Stewart Tunnel 50k

By: Pam Champlain

“Fortune favors the bold.” That is the thought I brought with me to the start line on race morning. If we want to get technical, I PR’ed by over 2 hours at the Stewart Tunnel 50k. I also knew going into the race that there was a great chance of a PR on this course due to its relative ease when compared to the Finger Lakes 50k course. I didn’t think it would be a cake walk and I can’t imagine ever considering running 30+ miles to be an easy feat. What mattered was that I felt like I didn’t repeat some of the training mistakes I made last year. I didn’t have as solid a training cycle, missed a couple longer runs, but Nora was certain that I would finish in 8 hours. I just wanted to scoot under 10 so as to feel a bit redeemed from last year. As one would hope of their coach, Nora knew what she was talking about.

I highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a great first 50k (or 50 mile, 100k, 100 mile…). I would certainly run it again. The course itself is flat, mostly packed dirt, and beautiful. The aid stations were plentiful, well stocked, and full of amazing volunteers. The weather conditions were a pleasant change from the swelter of North Carolina. Temps started in the 60s and rose to the low 80s, but low humidity. The course had large chunks of shaded area so when the sun was high you weren’t exposed for long. I didn’t think the weather had any impact on my performance, if anything it was a help. Overall the course has lots of trees lining the trail, gorgeous farm land, and of course, a tunnel.

I still have a lot to learn about the 50k distance. I am frustrated that my road marathon times do not come close to translating to the trails. This is not to say that I didn’t expect to be slower on the trails, just not by several hours. I need to figure out what is missing in my training that causes my legs to reach a certain mileage and then crap out on me for the rest of the race. I haven’t experienced this type of fatigue in road running so it is confounding me at the moment, but I have a great team that will help me work it out. What was a bit of a surprise issue for me was my back. The middle area of my back, mostly on the right, got tight and sore after the halfway point and impacted my ability to run for long stretches. I can only assume that I was carrying myself poorly, although it was not an issue during any of my training runs. A bit confounding.

I made great strides on the nutrition front this time, having learned from last year’s training and racing. I ate more and ate more often, thanks in part to Nora momming me on the course. She kept handing me things and I kept sticking them in my mouth (TWSS). If I can provide one piece of advice on ultra nutrition, it is this: do not wait to eat until you are hungry. You will be fucked. Start eating as early as you can with as much as you can stomach. You will reach a point later in the race when nothing sounds good and you might not be able to eat, so you will be relying on the calories fuel you hoarded earlier on. I paid the price dearly last year and I didn’t want a repeat of that. Thanks to Nora and the other amazing aid station captains, I had all the food I could stand to eat. Favorites this year included mini pizza rolls and a melty popsicle.

PRs are a funny thing. I don’t want to take anything away from what I accomplished in Wisconsin but it isn’t really a fair comparison to last year’s race in New York. I think this is one of those things unique to trail and ultrarunning, with courses varying so much in terrain and elevation that it is hard to claim a PR over a given distance. I am still over the moon with how I did and I have not encountered the post race depression that came over me last year. I feel like I am capable of a lot more at the 50k distance and I’m already contemplating races for 2019. If you have a recommendation please let me know. For now I’m switching gears and looking at a road half in November or December.

Would I do anything differently next time? By this time next year I hope I am not still working two jobs and cramming training. I do not recommend this if you have the option to avoid it. I knew it would be hard, but it was Hard. I didn’t have the same recovery time available after my long runs and I didn’t get the same amount of sleep before my long runs, both of which are, to me, critical to training success. Weekend runs had alarms as early as 4 am followed by 8 hours shifts on my feet. My legs definitely took a beating and I’m hesitant to say that it was all just good time on my feet.
I know this didn’t read as a typical race report but a play by play of the miles just didn’t seem necessary here. Before I wrap up, a few thanks are in order. First, to Ray. To whom I will be nice for 30 seconds. Thank you for finding this race and convincing me to do it. Sharing the training woes from a state away was a challenge but it was also really great knowing I wasn’t going at it alone this time. It was awesome to share this entire experience with a dear friend and seeing you on the course really gave me the energy to keep going. You crushed it and I hope you’re proud of yourself.

To Beth, for being the best sherpa/spectator/cheerleader/hammock hanger. I’m so grateful you were there this weekend and having you run me in to the finish meant the world to me. Hunter, thank you for wading into the crazy world of dating a distance runner. It took a sacrifice on your part to get me to the start line, and I am so grateful to have your support. To Sarah, Becky, Rose, and Caitlin, thank you for all the miles. We might have done 1 run together this cycle, or we might have done 20, but they were all important to me. Training can feel isolating but when friends show up to share the miles you feel a little less alone.

To Nora. I am writing this three weeks after the race and I’m still struggling to find all the words. In addition to providing countless hours of coaching, you responded to all manner of emotional text messages and generally went above and beyond to get me through this race. You opened your home to me for an entire weekend, for which I was so grateful. Any nerves I had were immediately gone with that first hug! You are a force and a fierce friend. Finally meeting you in person merely solidified the knowledge that I made the right choice to train with you. Thank you seems woefully inadequate. Know that I am forever grateful for everything you do for your athletes. Kiss Roubaix for me.

Pam Champlain

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