|My beautiful wife Sara and I after the race. Photo: Karen May (mom)|
With a slightly above-freezing temperature that morning and my lack of sufficient layering to help keep me warm, I was itching to get moving so that I could warm up. I've been terrible in the past few races about not properly warming up on cold mornings. Such a rookie mistake, I believe, could have quite possibly hindered my season dramatically as you'll see.
After the countdown from race director Robert Mathis, I took off and settled into my "21-mile race pace" (whatever that is). I was out in front (which is unorthodox for me), excited to just be running along sections of trail that have become like a second home to me, but I would also be experiencing some undiscovered terrain as well.
To give you a brief course summary: From the fire station in Cool, you head out toward the Western States Trail (making your way toward the Hwy 49 crossing). But before approaching Hwy 49, you make a sharp left onto the "short-cut trail", which gently climbs on some beautiful single-track and then momentarily descends to pop you back out onto the WS trail heading down to No-Hands Bridge (4 mile mark). After crossing No-Hands, you continue along the WS trail up to Robie Point; go straight over Robie to the other side and follow the Tevis Trail and roll along for two miles until you make the short climb up to the Auburn Overlook (8.2 miles). You then turn around and go back the way you just came. After crossing No-Hands again (12.4 miles) you make your way back up to Cool. But, after 250-300 meters, you make a sharp right and make the leg-breaking climb up K2 (which, in my opinion, is the best part of the course). After a nice 1 mile climb in which you gain 1000', you continue on and hook up with the Olmstead Loop and hit the next aid-station at Knickerbocker (15.9 miles). After crossing Knickerbocker Creek, it is a rolling 5.4 miles to the finish back at the fire station to equal 21.3 miles total. What I mostly enjoyed about this course was that you were either climbing, descending, or rolling at any given moment. There were only a handful of true flat sections (ie: No-Hands and a few spots along Olmstead).
After rolling a bit in the beginning, I could immediately tell my legs were feeling pretty good, but not tapered-good. I just kept a steady rhythm and hoped I would eventually warm up. I could hear a few distant voices behind me chatting and wondered whether or not these guys would keep me any company today. Along the gentle uphill grade of the short-cut trail, the voices faded as I was thriving on the beauty of this single-track section. I think I may try and hit this section of trail more often when I am running through Cool.
After I got spat back out onto the WS trail, I just put it in cruise control for a few miles as I descended toward No-Hands. As I approached the bridge in 24:xx, I think I caught the aid-station workers off-guard as they appeared to be a little startled as I went by. They yelled after I had passed, "What number are you?!" "660!" I shot back. Hopefully they heard my soft-spoken voice I thought.
I maintained a fluid cadence as I ran the uphill section to Robie Point. By this time, juices were flowing, I popped my first Gu and I was beginning to warm up significantly. On top of that, the sun was just creeping above the distant hills and I was thoroughly enjoying my morning outing in the canyon. After I crested Robie and descended the other side, I took off the thin, long-sleeved layer I had on and tied it around my waist.
After rolling for a few miles, I made my way up to the Auburn Overlook (56:30) where I spotted Austin chillin' there. I really appreciated Austin being there, sacrificing time and sleep to meet me out on the course. He is an awesome guy to have on hand during a race for moral support and if any supplies are needed. He shouted some words of encouragement and told me the aid-station was just up the trail to my right. I have no idea what was going through my head because I took the wrong trail and entered the parking lot at the Overlook wondering where in the heck the aid-station was? I stopped and few guys asked me if a race was going on. I chatted with them for about thirty seconds, until I heard Austin say, "Bro, to your right!" Oh yeah, guess I am in the middle of a race. I turned right and saw the small table with a few volunteers tucked right next to a portable building. I refilled my bottle, ran with Austin momentarily, ditched my shirt (big mistake, it was still pretty cold out) and then headed out from the Overlook (58:30). A few minutes later I saw the second place guy (Aaron) making his way up to the Overlook and I shouted some encouragement to him as he looked really good at that point.
It was really uplifting crossing paths with folks coming toward me in the opposite direction as they were all super friendly and encouraging. The way back to No-Hands was more or less the same. After making the steep grunt back up to Robie, I enjoyed the free-flow ride all the way back down and into the canyon again. It was here that things started to get a little interesting.
I think due to my lack of warm up, cold temperatures, and a harder sustained effort than I have been used to, my right calf began to feel uncomfortably tight. I had never had a feeling like this before in that area; it felt deep in the muscle so I knew it wasn't anything to take lightly. I then started to have those slippery-slope thoughts. What if I strained my calf? If I strained it, it's probably going to get worse from continuing to run on it. If it gets worse then I can't run. If I can't run that would really suck because I love being out here. Then that means no WTC and AR 50 and I've been working so hard too! Isn't it interesting where our minds take us sometimes?
In response to my nagging calf, I put more pressure on my left leg and tried to land more mid-foot (as opposed to my normal forefoot strike) and on the outer edge of my right foot. Thankfully, it didn't seem to be worsening with each passing moment so I figured if I could not aggravate it too much, maybe it would be ok. Still, I was in a state of worrying as I approached No-Hands again (12.4 miles in 1:24). But, it was here I got to see family. I first saw my mom, then my wife, and then finally my grandma and father-in-law. I definitely felt loved that they were all there to root me on.
After crossing the bridge, next up would be K2. With my calf still feeling vulnerable I didn't know what I was in for on this climb, especially during the sections where it is 25-30% gradient. No matter what though, K2 is my own personal playground of sorts and I was so stoked to hit it during a race. As I engaged the climb, I of course slipped and fell (it's steep initially and covered in leaves so the footing isn't the best to begin with), but got back up and kept climbing. The calf felt ok and I was surely nursing it and not pushing this section as I would have liked. However, I did manage to make it up in 12:50 (1:42 overall time) without feeling it at all so I thought that was something really positive to take away.
Something else happened on K2 that is worth sharing. Because I had to back off on the climb, I then thought, maybe my calf hurting is a blessing in disguise? Maybe it is slowing me down for good reason? Maybe this isn't the race to pull out all the guns, but keep a few still in the holster to be drawn when necessary. My attitude then shifted and I began to be super thankful that my calf was hurting so that I could pull the reigns back a little and just enjoy what I was fortunate enough to do this day.
So after cresting K2, I stopped at the top for a little over thirty seconds and stretched my calf a little. I didn't feel a painful pull when I stretched it so I thought maybe it really is ok. However, I made sure to keep the pace chill at 7:30-8:00/mile for the remaining 7+ miles of the race. Looking back, up until K2, I had been moving at around 6:40-6:50 pace with probably close to 2000' of gain already (and that is with a restroom break and dilly-dallying around the Overlook for a few minutes). That is really encouraging to me as I hope I can carry this on to WTC and AR.
Post-K2, I hooked up with the Olmstead Loop (a section I had surprisingly never run before and will be running again in the opposite direction for WTC). Olmstead is so pretty once you get deep into the loop. Salt Creek, Knickerbocker, and the many rolling hills were very enjoyable. All throughout, I had never felt tired or - aside from my calf - any muscular fatigue. Again, everything felt smooth and enjoyable. Probably the most encouraging aspect of this race was how effortless the climbs felt. Praise God for all the vertical I have put in! It is really paying off thankfully.
After a few sweet creek crossings, providing some encouragement to the 10k and 25k runners, and finally breaking a sweat (as the temp began to noticeably rise), I just cruised the remaining stretch of this course. As I approached the fire station, I could see/hear people in the distance. I picked it up a little bit and - this was so cool - right before the finish line was a huge puddle that was definitely knee-deep. I thought this is awesome, I'm plowing right through it......SPLASH! ha ha
And with that much appreciated bath I took, I cruised into the finish line - wet and muddy - in 1st place for the 21.3 mile distance in 2:38, which happened to be a new course record.
|chatting with Austin (who is an incredible runner) afterward. Photo: Karen May|
The 2011 racing season has begun better than I had thought it would. With this race being used as more of a workout and it going well, I definitely feel pretty good about the bigger races coming up. My biggest concerns are just having fun out on the trails, spending time in the mountains, and hopefully staying healthy. In thirteen years of training and running competitively, I've thankfully never been injured. It would be nice to think it will always be that way, but as I continue to push the boundaries and test my limits, the risk of injury increases as well. My life is in God's hands and I will choose to be thankful and joyful no matter what (I know, easier said than done), but when an unfortunate circumstance arises, as it inevitably will, I pray that I will be able to overcome my initial hissy-fit and seek to understand the purpose and meaning behind it all, and thus, grow to become a better man. So that, I can be better put in a position to be a blessing, mentor, and/or encouragement to others.