raspberries and bananas with unsweetened almond milk.  YUM!! Jami and the kids jumped in the car at about 7 and they dropped me off by 7:15 for a 7:40a start time.  The family headed back to the cabin to eat breakfast before coming over to the park to catch me at aid station 4 (13mi mark).

I stood around for a bit talking to folks as the marathon that was supposed to start at 7:20 was delayed due to a downed tree on the trail.  They finally started the marathon about10 minutes or so late.  We figured the 50 miler would start 20 minutes later to allow for the marathon runners to get far enough down the trail… but we were wrong.  We were standing around talking and one of the guys looked up and said “hey, they just started the ultra!!”.  Oh crap… I wasn’t even ready.  So I quickly ran over to my bag and took my sweatshirt and t-shirt off and stuffed them in my bag and grabbed my water bottle and visor.  I quickly ran to the back of the pack starting the ultra and over the first mile I made my way to the front, about 15 people ahead of me yet.  My first ultra and I missed the actual start of the race.  But that’s the beauty of a long distance race is that itdidn’t matter.  Its not a 5k where everyone is sprinting from the start.

The first 3-4 miles were some work.  There were a lot of people on the trail so there was a lot of passing of slower people.  After the first aid station at about mile 3.5 I ran with a guy from Adrian and chatted with him about life and family for a few miles.  Real nice guy, he ended up finishing 7thoverall.

I hit the 8 mile aid station and stopped for the first time to fill my water bottle and set out back on the trail. I didn’t stop for long at the aid, I didn’t want to lose to much time and this early I didn’t need it.  The next 6 miles I pretty much ran without seeing to many people.  At one point I passed someone and they told me that I was in about 15thplace.  By that time there was no way that I would see any of those people ahead of me again.  I was looking forward to getting to the 14mile aid station because Jami and the kids would be there to see me.  We drove to the 14mile aid station thenight before so Jami would know where it was and so I had an idea of what to look for.  When I was running and coming into the aid I was totally disoriented and didn’t even think I was at the right place… I asked the first person I saw if this was aid station 4 and before I got an answer I saw some familiar faces.  It was Jami and the kids cheering and clapping for me.  They helped me refill my water bottle and sent me off.  It was a quickstop but energizing to see them.

After mile 14 things started to get pretty tough.  Just coming out of aid station 4 Ipassed a guy and a girl who were running together.  They stuck to me like glue and we had a little train going on.  I never realized how taxing it was to lead a pack like that.  It was more mentally challenging than physical but it had a toll on the physical as well.  I was constantly having to make sure that I was keeping pace and not slowing them down or myself.  We ran like this for well over 7miles…them just hugging my tail trailing along. Finally I think I either slowed down or they just got sick of running behind me so they passed me and took off. I didn’t bother trying to keep up with them and just kind of dropped my pace quite a bit.  This was also where the trail started to get quite hilly and tough so the slower pace was welcomed.  About mile 21 or so I looked up and a head of me on the trail was Jesse.  He scored a free last minute entry into the Marathon so he decided to run it.  He was walking with a friend.  I came up on them and chatted for a minute and then pressed on.  After the next and last aid station at mile 23.5 Jesse ended up passing me and took off.  He did have to be back at the start/ finish to help crew for me when I got there.
The last 4 miles of the first loop were pretty rough and seemed like it took forever.   

I got into the start/ finish at about 4hrs 18min.  Not a bad pace for wanting to finish inthe sub 9 hour mark.  It was fun coming into the start finish because Jami and the kids were there as well as my parents.  Jesse was there to make sure that my stop went smoothly.
I immediately sat down to start changing my shoes.  I wore my Merrell Trail Gloves for the first loop and wanted to switch to a more cushy shoe for the second loop, so I put on my Innov8 245’s.
Jami and the kids refilled my water bottle and Jesse helped me change my shoes.  My quads cramped up really bad and quickly so I stood up to reverse the effect.  I drank a bunch of water and then headed back out for loop two.

Finishing the first 25 miles

Being pampered by Jesse

Shaking out the Quads

The next 4+ miles were rough… it was about noon and the weather was starting to heat up.  Temps reaching into the high 80’s, low 90’s with that lovely Michigan humidity.  So once you piled on the heat, the fact that I probably ran that first 25 miles to fast and my quads were cramping up,I was in rough shape.
I ran/ walked miles 26-28ish to that first aid station.  The aid station couldn’t come fast enough and seemed like it took forever to get there.  I ran into Ronnie who I met before the race in the morning and we were both feeling pretty rough. We came into the 28 mile aid station together.  I needed to get on top of this if I was going to finish strong so my plan was to take all the time I needed at the aids and drink and eat as much as I could.  The whole first loop I was just drinking my EFS mix with water and then plain water atthe aids.  At the 28 mile aid I grabbed a GU and thought I would try that out.  Of all the months training, I have used EFS and Stingers(honey) as nutrition on my long runs but have never tried the GU product.  I picked up a GU at the aid station and it was Vanilla Bean, I ripped it open and squeezed it into my mouth and I immediately gagged and almost threw it up.  I will never try a GU again.  The aid had lots of fruit available so I ate a bunch of blueberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe.  This tasted good and my stomach liked it.   I drank a bunch of waterand then rang out a sponge of ice cold water over my head… this felt amazing.

Heading out of the aid I started running and caught up to a guy and just ran steadily behind him for the next 4 miles.  He was running slower than I would have but hey I was running and not walking.
Finaly getting to the 32 mile aid I stopped and repeated the process.  Lots of water, cantaloupe,and watermelon.  They had peanut butter cookies so I gave them a try but after chewing a few bites I spit it out into the trash.  This just didn’t taste good and it was too much work to chew.  I rang the sponge over my head and set out again on the trail.

I was beginning to feel a lot better now and by the first quarter mile I passed the guy I was running behind. I picked up the pace and got into a zone… this was also the flatter part ofthe trail as well so that helped. I just needed to get to the mile 38 aid station where Jesse was going tomeet up to pace me.  These miles flew by and I was continuing to feel better and better.  I couldn’t wait for the 38 mile aid station to see my family.  This section of the trail I didn’t see anyone and it was very peaceful.  Lots of time to think and relax and just enjoy the moment… running through a beautiful forest with nothing but me and the trail.

I knew I was coming close to the aid station and sure enough, I saw Jami waiting on the trail for me.  She asked if she could run with me to the aid station and of course I said ABSOLUTELY!!  We were about a mile out still.  This was one of the best parts of the whole day… running with Jami.  I got all emotional and started to cry like a hormonal teenage girl.  I was grateful forall the support that Jami and the family were giving me.  At this point I felt like I was floating down the trail with my best friend and love of my life behind me!

Running into AS 4 with Jami behind me
Coming into the aid station, Jesse was there waiting for me ready to run.  The kids and my parents were there cheering and clapping. This was such a great feeling. I stopped and did the usual… downed a bunch of water, ate some watermelon and cantaloupe. And then the sponge shower.  I was feeling unstoppable and great.

Jesse and I set off down the trail to kick the last 12 miles in the teeth.  I ended up leading out with Jesse running behind me.  Having Jesse behind me was the coolest thing… he was very encouraging and knew the trail well.  We ran most of the next 4 miles strong to aid station 5. Coming into the aid, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jami, my parents and the kids again.  I totally didn’t expect to see them again until the finish.  This was great!
We did the usual routine at the aid and then set out on the trail again.
Coming into AS5 with a huge smile on my face surprised to see the Family

This next 8 miles had the most elevation and we did a lot of running the flats, power hiking the up hills and then crashing down the down hills.  We were in a groove and I was feeling strong.  Jesse’s encouragement behind me was invaluable.  I felt like we were floating down the trail and it felt great. 
The last couple of aid stations seemed like they took forever to get tobut they were a welcome oasis in the middle of the forest.
We finally made it to the last aid station with only 1.5 miles to go. In my head I was thinking about only 15+ more minutes left.  I ran like that for the first half mile and then I said screw it and then picked up the pace.  We ran that last mile at what seemed like at a 7min mile pace or better. This was another highlight of the day.  Racing down the trail with every last bit of energy that I had in my body giving it my all for a strong finish. Again I got all emotional and started to tear up thanking Jesse for all the coaching he has done for me over the past 10 months.
Jesse wanted to race me the last 100 yards… I gave chase and then made the turn for the finish line. Jami, my parents and the kids were cheering me on as well as all the people hanging out at the finish.

I finished with a time of 9hours and 28minutes!! I was 3rdplace for my 35-39 age group and 20th overall out of 117 finishers.
I had planned to run for sure in under 10 hours but I really wanted to hit the sub 9hr mark.  I was totally happy with my time especially for my first ever 50 miler and never having to cope with hitting the wall like I did and then recovering.
This whole experience truly was amazing and hard to explain.  I will definitely be doing this again and hopefully sooner than later.

Running for me has been a great change in my life over the past 10months.  I am eating much healthier and I feel fitter than I have ever been in my life.  Spending time running everyday is a welcome break from a busy schedule.  It’s 45min to an hour everyday that I can just turn my brain off and run… no email to answer, no phones ringing, no schedules to keep. I spend most of my time running by myself but have also been able to do some long runs with friends and these are quite enjoyable.  It’s a great way to get to know someone, and there is always something to talk about.
Thanks to Scott S. for letting me run with you on some of my long training runs!

Thanks for reading this very long blog post… I am grateful if you have made it this far.

Run Free!!


  1. Congrats man! This is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hey Jeff, great race re-cap! I loved the part where you said, "I picked up a GU at the aid station and it was VanillaBean, I ripped it open and squeezed it into my mouth and I immediatelygagged and almost threw it up." I had the exact same experience trying to eat a VanillaBean GU at Tahoe Rim Trail 100. I instantly spewed it back out even before it got halfway down. LOL.

    Anyway, congrats on cranking out your first 50 Miler. Impressive! Best of luck in whatever you decide to tackle next.