Stone Steps 50K is a loop course in the Cincinnati, OH Mt. Airy Park. Runners complete a figure eight linked by two loops. The long loop is just over five miles, which is completed four times and the smaller loop is just under four miles and is completed three times. About 90% singletrack with an excessive amount of roots, rocks and hills.
With the shout of "Go" from the RD we were off in motion. I jumped right in with the front pack to test out my abilities. My focus for this race was to run the as long as possible with the front runners and see how they handle the hills. After a short road section we dropped into the singletrack at a nice 8:20 pace. I held position and followed along taking notes on the effort being put forth. The weather was ideal at this point a beautiful fall morning with temps around 60F. The singletrack was extremely rooty, rocky and hilly. Passing through the first few miles I thought this isn't that bad; well that thought quickly left as I approached the base of the first hill climb. It looked like a 45 degree climb that was over 300'. Making my way up the hill I passed a few of the runners while my climbing skills. I spotted a runner just near the top, Kyle, I figured he would be top 5 so why not shadow him for the run. As soon as he hit the top of the hill he went right into his low 8:00 minute pace within a blink of an eye. I reached the top and my calves were burning from the climb. Not wanting to lose him I jumped back into rhythm and caught him. We chatted along through the next few miles weaving through the technical course. Then came the second hill of the loop "Gummy Bear Hill." It was a quick downhill and I was enjoying the speed to the bottom without realizing I would have to make the climb back up the equivalent distance. Reaching the bottom I was still shadowing Kyle and we started a quick march to the top of hill. Kyle kept my mind busy by telling me random things; this was nice it made time go back quickly. Clearing the hill we were back into a run to the aid station. I checked the Garmin and was amazed to see the first loop was already done in 48 minutes. Not bad for 5.3 miles and feeling good still. At the aid station my daughter, Kylie 15, was there for support. She had a fresh bottle and gel ready for me. As she stood the timing mat I tossed her the empty bottle as she simultaneously flipped me the other bottle with the gel in the pocket of bottle holder. No time wasted in that stop and right out into the next loop.
Still there with Kyle, we moved through a quick descent on the next loop. I was taking notes on when he would make his moves and how quickly. If you was not an insane climb the motto was "run" and it was near flat or flat the motto was "run harder." So without losing him I keep pushing myself through the course a reckless pace. This loop was just under 4 miles with only one large hill climb to speak. Using the downs I would turn up the pace to stay within striking distance of those front runners. At this point out of the 80 registered runners I was still top 10 and pleased with that. Making my way out of this loop I could see my daughter at the timing mat cheering again. Nice work under 30 minutes and no issues yet. I once again made the bottle toss and out to the long loop again.
At this point Kyle had pulled ahead so I turned up the music on the IPOD and moved along. Enjoying the first 2 miles again with there mostly downhill to flat terrain I was still holding off other runners. Coming back around to the stone step hill climb I quickly assessed, "get it done and only twice more." This time my calves were burning halfway up the climb and started to realize no way was I gonna hold this pace to throughout the day. Reaching the top I shook out my legs and back into pace, but now a bit slower pace. Enjoying the music and the run was now my focus. I achieved my goal of seeing how the front runners do it live and know what more it takes. Plugging along through the beautiful wilderness I back to Gummy Bear Hill. Rapid foot turnover and momentarily I was at the bottom ready for the long climb back up. Zoning in on the music kept me from lingering on the trail and pushing myself to the top. Hitting that the last .3 mile to the aid station I turned it back up. Reaching the aid station Kylie was there for the bottle exchange. I stopped to grab some food because I was starting to feel the effects of fatigue. She hollered, "get running, go, go, go!" I stared at her and replied, "hold up, I am starving, just give me a minute." I threw down some oranges and a few candy pieces then onto the next loop. With a half marathon in the bag, it felt like I still had long way to go with all the climbing on this course.
I pushed on the downhill to make up as much time as possible knowing that the hills were starting to take a hold of me and control my pace. All of sudden the nausea feeling I had on the ride down and up until this point finally overtook me. Just about to start the hill climb on the back half of the loop I stepped to the side of the trail and heaved out a hefty amount of the honey gel I had been consuming on the early loops. Then followed a few dry heaves and a quick shake of my head I was trudging up the hill. Knowing I was halfway through this race I knew I could finish. Working my way long the last portion of the loop my only company was the music I still had playing. Then about a quarter mile from the aid station the music went dead and I had myself to keep me company. Coming in I took off my Moeben sleeves & ipod and gave them to my daughter. Just before heading back out I saw Andrew heading out on his third loop. I ate down some more oranges, drank some coke and grabbed my bottle. So far I had been drinking an electrolyte mix drink all day, but was still feeling spent. I could feel the salt on my skin and was beginning to see it on the other runners. The heat was building quick and taxing all of us.
I made the most of the front portion of the loop maneuvering through still with a quick turnover avoiding a possible fall. Also running the downs whenever they were present. Then once again the stone step hill climb was in front of me. I muscled my way up the hill refusing to stop and yield to the hill. As long I was moving forward it was rewarding to me. I really wanted to finish with a good time and not blow up the last loops and look back at wasting all that speed on the first few loops. Shaking out the legs at the top once again I started back into motion with a moderate pace and continue to build on that. Now some of the slight hills were becoming walk breaks more frequently. I noted to I ran the first loop, jogged the third and now on the fifth I was more like strolling. Even with my pace slowing there wasn't really anyone pacing me since mile 14. So I snapped out of the funk and briskly ascending Gummy Bear Hill. Made my way back up and on my way into the aid station I saw Andrew in his everyday clothes, non-running, cheering for me. "Why are you not running," I asked. He was having some foot issues and with the MMTR 50 Mile in a few weeks he didn't want to make it worse. I quickly ate up and strolled back out of the aid station for my final short loop.
The loop felt longer than the posted time because I was feeling more than spent at this point. Every inclined I walked and every downhill I was jogging. There was no "running" this loop. I started having thoughts of Andrew enjoying himself at the aid station not having to run in this ridiculously hilly and hot course. Maybe I could I drop at the end of this loop and take credit for the 27K option I thought. Then Leadville reared its ugly head and I said not a chance in hell will I settle for less than what I planned to do. So I made the most of the loop to get myself back around to the aid station and in position for the final long loop.
Out for the final loop I mentally sized it up. It was going to be five one mile repeats with a short lap into the finish. Just focus on hitting a 12 minute pace for one mile at a time and it will all end. Now if you are thinking this doesn't sound like Steve is enjoying the run, you are wrong. The beauty of the wilderness was worth the effort I was putting forth. Some of the early miles had some lows, but yeah on long runs not every mile is perfect and harmonious. With just a few miles in any race I have some unnatural ability to rise back and finish strong. I was knocking down the miles and coming back around to the last climb of the stone steps. Making my way up the hill the best I could I reached the top and jumped into pace to make up the time lost on hill. The next couple of miles again moved along nicely and now it was the last climb of Gummy Bear. Whew!! To the top I went; zoning in on my Garmin I had a few minutes left to remain under six hours. I pushed forward and picked up the pace for the last short lap into the finishing area. Near the end of the trail I could start to see the finish line as the trees thinned out. I saw the crowd and heard them cheering my name so I picked it up a bit more and ran it in for a 5:51:55 finish.
Overall I was pleased with the day. I definitely underestimated climbing 10700' and then having to equally descend that some amount. When I was writing my pre race blog entry at Starbucks I think they threw in a few extra shots of "ambitiousness." It was my last "planned" run of the year I thought so why not throw it out there and see what I am made of as a runner. Well the answer I found is pleasing to me; even though I wasn't the top runners I am happy with my personal results! Then off course a post race meal with the boys.