January 29th, 2012
Sandy Neck Beach, Barnstable Massachusetts
Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass 50k
And off we went, with the ocean to our right and the masses picking the best line of attack, the race was under way. I heard many different takes going into this race on where to run. Some would say up top near the dunes, others mentioned the hard pack near the water's edge. I decided to stay in-between those two lanes for the first few miles. As the pack thinned out, I noticed past champ and CR holder, Greg Stone, riding the dunes on the left and ultra star Adam Wilcox edging closer to the middle, where some hard pack sand and rock fields were located. I figured Greg must know what he is doing, so I went up there, found the sand to be loose and hard to run in and slowly made my way back down to Adam's line.
The pack thinned some more and I passed a few people, slowing edging my way up to fifth place. I wasn't sure if everyone in-front was running the full 50k (there was a 25k option), so I just assumed they all would be. With Greg out of sight (damn he is quick for 53 years old!!!), I had a group of three about 50 yards ahead of me as we turned off the beach and behind the dunes onto the marsh trail.
On this particular stretch, the sand was hard packed for most of mileage on it before returning to the beach we had run on via a road crossing and stairwell leading back to the beachfront. Here we would retrace our steps and head back to the parking lot. The three gents were still up ahead and seemed to be gaining ground. I figured at this point, I'm not even out of the first loop (5 miles) and need to relax and run my race and not theirs (this has been a challenge for me in the past).
As I finished the loop and headed up towards the car/aid station, I noticed one guy (who was running with his dog) had stopped and asked me if he had seen his dog in awhile. I said "no" and think he may have dropped at that point to go find his dog. Another guy in the three man group had trouble getting into his car (later found out this would another "Justin"), so I quickly shed some layers, filled my water and headed out into the second loop (10 miles) in third place.
The 10-mile loop started on a bike path for a few tenths, hung a quick left onto the marsh trail and meandered its way past some beach homes and yes, marshes. This trail would be the death of me, and maybe all the other participants as well. There were spots on this trail (many spots I might add!) that the sand was so soft to run in that it felt like you weren't really moving at all. I'm talking about me running at my max capacity and not moving a damn foot. This would be quite aggravating on the second loop.
Mid-way through the marsh trail, Justin, who had trouble getting into his car, caught up and we enjoyed the rest of the trail (which towards the end seemed to have a more runnable appeal to it aside from a few dunes to slog over...). We had a good conversation on footwear, and our likes and dislikes on the whole minimalistic approach. I mentioned I was an ambassador for Tecnica and advised him on the specs of my favorite, the Diablo Max M's. Again, these babies kept my feet from getting any blisters or hot spots and rode me into the finish with plenty left in the tank.
As we hit "trail 5", which was the trail that would bring us back to beach, we were in full stride and took advantage of the hard packed sand that the trail would offer us. We hit one last dune that slowed us a bit and then "boom" the ocean was right in our face. Along with the water and a beautiful view, came the wind. It was blowing quite hard at this point and we decided to take turns drafting off each other. Just then a racer seemed to appear out of know where. It was Julian Jameson, a runner who had run the 100 Mile Wilderness up in Maine last August. He has a solid resume with two Hardrock finishes to boot (and third on the way this summer). Julian is about 6'6" (my guess...I'll just say very tall compared to me) and he cut the wind completely out for me. After a few miles, Justin got dropped and it was just Julian and I taking turns cutting the wind down. This tactic worked extremely well as we both hit the packing lot in about 2:10 (for 15 miles total).
I felt pretty good at this point and wanted to see how I felt on the second time through the 5 mile loop. If I was hurting, I thought I might just call it a day. Without Julian (he called it a day after 25k), It was just me to set the pace and slog along the beach solo style. On the second go-around, there were many more footprints from all the other racers. I thought this would be a good thing, packing down the sand more, but it was actually a tougher. I tried to avoid them at all cost, finding unbroken sand, as to not slip and slide around the the sand "postholes". As I rounded the dunes onto the marsh trail, I quickly peered back and saw a few racers in the distance. Not knowing who they were, I didn't want to waste anytime and quickly picked up the pace on the runnable sections.
I hit the stairwell, then the beachfront and began to see others going out for the second loop. It was nice to see friendly faces having so much fun on the beach (looks can be deceiving though...I know they were in pain because I sure was!!). The soft sand was taking its toll and I knew the tough back stretch on the marsh trail for the second loop would be my nemesis.
With a quick stop at my car (aid station), I headed back out to conquer this beast. Going through it once with only 6 or so miles on my legs was taxing enough. Now I had over 20 miles on em and new it would or could be a death march.
I was right. I felt like I wasn't even moving. At times I felt like I was running like a duck (toes splayed out to the sides) because it felt like I was actually moving faster when I did this (?) I kept thinking that my lead my decreasing and that someone would come charging by me at any point now. I some how got lucky and nobody came.
As I round the bend leading onto the last 5 miles of beach running I remember some advice that Norm Sheppard had given me. He said "on that last 5 miles stretch...don't pick up your head. You don't want to look up and disappoint yourself." Damn he was right (and I should have listened!). I tired to find the best terrain to run in, going from the hard packed sand to the fresh jeeps tracks and then to some old jeep tracks. Nothing seemed to really help me out. I wasn't moving fast and was really starting to want this race to be over. I looked back to see the competition was doing and I didn't see anyone in awhile. I figured with second place wrapped up, all I needed to do was run consistently (albeit sloooowly) to the finish. And that I did.
This was the toughest 50k I have completed to date. I know now that running in the sand 1) sucks 2) really sucks and 3) will make you a tougher runner (think gritty) if you do it often.
A huge thanks to the Cape Cod Ultra Society for putting on this gem on the beach. Great volunteers and really good soup afterwards. Thanks to Tecnica for the footwear once again and to my new supporter, New England Backpacker for my gear and nutrition
Splits: first 5 mile loop - 41:26
first 10 mile loop - 2:10 (1:29 min)
second 5 mile loop - 2:58 (48 min)
second 10 mile loop - 4:37 (1:39 min)