2015 Blackwater Trail Challenge 50k Race Report

Me & my friend Laurel, who worked the turn-around aid station
It's been a couple weeks since the Blackwater Trail Challenge 50k, so I apologize for getting to this report a little later than I normally do. As usual, of course, this won't just be the story of the race itself, but of all the stuff leading immediately up to it. Let me start by saying that this particular 50k was less of a race for me and more of a long training run. I am currently training for my first 50 miler, which will take place 4 weeks to the day after the Blackwater 50k (Spring Equinox 50 Mile). I really have been training since 7/21, when I started training for the Pensacola Marathon in November, which flowed right into training for my first back-2-back marathons in January, which flowed right into training for the 50 mile. So I've done 3 marathons during that time and I wanted to do a 50k as well. So, that said, I wasn't planning to put a lot of focus on time during this race, just having fun and covering the distance. And hopefully learning some things along the way.

Kristy, me, Sarah, and Brandon at P'cola Beach
The events leading up to this race started a week before on 2/14 when Kristy & my friends from Kansas City, Brandon & Sarah, came down for a long weekend visit. I got in some running while they were here and even did a 5 mile hike with them. We also went out and ate a lot of seafood. We did a lot of touring around town, Brandon & I toured the National Naval Aviation Museum (which is a place I love to visit), and Brandon even did some Jiu Jitsu training at a local dojo. They were the two people we hung out with the most, at least while not running, so it was very nice to see them again and spend some time hanging out.

The Team RWB crew & Brendan at the WOB run 2/18
They left on Monday, and then on Tuesday our friend and fellow KC Trail Nerd, Brendan came in to town. He would be running the 50k as well, but for him it would be his first ultra. It's nice to have had Janee' here for her first marathon in November, and now Brendan here for his first ultra. We also spent some time touring the town, and eating seafood. I even took another tour of the National Naval Aviation Museum with him, although you just can't go to that place too many times. Every time I go I learn something new and see something I've never seen before.

Finally, it was the night before the race. I made pasta & vodka sauce for the three of us, which has somewhat become a tradition whenever I run a race that I don't travel for. I got all my gear together and we hung out for a while before getting to bed fairly early. Brendan & I were running the 50k, while Kristy and several of our Team RWB friends would be manning the turn-around aid station, so we all had an early morning and long day ahead of us. It was a nice dinner and a nice time hanging out with a friend we hadn't seen in quite a while.

I was using this race to work out a few things I would need for the much longer 50 mile distance, so this race took a little more prep than a 50k normally would for me. My Garmins only last about 6 1/2 - 7 hours, so I would need to charge it during the 50 mile. I've always just taken a second watch to switch to during 50k, but for the 50 I wanted to just use one. I had been told you can charge them on the go and they will continue to run, so I got a couple small portable chargers I could carry. I also got the batteries for my new camera fully charged since I planned to take a lot of photos. For my nutrition, this would be my first 50k powered by Tailwind Nutrition. I've been mixing it at 300 cal per 24 oz water bottle, and this is the first way I've ever found that I can actually get in some calories while running. I made 2 bottles to take with me at the start, and made 2 more to send with Kristy to keep in a cooler for me to switch out when I got to the turn-around aid station. Ready to go... time for bed.

Amy, Megan, and me before the race. They both ran with
me during the P'cola Marathon and were running their first
50k at Blackwater
We got up and got out to the start area at Blackwater State Park fairly early so I would get a chance to see some friends before we got started. We are still relatively new to the area, but I'm glad I've had the opportunity to make lots of new friends in what is a very wonderful running community. I met up with my buddy Jamie Knight, some of my friends from the Running Wild running groups, some friends from the Northwest Florida Trail Running group, a couple Marathon Maniacs, and my Team RWB crew before they headed out to their aid station. It was a beautiful morning, and I loved spending time with friends before, during, and after the event.

Start of the race
After spending some time with friends and getting ready, it was time for Paul (Race Director and owner of Running Wild) to give some pre-race instructions and get us started. We headed across the parking lot and down a hill toward the trail. For anyone that has never been to Blackwater River State Park, it is an absolutely beautiful place. Running there is always a treat. I was excited to get to spend many hours out on the trails enjoying the park. I was also happy to have gotten a new 16 mega pixel digital camera that is light, waterproof, and shockproof for Christmas so I could get lots of pics on this great trail. Click here for my full photo album of pictures taken at the race (almost 270 pictures). As we got started, I eventually settled in running with my friend Kim from the Northwest Florida Trail Running group, just behind our other friend (and her inseparable twin) Laura. We ran and chatted together for several miles until we came to the first aid station. They decided to stop for a moment, while I wanted to go ahead and continue on, so I just hoped back on the trail and went forward on my own for a little while. I was feeling really good and getting plenty of nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes from my Tailwind.

As I continued on, I started to notice an issue with my shoes. I'd had a pair of Mizuno EVO Cursoris that I had worn over the last couple years, but they had worn out. They stopped making them shortly after I got them, so it took some work to find a new pair. Well, this new pair was rubbing the top of my foot funny. It wasn't necessarily hurting, but it was going to as the miles piled up. I needed to do something about it, but there just wasn't anything to do until I got to the next aid station so I could get a band-aid to cover and protect that spot, so I just continued on.

New friends Taylor (left) and Brittany (right) coming up
on the second aid station
Eventually, I ended up meeting a couple new friends. One very nice lady (Taylor) was also wearing an Orange Mud pack, so we talked about our packs and how we each liked them to fit. Another very nice lady (Brittany) was also with Team RWB and even had an RWB Buff, so I asked her about how/where she'd gotten it since I've wanted one for a while. It always makes me happy to make new friends during a race, and it is really my favorite thing about trail & ultra running. I have made so many friends out on trails. I ran with them until we got to the second aid station, where I finally got to stop to check on and take care of my shoe situation.

When we did get to the second aid station, Paul was there. I asked him for a band-aid, which he happily got for me and offered to help. I told him I was fine, I just needed to sit down, get my shoe off and fix whatever was going on with it. I sat down on the bumper of some one's truck and took my right shoe off. It still wasn't really hurting, so I was a little surprised to see a little blood on my sock. Glad I stopped, that would have definitely become a problem. If I already had blood just about 8 1/2-9 miles in, who knows what it would look like after 50k. I got my sock off, cleaned the spot a little and put the band-aid on. This resolved that issue for the rest of the race, so I was able to put that out of my mind. I thanked Paul and got back out on my way.

Picture taken by my buddy Jamie at
one of my favorite spots on the trail
I was back on the trail more-or-less solo, although there were a handful of people that I would pass and be passed by during the stretch from that station to the turn-around. I was just enjoying the scenery and letting the miles tick off. I was still feeling pretty strong and doing well. Finally we started to see some of the front runners on their way back (it was an out-and-back course), then go into the more technical portion of the trail. I really like the more technical section, although it is a little more effort, but much of it is along the river and I really like that kind of trail. I came upon one of my favorite spots on the trail, which kind of jets out right next to a bend in the river. The water in the river is so clear it looks like it has been filled with bottled water, and there are beautiful white sand dunes at bends, so this particular spot is very picturesque. Luckily for me, my friend Jamie was there and got a few pics of me, gave me some words of encouragement, and informed me that Brendan was looking good and doing well. I hadn't seen Brendan since the start since he is much faster than me, so I had been wondering about him. I was glad to hear all my friends that had come through before me were all doing well.

My Team RWB friends working the aid station
The further along I got, the more excited I was getting to see my Team RWB friends at the turn-around aid station. I was doing well and feeling good, but seeing my friends and my wife would give me a boost. Before I would get there, though, I would see my friend Lori (running her first ultra) and Brendan. Brendan confirmed what Jamie had said. He was looking and feeling strong and confident. I finally got to the aid station and was welcomed by friendly smiles and cheers. I grabbed some watermelon (I really love that during long runs/races), some Red Stripe, Kristy swapped out my Tailwind bottles for me, and I had a little water. I also chatted with them for a minute and we got a picture together. I also got my portable charger from Kristy, put it in the left shoulder pouch in my Orange Mud pack, hook the charger to my Garmin 610, and put the watch around that part of the pack. It sucks trying to keep it plugged in on your wrist, so I put it on my pack while it charges. As I was heading back to the trail, Laurel yelled at me to take lots of selfies, so I ran over to her and we took a goofy picture together (see the first picture at the top of the post).

Kim from the NWFL Trail Running group on her way
to the turn-around
I was very tired, but having a lot of fun, and seeing my friends really did give me a boost. I also knew I'd get to see lots of friends that were still on their way to the turn-around. Before too long, I did see Laura & Kim (together, of course), then Amy, then Megan. All were tired, but all were doing well and moving forward strong. It really made me smile and feel good to get to see so many friends. I tend to like point-to-point courses, but out-and-backs are definitely nice from the aspect of getting to see all of your friends along the way, whether they are with you, ahead of you, or behind you.

A different angle of my favorite spot I talked about earlier,
although it still doesn't capture the beauty of this spot
After I'd seen all of my friends, I hit a spot that proved to be very tough for me. My biggest trouble with ultras has always been how negative I get when it is in the latter half of the race, I'm tired, and I'm pretty much by myself. It was quite a few miles from the turn-around to an unmanned aid station, then several more before the first manned station on the way back. During that time, I saw the handful of runners that were behind me, then no one until right before the unmanned station where I saw a guy I've run with at the NWFL runs, then no one again until the manned aid station.

Still just trucking along, enjoying a gorgeous day
That really was an extremely challenging stretch for me. I got more and more negative with each lonely mile that ticked by. I really felt decent and should have been moving stronger, but my mind was causing me trouble. I decided that if I was going to move this slow, at least make the time productive. I started thinking about how I could make times like this better. I have a feeling much of my time at the 50 miler will be solo, so I better find a way to stay positive and keep moving during those times. I decided it was about time I go back to something I hadn't done in years. For my next long run, I would wear headphones and listen to an audiobook. Perhaps that would better keep my mind engaged during these lonely hours. For now, though, I had no headphones, so it was all about keeping my forward progress.

Goats next to the road during the short paved section at
the manned aid station
Although I was tired, struggling a little, and lonely, I really was feeling pretty decent. Ultras are a funny thing. Sure, going well beyond a marathon distance is a physical challenge, but it is even more of a mental and emotional challenge. Your biggest fear isn't your body quitting; it is your mind quitting. Once that happens, you are done. No matter how your body feels. This was the challenge I was now fighting. I got back to the aid station where Paul had helped me earlier and he was gone. Off to the finish line like a good RD! The young man that was working the station was very kind, encouraging and helpful. He really gave me a boost. I wish I knew who it was so I could tell him thanks.

Jamie offers me what I like, just at the wrong time
I was back out on the trail with about 8 1/2 - 9 miles to go. After a while, I came to a road crossing and standing there was Jamie. He hollered at me as I was getting closer, "BEER AND MOONPIES!!" I love beer. I love MoonPies. My first thought was how awesome a MoonPie would be, but then I decided against it because I thought it would dry out my mouth a little too much. My second thought was how awesome a beer sounded, but I didn't want to stop long enough to drink it at this point. I just thanked him and declined both offers. Looking back, I should have taken the MoonPie.

I was tired, but I was kind of goofing around with this photo
I continued on. Seriously. Such a beautiful place to run. I kept thinking to myself the whole time I was out there how lucky I am to live in this awesome place and have this gorgeous park near me. I'm so glad I moved to Florida. I was tired, and I was fighting negativity, but I was feeling better and more positive than I usually do in ultras. Overall, things were going okay. Not too long after I saw Jamie at the road crossing, I came to the last manned aid station with just a few miles to go. Jamie was there as well, and as I was getting some water and stretching out, he gave me some updates on how my various friends were doing. Some were doing great, some struggling. Kind of what you'd expect in an ultra. The one thing we all had in common was relentless forward progress.

The final stretch of trail
Right after that aid station is a decent length paved uphill. Normally, this wouldn't seem like much of a hill, but with just a few miles left to go in a 50k, it seemed like going up Mt. Everest. I walked it. I wasn't so much begging to get finished as I was begging to get back into the beautiful trees. As I was heading up the road, I could hear people behind me. I kept moving and eventually Amy and three other folks passed me. She said they were doing 1 min run - 1 min walk intervals the rest of the way and she wanted me to join her. I did for a few intervals, but I was struggling too much when the run intervals had me going uphill, so I just dropped back off and would finish solo.

Coming up the final hill. Kristy was
shooting from the top, so this
is a much bigger hill than it looks
Finally, I came to the final turn to go up the road that would take me to the finish and I saw Kristy with her camera, and Brendan with his finisher's medal. I started to run up the hill, excited to get to the top to congratulate Brendan. This is a fairly steep hill. As Brendan would later say, "I can't believe that even in flat Florida, race directors still ALWAYS find a way to put a massive uphill right before the finish." It's true. Race directors are evil. I got to the top of the hill, congratulated Brendan, and made the turn to the parking lot and finish line. I was happy to be finished, and happy to get off my feet. It really was an awesome trail, a great event, and a beautiful day. I wouldn't trade it for anything. That said, I was tired! I crossed the finish, got my medal, and went over to the benches not far from the finish line to sit down. Kristy & Brendan made their way over and we talked about how he had done, how I had done, and how Kristy's aid station had gone. I was proud of Brendan. It ended up being a fairly heavy 50k, yet he had still finished in 6:59. Pretty awesome, especially for his first ultra. Lori had also finished strong and with a very good time. Our friends from the Team RWB station had left, but four folks had requested high-fives for me, so Kristy gave me all four high fives, while Brendan took pictures as evidence that the requests had been complied with.

Tired, but finished
Overall, I had finished 34.68 miles in 8:02:06 (13:54 avg pace). Click here for my Garmin data. Perfectly acceptable given what my goals for the day were. I felt like I had pretty much accomplished everything I wanted to. It was a great day, indeed. The race was well managed, and I would highly recommend it. I will most likely run it again next year. As I caught up with friends that were already done, and more finished, it was nice to hear how people had done. It was really great having about 4 or 5 friends complete their first ultras. I'm so proud of every one of them. 26.2 is hard enough, but going 5 miles beyond that (although physically not much different) is a much bigger mental challenge.

Some of the Northwest Florida Trail Running group that
either ran, or supported at the race
I had a few lessons to take away from this to move forward into my first 50 miler four weeks after this race, and my first 100k attempt this coming December. Tailwind seems to work better for me when mixed at 300 cal (3 scoops) per 24 oz of water, rather than the 2 scoops they recommend. I've never been good at eating solids or gels during runs, though, so Tailwind is great for me. I'm finally able to get in some calories, and it helps with my electrolytes at the same time. Using my camera is an excellent way to keep myself from going too fast and keeping my mind interested. I'm not sure how I even did ultras before I found the Orange Mud hydration pack. The new pair of my shoes (which the old pair had been one of my favorite shoes ever) are not even close to as good as the old ones. Bring music and/or audiobooks (which means buy an mp3 player) for long races when I am likely to spend a lot of time solo.

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