I showed up at North Fork 50K confident, but without much idea how it would go. When I decided to focus my Winter training on a marathon, multiple veteran ultra runners told me that was a brilliant idea and that they had good trail seasons after marathons. Bottom line, I knew I was fit, just not sure how trail fit I was, having only a few weeks of concentrated trail training. The plan was simply to go out hard and see what I could do. (I did have rough guidelines of 10:15 overall pace and sub-5.5 hour finish).
Fortunately, I have raced and trained on the North Fork course many times, so I was able to put together a decent mental strategy. The initial climb is one of the three toughest of the day and will certainly send your work rate quite high early. But, the 12 miles after that are pretty darn benign and very runnable. That said, I expected to be ahead of that 10:15 pace by the midway point. I took off hard enough to earn a PR on the initial climb and found my place in the field. I am guessing I was about 10-12 runners back early on. I arrived at the top of the climb feeling pretty good and running much of it. As expected, I ran pretty hard to the midway point where my average pace was under-9:30, well under my goal. Again, I knew that'd be the case based on the course, but still I wondered if I could maintain. With my nutrition plan being so simple and refined after multiple seasons now, I spent almost zero time in aid stations, which helped tremendously. I would get wet, fill my water bottle and leave. In total, I think I ingested about 400 Kcals on the day, mostly from Skratch Labs, two gels, and a few Mountain Dew shots.
After splitting from the 50 mile runners and starting the second big climb of the day, things slowed quite a bit. I had passed a few runners in aid stations and now had a few directly ahead of me. One was struggling and the other (a woman, I believe Leila Degrave) was literally floating up the climb. My breathing was labored and I tripped, letting out a huge moan. She looked back, I think concerned I might die. I didn't go all the way to the ground, but I put my hands out to brace the fall and smashing my water bottle on the ground. About a third of my water went shooting out of my water bottle. The second time at this race I've done that (this first time I lost it all!). The part that really sucked was that this was the one section that I was concerned about not having enough water for -- 5.5 miles of mostly uphill from Buffalo Creek to Shinglemill. Sure enough, I was short of water and dry by the time I arrived at Shinglemill. I took my longest stop of the day here to rehydrate, eat a cookie (I was starving!!), and cool off. The goal with a long stop was to be ready to get after it on the decent back to Buffalo Creek.
I passed a few runners between aid and on my way down to Buffalo Creek, running hard but not quite all out. I made sure I passed hard enough that they didn't have the motivation to pass me back. Just before I arrived at Buffalo Creek, I passed one more runner who was walking. Another quick stop to get wet at aid and I was on my way up Baldy. I felt sluggish on the climbs all day, but managed a PR on every one except Baldy. I was grinding hard and my overall pace slipped over 10 for the first time all day. Nonetheless, I kept making deals with myself and would run for at least 60 seconds at a time and began catching another runner -- key to motivation. Finally, I got close enough to the other runner that I let him pace me the remainder of the climb. At the top, heading toward Strawberry Jack, I overtook him, unsure of whether I could hold on.
He stayed with me but didn't try to pass before we arrived at Strawberry Jack. At aid, I had a bit of Mountain Dew and cooled off. I rarely ever ask aid station volunteers my place, but I thought I might be doing well and went and asked. They said I was 6th overall and 5th male. Honestly, I was quite happy with that and prepared to do just enough to keep the last runner I passed from passing back. The problem was that I found 4th and 5th place were right in front me within 100 yards of leaving aid. So, I started pushing the decent hard, hard enough to log a PR on the Strava segment. I finally passed 4th place a half a mile down the trail and then had to keep the effort as he was running well. Unlike 2014 -- when I coasted in the final few miles satisfied with my time and place -- I continued pushing the downhill and the final stretch to the finish, crossing the finish line in 5:15 and 9:50 average pace and 4th place. I was totally exhausted and immediately sat down and began drinking gallons of water.
I've been joking with friends that past few days that I am "on a hot streak" with what I'd say are five consecutive great races and eight of my last eleven -- Bear 100 the notable exception and a few "B race" in Indian Creek Fifties and Golden Gate D30. I suppose I could spend a lot time analyzing this, but the short answer is that I am likely in the "sweet spot" of age, cumulative training miles (what I call momentum), experience, and overall health. All those things have played a role in my success, but the catalyst that unlocked lots of this and started my hot streak was changing my diet to LCHF. I would say that this has made my body more metabolically stable: I recover better and I have fewer energy highs and lows. And, it has made my nutrition approach to races quite simple -- 100 kcals an hour and water. I really don't care that much how I get those 100 Kcals either: solid food, beverages, even sugar! I use a few supplements to help fat burning and to minimize central nervous system fatigue, but that's it. I spend more time think about shoes and race shorts than I do nutrition.