I still remember the nervous energy bubbling out of me when I lined up for my first 50-mile race at Surf the Murph. I had no idea what to expect and would soon be running into uncharted territory. In the two years since, I’ve tackled this distance and those beyond with increasing regularity. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being nervous about the distance and learned to simply embrace the day and enjoy the miles, much like I do for most marathons and 50K races. I am beginning to realize that this can be both a blessing and a curse!
On the one hand, I’m very relaxed leading up to the race and don’t make any significant adjustments to my training. This means consistency can remain in place leading up to the race, which is always a plus for a busy schedule. That being said, I did try to taper somewhat the week leading up to the race, and I kept my weekday mileage relatively low and easy. This had as much to do with the necessity of recovery after 35 miles at Market to Market the weekend before, however. The danger in this relaxed state is complacency and the risk of loosing perspective on the significance of such a race. Luckily, my tendency to over prepare for most things means I’m not likely to become complacent and that was certainly the case with the Dirty German 50-Miler, which I made sure to give the respect it deserved.
This was my first PA race and meant crossing another state off of my 50 States quest, which was exciting. It was also a rather unique race in that it was a trail race completely within the city of Philadelphia, which was pretty exciting! The beautiful epicurean was out-of-town, working and playing hard at a conference in Montreal, which meant I was on my own for this one. I tried my best to get to bed relatively early on Saturday night, but I always seem to find it more of a challenge to get quality sleep when I’m on my own, even if it was a treat to be able to once again sleep in my own bed the night before a race.
The race was part of the Dirty German Endurance Fest, which included 25K, 50K, and 50 mile distances, all within the wooded confines of Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. I woke up around 5AM, and was on the road by 5:45 for the hour drive up to Philly. I was able to pick up my packet the morning of the race, and I arrived a bit before 7AM, in plenty of time for the 7:30 start. The course was three loops of 16.67 miles, mainly on rolling single-track, with some paved and gravel sections woven in throughout the park. As promised, the course itself was certainly not technical, or extremely hilly, which in some ways made it that much more dangerous because there were no obvious points where walking/power-hiking made sense. The result was some fast times in all three distances.
The weather was relatively cool and overcast for most of the day (as it had been for weeks, it seemed), and the trails were in great shape despite a fair about of precipitation this spring. I took off, along with the rest of the 122 person field, at a comfortable but mildly aggressive pace. I was doing my best to be conscious of not going out too fast, which, as you all know, is no easy task for me. I’d say that I actually did pretty good on the first loop, considering the simplicity of the course. There were a few decent climbs, and some smaller hills to push through, but the majority of the course was smooth, rolling, and lush with greenery thanks to the new spring foliage.
The aid stations were well placed, popping up every 3-4 miles, and staffed with energetic and supportive volunteers. The course was well-marked and I had no trouble finding my way through the rollercoaster trails that made up this urban park. I was fueling well, managing my pace and overall feeling great when I came through the first loop in 2:33. I kept on running, knowing that there was an aid station just up ahead as I began the second loop. I topped off my water bottles, drank some Coke and ate some pretzels, and was on my way.
At some point relatively early on in the second loop, things began to go mildly sideways. My pace slowed as I realized I was still moving a bit faster than I could maintain over 50 miles, and I began to let a few more negative thoughts creep in. Mental toughness has always been my strength, and I knew in the back of my mind that I could push through and overcome my doubts, but that didn’t stop the DNF gremlins from sneaking in and setting up camp on my shoulders. I knew I could drop down to the 50K without any issue, and I knew that would mean getting home a bit sooner, getting a bit more rest, spending more time with the critters, and probably getting some more grading done since the end of the semester was only two days away. Needless to say, I came up with plenty of reasons to finish the second loop and call it a day.
However, each time my mind went to a darker place, I went through a mental checklist of my body and my running, and recognized that I was still feeling good, I was hydrating well and taking in plenty of nutrition, and my legs had plenty of miles left in them. This mental checklist made all the difference, especially since I probably went through it 4 or 5 times over the course of the 16.67 mile loop. I was plenty comfortable with the route by now, so I was able to let my mind check out in some sections as well, which was made a bit easier due to the lack of technical terrain. I came up on the finish area at the end of the loop, sprinted through, and hit the third loop hard.
As soon as I refueled at the first aid station, took an S-cap and some Coke, and remembered I was now on the third loop, my mood instantly changed. I was much more alert, attentive to my surroundings, and able to take in the beauty around me. I’ve been consistently excited over the past year by the sheer number of state parks and trails I now have access too, and I was pleased to add Pennypack Park to my quiver. Despite passing under numerous overpasses, and seeing signs of urban debris that I wouldn’t necessarily see in other parks, I still thoroughly enjoyed the route and the opportunity to explore yet another new trail system. I ticked off the miles with relative ease, made sure to thank the aid station volunteers for their time and commitment, and flew through the third loop with ease.
I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to my time after the first loop, which was probably for the best. However, when I crossed the finish line in 8:49, it occurred to me pretty quickly that I wasn’t too far off a PR, and I probably could have hit it had I pushed a bit harder. However, I felt great, had a smile on my face, and was ultimately quite pleased with a great day of running! I stuck around for a bit to enjoy the atmosphere, cheer on other finishers, and soak in the whole experience. The excitement of everyone around me and the energy being exuded was yet another reminder of just why I love the trail and ultra-running community so much. I don’t need a space blanket, staged finishers photos, or a tent city full of promotional products. Just give me the smiles, genuine happiness, and a cold beer at the end and I’m set. Incidentally, there was no beer to be found at the end of the race, which was a bit surprising considering the German theme. Perhaps it was a City of Philadelphia issue? Oh well, I enjoyed my own beer and pizza when I got home, and made sure to use my bottle opener finishers medal. It was up to the task of #chasing42, and so was I!