March 22nd, 2019
Potawatomi 50 Miler 2013
Saturday April 6th, 2013
The Potawatomi Trail Runs were held April 5th-7th at McNaughton Park in Pekin, IL. They have a 30 mile fun run at night, a 50 miler, 100 miler, 150 miler and the occasional unofficial 200 miler. The course was mostly trail, lots of dirt, some grass and consisted of 10 mile loops. I was signed up to run my second 50 miler and first ultra of the year.
The 150 mile runners started on Friday at noon and were still out there running in the dark when the 50 and 100 milers started our race at 6am Saturday morning. After a little pep talk from Eric Skocaj, one of the RDs, we were off. The first thing I noticed was that the entire course was extremely well marked between the flags in the ground, the ribbons hanging in the trees, and the white paint sprayed on the ground with arrows or X’s. It would have been very hard to get lost. I also noticed little plates with sayings on them posted throughout the course. I wouldn’t get to read them till the sun was up, but once I could they became both a source of amusement and at certain points would also cause small fits of rage (more on that later!)
The second major thing I noticed (and was warned about) were the hills….oh the hills! They seemed to be everywhere; looking back I think there were only a handful of spots on the course where there were any open, flat areas. The first hill you really notice is the steep Golf Hill (named because it was adjacent to a golf course) which had a rope you could use to pull yourself up if needed. I avoided that thing at all costs; I think I even kicked it away at one point. I think I enjoyed the steepness just because it gave me an opportunity to crawl a little. With all the hills come all the downs which have always been and still are my weakness. I just always seem to power up hills, but have no idea how to properly run down them. The evidence of this is in the fact that I have about 4 blackened toe nails from my toes slamming into the front of my shoes (this is probably due to my Hokas being pretty loose too). I try to stay loose and relaxed on the down hills, but am always afraid of a misstep or a rolled ankle….
My usual strategy for a race is to start out conservatively, making sure I don’t blow up in the beginning so I have something left for the end of the run. This time it crossed my mind to try and push it a little at the beginning because really, if I’m gonna start slow and end up slower, what fun would that be? Plus, I always read about people on the ultra list who recommend giving it your all, ending with nothing left in the tank at the finish line and I can honestly say I’ve only done that once, in a marathon I ran a few years ago….
Well, my first lap flew by as the sun slowly started coming up. It seems like I was caught up with the crowd and completed it in 2:04, way too fast (this seemed to be a general theme among a lot of the runners in the early going)! I didn’t spend too much time sitting around after the first loop and got right back out there. About halfway through the loop right after the Heaven’s Gate aid station the first doubts about what I was doing were starting to set in. I was feeling terrible, knowing I went out too fast. For the first time in a race DNF crept into my mind and I started thinking I would be ok with that. Practically everyone has a DNF at some point right? This could be mine. All this going on in my head 15 MILES into the race!!! Sad, but true. (What also didn’t help was that this aid station had a smoldering camp fire and that smell to me will forever be associated with many camping trips with buddies, drinking heavily, waking up the next morning hung over and reeking of that smoldering camp fire smell) Well, I thought maybe things would get better if I could just make it to the end of the loop. There was an unmanned aid station at the 7.3 mile point (at least that’s what the plate said that was posted there) so when I got there I thought “Awesome, only a couple more to go”. That damn sign turned out to be about a mile and a half off. It was probably more like the 6 mile point.
Needless to say I made it to the end of the loop, time 2:09….so much for slowing down. I sat down and was talking to my crew (my mom and girlfriend) telling them how tired I was and how I needed to slow down. At this point the other RD, Rich Skocaj came over and asked if everything was ok. I don’t really remember how the conversation went, but I must have mentioned cheeseburgers, because the next thing I know he handed me one…what a lifesaver!!! After that I chugged half a can of Starbucks Doubleshot and slowly made my way out for loop #3.
The next 3 loops were pretty uneventful, there were 3 creek crossings each loop and two of them were pretty easy in avoiding getting wet. The first one you came across was avoidable as I was told there was a way to cross without getting wet, but I never saw it, plus for the first few laps the cold water (just about ankle deep) felt refreshing. During my 4th loop the wetness of my shoes and socks started to bother me, but I figured with only about 15 miles to go I really shouldn’t worry about it at this point. I could feel hot spots developing all over my feet, I had decent sized blisters on each of my heels, and the continuous pounding of the hills were beating up my toes. At this point I was doing the old, “Just run it aid station to aid station”.
About a mile into my last loop I met up with my crew (the course looped around near the start/finish) who brought me a grilled cheese. I slowly ate it as I walked and then was off. During that last loop as I past certain signs, aid stations and points on the course it really helped to say to myself that it would be the last time I’d see that or run here. All I was trying to do at that point was minimize the pain in my feet and finish. It felt like I was running on hot coals because with every step it was “ooh”, “ah”, and “oww”. The up hills were hurting the blisters on my heels and the down hills were killing my toes. Well, I eventually came to the frisbee golf portion of the loop which was the last half mile or so of the course. All morning long this section was empty as I had noticed a sign earlier noting that the course would be closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Well, now it seemed like college kids were everywhere playing. I thought to myself how great it would be on top of the pain in my feet, just to get beaned in the head with a frisbee right before I finish! Well, I came out unscathed and ended up crossing the finish line in 13:05.
Overall, I’d say it was a great experience, going from thinking DNF to coasting across the finish line with beat up feet. The course was excellent and marked great. The RD’s were personable, friendly and helpful. The aid stations and volunteers were amazing. The best part of the whole thing was that there were so many of my running friends there from the New Leaf group that I got to spend time with some of them on every loop. It was amazing to see some of them complete 150 miles, some completed 100 miles (Congrats to those few that finished their first hundo!!!) and some completing their first 50s. What a tough course to complete any kind of firsts! I definitely hope to be back next year.
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April 12th, 2013 1:50 pm
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