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Vegan Power 50K, 2017

I signed up for the Vegan Power 50K six days before the race, which in the world of ultramarathons is a relative “spur of the moment” decision. But my training in the last few months — a mix of 8-16 mile trail runs, punctuated by weekly 4-5 hour hikes with focused elevation gain — could support a 50K, and I was fretting about not having run an ultra since last December. The best way to prepare for running long distances, is running long distances!

Mr. P ran the Vegan Power 50K a few years back and gave it a positive endorsement… mostly because after the race, he was served the best smoothie he has ever had in his life. It was vegan, of course. Aside from the course’s rolling hills, that’s all he remembers. (Sadly, no smoothies this year.)

I came to understand that this race is affiliated with a vegan distance running team “Strong Hearts Vegan Power.” They do Ragnar relays with A/B/C/D teams (and the A team apparently does very well, usually placing in the top 5 teams) and all the runners wear cool sexy black shirts with white lettering, like this:

Strong Hearts Vegan Power

Strong Hearts Vegan Power

Had I known the extent of the vegan connection to this race, I might have thought twice about entering. The website said that the race was open to everyone, but it was hard not to feel like an outsider intruding on an event for a very niche community (even though the race director and volunteers were extremely polite). Adding to this feeling is the fact that, though I was a vegetarian for about 10 years, I now eat a mainly paleo diet and rely on animals for the bulk of my calories.  Shhhhh… but my health has never been better. I do try to be an ethical carnivore and avoid products coming from factory farms, which are abhorrent. We have a meat share with a local farmer and will pay a premium to purchase eggs and cheese that come from small farms. I don’t think that would win me any accolades from this crowd, but it makes me feel better about “crashing” the race.

I drove about 2.5 hours to Pittsfield State forest — basically crossing the entire state of Massachusetts — to arrive about 25 minutes before the 7am start for the 50K. It was cloudy, about 70 degrees with palpable humidity that increased during the day. Course conditions were wet due to heavy rain the previous day, but the heavily-eroded trails bore little mud; in fact, the main issue was extensive and slick tree roots.

When I picked up my race shirt, the nice volunteer asked me what size. “Medium?” I guessed. She said “Yes, I’d say medium’s right, because you’re very long, and not so slim and trim.”

I took the shirt, speechless. I can only surmise that since she herself was rather rotund, she is into body acceptance. (Purely an observation, but I’d say my body type — muscular — was different from the vegans I saw. They were mostly either rail-thin or chubby.) By the way, the medium is way too big.

The race consisted of 6 loops of 5-miles each. My plan from the beginning was to run the first two loops very conservatively; the next two loops with more effort; and then the last two loops with whatever I had left. And I followed that plan.

The first loop I was in a “train” of runners, following three women (none of who were wearing the black vegan shirts) moving at about 11 minute mile pace. Although the course was very runnable, it wasn’t particularly a fast course due to the afore-mentioned rolling hills and roots. My breath remained steady and I had that “I could do this all day” feeling. During the second loop I was still in the train of mostly the same people.

The third loop, I pushed the pace a bit. So did one of the girls, who was running well. I followed her for about a mile and then she slipped badly on some roots. She assured me she was fine and she got up quickly, but after that I didn’t see her.

I happened to finish the third loop right when the 25K race was starting. That was a bummer, as not only did I completely disrupt the race start, I was looking forward to running a bit by myself. Running over semi-technical trails surrounded by people can be depleting; it’s harder to see the obstacles further ahead of you, and it’s distracting to have footfalls behind you.


Me in the green shirt, starting loop 4 during the 25K race start

So at the start of the fourth loop, I was back in a crowd. I quickly worked my way past the slowest 25K runners and, as I did, I “picked up” two women in the black vegan shirts who apparently decided to use me as a pacer. They were right on my heels and declined several offers to move ahead of me.

But, they didn’t talk to me. They talked to each other. “So how long have you been vegan?” (Both about 6 years.) “And how long have you been running?” (Both under a year. Neither had ever run a trail race.) Despite their ragged breath, they followed me the whole loop. I like to think I taught them something about trail running etiquette. When we passed slower runners, I called out brightly “Nice job, keep it up!” By the end of the loop, they began calling out similar things. (I later passed one of them right before I finished and she greeted me like an old acquaintance).

So I did the majority of the 5th and 6th loops alone. By then, my major issue was nausea.  I was so good about eating for the first 10 miles, but I wouldn’t be able to eat anything past mile 17. My legs felt great and my energy was surprisingly good, so it was a bummer to have to take walking breaks to temporarily abet the nausea.

The last loop was a grind. I had no clue about my place but was determined to finish in around 6 hours. I chatted to runners as I passed them — many were walking — and tried to smile through the urge to puke. When I crossed the finish in 6 hours, 1 minute, I was told I was third female in the 50K and would get a trophy.

Award Ceremony -- 3rd Female, 50K

Award Ceremony — 3rd Female, 50K

The trophy has a sheep on it, which I think is hilarious and cool. (All the trophies had animals).

I was still unable to really eat but I choked down some tortilla chips. On the long drive home, I drank whey protein shakes. My appetite finally came back for dinner, which was a wonderful grilled salmon with fennel.

Next race, I’ll be back in Western Mass. for a 24-hour run (which I’m planning to walk 80%).


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