Tuesday, September 14, 2010

MCKenzie River 50K

I seemed to be on a roll as McKenzie turned out to be another good run for me. My recovery after Waldo was going well so when the chance to enter the McKenzie River 50K came, I jumped on it. McKenzie is another local race that is well run, competitive, has plenty of history, and is incredibly beautiful. We in Eugene are lucky to have such great races so close to home. Many of the racers, their friends and family stayed in Ice Cap campground the night before the race, so I enjoyed an evening of laughter and campfires. I was thankful for the late(ish) 7:30 start however, I didn’t sleep all that well and probably would have been ready to go at 5:00. Due to a bridge replacement project at the Carmen reservoir and construction at the Ranger Station, the race course was modified this year. The race started up in the Ice Cap campground, the turnaround was extend (uphill) on the Santiam Wagon road, and the finish came prior to passing Paradise campground but instead took us uphill on a gravel road for about a half mile before a quarter mile downhill to the finish.

At the start Jeremy Tolman, Steve Richards, and I decided to take the lead. Jeremy was leading us quickly up the trail towards Clear Lake. After a brief wrong turn towards the waterfall overlook (I think I did that last time also), we rearranged our order and Steve took the lead. The three of us stayed together up through the lava field on south side of Clear Lake. The twisty-turny technical sections are slow but don’t seem too bad when you are running them. However, as the day progresses you realize they really take a toll on your body. At the north end of the lake we turned right onto the out and back portion of the course and started passing the early starters. At the Santiam Wagon Road aid station (6.1mi.) I met Tom Atkins who took my warm cloths, and gave me my water bottle. We then had a short out and back section along the road that took us a short ways uphill.

During this whole first hour together the three of us were having a good time joking and taking in the scenery. We were of course wondering the whole time how the rest of the race would unfold. On the west side of Clear Lake Steve met his crew and stopped to exchange some clothing, and I think decided to back off a bit for a while. From that point on Jeremy and I were on our own.

Like Waldo, I made a real effort to stay on top of my fluids, calories, and sodium. Jeremy led the entire way, and I felt comfortable just drifting up and back depending on our various trail strengths or if I was fumbling around with gu’s. I always kept him in sight however.

I always feel a little guilty racing at McKenzie River because it is such a beautiful place. I gave a ½ second glance at the blue pool as we passed, but I really couldn’t spare more than that without tripping.

I had no idea what pace we were running. The pace felt comfortable from the Trail Bridge aid station all the way to the last aid station at Buck Bridge. I had hoped to beat my 3:44 time from four years ago, but based on how I felt, I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen. I had recovered well from the Waldo race three weeks ago, and I had a surprisingly good 10 mile steady run the week before. However I just didn’t have enough confidence in how my body would handle the late miles. I was content to focus on racing and not worry about the time. The great thing about having run a 100k recently is that this 50k was feeling short. I remember thinking “wow we only have an hour left of running”. Jeremy was still looking relaxed and I was starting to think about the end of the race. Tom met me at the Deer Creek aid station (23.5mi) and swapped bottles with me again. His work had saved me a lot of transition time through the aid stations. He wasn’t going to be able to meet me at Buck Bridge because he needed to go back and crew other friends. Jeremy and I only had about 7.5 miles to go and it was only 3.3 miles to the next aid station. The pace quickened. I decided I would fuel up, drink almost all of my fluid, take a few more S! Caps, and just blow through Buck Bridge. I knew I had a good hard 4 miles left in me. Jeremy was still looking relaxed and was also drinking a lot. I was starting to think he had the same plan. Things were going to be interesting.

As we approached Buck Bridge the trail widened and I was getting ready to go. Then suddenly Jeremy caught a root and went down! I didn’t know what to do, my body was starting to push and my head said to stop. It didn’t seem right to make a move when he was on the ground. I stopped, jogged back a few steps. He seemed ok, and was getting up so I jogged ahead. As he made his way over to exchange bottles with his crew, I decided it was ok to go and took off. I went hard to the finish and aside from some calf cramping it felt great. My final time was 3:35:14, second fastest time on the course. I had an awesome time and enjoyed seeing everyone else come in.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where's Waldo 100K 2010

On my third attempt to run this race, I finally made it to the starting line not only healthy, but fit. Waldo this year meant a lot to me for many different reasons. It’s a high caliber competitive race with prize money, two Western States spots, and a part of the Montrail Ultra Cup series. Also it’s local—co-directed by my good friend Craig Thornley—and is a beautiful and challenging course. Most importantly, Waldo would be a trial for me. After my 2008 Western States experience, I endured an incredible period of self-doubt, and I set Waldo up as a litmus test—an indicator of my ability to run well at longer distances.

Courtney and I stayed in a hotel down in Oakridge with Sunsweet teammate Meghan the night before the race. On race day, I think Courtney was more nervous than I was. For the most part, I was just looking forward to spending the entire day running on the awesome wilderness trails. Megan had recently given me Brian’s (her husband) headlamp to use for the first section that would be in the dark. Brian passed away in early August, and using his light at the start of this great adventure felt symbolic and reassuring.

The climb up the ski hill felt comfortable. I loved looking back down the hill and seeing all the bouncing lights slowly working their way up the hill, and into the day ahead. Around five of us were loosely grouped together as we filtered through the Gold Lake aid station. Courtney met me near the road crossing and took my light and extra clothing. Lewis Taylor and another runner gapped us, and I didn’t see them again until nearly the top of the Mt. Fuji.

Tim Olson summited first, and then was gone. The picture to the left is possibly the last clear sighting of Tim anyone got until the Mt. Ray aid station. Part way down I stated getting reports about Tim: “He is about 2 minutes up… He has about 3 minutes on you… That guy was flying – he has about 7 minutes on you!” Officially, he had put 4 minutes on me in a little under 7 miles. Ouch. Courtney met me at Mt. Ray and I had some banana. Lewis was right behind me. I decided to work a bit on the grind up to the Twins aid station to see if the gap was for real or just a crazy downhill effort by Tim. By the Twins aid station—theme: Heaven and Hell—Tim had put another minute on me, so he was obviously was not just a great downhiller. I backed off a bit and felt a little relieved I was free to run my own race.

At Charlton aid station I met Courtney again. She gave me some chocolate milk, a banana, my second water bottle, and a hug. What else could I need? I was half way, feeling relaxed and in control. However, I knew that with the day warming up and the Twins & Maiden Climbs ahead, the hardest part of the course was still to come.

Shortly after the Charlton aid station I started to get some minor cramping in my calves. This slowed me down a bit, and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill section into Road 4290 very well. I thought I had been taking enough salt and it was still fairly cool, so I figured I must be a dehydrated. I started drinking more, knowing I could refill both bottles soon at the 4290 aid station.

Out of the aid station, on my way to summit the Twins, the cramping wasn’t too bad because it was mostly flat and uphill. The Twins were work, but I felt like I kept the pace going well. Heading downhill to return to the Twins aid station I quickly realized that I hadn’t fixed the cramping and that is was now a big problem. I needed salt, and lots of it. I had been eating a little food at the aid stations and taking gels regularly which seem to be enough to keep my energy up, and my legs still felt good. Because of the cramping however, I felt like I really lost out on some good quick running down from the Twins to the Maiden Peak aid station. I had used up the last of my S! caps when I got to the aid station and they were able to give me four more, but only after some negotiation with the aid station captain.

The climb up Maiden peak was hard. I was able to keep a good hike/jog pace going for part way but as I got closer to the summit, I was really struggling just to hike. Eventually the trees started to thin, and I knew I was almost there. I was really looking forward to the short out and back near the summit. Maybe, just maybe, I would catch a glimpse of Tim (I didn’t) and I would get a chance to find out who might be behind me. No Tim, and no one within 9 minutes behind me. It would have been nice to see Tim, but this was once again my ticket to just run my own pace. I was feeling good again. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to catch me, and I didn’t have to kill myself trying to win.

At the Maiden Lake aid station I received a nice face wash from the volunteers and a one man pep rally from Ed Wilson. I still had some cramping on the way down, but after some extra S! Caps at the aid station I was ready to go. All things considered, including the the previous 54.5 miles, I felt fantastic on the last section. As I got closer, I realized I was not only going to break 10 hours but I would be way under. It was possible for me to be competitive at these longer distances and I could prevent myself from falling apart at the end.

I had passed my Waldo test with flying colors. Overall this was beautiful day on wonderful trails supported by some of my best friends… oh, and one more piece of good news: I didn’t get lost.