It’s hard to believe a race that held such little weight could have gone so well. I didn’t taper, unless you count only doing a single 4 mile run the day before, yet somehow managed to feel 110% from the gun to the tape. I did however have a good feeling about the race based on how my legs felt during the week leading up to the race, so I was confident I could run under the 4 hrs 12 min that was the original Nifty Fifty course record.
Race Build Up
By Friday afternoon when I landed in Juneau I had around 50 miles for the week, with about 8 of those being quality. After a solid track session ladder workout Monday afternoon I took Tuesday afternoon easy, putting in 8 miles and some elevation gain during an easy run/hike with a friend. Wednesday and Thursday were 10 and 8 mile runs at easy run pace and Friday was a single 4 mile run with my typical 3x2min session. Throughout all of these workouts my legs felt pretty damn good. The ladder session is typically done between 4:40 and 5:20 pace depending on the length of the segment and I was right on my paces for each of them. Friday’s workout felt easy, even though I was cruising along at 5 min/mile pace. Of course this was not a key race, so training through the race was always going to be a the plan, as well as not destroying myself in the race itself.
I landed around 8:30 and grabbed a taxi to my hotel down town. Unfortunately I didn’t get to my room until a little after 9 pm, so I had to go in search of food as room service was closed for the night. A local pizza joint afforded me the opportunity to consume what has become my favorite prerace meal (in this case it was 3/4 of a large pizza!). After some long overdue food, I quickly organized everything I needed for the following day: Slab Short Tights, Arc’teryx Shirt, gloves, VFuel, Socks and shoes (Salomon SLab Sense SG 3’s). I figured at the most I would need about 9 Gu’s (1 per 30 min plus 1 extra) which ended up being about right. After getting everything ready I crawled into bed to get some solid sleep in.
I awoke to doors slamming. Apparently the hotel didn’t find it necessary to invest in proper door closing mechanisms, so at about 4:30 when people were either returning from a night of drinking or leaving for the airport I got to hear it. So after an hour or so of intermittent sleep, I drug myself out of bed and pulled on my racing gear. Fortunately there was a coffee shop at the bottom of the hotel, saving me a lap around town looking for some much needed coffee. Shortly thereafter Houston and Anna Mae showed up to give me a lift up the hill to the start of the race.
The race starts up above the city of Juneau along some old mining road/trails. The course is set up so that the 50k runners check in after each ‘segment’ of the race, which are: Perseverance trails, Mt Roberts and Water Reservoir, making the course very easy for a crew as well as spectating.
The Nifty Fifty K
Theres no big ceremony or canon going off to start the race (this is more of a fatass style event than a full on race after all). I had originally planned to go out easy and just kind of hang back with who ever was running in second for the first section of the race, then possibly push up Mt Roberts and take the third segment easy. However, from the gun another guy was trying to harder than he should have been that early to hold on to the front pace, so rather than holding back and possibly dragging him out of his race pace I pushed slightly and gapped him by 2 or 3 minutes on the first climb.
The unfortunately the trails we were tagging for the race were not linked end to end, so we were required to run out and backs on all sections, affording everyone to see how the other was doing. At the first trail I check my split just to have an idea of my lead, confirming that I was in fact 2+ minutes up. I made the conscious decision to push the downhills a bit as these tend to be my strong suit, and were typically quite runnable.
The first couple out and back sections had few things worth noting, aside from the amazing views of course. After tagging the last turn around I barreled down the trail to check-in. Along this area I started catching some of the 10k runners, which made for some additional fun as they were all pushing hard and even more surprised to see someone flying past them. After a quick check-in at the start it was time to head up Mt. Roberts, which is the backdrop to the city of Juneau and even has a Tram service to the top.
Although the first segment of the race had been marked flawlessly, the Mt Roberts had not been afforded the same level of attention. The first 85% of the climb this was not an issue, but towards the top there were many branch trails. Eventually you pop out just below where the tram destination is, this is where things got tricky. I couldnt remember where I was supposed to go, and no one working in the tram area knew either. So after looking around for 3 or 4 minutes I went and starred at the tail list. After another 60 seconds of racking my brain I recalled them mentioning a ‘cross’, which I then associated with the Father Browns Cross trail. When I popped up to the cross I thought for sure that I had been passed, but I was surprised to learn that no one had.
As I descended down the mountain I made sure to remind everyone else where to go so that no one else lost time like I did. I took a split and noticed that I had a 20 min or so lead on the next couple of racers, which was about what I expected. At the bottom of Mt. Roberts I hit the road and trotted back to start/finish area for my last check-in.
After checking in, I turned and put down a decent road segment before hoping on the next trail. The final section takes racers down on to the edge of town where you navigate some back roads before running up to the towns water reservoir. The road sections felt good, and the -1% grade made for fast splits, I routinely checked my watch to see that I was pushing 5:50 min/mile pace.
After 3 miles of road it was finally time to get back on to trails (actually a fire access road, but it was better than asphalt!). The first hill I hit was a killer, with 300 feet of gain at an average grade of 22%. I resolved not to walk any of the last few hills, so I set the pace into a low gear and coolly trotted up the hill. At the top the road flattens out for a mile or so before finally getting back on to another trail for a mile.
At the turnaround no one was waiting, so to ensure no one could claim I didn’t go all the way, I dropped a Gu packet on the sign as a ‘check-in’. During the run out from here I saw the competitors and noted splits again, I had nearly a 35 min lead at this point to so I wasn’t too concerned that I would need to push much on the road.
After hammering the last downhill I hoped on the road and kept it cool. That easy -1% was now a steady climb, and it was warm in Juneau. I was quite miserable, so the final hills that would take me up to the finish line were every bit as painful as I expected. At the top of the hill I realized that I needed to push if I wanted to get in under 4 hours. So I began to crank the speed down, in the end I came up just 20 seconds short (split last 0.7 miles at a 6:17, Grade adjusted it was a 5:36).
All in all it was a solid performance at a race I had little expectations for and gave me plenty of confidence that I have been lacking. Due to the small nature of the race there was no awards or anything of that sort. After chatting with people for a bit and cheering Anna Mae in for second place (40 minutes back) I headed down to town for a bite to eat with Houston and Anna.