Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Race Report: 2015 American Canyon 25k

The 2015 American Canyon 25k, held on February 7th, was my first race of the season. I love this race; it is always around my birthday. This was the fourth time I have run the event and my second go at the 25k distance. I don't have many return visits to the same race course, and I was curious how I would stack up against my performance from a year ago.

As with last year, the course was muddy and slick. A storm system had rolled over Northern California the day before. Race morning the rain abated, leaving humid and warm conditions. Numerous runners remarked on how it was much warmer than they had anticipated. 

My goal was to finish under three hours, which would be almost a minute per mile faster than 2014. I felt like I was healthier yet heavier on the start line, which was on the opposite side of the Auburn Overlook parking lot from the historical start/finish line. This would actually come into play before the day was through. At 7:00, Race Director Harlan Reymont shooed us out of the parking lot.

25k course profile (out and back)

I like to go out fast at this race. The trail immediately funnels into descending single track, and I like to get near the front of the conga line. Running amongst the front of the pack for the first mile takes a lot out of me though, and as the fire road traverses around Robie Point I usually get swallowed up by the pack. I had my heart rate under control by the time I reached river level, about 3 miles in.

At No Hands Bridge aid station I stuffed a handful of potato chips into a zip lock bag and began the climb to Cool Meadow. I had two bottles of Tailwind, comprising 600 calories. I planned to complement that with whatever looked good at each of the three aid stations. The race marked the cusp between the base-building phase and strength-building phase of my Western States training. As I climbed, I ran as much as I could while keeping my heart rate below 85% max. As a reward, I set PR's on the Strava segments along the climb.

In 2014, the leader of the 25k had passed me on his return through Cool Meadow. I kept my eyes up, scanning for any sign of this year's leader as I approached. I knew if I could get somewhat further along the outbound leg before I saw him that I would be on pace for a sub-three hour effort. Rudy Von Ravensberg, from Reno, came into sight just before I began the descent to Highway 49 aid station and the turnaround. I was on track.

I crossed paths with the rest of the top 7 as I danced down the technical descent. Rocks, roots and mud demanded my focus, and I grunted encouragement to the other runners with out taking my eyes off the trail. I cruised into the aid station, grabbing a handful of potato for my zip lock baggie, and ran back up the hill without breaking stride. I saw a few more friendly faces on my return trip. Those at the very back of the pack were still grinding their way up to the meadow; determination and grit oozing out of each and every one.

Photo by Keith Sutter
The last time I ran down the Western States Trail to No Hands Bridge was in June. My early-season legs chewed up the rocky trail. The sun occasionally peeked through the clouds, and a cool breeze blew. I tried to compare how I felt with my condition at States, but I could not discern a significant difference. Although, I could breath just fine today.

Another lightning fast aid station stop where I filled a bottle with water and grabbed some banana and an orange slice before heading across the bridge. I tossed the orange peel back towards the trash can (missing it completely) and thanked the volunteer who was already moving to retrieve it. I promised myself to keep running the climb to the finish, save for the steep switchbacks and occasional heart rate mandated hiking.

Overall, I was impressed by my aerobic capacity. I found I could run up most grades without flirting with that 85% threshold as long as I kept my cadence up and focused on easy symmetrical breathing. I caught up with the 15k carnage on the home stretch, commiserating about the brutal elevation gain in the final miles. 

I gained the final stretch of single track with 20 minutes to break three hours. One and a half miles with 400 feet of elevation stood between me and my arbitrary goal. I fought off the apathy and kept running. I crested the hill at the Auburn Staging Area (the historical start/finish line) with seconds to spare, but still had to traverse the parking lot to finish in 3:00:55.

I'll take it. A 14 minute PR and an 8th place finish.

In addition to running stronger, I wanted to reduce my time spent in the aid stations. In 2014, my overall time minus moving time was 10 minutes and 49 seconds. This year, it was 1 minute 7 seconds! This is an area where I stand to make huge gains in year over year performances. I leave a lot of time at those buffet tables. No rest for the weary in 2015!

Huge thanks go out to Harlan and the Sierra Pacific Endurance Sports Volunteers. This event always has that grass roots community feel to it. From the low key start to the finish line chili, it never disappoints. Breakfast at Auburn Alehouse doesn't suck either! I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with a return to the American Canyon Trail Races.

The deets:

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