Thursday, August 22, 2013

White River and Resurrection Pass race reports (part 2)

Resurrection Pass 50

When I scheduled these races earlier in the year I really had no idea how my body would respond running a pair of 50 mile races 2 weeks apart.  While I experienced some general discomfort in my knees during WR (White River) they didn't give me any major issues.  However, once I stopped running that race and sat down my left knee stiffened up so bad I could hardly bend it and it took 3 days before I could straighten it out. With that said I didn't run at all until the week after the race, a Wednesday, which was also 3 days before Resurrection Pass.  My left knee felt good, and the rest of me for that matter, but I ran a bit too hard and my right knee felt strange.  Either way nothing seemed seriously broken so I knew I would at least start Resurrection Pass.

I heard about the course change in the car ride back from WR which was less than 2 weeks from the race.  Rather than running the 38 mile trail and then finishing off with 12 miles of gravel road, we would run 6 miles down the Devils Pass trail and then back up to the Resurrection Pass trail, creating a 12 mile out and back.  This meant that the entire 50 miles was on single track.  Based on the trails and distance the course has less elevation gain than the previous version, but the course changes also meant only 1 aid station, at mile 24. So overall I would say the course is perhaps a bit more difficult, or at least about the same difficulty overall as the previous course.

The weather at WR was great, clear the entire day, cool in the morning and about 70 at the finish.  The forecast for Resurrection Pass, however, was much different, rain with a high of 59.  It was raining Friday night when we arrived at the campsite but letup through the night.  The race start was about 45 miles away, we woke up early and headed out.  The temperature gauge in the car dipped to 50 while driving over one of the passes, with just a few spots of rain.  I could imagine what the 100 milers had to go through running over  the pass in the middle of the night in the rain, turns out they had a long night indeed.

I was the 36th runner to check in, the director said he had over 70 notify him they would run, looking at the results 48 finished with 1 DNF, so there were 49 starters.  I didn't see anybody I knew so I lined up towards the front.  The gun went off (not actually a gun, the race director gave us a 5 second countdown and said GO!) and immediately 1 runner took off like a wild deer down the trail.  My plan was to run what pace felt good but not be afraid to push the pace a bit.  I knew my body would probably not hold up the entire day so  the idea was to bank time.  Keep in mind this is actually a terrible idea in running, so I really have no idea why this was my approach, but it is generally what I do during races.

It took me about 45 minutes to settle into a good pace, but when I did I started to feel good.  After 2 hours though my toes started to go numb and then felt like someone smashed them with a hammer, I still don't know why but was happy no one was around when I let out random groans of pain.  Rather than walking this early in the race I made some adjustments to my gate that helped a little but generally pushed through the pain.  I ran almost the entire way up to the Devils Pass trail intersection, walking only a short uphill technical section.

I headed down the new section of the course on the Devils Pass trail excited to run a new trail, and this section was awesome!  The trail winds around a few small lakes before heading down the pass along the side of a mountain in a gorgeous valley.

Just a few miles out from the mile 24, and only, aid station, I saw Jeremy's pacer (and our friend) Matt, he informed me that Jeremy dropped at mile 70 from the 100 miler.  As it turns out 7 of the 13 starters for the 100 miler dropped, so only 6 finished (cheers to them and to Tony for ultra #200).  I made to the aid station, got my drop bag, ate some food, filled back up on gels, took a 5 Hour Energy, and headed back out on the trail.

Leaving the aid station heading back up Devils pass is mostly uphill, which really hurt.  I tried to run but my knees were in pain from the climbing, but despite that I was still able to at least walk at a decent pace.  So I decided to just try and power up the hill.  This went well until my hamstrings started to cramp, and for a few minutes my quads felt like they were going to roll up into tight balls of wadded muscle.  Towards the end of the climb my knees really started to hurt as well, but I was still able to run, at least on the flat sections.

I tried to calculate mileage remaining when I got back to the pass and onto the Resurrection Pass trail but my brain wasn't working too well.  I tried running when I could which was still about 70% of the time.  A few miles back on the pass headed toward Hope I witnessed a strange event, the sun came out!  After raining most of the night and most of the morning there was a clearing!  Unfortunately my body wasn't too willing to take advantage of the weather as I was now walking more than running.

While making my way down the backside of the pass I ran into Greg, he was the one who dragged me so fast through the race last year.  We chatted for about 15 or 20 minutes while we walked along and then I decided to keep moving (he was finishing the 100 miler).  It didn't take me long to resolve myself that I was going to have to walk it in as well, my body overall was doing fairly well but my knees weren't working well at all and were getting really stiff.  Honestly at this point I was getting concerned about injury.  A few miles later I saw Brandon running towards me to pace me back to the finish.  I continued to walk but having someone to chat with and walk behind not only helped the time pass by but kept me motivated to keep moving as fast as I could.

I saw the bridge and people cheering so I knew I was at the finish.  I crossed the bridge and then the finish line in 11:38:07, quite a bit longer than the 8:57 it took my last year but still not a bad time at all!  Looking back at my splits it took me about 4 1/2 hours to run the first half and then about 7 hours to run the second.  I think the first word out of my mouth was "chair", I sat down, drank a beer, chatted with a few people, relished in the finish, and then we headed back to the campsite.  As most ultra runners will tell you, the real pain has only just begun!

Part 3 coming soon, lessons learned!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

White River and Resurrection Pass race reports (part 1)

Ultrarunning is an interesting sport.  The highs and lows a runner experiences both during racing and in training are difficult to describe to those who don't run ultras.  Since running White River and the weeks that have followed I have been through a plethora of these feelings.  Why do I run?  How is that person faster than me?  I am never doing this again!  That was awesome!  I hate myself for signing up for this race.  Why do my toes feel like someone smashed them with a hammer?  Was that my ACL that just popped?  How far to the next aid station?  Will this uphill EVER end?  I could go on for a while, but you get the idea.  Despite all this in the end, we run across the finish line triumphant, proud of the accomplishment and, after some recovery time, are ready to do it again!

This is part 1 of my race reports, the White River 50, part 2 will be on Resurrection Pass and will come later in the week, part 3 will be on lessons learned.  For now, here is my recap on White River.

White River 50

This race is a classic northwest favorite and has seen just about everyone in the ultra running world run it.  The race website says the course has 8,700 feet of climbing with an equal amount of decent.  However, after a course change and talking with other runners I was hearing numbers as high as 10,000 feet of gain and loss, although I believe it was somewhere around 9,500 feet of gain and loss.  What does all this mean?  That course is hlly!  I should have been tipped off when we drove the camp sight in a valley sandwiched between mountains.  But, it is difficult to wrap your head around courses simply by maps, pictures, and course profiles, sometimes you just have to run it.

The race starts at 6 AM on a small airfield that was just a few miles from our camp sight.  In hindsight I started too far up front and went out too fast, but that was always my plan, in a way.  I knew that the goal of 9 hours was very optimistic and that 10 hours was more realistic.  However, this didn't prevent me from going out at a 9 hour pace.  I was feeling good as we went in and out of the trees for a few miles before crossing the highway and running on more rolling single track.  After about 4 miles we started the first climb, this is probably where the day started to turn for me.  I didn't anticipate the hill lasting as long as it did, somewhere around 3 hours.  I knew what 3,500 feet of gain would feel like, but for some reason this felt more difficult and much longer.  I was trying to keep up with those around me which meant I was pushing myself a bit too hard.  In hindsight I think the hill was less steep than I anticipated and therefore just drug me along.  I think I was more prepared for a steeper climb.

We crested the first big climb and the course flattened out a bit before we hit more switchbacks and then a longer flat section heading into the first big aid station which is the high point of the course.  I actually hit the first aid station at about a 9:30 pace.  Having started with a backpack I stopped at the aid station only to get a few pieces of watermelon before pushing on.  Mentally this was probably the high point of the day for me, once I moved through the aid station the crowd really thinned out and I was able to run without any pressure.  With no one right in front of me and no one right behind me the race started to feel more like a training run and I was able to move at my own pace.

I started the long downhill section and immediately my stomach started to knot up.  This was the same feeling I had during Resurrection Pass last year but not until mile 44, I was only at mile 20.  I was still able to run most of the downhill after slowing down and talking more frequent walk breaks.  I was really excited to hear the cars on the highway knowing the mile 27 aid station was close and I would be able to get to my drop bag.  I reached the aid station a full hour behind my goal pace, but on track for about an 11 hour finish.  I was pretty hungry and was a bit disappointed to see the lack of real food at the aid station.  Either way I grabbed my ipod, slammed a red bull, and took off with my handheld water bottle.

I ran the short section on trails and then on a road before we started the second big climb.  Shortly into the climb I knew I was in trouble as my knees really started to hurt from the hills and my stomach was knotting up again.  But I made the best of it and kept moving.  I reached a small aid station about half way up the climb and in all the excitement of getting water I neglected to grab a gel, I realized this about 1/4 mile out. I could have gone back but I figured I would just deal with it and move on.

My pace slowed considerably as I headed up to the Sun Top aid station.  I was getting really hungry since I hadn't taken in any calories in over an hour.  It was pure delight to arrive at the Sun Top aid station!  I told myself to take time and consume calories.  I ate just about everything I could, several quarters of PB & J sandwiches, chips, watermelon, water, sports drink, and electrolyte capsules.  I was there for about 5 minutes eating and trying to get my stomach to settle.  Once I realized that more food was going to do more harm than good I topped off my water bottle and started down the 4 mile hill.

Some think that running downhill is easier than going up, sure its faster, but that doesn't meant easier.  Just a few minutes out from the aid station my stomach started to knot up again, and with each foot impact it just hurt even more. I tried to run downhill, walking some and running some.  It probably took me an hour to run the 4 mile downhill section.

I kept a running and walking regiment until the next aid station.  I saw the aid station and started hearing some people cheer and holler my name.  To my surprise it was my crew!  This was not actually a crew aid station but it happened to be about 1/2 mile walk on trails to our campground.  Seeing them gave me a huge boost, my stomach changed from knotting to straight nausea but despite this the mental boost meant I still ran the first mile out of the aid station.  My run then slowed to a walk, I was trying not to throw up at this point as I walked it in.  I figured I was too close to the finish line to have a complete breakdown so my plan was to just hold it together until the end.

I managed to come across the finish line in 11:26:18.  Not the 9 hours or even sub 11 hours I had hoped for, but in hindsight running this time on that course is something to be proud of!  That course is difficult, I was simply not ready for the hills (more on that in part 3).  It took 3 days for my left knee to straighten, and I am still not fully recovered.  However, it was a fun day despite all the times I cursed myself for taking part in it, and it was only 24 hours before I told myself I could go back and run it faster.

Next up, Resurrection Pass 50!