Trail Factor 50K Trail Run Recap

La Sportiva Anakonda
It only took 48 hours for these shoes to dry in the sunshine.

Two days ago, I did a bad thing to my legs.  At least, that’s what they’re telling me today.  Not that I’ve stretched or anything, but to bend and tie my shoes is a trial, and to descend stairs is another thing entirely. Two months back, I wrote about a training schedule for a 50k trail run; I hurt now because of that run.

I was lured into this maniacal plan by my friend Alex Ragus, who suggested that we train for it together.  For the record, he did register, but he also bailed a few weeks before the race, having been otherwise occupied and not having trained in the slightest.  In spite of Alex backing out, training for the race became a positive experience for me.  While training I discovered that there’s just an ineffable pleasure to traveling by foot over great distances.

Muddy feet
Only when the course is truly muddy does the dirt work its way to the toes.

The morning of the race, I was grumpy, but I had a plan.  I was grumpy because it was the end of a long process.  Not to get into any cliché hippy nonsense or anything, but these days I’m slowly discovering a newfound patience that lets me tackle bigger projects, and that patience is pretty satisfying.  Reaching the end of the road, by comparison  doesn’t hold a lot of learning potential.  

Still, with a healthy dose of anxiety on board before the race, worried that I could somehow blow up in a blaze of glory, I tried to plan out the race.  I broke the race into thirds: The first third should be reasonably effortless and painless, just ten miles. The second third should also, hopefully, be free of pain, though the effort would start to stack up as I approached 20 miles.  Finally, the last third would be purely psychological.

I expected to suffer.[divider_line]

The race went roughly according to plan, but with less suffering than I had expected. Overall, I finished in 5:06:07 going 9:51/mi on a course with just shy of 5000′ of elevation gain.  That put me 4th in men’s 20-29 yrs and 16th out of 93 overall.  I’m happy with my performance, and very happy with my time, especially considering the weather.

As we lined up to start at 8 am, it had been raining steadily for more than 24 hrs.  That kind of rain makes Forest Park a special sort of place–true to it’s rainforest roots. Knowing my penchant for being imprudently competitive and for going out too fast, I waited a moment after the gun before crossing the start mat, letting a crowd out in front of me.  While going out fast and dumb worked well at the Wasatch Powderkeg, I didn’t have the experience or the guts to figure out what that would feel like 5 hours later in a footrace.

Patrick Fink Trail Factor Running
The author, cruising mid trio around mile 25, riding the wave and hoping the wheels don’t fall off the bus.

The first few miles were very slow while the pack worked itself out.  I felt time slipping away from me, but repeatedly reminded myself that my goal was to finish in good style, feeling like I had raced smart.  Time didn’t matter. I walked occasionally when the pack slowed, and snuck around the old men in tall socks when the trail grew wider.

Ethan had also managed to sneak into the race at the last moment after a few weeks of graduating from college, not training, and in his words, “doing a lot of eating”.  Nevertheless, when we crossed paths early in the course, he was already a few miles ahead of me, hanging with the lead pack in 4th position.  Throwing him a high-five brought out the competitiveness in me and I let it run for a little bit, reeling in some runners and then moving into a gap in the field where I could run alone and run my own race.

The first third of the race unfolded slowly, but eventually, I rolled past the 10 mile mark into the middle third, which disappeared like a grand plan forged while drinking. The wet course demanded attention, and I was glad to have some serious traction on my feet. I grew somewhat worried at the amount of downhill early in the course, because my body is weak in particular ways that don’t like downhill running. I didn’t want to repeat the hip pain that I had felt running back from Wahtum Lake but I felt the early twinges at the half-way point. Luckily, miles 15-20 had a lot of uphill, some of which I hiked rather than ran, both to give the hips a rest and as a more efficient means of travel up some particularly muddy, rooted, and stream-like trail. As I rode onlookers’ cheers into aid station 4, I knew that I was transitioning to the psychological third, and I thought of Ethan, who would be finishing soon.

Ethan Linck Trail Factor Finish
Ethan Linck sliding across the finish just under the four hour mark, with markedly more chutzpah than I.

Well, despite his time sitting on a sofa, drinking champagne at graduation, and generally not taking care of himself, Mr Linck did manage his 50k PR, skating in below his goal of four hours by just a hair.  Not a half hour before, I had left aid station four with a mouth full of gummy bears wondering how much suffering lay in my future. More than a mile of downhill grael road brought me back to the singletrack of the Wildwood trail, and as the couse again angled upwards I was passed by a small but still-spritely woman named Kate. Kate owns a gym.  Kate runs marathons regularly.  This was not Kate’s first walk in the woods, and that was readily apparent. I latched on for the ride.

After a few minutes, we struck up a good conversation which became a pleasant distraction from the slowly increasing pain and general physical angst. While we talked, I wondered to myself if I could hold onto her pace, which was faster than I had planned to go by a fair bit.  It was imprudent, irrational, or at least, slightly bold.  I bargained with myself that I would at least hold on until the last aid station around mile 25.  Then, even if I couldn’t hang, I’d be that much closer.

As we left the last aid station, it became clear to me that I was going to stay on Kate’s tail come hell or high water. As the miles rolled on, she didn’t slow, and even though she had said earlier “I don’t run up hills”, damn if she didn’t just run up the last big one with barely any walking. One by one, each of my usual ailments raised their heads and demanded attention.  First, my hips.  Then, my right knee. Finally, my right achilles.

In spite of the pains, still we rolled along.  The pack was really spread thin now, almost five hours in.  Still, we were treated to the satisfying experience of slowly, one by one, pciking off runners who had passed me hours before.  No, I’m not competitive.

Patrick Fink Trail Factor Finish
The cessation of suffering. Enlightenment took a respectable 5:06. Food donations for my skinny A** are now being accepted.

There is a difference, it seems, between hurting, and suffering that pain.  That difference is crucial.  I know that had I slowed to my planned pace and run the last 10  miles in relative solitude I would have suffered.  Instead, I just hurt like a mother–r as each moment rolled into the next, and the next thing that I knew I was back where I had started.  My friends awaited me, and were amazingly supportive and congratulatory.

Thanks to Erica, Ethan, Kate, Sarah, Kevin, and the tiny support dog Roxy for standing in the cold and the rain to usher me across the line!

Roxie Brightlog, rain dog.
Mountain Lessons pit crew, roughing it out in the cold rain.

Will there be another?  Perhaps. The joke goes that I’ll sign up for another as soon as the soreness fades.  But in my head, this isn’t the end of the road but just a stepping stone on to bigger goals. The process doesn’t end here.

I do have some thoughts about shoes and a couple of other trail running oddities that I’ve earned the right to have opinions about, but those must wait for another day.  Summer is around the corner, and the bigger trails are starting to creep their way out of the snow. At the same time, classes are ending and I’m moving to a new house with more room for shenanigans .

Until then, let me thank you, the growing readership of Mountain Lessons, for your encouraging comments and your visits time and again.  It is a pleasure and an inspiration to share my adventures and thoughts with you.


Category: Running



    1. Brody-
      Your time in the terminal cancer looks pretty good! That’s one that’s been on the list for a while. Do you know if there are other good lines around there that would make the drive more appealing? Not that we need a better excuse than that one… Cheers!

    1. Matthew- I was a little bit bummed at first, but I was deep enough into my program when he bailed that I was already enjoying doing it for its own sake. Good luck with your 50 miler this fall!

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