Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Sizzler 49'r Canyon 10-Miler
Training through a race can be an enormous confidence builder if things flow smoothly. What I mean is that being able to run decently well with less than fresh legs certainly indicates a high degree of fitness, strength, and mental fortitude. In contrast, completely bombing a race in which you are training through can be quite discouraging; if not physically, then mentally disheartening too. Heading into this years Sizzler 10-miler, putting in a quality effort with not-so-recovered-legs was really my goal. I wasn't too distracted with hitting a particular time. I mean, yeah it would be great to break the course record, but I knew realistically, that due to my lack of speed-work, I did not have the spark I'm used to. For good reason though, I'm not training for shorter races in which specific speed-work is necessary. I wanted to see how my newly developed base/strength would carry me over the varying terrain that the Sizzler course encompasses.
At last years race, I came in with an average of 25-30 miles per week, in addition to very little hill work under my belt. On top of that, although I was racing the individual 10-mile race (as opposed to the relay), the dynamic duo of Connor and Austin -- due to their high degree of talent and fitness -- put the hurt on me with their tag-team tenacity. So much so, that I recorded my slowest finishing time ever at Sizzler in 1:06:00 (my previous best was achieved in 2007 -- 1:04:23).
Sizzler is a tricky course in which correct pacing is of vital importance. The first four miles snakes through some busy intersections of Auburn and also some more peaceful residential neighborhoods. The course leads you down to Robie Point and from there the fun begins; a sweet, mostly downhill section along the Western States Trail in reverse. After a few miles, you pop back out onto a short section of pavement right next to the Hwy 49 bridge leading up to Cool. The pavement takes you to Stagecoach and you climb this infamous hill up to Russell Road. You continue to ascend slightly on Russell Road (on pavement) until you hang a right on Lincoln Way and follow back the way you started to the finish at Sizzler's. The course overall is about 40% trail and 60% pavement.
I say that this course is tricky because its easy to get caught up in a faster-than-normal pace for the first six miles (being that it is mostly flat or downhill), with the 2-mile climb up Stagecoach still looming. As someone who has begun too fast, blown up his quads, and fallen apart on Stagecoach; trust me, with this race, correct pacing/timing is everything.
With far too much background information in mind, let's get to the good stuff.
Even though I was training through and hadn't tapered, I was feeling pretty good come race day. Maybe it's because I have put my body through hell over the past three months and I've just learned to adapt, who knows? I didn't really warm-up prior to the race, other than a short half-mile jog five minutes before the start of the race.
As the gun went off, I began rather conservative. I always like to ease into this race and gain momentum as the course further descends. Three or four high school kids from River Valley High shot out at the start and set a quick tempo. As you get older and more mature as a runner, you learn not to bother with "rabbits" as I like to call them, especially "jumpy" high school kids who are just learning pacing. I settled in next to a kid who I thought was a high school student, but turned out to be a sophomore in college (and I thought I looked young?). We chatted through the first mile (6:10) and I found out that he attends some obscure college in Texas (Southwestern University I think?) and this was his first 10-miler. Right on! I gave him some tips, what to be aware of further along the course, and encouraged him to pace himself (This was my sixth time running Sizzler, three times as part of a relay and this was my third time running the individual 10 mile race).
After the road kicked up in gradient a bit, next thing I knew I was on the tail of one of these brave high school kids coming down to the intersection of Lincoln Way and the Hwy 49 road to the confluence.
It was then that I spotted two mysterious figures lurking. They were hairy and appeared as if they were looking for innocent prey to hunt. Was it man, beast, or child? Neither of these, it was Austin and Connor on their bikes!
I was really happy to see them and veered off course momentarily to high-five them. They accompanied me for about a mile and it was a great distraction just to be able to laugh and forget the fact that I was in the middle of a race.
They wished me luck, told me to go after the record, and then it was back to business. I was feeling really relaxed and engaged in a more than comfortable pace as I neared Robie Point. The descent into Robie is a great spot to put some time in the bank. You just let the legs roll over and enjoy the ride.
I was also looking forward to approaching Robie for the simple fact that it was this section where the transition from pavement to trail would occur. I hit Robie in 18:45 (approximately 3.5 mile mark), cut a sharp left and blasted down the trail.
I kept a quick, controlled pace as I zig-zagged down into the canyon and was waiting for my quads to blow at any moment as they had the previous year. Nothing. I was really surprised how well my legs were feeling given the fact that I wasn't dogging this race, but moving pretty well.
As I came to a more level surface, I continued to let my momentum flow and kept wondering what my 6 mile split would be. After weaving through the trail some more, I saw the Foresthill Bridge in the distance and knew I was approaching the moment of truth. Was I going to push for the record or not?
Just before No-Hands Bridge, I cut left; climbed briefly, and popped out along the trail that parallels the road which heads down into the confluence. At this point, I felt some fatigue, but nothing out of the ordinary. As I ducked under the Hwy 49 bridge to Cool and pitter-pattered up to the checkpoint, my watch read: 34:22. Almost the exact same split from last year and about a minute slower than the time I wanted to hit if I was going to push for the record (my best split ever at the 6-mile aid-station is 34:06).
Without a moments hesitation, I said to myself ah what the hell, I'm going for it.
Now was really the moment of truth: Stagecoach.
A man or woman's race is made or broken when they hit Stagecoach because the initial pitch is the steepest part of the climb; about 15-18% gradient and ascends about two-tenths of a mile. In order to be successful, I believe you must slow your pace down, thus, preventing your heart-rate from sky-rocketing (or your legs feeling like lead!) so that you aren't in the red-zone for most, if not all of the climb up Stagecoach.
When I hit Stagecoach, I respectfully engaged the climb with wisdom. Easy pace, but quick-turnover. After making the u-turn to the left, I locked into climbing mode. I was immediately taken aback at how well my legs were feeling. I was climbing at a pretty good clip, especially for someone who had just basically tempo'd the last 10 kilometers.
I was feeling so good, in fact, I picked up the pace slightly as I passed the bench. Am I going to be in the 15's? I just stayed focused, thanked God for the ability he has blessed me with, and continued to put into practice the countless hours of climbing I have done in order to enjoy the fruit of my labor in such a moment as this.
As I turned the last corner in 15:08, I knew it would be about a minute to the top of the climb. Sure enough, I hit a 16:08 split (my fastest split ever during Sizzler; my previous best was I think 17:07 and last year was an embarassing 18:45!).
From this point, it was about 1.7 miles to the finish. I felt as though I recovered fairly quickly and mustered up any remaining strength for the final push. Keep in mind, the final 1.5 miles are little rolling hills and overall, slightly uphill. Again, I just kept focus on my form, leg-turnover and let my strength guide me.
As I turned right, off of Russell Rd onto Lincoln Way (exactly 1 mile to go!), my watch read: 56:09. With the course record (59:38) completely intangible at this point, setting a new personal record was grazing my fingertips. I grit my teeth and made a dash for home.
As I just mentioned, these rolling hills were not so favorable on my fatiguing legs. However, I kept pushing and as I got over the seemingly longest of the rollers, I regained momentum. After crossing the intersection of Lincoln Way and Foresthill Rd, I unleashed my kick. I pumped my arms, drove my shoulders, and exhaled fury as I approached Sizzler's.
I made a quick right into the parking lot and crossed the finish line in a new best time of 1:02:53 (6:43 last mile and over three minutes faster than last year and about a minute and a half faster than my previous best). I was pretty stoked at how the race unfolded overall. There were really no critical moments where any sort of pain was severely pace-threatening, nor any beyond-normal muscular damage. I felt really strong and am very grateful where my training has taken me.
And while I can only envision my version of my race for you, there was, in my opinion, a much more spectacular race unfolding just moments after I finished.
To make a long story short; heading into the race, Sara owned the course record for women at the Sizzler 10-miler -- 1:15:34, which she set in 2005. The morning of the race, Sara hadn't slept very well at all and was contemplating ditching this years 10-miler in favor of hugging her pillow a few more hours. She finally caved and not only ran this years race, but en route, lowered her course record by 33 seconds to 1:15:01. I'm not at all surprised by her feat due to the fact she has put in two quality two hour runs this Summer along with some above-par strength work. When I asked Sara how she felt out there, she replied, "I felt great overall and if I had known I was going to run the way I did today, I would have pushed harder to break 1:15." Ha ha.... that's my Sara; phenomenal athlete and wife.
Sierra Nevada approaches in just over two weeks. I honestly wish I could say I felt fully confident and prepared after a race like Sizzler, but racing 10 miles compared to 52.4 seems like worlds apart to me. All I can hope and pray for is another quality week of training (as this week will be my last week of hard training before a two week taper up to the race). The only big day I have planned before Sierra Nevada is a final hill workout. The plan thus far entails: 3xk2 and 3xstagecoach. All or most at 80% effort. I hope to break 12 on k2 this week, but won't be heartbroken if not. All in all, I just wanted to be as rested, recovered, and ready for September 25th's journey into unknown, unfamiliar, and unforgettable territory.
Posted by Jacob Rydman at 2:55 PM