Here are the mistakes I made:
1. Unrealistic expectations: although I told people I wasn't going to try to PR, I still had that thought in the back of my head. The problem is that my PR was set back in April on a cool day on a much easier course that I always suspected was short. I should have known that setting a PR on this much tougher course was not realistic. I also should have realized that the higher temperatures (starting in the 60s, reaching the 80s) would also affect my goals. I've always believed in having three goals for every race:
A-Ideal time given good conditions, good training and smart racing
B-Fall back goal in the event that goal A is unrealistic
C-Just finish the damn thing
I should have dropped from A to B before the race even started. I might not have been much faster, but I could have finished strong and felt much better if I had.
2. Going Out Too Fast: I can't tell you how many times we warn our Team in Training group about maintaining pace in the beginning and not going out too fast. Unfortunately I failed to heed my own advice. My 50k PR pace is 12:25. Here were my splits for the first 6 miles: 11:45, 11:56, 11:25, 12:21, 11:50, 12:11. This was way toooooooooo fast, given the difficulty of the trail, the weather, etc. I charged the uphills instead of taking them slowly and I pushed hard. If this had been a 10k I would have been thrilled. But this was a 50k; basically, I burned up my energy in the first 6 miles and still had 25 to go!
3. Trying Something New on Race Day: Again, this is something we always warn against in Team in Training. You don't know how it will affect you, so don't try it! Here's what happened to me: I've been using a new energy gel, Honey Stinger. I really like it--it's sweet but doesn't taste bad like other gels. Well recently I've been trying to eat more naturally and trying to save money, so I decided instead of buying a bunch of Honey Stinger gel I would just go buy some honey. I filled two gel flasks with honey and hit the trails. The first time I ate some honey I started to feel queasy, and the feeling never went away. I was nauseous for about 5 1/2 hours. Normally during ultras I eat a lot, and I need that energy to keep up my pace and finish the race. Yesterday I hardly ate anything--1/4 PB&J, a few handfuls of chips, some coke, some water. I tried to throw up several times but never could. So not only did I use up a lot of energy in the early miles, but I couldn't replace it as the race went on. For the last ten miles my paces were between 13:00 and 18:00(!!!) minutes per mile.
So, I relearned some hard lessons yesterday. It's no fun making mistakes like this and having to pay the price, but I will definitely remember them in my upcoming races. It was definitely a tough day: there were 86 people registered for the 50k, only 70 finished. Unofficially I was 58th.
An interesting fact: Of the top ten 50k finishers, one was in her 20s, one was in his 30s, the rest were in their 40s and 50s (the winner was a 45 year old male). There were only 4 racers in their 20s. The oldest finishers were 67 and 68 (and they finished ahead of me!). Ultramarathons seem to be a sport for the mature and the patient.