Seems like I've been stuck in a taper/race/recover cycle since late April/early May. After training through the winter/spring, I tapered for Collegiate Peaks 50M on May 7th, recovered, got in a couple more weeks of training and then tapered for Bighorn 50M on June 18th, recovered (somewhat), ran the Missoula Marathon on July 10th and then tried to get in a couple of decent training weeks before tapering for the Elkhorn 50K coming up on August 6th.
If you count Missoula itself, I've gotten in a 20+ mile long run each of the last three weekends in preparation for Elkhorn. The week after Missoula it was a 20 miler on the Centennial trail (which I blogged about last week) and this past weekend it was 22.6 miles, again on the Centennial. My weekly mileage the week after Missoula wasn't all that impressive as I took a couple of days off after the marathon, but I did manage to get in 74 miles last week, which I believe is my highest mileage week since before Bighorn.
The difference between Elkhorn and Collegiate Peaks or Bighorn (besides 19 miles of distance between a 50K and 50M)is that I have a concrete time goal in mind for Elkhorn. I'm gunning for a sub-6:00. Not really sure how ambitious that is since I'm not familiar with the Elkhorn course other than I've heard it's fairly tough. I've only run two other 50Ks, Lean Horse and Bighorn. I ran a 4:46 at Lean Horse, but that's not a good reference point since the course is much easier than Elkhorn. I ran a 5:46 at Bighorn, which might be a better indicator. That 50K at Bighorn was a couple of years ago and was run on fairly minimal trail mileage in training. I've run many more miles on trails this spring and summer, so am hoping that will push me to a sub-6 on what is probably a more difficult 50K course.
With that in mind, I set out for my long run this past Friday morning on the Centennial with the goal of pacing myself the way I would if I were running a 50K. I started at the Alkali Creek trailhead and proceeded south along the trail as far as the Elk Creek trailhead (11.3 miles one way). This section of the trail includes two big climbs. The first is a fairly gradual 4 mile climb up to Bulldog ridge. The climb features enough switchbacks to make it entirely runnable, so I ran the whole thing, albeit fairly slowly. From the top of the ridge, the trail heads straight down the other side into Bulldog Gulch for a little bit of flatish running before you start a real grunt of a climb up to the next ridge. I alternated running and walking on the lower section of this second climb, but power hiked most of the upper portion on the steeper, shale-covered slope. From there, you drop down the other side of the ridge on a fairly gradual descent, eventually reaching Elk Creek (well, the trailhead at least...the creek itself is a mile further down the trail).
At the halfway point of the run I was still feeling really good and was averaging just over 11:00 pace (sub-6 for a 50K would be about 11:36 pace). I figured I could drop that pace some on the return trip since it was a net downhill, although I faced two big climbs going that direction too. I was able to run a fairly good portion of the first climb, much more than I've been able to run on previous Centennial trail excursions. The second climb back up to Bulldog ridge is fairly short (0.4 mile) but steep as it goes basically straight up (no switchbacking), so that was a power hike. The beauty of an out and back course is that if you start off with a 4 mile climb, you get to finish with a 4 mile descent and I was able to push the pace fairly well on that last 4 miles back to Alkali. Final time was 4:05, for a 10:53 pace. Could I have maintained that for another 9 miles? Probably. Can I do it on the Elkhorn course? Well, that remains to be seen...
For you data nerds: Garmin Connect link