Friday, April 22, 2011

Winona Lake 50 mile, Indiana

I had some qualms about running Winona Lake 50 mile. I had heard from a couple of very accomplished runners that it was a dangerous course. They said it was nothing but roots, rocks, mud and tons of switchbacks. They did not like it at all, and warned me to be careful. It was a 10+ mile loop course, the 50 mile race would actually be 51 miles. The race started at 2:45pm so finishing would be after dark. I always struggle to see in the dark and was a little scared about doing it on a technical course. Looking at last years results I saw it took Connie Gardener 9:19 to finish, which made me think it would be fairly challenging.

I had not raced anything yet this year and it was time to do a 50 miler. Winona Lake 50 was offering 125.00 for first female, 75.00 for second, and 50.00 for third. I felt I was running very well and might have a shot. I figured I would just forget about my fears for the course and go for it.

Race morning I tried to sleep in as long as possible but my internal clock had me up at 7am. I rested in bed as long as I could then got up and went for breakfast at Bob Evans. I ate 2 biscuits and drank a bunch of coffee. Then drove to the race start.

Planet Adventure was putting on the Winona Lake Ultra. It was part of a weekend of overall fitness. They had several Mountain bike races going on before the ultra started. The Village of Winona Lake was charming. It had a bunch of cute shops along the Lake. I thought I would like to stop after the race for some ice-cream at the Hoosier Mamma Ice Cream parlor. Too bad I would be finishing in the middle of the night.

Driving into the park I was very excited. The trails looked awesome! I was very impressed by the mountain bikers. I’m just amazed they are able to maneuver on those bikes through the tough trails. I have a lot of respect for the mountain bikers as athletes.

The park was only a couple miles from my hotel room so I went back to rest until the race began. I had my clothes laid out and my race fuel ready. The course had aid stations at mile 3.2, 5.4 and 6.8 then back at the start -finish line you passed on each loop. I had Cliff bars, Caffe Latte Perpetuem, Edurolytes and mint chocolate Gu’s.

It was our first HOT day of the year, over 70. Which I knew would feel really warm. I put on my sports bra and shorts to start the race. I had a lightweight-racing Tee to wear at night. I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 268s. I arrived at the race start about 1:30. The large parking lot was full of cars and people. The music was cranking to some great 80’s tunes, it was a very exciting atmosphere. The RD said over the loud speaker, “ a prize for the first person to come up tell me who sings this song” My friend won that race…it was Quiet Riot. He won a water bottle.

Soon the Race Director called us all to the start line. It was a pretty good crowd of people. They had a few races going on 10, 30 and 50 milers plus relay teams. He was sending us off staggered with the 50 milers going last. I would say about 30 of us were left when the 50-mile race started.

We all took off…my goal was to not go out to fast. I knew the heat was going to get to us, especially since we were starting at the hottest time of the day. I had two females in front of me from the start. I thought back to my run with Sarah Jurgaitis the weekend before, she had said “ I like to start out slow and gradually get faster and faster” I kept that wisdom in my thoughts as I let the them pull away from me.

I totally enjoyed the course. I found the switch backs a blast, I’ve never seen so many. Tons of roots! But I liked those too. It had lots of fun hills and some open grassy areas. It was a beautiful scenic course that was impossible to get bored on! You had to constantly think about your footing and I completely loved all the little twist and turns.

I love running downhill. I’m fearless and can fly down a technical hill with out putting forth much energy. One of the fun ones on this course was called “Dead mans Curve” I didn’t see the WARNING sign and came flying down this root filled steep down hill when the trail just seamed to disappear…ugh… luckily I spotted the very sharp right turn just in time, and missed running over the edge to a big drop off. Woo! Hoo!!!…I was loving this course!

Before I knew it I was finished with loop one in 1:52:41. That was a little faster than I thought it would be but my heart rate was low for the entire loop so I felt I wasn’t running to fast. I still decided I should slow down a bit for the next loop. I wanted to run an even paced race and I didn’t have intentions of running a sub 10-hour race on this course. Logically I thought, I better save my energy and slow it down.

My next loop went great. I made an effort to slow down. I have to admit, a small voice in my head was also telling me to stay fast because when the sun went down I was going to slow down from not being able to see well. At the mile 5.4 (of the second 10 mile loop) aid station I saw the 1st place female. She was at mile 6.8 (or 16.8). We shared an aid station at this point. She looked like the heat was getting to her. I figured I would catch her because I was feeling freaking AWESOME! I ended up passing her before the end of that lap. I finished that lap with a time of 2:00:01.

I grabbed my headlamp and fuel needs to head out for my 3rd lap. The start-finish line had music cranking and I was feeling insanely great! I was 100% confident I could have held that pace for the next three laps if it was daylight. This made me feel really good about my training. Since it was going to get dark on this lap though I knew I would slow down, but from darkness, not fatigue. I finished the 3rd lap with a time of 2:09:21.

I headed out on my 4th lap in the pitch dark. I was very careful to pick my feet up. I had to slow down considerably. Some of the hills I could run up and down during the day I walked at night. With an abundance of roots and tree stumps in the middle of the trail I wasn’t going to take any chances on falling. I was thinking about Connie Gardener on this lap. I was running by myself and feeling strong. I pictured her on the same course one year earlier and I felt as strong as her. I was on cruise control gliding through the trails at night. Enjoying the wonderful sounds of the night. Before I knew it I was done with that lap in 2:17:25.

I had no fatigue. I was so comfortable it was insane. I had fueled the entire race on perpetuem and Gu’s. I took 2 Endurolytes every 5 miles. I filled my water bottle, grabbed my fuel and left for my 5th and final lap. I had lapped the 2nd place female earlier so I knew I shouldn't have to worry about getting passed. I just put it into cruise control and ran the course as it directed me to do. Run the flats, walk the steep hills, be careful through the technical areas. I clipped through the trails feeling strong and happy. The miles continued to fly by until I was already at the finish line. I heard my friends yell, “Come on girl, run it in, your almost done!” I kicked it into high gear and came running into the finish line! The race director handed me my 1st place trophy and check. They congratulated me on a very even paced race. I was so happy to find out my last lap was the same as my 4th…BAM!!! Training was working! I’m really psyched for my next race! Kettle 100K baby!!!!!

Side note- It took me 4 nights of sleeping after the race to not dream about running on a root filled trail! I kept waking myself up in a sudden jerk thinking I was falling! During the actual race I hit my toes a few times but I did not fall once!

Race morning when I went out to check out the course we saw a 5k along the lake getting ready to start. They had a registration table set up and not a huge crowd. I joked with my friend we should stop because we might have a shot at winning our Age Group. We still had time to rest up then run the 50 tonight. Great idea but I didn’t figure my running Coach would be impressed with my thought process.


  1. Great race report Michele. Congrats on your win on a tough course. Got to love those MTB single tracks. I did a race last year that was held along with MTB race (WORS) but it was only a 5k but a blast.

  2. Congrats on a tremendous run. Great write up and I love the info you include in it. I like reading about fuels you used and your approach to running. Great job again thanks.

  3. Thank you so much Eric. I had a great time!
    I've struggled with fueling in the past. I've been practicing my fueling during my training runs. I'm really happy with how well it worked for me.

  4. Ian, I wouldn't say only a 5k. I think 5k's are tough! Which one did you do?

  5. WORS Crystal Ridge in Franklin WI a burb of Milwaukee. They had a 5k and 10k followed by full day of MTB races and it was sponsored by Alterra Coffee which was supplied free all day. I did the 5k as I didn't want MTBers nipping at my heels but it was the toughest 5k ever, then again all my previous 5ks were roads years ago. Hope to be back to WORS this year. Great MTB races even when just watching

  6. Love it! Your description was right on and took me right back there, I loved the course, ran 20 miles of Winona on a relay Team, (my buddy Mark ran 30) thanks to him we took first place. I’m looking for a couple 50k’s this summer to get ready for The North Face Endurance Challenge Sept. 17 -18 Madison WI. Which I will run the 50 miler. Yeaaah!