Running an Ultra with a Cold: Door County Fall 50 Mile

Racing Ultra with a Cold

I woke up two days before the Door County 50 mile with a familiar and scratchy sore throat and I instantly knew I was catching a cold that couldn’t be cured by the weekend. I drank extra orange juice, took “Airborne,” and got extra rest while staying away from drug-based cold medicine because I didn’t know how my body would handle racing with it in my system. I wanted to stay as optimistic as possible about getting better before the race because I had so much invested into the race. My time, extensive training, emotions, money, and my friend, Dan, who was flying out from Colorado to crew for me.  

The day before the race, I woke up in worse condition than the day before. I still had a sore throat, but I was becoming nasally and was starting to sneeze and cough. I decided to go on an easy run before the drive over to Door County from Minnesota. The run itself was very discouraging because my body ached and my nose was runny, so I decided to go online to see if it would be healthy for my body to run 50 miles in such condition.

Evidentially, it is okay for anyone to run with a cold so long it’s a head cold based on various internet sources I found at the time. If it’s a “chest” cold where you are coughing up mucus, you could be at risk for spreading the virus deeper into your lungs, which could make you in worse condition than if you didn’t run. Since I had a head cold, but felt pretty crappy overall, I decided to go out to Door County and make a call to race in the morning.

Come race morning, I woke up still achy and mucusy, but it still was not a chest cold nor did I have a fever, so I decided to race.

During the race, I actually felt relatively okay throughout the 50 miles (from a sickness standpoint). I didn’t find that my cold that was causing me to cough, sneeze, and sound nasally made any difference to my performance from what I could tell. I was blowing out snot rockets every 2-3 minutes and had a chaffed nose and a really gross race singlet on at the end as a result. I think that being in race mode with adrenaline running through my veins masked any symptoms.

After the race, I didn’t face any repercussions with getting sicker. My body followed the same 7-day course it usually does with a cold.

I do wonder if the illness did actually impact my performance or motivation to go faster at the end of the race. I guess I will have to wait until the next time. 

 

Race Logistics

The Fall 50 race takes place in Door County, WI and is a point-to-point race along backcountry roads that starts at the northern tip of the peninsula at Gill’s Rock and finishes in Sturgeon Bay. Dan Mills, my best friend from high school flew out from Colorado the Thursday before the Saturday race to help crew for me.

Since Dan is an architect, we drove out to Wisconsin Friday morning and stopped at different architectural marvels along the way, including a Frank Lloyd Wright House. I wanted to make the best out of his trip since he was going to help me out through a half-day race.

We ate dinner a little late at 6:30pm at the Stone Harbor Restaurant & Pub, which was where packet pickup was and stayed at the Peninsula Park-View Resort. I came to regret eating that late into the night so I found out during the race…

 

Race Goals

My primary goal for this race was to focus on my heart-rate zones and not go out too fast and die at the end. I made this mistake at the Chippewa Falls 50k in 2014 and the Ice Age 50 races earlier this year. Generally, I don’t know who was going to be there nor know how fast anyone was going to race. I have found from my experience so far that these ultra races are generally more of a race against yourself where the training you put in before the race and your focus on your strategy and focus on your race will place you. 

Race Day

The start of the race was well organized and actually had food available for the runners at the startline. A local coffee stand had coffee drinks for sale. I started the race without any fuel since Dan was helping at every aid station replenishing my fuel.

The start of the race went out fast. Mario Mencias took it hard and hammered 6:00min miles. I did everything I could to control my competitive nerves and hold my pace to my heart rate. I did end up going just a little bit quicker than I wanted with him taking the lead. I lost sight of him by mile 3.

Dan Mills helped me by refilling my Nathan handheld bottles with Hammer HEED and Perpetuem at every aid station starting at the 2nd aird station. I prefer to race with nothing in hand during the first segments of races since I can drink and eat up before races. There’s no need to race with extra weight!

The race course was absolutely gorgeous, especially the first 24 miles as we ran along the coastline of the peninsula. The towns along the shore reminded me of coastal towns on the west coast.

At the aid station at mile 24, I was surprised to see that the leader, Mario, was at the aid station bent over with his hands on the aid station table. He apparently pulled something in his leg and was going to wait for his girlfriend to run with her for the remaining 26miles. Dan and the volunteers at the aid station were cheering me on that I was now in first place.

I was pretty excited knowing that I was in 1st place, but at the same time, I was bummed out since I was no longer chasing anyone and that my new strategy in the race was to hold pace, keep my place, and try to get a good finish time. 

I was surprised how hilly the course was during the first ~26miles. Some of the hills were very steep, so I found it even more important to not go too hard. After the 50-K mark, the course flattened out, until mile 39 where the steepest hill was with a ~150-200 foot climb. 

The remaining ~10 miles of the course were relatively flat, which allowed for smooth finish. I did have to stop to go to the bathroom, which I've never done in a race before probably because I ate dinner the night before so late.

I was happy to be accompanied by a USATF official vehicle for the last 4 miles of the race. He was a cool guy that was encouraging through the last bit of the race. As we approached the finish line, he was blaring his horn to notify everyone that I was approaching the end of the race. As I approached the finish, I got a sudden burst of energy to go a little harder because there were about 20 people gathered near the finish line and a finishing tape was being held up by two officials. I've never crossed a finish line in first place with a tape before, so it was a memorable finishing experience.

 

Reflection

I am happy with my time and my place, but I wish I could have raced it a little more evenly paced or have been able to try out negative splitting. Lance Cundy, who I met at the Runners Flat 50k earlier in October, ran some great analysis on his race report here that showed that by running negative splits he was able to comfortably make up considerable ground between Devin, who won the race, and me.

 

Gear

·         Visor- helps keep sweat from running into my eyes

·         Shoes: Hoka Clifton 3s- Great light shoes for this race. The extra cushioning was especially great at the end of the race where my feet have felt beaten up with 20% to go in other brands I’ve run in.

·         Nathan Handheld bottles

·         Fuel:

o   Hammer Heed- Mile 6-24

o   Hammer Perpetuem- Last 26 miles

o   Hammer Apple Cinnamon Gel- I ended up taking about 8 gels starting at mile 10