Monday, March 7, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Way Too Cool 50k (the DNF)

One of many water crossings at the 2016 Way Too Cool 50k. Photo by Mario Fraioli
Nutella: the stuff trails are made of
I rested often, climbing the 750' up American Canyon. Hoboken Creek was swollen, but far from the raging torrent David and I negotiated in December 2012. We had to daisy chain a fellow runner across that morning. Today it was barely knee high. Heavy rains made the trail slick; like running on Nutella. Only two weeks after my epidural I was just over halfway through the 2016 Way Too Cool 50k.

Race start. Photo by Chris Blagg

I ran 27 miles the week following the procedure, culminating in a 14 mile long run (my longest of the year thus far). To say I was under-trained would be an understatement. My log showed 71 miles run for all of 2016 as I toed the line on an inclement, windy morning. The rain abated for a few hours around the race start, which was a blessing. Forecasts had called for 3 inches of rain and 70 MPH gusts by afternoon. The trails remained saturated and slippery.

This race was a "D" race. A supported training run. My goal time was 7 hours. I stood in the corral with Twirly with just minutes to go when I realized I had forgotten to put on my heart rate monitor. I have worn that thing for a thousand runs, forgetting it maybe twice. Geez, I'm out of practice racing. I thought. We had stayed with friends in Auburn Lake Trails (ALT) the night before. Access to the gated community meant Twirly could see me at the ALT aid station at mile 21 in addition to resupplying me at the firehouse around mile 8.

Without my watch continually reminding me to take it easy, I took it easier than I thought I should. My mantra was "100 mile pace, 100 mile pace." Focusing on foot placement was paramount as we left the pavement and descended to Knickerbocker Creek. Climbing out of the creek bed, a reader/runner recognized me and we chatted on the climb. It happens so rarely I forget that people might recognize me from Wanderplace. It is always nice to meet readers. Des, a New Zealander living in Davis, was hoping to improve on his previous time of ~6:30 by breaking 6 hours. I warned him that the conditions were not conducive to a PR, and that he better stay in front of me. He went on to finish in 5:59! Nice work Des, and great to meet you.

The first 8 miles, aka the Olmsted Loop, went smoothly. I stayed on my feet, listened for the iconic frogs and took regular walk breaks on the edge of the trail. About a mile from the end of the loop a deer bolted through the pack, eliciting cheers and whoops from runners. "He's gonna win if he keeps that pace up!" someone behind me exclaimed. I came through the Fire Station (~mile 7.5) in ~1:40 - about 25 minutes off my best. Twirly and Victor helped me get squared away for the remainder of the race while I told them I felt "meh". I admit, I was looking forward to the descent to Quarry Road. I hadn't run that stretch since States, and I love finding my groove on the technical stretch of trail.

Quarry Road looking down river. PC unknown
I continued focusing on foot placement and cruised onto Quarry Road feeling relatively good. My back was getting sore, but it served as a reminder to rotate my hips forward and keep my back stacked (both strategies recommended by my physical therapist). I grazed at the aid station and mixed a bottle of Tailwind. I couldn't get the Tailwind wrapper open with my wet hands, so the Queen helped open it for me and Julie (sans Torrey) gave me a quick report on how the real race up front was unfolding. The rain began to pick up, and I set off down Quarry Road. I continued using a run/walk approach to keep my effort in check.

On the climb up American Canyon I began to feel spent. My back continued to ache, and my hips and glutes were screaming. Frequent strength work has my hip girdle in a constant state of fatigue. I knew that if I finished the race my training for the following week would suffer. I began to have that old internal dialogue:

"I want to drop."

"Why? You aren't injured or fighting cut-offs, and you're still having fun, right?"

"This slippery shit is NOT fun. And if I continue I MIGHT hurt myself. If I get to ALT aid station that will make 21 miles. 32 for the week. I ran 26 miles the week before. It will end up being the perfect length for this point in the training cycle."

"And you won't screw up your ultrasignup score!"

Just like that, I had come to peace with dropping. Twirly was only 2.5 miles away. As I turned the idea of my first DNF over in my head, I heard Gordy Ainsleigh coming up the hill behind me. We crested the hill and I stepped aside to let the legend go. I power-hiked the last couple miles, trying to let runners go by without holding them up. Erika came up behind me around Barb's bench, and we chatted about race schedules and injuries for a few minutes.

I glissaded into the aid station at ALT and asked for the station captain. He thought I was an injured runner he had been hearing about, but I assured him I was okay, just done. He asked if I needed a ride out, and I told him I should have one waiting... But no Twirly. It all worked out though - I only waited a few minutes before I had a ride. I got back to the Fire Station around 1 pm.

In the VSD tent. Photo by Karen Gerasimovich
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the Victory Sportdesign tent enjoying Headlands IPA and catching up with old friends. I got changed into dry clothes and got a massage from Ve Loyce at the Monsters of Massage tent. Ve Loyce treats me well; I wish I lived closer to his shop. I felt pretty good about my decision, and my body bounced back quickly. I know I could have finished, but I wasn't there to prove anything. I got exactly the time on my feet that I needed at this point in my training.

Ann likes to have her athletes break down races into threes: name three things you did right, did wrong, etc. I thought a lot about that during my internal dialogue, and here is what I came up with:

Things I did right:
  1. I listened to my body and when it spoke up I came to the right decision. Those last ten miles would have been junk miles.
  2. I stayed on my feet in very difficult conditions. Also, I wore gaiters to keep the silt in the water crossings out of my shoes.
  3. I executed my race plan: nutrition was on track and my pace kept easy.
Finishers chute. Photo by Amy Melcher Ownes
Things I did wrong:
  1. I wasn't organized in my usual fashion and that resulted in forgetting my heart rate monitor.
  2. My shoes, Altra Lone Peak 1.5s, lacked sufficient traction in the slippery conditions. I need to buy some shoes with beefier lugs on them for rainy, sloppy days.
  3. I should have made it clear to Twirly that I might drop at ALT. That would have ensured she met me there. Not a big deal in the end, but I could have ended up waiting at the aid station for a lot longer than I did and it was getting cold.
I have often tried to imagine what my first DNF would look like. I made it 23 races before it happened, and it happened on my own terms. No bones showing, no sweeps or cut-offs looming. It feels right. I just hope it doesn't lower the threshold, making it an easier decision in the future. If it had been a goal race I would have soldiered on,  but now I have enough in the tank to focus on training up to Gorge Waterfalls 50k (which I will be running as a "B", not racing) and this Spring's ultimate goal: the Miwok 100k and that 2017 Western States qualifier.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers (especially Leah, who gave me ride back to the Fire station) and NorCal Ultras. Thanks to Victory Sportdesign for keeping my shit together and providing shelter from the storm for the afternoon: get in, get out, get moving! And thanks to all you who read Wanderplace. From this side of the blog, it is difficult to discern if I am connecting with anyone. That makes it nice to meet people who have benefited from these pages.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Update: Epidural Efficacy and Way Too Cool 50k Preview

Kilian in the pain cave

While making friends with pain is a cornerstone of endurance sports, I find myself in more of a love/hate relationship with it at the moment. Kilian Jornet (above) represents an echelon outside my potential. But when I conjure my conquests of fitness and stamina, the chasm between now and then stings. The epidural procedure has enabled me to resume training, but the comfort I know awaits me has resisted to manifest thus far. My back continues to feel vulnerable and sore after hard efforts. My hips and ass are fatigued from so much strength work. Fortunately, the sciatica has not returned. So I have that going for me.

I have run less than 70 miles for the year. Yet, I intend to toe the line tomorrow morning for my third Way Too Cool 50k. It is going to be sloppy. Rain should build all morning to a full blown storm by 3 pm, right around my expected finishing time. My 50k PR (5:23) came on this course in 2013. I am not chasing a PR this year. Getting my groove back and spending time on my feet are my two primary goals tomorrow. Having fun and practicing 100 miler pace (run/walk likely) are also on the agenda. I get to try the new Tailwind Green Tea Buzz drink mix, and then there is all that rain.

I have always loved running in the rain. Sure, it is hard to get out the door, but a good storm makes any outdoor activity feel, well, more Epic. Am I right? The 2012 CIM (Stormathon Redux) will always be one of my favorite accomplishments. However, with the slippery conditions, I will have to be very mindful of my footing. I cannot risk tweaking my already frail back. So, I'll slow it down. Maybe I'll even stop at 8 miles for a beer break at the Victory Sportdesign tent before tackling the back two thirds of the course. It worked pretty well while pacing at TRT, right?

Sad news from the Western States organization this week; Dr. Bob Lind, shotgun starter emeritus has passed at the age of 81. I am honored to have met him briefly at the Sports and Medicine conferences in Squaw Valley. The fact that my first two Western States runs were started by the blast of his shotgun further cement those two runs as the most important accomplishments of my running career. AJW has penned a poignant remembrance over at iRunFar. Please, do check it out.