Nick Lewis, one of our newest team members, crushes 50-milers. Here’s the latest piece of evidence, as told by Nick! Photo provided courtesy of arkansasoutside.com.
For three of the last four years the third weekend in April has landed me in Little Rock, Arkansas for the Ouachita (pronounced ‘watch-it-ta’) 50 miler. In 2009 it was my first 50 mile trail race and quite the learning experience.
Luckily, in 2011 I was able to take a bit more experience to the table and broke the course record despite pretty rough course conditions. This year’s race was incredible. The weather was perfect, the course was almost entirely dry and the field was fast.
Heading into the race, I really wanted to crack 7 hours. After 3 Days of Syllamo last month, I took a long time to recover and was focusing a bit more on shorter, faster runs with the hopes that the base I had leading up to 3 Days would carry over a bit. A friend of mine, Matt Pruitt, registered for the 50k (his first) with the intention of going after John Muir’s course record (a realistic goal for him, after breaking the Sylamore 25k CR in February).
We decided to work together until he hit the Northshore aid station (his turnaround). That meant we would be going fast for my race, relatively relaxed for his, we would have each other as company (aww how cute, right?) and, with the exception of two occasions I can think of off the top of my head, he would get the sweetest lines on the course (especially up Pinnacle).
Race morning came, the weather was goregous, Chrissy started the race exactly on-time per usual, and the pace early on was zesty. Matt, R/C teammate Owen Bradley and I were off-the-front in our own little pack pretty quick. Owen asked how long the road section was and, when I replied “2.7 miles…but it feels like 10 coming back,” he took off on up the road. I looked down to see 6:40 for the first mile and I was pretty content with sitting back where we were.
After the relatively technical descent from the Pinnacle Visitor’s Center to the East Parking Lot, the race really gets fun. For those of you who have not experienced climbing up the East side of Pinnacle, it is just shy of needing some chalk and a spotter in some places. Matt tucked in behind me and we went to work on the line I have taken so many times before and we caught Owen about two-thirds of the way up. Fortunately, I had dropped my bottle at the bottom (you loop back around to it) because there was a ton of litter that I was able to collect and the photographer at the top kindly took it off my hands before the descent (the funnest part of the race).
Things really settled down and a firm rhythm was established once we hit the bottom, Matt caught up to me and we got on the Ouachita Trail. It is the perfect mix of rolling/technical/wide open to keep you on your toes as the trail meanders along the northern edge of Lake Maumelle. Matt and I cruised along and were pretty much exactly where he wanted to be/I was comfortable with considering the added distance I had to tackle. At one point just before the Northshore aid station (the 50k turnaround) I stopped to fill up a bottle and Matt shot ahead down the trail and I ran solo the rest of the day.
I hit the Highway 10 turnaround somewhere around 20 minutes faster than I did last year, about what I expected and pretty close to where I wanted to be to give that 7 hour mark a shot. With the race going up and over Pinnacle on the way out but not on the way back, the turn is actually just over 26 miles, so it is especially reassuring that the big time consumer is out of the way and it is (relatively) smooth sailing from there. Despite relaxing a good bit in the six or eight miles before the turn around, I was still rolling along strong and kept that momentum going after Highway 10. It wasn’t until I took a gel at about 5.5 hours and it refluxed on me that I slowed down.
The last thing you want happening in a race is uncontrolled vomiting, so I backed way off and tried to take some water, which went just as well as the gel. With a tough decision on my hands considering the circumstances, I decided to skip eating and see if my stomach would settle down. I had a ShotBlok in my pocket that I nibbled on and in the last hour-and-a-half I managed to eat about one-third of it, that was all. That slowed things down a lot. I had to walk quite a few of the climbs both because I was cramping from caloric/sodium debt and flipped the switch to finish/survival mode.
As expected, hitting the road with 2.7 miles to go was a rude awakening but by the bottom of the first hill I was able to get into a decent rhythm and carry that on into the finish – in 7:06:04 – 20 minutes under my course record from last year.
If anyone is looking for a great 50 miler in the spring that is well-organized and VERY well-marked, Chrissy and Stan put on a great race over in Little Rock and you should definitely put it on your race calendar!