"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cruising On Dry Land - Blues Cruise 50K


I zip up my jacket as I get into the car on this brisk Sunday morning. Temperatures are in the 40s which is the lowest its been in a while.  The heat is necessary to get my body warmed up and to clear up the windows. I double-check that I have all my gear ready. Quick Dunkin Donuts stop for some pre-race fuel and I am off toward Reading for the 2014 edition of Blues Cruise 50K.

Race gear laid out
I was thinking long and hard over the last week and a half whether or not to write this race report at all. I am usually quick to put out something few days after the race, but not this time. It is not that the race was bad - in fact it was great. It is for that reason that I didn’t know what to write about. For some reason it is easy to write about a sucky race. You have tons of stuff to reflect on, lessons learned, and numerous things to ponder on what went wrong, and how you can improve on it next time. When the race goes well, after that initial happy reaction, you are left with a feeling of why should I gloat about it. No one will care that my race went well. Sure, there are always lessons learned, and yes I could have trained or done some things better to improve my time even more, but really, I had a good race.  Thus, I am not going to write too much about my feelings. What I will tell you is a story about why Blues Cruise 50K is great.
It's GO time
Blues Cruise 50K is put on by the Pagoda Pacers and race directors Stephan Weiss and Mike Yoder. It has been around for 10 years. It is a beautiful course that runs around Blue Marsh lake near Reading, PA. The race course is one giant 50K loop that changes directions every year. On even years, the course goes clockwise, and counterclockwise on odd years. I’ve ran the race last year, and while I had some fueling and bonking issues, I still had a great time. This year I wanted to improve my time even more, and experience the course from a different direction.
Focus!
Race day packet pickup and start line atmosphere are great, as you get to pick up your bib, all while enjoying sounds and beats of traditional German music in techno variety. Brings back memories of my honeymoon in Mallorca. This year I was flying solo, as Amy and kids had other engagements. Since this is a giant loop, it is little harder for family to follow their runner, as they have to drive from point to point. Combine that with a chilly morning, and it was a good reason for kids to skip it.
Single Track
The race started promptly at 8:30 am, which really is a great time to start any race. After saying hello to some folks from our running group, MLC, I found a cozy spot at the start line and waited for the GO signal. First quarter of a mile follows a paved bike path, before you start on some single-double trail through the fields.  More than 80% of the race is all single track trail. The first third of the race takes you on a roller-coaster of small up and down hills and very smooth trail that is perfect to go out to fast and crash later in the race. I didn’t remember this section too much from last year, as this was the final third and I was spent before getting here. I went out at a pretty decent pace, but keeping in mind that this was a long race, I was holding my self a bit back. My main goal for this year was to break 6 hours and improve my time from last year.

The views
Before I talk about rest of the race, let me tell you about aid stations at the Blues. They are plentiful, and they are spectacular. Each station has a different theme which makes it great for the runners. Also, each aid station has a special treat too, ranging from pork belly, burritos, cheese burgers, and really anything else you can imagine. Volunteers really are spectacular, and are one of the main reasons, why so many local runners chose Blues Cruise as their first ultra and return year after year.
The course is beautiful
Second part of the course is what I consider the hardest section. You go up and down some pretty steep and long climbs, which hurt both on the way up and down. This is the section where you can certainly lose most of your time. I was somewhat expecting these hills, but really I wasn’t expecting to slow down as much as I did. While I was feeling good, there were certainly times when I wished I could go a bit faster. Hey, lesson learned! Train faster on steeper hills during a long run!
Up the hill we go
Last third of the race goes back into a terrain that is somewhat flat, where you can really open up your pace. That is unless you are wasted after the Ski-Slope hill as the locals like to call it. Not to worry, as the last 3 miles can get pretty challenging with some short but steep ups and downs. I remembered that last sucker hill in the last mile. Last year it was downhill there, but I was thinking that yep, this will suck on the way back up next year. And it did. I ran up most of it, only to pop up back on the field where we started. This is the only part of the course that you overlap. A mere half a mile if that. I sprinted down the paved path to the start/finish line to break my 50K PR by over an hour. I finished in 5:31:55!
Finishing in style
Needless to say, I am very happy with my time. I did the best I could on the day. There is some work to be done to improve this time, but there is always next year. Of course I cannot forget the always-amazing swag at this race. All the finishers got blue picnic foldup chairs with the race logo. What a great idea! Swag also included a water bottle, long sleeve tech shirt with no sponsors, and a race hat.
Got asked many Tailwind questions due to this shirt
This race might have been the last race for my trusty original Altra Lone Peak shoes. They were a perfect companion on this day, but they are getting up there in miles.  I fueled the whole day with TailwindNutrition, as it is yet to fail me. I really didn’t need anything else, but I did grab a cheese burger at mile 17 or 18. And of course, the recovery began right after the race with BioSkin and Cocogo. Great product that I trust over and over again.
Time to recover
Blues Cruise 50k was yet again a great experience. It is a local race, very reasonably priced, and I cannot wait to do it again next year. Next up on the menu is the Runner’s World Hattrick, which I will be returning to for the 3rd year in the row. It will be a nice weekend away with Amy, but it is also Niko’s first race on that Friday. He is very excited, and claims that he has been training for it. Report to follow.

Go forth and run!

Staying warm pre race

Hanging out with some MLC folks.

More course

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