When I ran the Elkhorn 50K a few weeks ago, it was with the assumption that it would be my last ultra for the year. Lean Horse and Sundance were both out because of my son's football schedule and I certainly wasn't planning on traveling anywhere outside of the area for another one this year. Well, as so often happens, plans have changed. My son's team won't be participating in the multi-team scrimmage this Saturday (we just got our pads on Sunday, so the kids have barely had a chance to learn how to put them on, much less play with them). That means my Saturday morning is now free and my name is now on the Lean Horse 50K entrant list (along with a whopping 15 others).
This means I will be pulling a double duty of sorts this weekend. The original plan was to arrive in Hot Springs after the scrimmage on Saturday and fulfill some race director-in-training duties alongside Jerry (the race director) and Ryan (the other race-director-in-training). Now, I'll be in Hot Springs on Friday to help Jerry and Ryan out, run on Saturday morning and, after a quick shower, resume some directing tasks.
I've run the Lean Horse 50K once before, back in 2007. That was also my first ever ultra. I ran it in 4:46 (still my 50K PR) and finished 2nd overall after leading much of the race but eventually fading and getting passed at about mile 20. The course is different this year and should be somewhat faster. Back in 2007, the 50K runners never set foot on the Mickelson Trail...the race was a straight up out and back starting in Hot Springs, heading out on Argyle Road and then turning back about a mile short of the Mickelson. This year, all three races (50K, 50M and 100M) will start about 11 miles west of Hot Springs at the Minnekahta trailhead. This will put us on the Mickelson right away. We'll be on the trail for about 14.5 miles before hitting Argyle Road for the final 16.5. So, fewer hills this time, although all of them will come in the last half of the race (but it will still be a net downhill overall). Either way, this is a much faster course than either of the other two 50Ks I've run (Bighorn and Elkhorn), hence my PR still standing from that race four years ago (four years? really??).
To put the Lean Horse course in perspective, consider the Elkhorn 50K I just ran back on the 6th. That course featured almost 7000 feet of elevation gain over 31 miles. The total elevation gain for the new Lean Horse course is under 1000 feet. To further put that into perspective, consider the route I run once or twice a week on the Lookout Mtn trails in Spearfish. A 4.4 mile loop on Lookout includes about 900 feet of elevation gain. So, at Lean Horse I'll be stretching that same amount of gain over a distance that's 7 times longer. Piece of cake, right?
The toughest part of preparing for this race (if you can call what I've been doing preparing....it's been a very low mileage recovery mode since Elkhorn), is getting over the trail mentality when it comes to pace. Most of the ultras I've run recently have been on fairly tough mountain courses, where 11, 12, or 13 minute pace were the norm (for me, at least). I would like to run Lean Horse in 4:30 or so, which would be sub-9:00 pace. In my mind, that sounds really hard for an ultra, but I think I need to get past the idea that the course will affect my pace. In reality, I should be able to maintain a good pace over a relatively flat course fairly easily...I did it in training for the Lean Horse 100 several times last year and I just ran the Missoula Marathon at sub-8:00 pace back in July without pushing myself too much. Of course, I haven't done many flat long runs this year because my focus has been on trail running, so I just don't feel as comfortable in that realm right now.
In any case, this is probably way too much thought to put into a race that I just found out I was running two days ago. My intent is to run comfortably, but steadily, early on and see where that leaves me when I hit Argyle Road. If I do that, I should end up near my PR, and given the small field, probably at or near the front of the "pack" as well.