Since I finally ran one of these races I’m off-and-on writing about, I figured I’d throw a race report in here instead of another boring recap. I don’t even write recaps half the time anyway (Wild Duluth). We’ll see how this goes:
Surf the Murph 50k is the first over-26.2 race I’ve run twice. I’m a big fan of the race’s time of year (late fall) and proximity to the Twin Cities. I have a semi-special relationship with it since, as my second 50k, it was the first time I realized I could actually put a race-like effort into an ultra rather than suffering through a really hard jog. Earlier that summer I’d debuted at the quite difficult Bighorn 50k, shuffling in just under 5 hours; fast-forward to October 2011 and I’m cruising with the lead group like it’s another hungover Sunday long run in college. It was the best I’d felt running in a long time, and though I blew up spectacularly in the second half, it made me hungry to revisit the course and see what I could do.
Additionally, both the 50k distance and Murphy’s terrain seem to suit me well. A trail 50k is perfect for me to fake my way through, with neither the speed to really succeed on the road (McMillan says I’m probably good for a ~2:40 marathon) nor the gritty strength to slog through a longer ultra on tougher terrain; and Murphy has the right combination of gnarly climbs and flat horse trail to be conducive to anyone who spreads their training between trails and roads – and between mega hill-repeats and track workouts – but specializes in neither. That’s pretty much me.
Then came race day:
On race morning, the weather was shaping up to be perfect, if a little windy – mid 30s and clear (though it would be dark until we were about 40 minutes in). I spotted Steve and John Horns near the check-in and chatted with them for a bit; Arley joined us too. Steve and I train together pretty often and had been talking about running together for the first half, ideally on 4:30 pace. That was what I’d run in 2011 and, since I also have a 50-miler on the horizon in December, thought a conservative-ish pace was a smarter decision than wrecking myself trying to chase a course record (4:08).
I was also hoping to run the first half with Eric Nordgren, whom I spotted around the parking lot beforehand. From the couple of times I’ve seen him race, excluding a couple times in the buildup to or shortly after Western States this year, I’ve learned he has a keen knack for racing smart early, being consistent, even-or-negative-splitting, and nailing his goal times pretty well. Eric assured me his training hadn’t been very consistent after the Superior 50 (he was second), but I erred on the cautious side and assumed he was being modest.
As we gathered near the start, I was joking with Steve and noted that I was debuting a never-before-tested Nathan fannypack that allowed me to carry all my own gels, and that I would probably spend the entire day either trying to pull it up or push it back down. Sure enough, as the RD shouted “go” and we stormed down the first hill, it took about four or five steps for the pack to slide up from around my hips to the bottom of my ribcage. I pulled my jersey around it and vowed to monitor whether the chafing required me to drop it at an aid station – luckily, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it probably made for good spectating whenever I needed something and had to lift my shirt most of the way off to access the zipper.
First north loop – As we sped through the dark, hopping from one to the other piece of doubletrack, I found myself briefly in the lead; Eric Senseman, who last year had won the 50-mile in a course record, got up beside me and after some brief pleasantries, sped off down a hill; I wouldn’t see him again and it didn’t look like a smart move to try and chase. Right after that, I realized I needed to settle down – my breathing was already getting heavy from charging the early hills – and I moved into hands-on-knees at the next climb (walk before you’re tired, they say). Just as I did that, the ever-smooth Nordgren caught and passed me briefly; another racer named Jason was with him and the three of us stayed clumped together for the rest of the hilly section, taking turns reminding the others to relax the pace.
Horse Camp Aid Station – Mile 5.5 – Everyone seemed strong coming into this aid station, which meant I could check off box #1 – my in-race goal was to survive the hilly section in passable shape and throw down on the flat side. As we pulled out of the aid station and moved toward the lake and the flat expanse of the horse trails, Jason and I started to pull comfortably away from Eric; as early as it was, I worried that maybe it was too early to move like this, but I felt remarkably comfortable. For the next few miles I wound the pace down and felt awesome, cruising around turns over gently rolling terrain; I also noticed that whereas I typically am hanging on for dear life in a situation like this, I was actually leading Jason the whole time (usually only by a couple steps) and felt ready to pull away if I wanted. My legs started to feel some heaviness around mile 10 but, having experienced a lot of damn pain going into the TC 10 Mile tired, I wasn’t very worried. Otherwise I felt frigging awesome – lots of tempos and 8x1ks and mileage in general and all that junk were paying off in a big way.
I also made a point to watch pretty carefully for course markings. The south side of the course (pictured below) has some detours that are easy to miss and easier to fail to realize you’ve missed, as you end up rejoining the trail in short order. I’ve known plenty of people who have missed turns, and I’ve even written about this in the past. But my prudence on this – and my noting to Jason that we needed to watch carefully – was ironic in the end. More on that later.
Horse Camp AS #2: Mile “12.5” – I powered into the aid station, starting to put a little gap on Jason, and buoyed by having just seen Kurt and co. out on the course cheering (as well as by starting to pass some 50 milers, who had started an hour ahead of us). As we turned and headed back into the hilly half of the park, I knew this was when I’d see whether I still had a good loop left in the tank like a good ultra bro, or if I’d end up paying for the early pace like a hotshot roadie. I tried to stay relaxed and put a more significant gap on Jason.
Start/finish AS – halfway – mile “16.7” – I rolled into the drop bag area to a smattering of applause and a jubilant John Horns cheering in a blaze orange jumpsuit. “How are you feeling?” he shouted. “Good!” I shouted back. Then I looked at my watch – 1:53 – and looked back at John. “Not so good anymore!” All I could think of was this video of Rob Krar hitting the halfway split in his Grand Canyon double crossing this spring (the record prior to his try was 6:40-something):
Of course, Rob went on to break the record by about 20 minutes and had spoken in some interviews about not getting freaked out when you realize you’re on pace for an awesome race. Jack Daniels has also written about not letting doubt creep in just because you’re way ahead of expectations – it could be your expectations were too modest. So I took off on my second loop on a positive note – maybe my training was finally paying off and I was having a real breakthrough. Plus, I was wearing the same shoes as the Krarbarian when he set the Canyon R2R2R record.
North Loop #2 – Jason and I started off the second lap together and vowed to keep it relaxed. In 2011, this was where I became really unhinged; it’s the toughest part of the course and you hit it 17+ miles in. Despite feeling like ass, I was actually moving pretty well and wasn’t slowing down, and before long I had gapped Jason again. I wouldn’t see him the rest of the race. Though I know it’s bad mental form, I started doing the math on how much I could slow down and still break the course record, or even how much I could slow and break four hours.
Horse Camp AS #3 – Mile “22.2” – I rolled in alone with no real pomp or circumstance (the volunteers were great as always, of course). At this point in the race, I was mixed in with 50 milers and 25kers, so from a spectator’s point of view, it was tough to tell how the race was unfolding. I asked someone how far ahead the leader was and they didn’t know.
I moved out of this aid station determined to keep my turnover high – I knew this was where I could make or break the race. I was in pain but moving just fine, as long as I made sure to force a GU down every 30-40 minutes along with some Coke at each aid station. The close-together stations made this pretty easy. I was also buoyed by some positive energy – in 2011, this section had taught me a lot about simply putting one foot in front of the other when you hit a bad patch; what a contrast I was seeing today.
Smurf Village “#1” – I was positive the big orange markings I was following were the same ones I’d taken on the first loop – just better marked. But as I ambled through an unfamiliar stretch of singletrack, decked out with pictures of Smurfs (was I hallucinating? No – turns out the Murphy RDs really get a kick out of “Smurf” rhyming with “Murph”), I had to give serious consideration to whether I’d been through here the first time. I wasn’t so sure. Then again, I had been pretty in the zone. Either way, with about seven miles to go I was wondering whether I’d messed up. Sorry Jason.
Horse Camp #4 – mile “29.2” – I was greeted by some above-average spectators who no doubt knew how the race was unfolding – Christi, who had been cheering hard all day, was now joined by a jubilant Ethan, jumping up and down and shouting. Apparently I looked better than I felt. I asked them how far up #1 was, to which Ethan said “I think you are #1.” Yikes. “Well, one of us took a wrong turn then,” I replied, 99% sure it had been me. But I thanked them and kept moving – I didn’t have much of a choice at this point. It was a bummer to slog through the last series of hills knowing the unreal time I was throwing down was, indeed, unreal. I’m just grateful I didn’t realize this after the first loop, because it would have been torturous to run 17 miles with that same knowledge.
Finish – mile “33.4” – I don’t blame the volunteers for not quite believing I was the first 50ker and trying to direct me away from the finishing chute. I’d have just broken the course record by about 13 minutes and would have been the first person ever under four hours on the course. I had a great, great day, but not that great. Bill Pomerenke (standing at the finish) sure believed it for a second, though, and was surprised when I walked right up to the finish-line guy and said “I think you need to DQ me.” Horns came over and we talked for a bit – he said Senseman had (very graciously) noted that two 50kers had mysteriously taken the lead without passing him and might have been DQed; Horns also said he didn’t realize it was Jason and I until just then.
The takeaway? It would be easy to get bummed about this – a lot of work goes into a good 50k and it’s frustrating that it can be undone so easily. It’s also tempting to blame the race directing, as a lot of people seem to get lost in the exact same spot every year and they’ve apparently not looked into how to prevent that.
But I really can’t be bummed about it. The race was very nearly my masterpiece, and was an indication that all the work I’ve done has been paying off, and I know that I could have had a strong second-place, possibly under the old course record, so the fact that it doesn’t count and won’t go on ultrasignup is the least important thing to me. I’d rather have a great race that doesn’t count than a crappy race that does, or a great time on paper that I didn’t earn.
It’s also my own damn fault that I missed a turn. Yes, it would be nice if it was better-marked, but plenty of people managed not to miss it, including me two years ago. It’s still an awesome race and I’d like to come back and run a 4:08 for real.
I can also look at it this way – I ran 3:55 for about a 32-mile race, or about 3:48 for a 50k. Remember that the Murphy course is pretty long. Booya, 50k PR.
The most important lesson I learned was never pass Eric Nordgren early. Both times I’ve raced him, I’ve ended up ahead of him early, and both times I’ve ended up taking a wrong turn (the other time was the 2012 Superior 50, where I left the second aid station ahead of him and promptly got lost).
Nike Lunar Racers – in my defense, I owned and raced in them before I knew Krar did, but I’ll admit that seeing him wear them for WS100 and UROC were partial inspiration for my wearing them at Murphy. And honestly, I’m glad I did – it’s such a runnable course and I just plan feel faster in them. There was only about a 50-yard section, where you’re pointed straight downhill on some muddy singletrack, where I wish I’d had some better traction, but unless it’s raining, Murphy is a road-shoe kind of course. Also they got muddy, which is too bad. They some nice-lookin’ kicks.
Fitsok CF2s – my favorite socks, period. The only downside is that they’re so synthetic that they might not be great for races longer than a marathon, particularly when your feet get wet. Fitsok has some great new merino wool socks coming out, and I’ll be wearing a prototype of them at TNF San Francisco.
Nathan fannypack – this one was doomed from the start. I got no end of sh*t from a coworker for buying it, predicted it would be trouble, and ended up with an undesirable how-much-it-helps:how-big-a-pain-in-the-ass-it-is ratio. I’ll have to figure something else out before TNF.
Peanut butter and salted caramel-flavored GU; vanilla and espresso-flavored Clif Shots – pick your flavors based on what tastes best coming back up. It didn’t happen this time, but I got some double-tastes, especially out of the Clif Shots.
Results are up here.