In terms of Western States prep, training has been right on track. Mileage has been steadily consistent, body has been healthy, and I've shockingly been doing core strengthening exercises fairly regularly. On top of that, a few weeks ago I was able to get up to Ashland and spend the weekend running in the mountains with Timmy O. and Joe "Huevo" Uhan - and of course, a Hal-Daddy evening tour of Ashland, but as the saying goes: "What happens in Ashland, stays in Ashland." :)
So, with feeling pretty fit and eager to race - we started the race along the bike path near the Folsom bridge and made our way (with near-frigid temp's) toward the Hazel Bridge. Due to permit issues, the course was changed this year from its normal mostly-downhill nature (from Negro Bar to Discovery Park) to this years rendition, a fairly rolling, bell-curve-like course (with about 600' of gain) that began in Folsom, headed to and over the Hazel Bridge, and made its way past Negro Bar, to the 13.1mi turnaround - which was about where the marathon mark is for AR50 (about a mile before Beale's Point).
I shot off the front with two other guys (Chuck Engle and Andrew Demas) and we settled into what felt like a low-6min pace. The first mile marker told otherwise as we cruised past in 5:42. It felt effortless (as it should) and to my surprise, Chuck (a chiseled older man - probably in his late 30's/early 40's) kicked up the pace and Andrew (probably about my age) tried to go with him. For me, it was too early to do any serious sort of racing so I just remained chill and sang a little Nikki Minaj to keep it light-hearted:
"Starships were meant to fly
Hands up, and touch the sky
Can't stop, 'cause we're so high
Let's do this ONE MORE TIME!"
The winding bike path, cool air, and the SUPS' AWES' view of the American River was a nice distraction as miles 2, 3, 4, and 5 read: 5:48, 6:03, 5:40, and 6:05. As we approached the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Andrew (who I was right behind now) veered left toward a gate, while I stayed right as I assumed this was the right way (it was a little confusing). I yelled at him to come back right and that was the last running we would do together for the day. Chuck had probably a good 2min lead at this point, but I knew if I was going to pull back any time, it would probably be from Negro Bar to the turnaround as there is a good amount of uphill (for a road marathon).
I continued to stay patient and wound around and up on the bridge, but it was the ~300m uphill grade of the bridge where my hamstrings started to feel a little worked. 11 days prior, I had done a Michigan Bluff to Swinging Bridge and Back training run where I just focused on the climbs and while it was a good run, it beat up my hammies pretty good. Whether it was from that or an inefficiency in my stride is unclear, but I knew if I was starting to feel it now, the uphills later on were gonna suck. Ah, so it goes.
The 6th mile was definitely short as I hit it in 5:01, yet the 7th mile was incredibly long as I hit that in 8:07. This was a definite constant I would notice for the remainder of the race. One marker would be right on, then one would be short, then another would be long. I didn't really mind as I was mainly concerned with just my 13.1 split and my finishing time.
As I approached Negro Bar, I was still feeling pretty good (clipping off a 5:58 and 5:57 for the 8th and 9th miles) and even though the grade would start to vary much more noticeably here, my uphill legs were responding pretty well. Ok, now I'll hopefully start to make up some time on 1st.
Sure enough, I began to get more frequent glimpses of 1st place and I tried in earnest to stay relaxed, keep the cadence high, stay forward, good arm swing, and listen to my body. In terms of fueling, I didn't drink any water on the day (it was cool out, so I wasn't thirsty) and whenever I felt the need, I would chew on a Shot Blok (packed 600 cal's worth in my shorts, but only ended up taking in about 400 cal's).
Soon enough, miles 10, 11, and 12 came far too slowly than they should (this section - with its many sustained rollers - seemed to drag forever) in 6:14, 5:49 (short), and 6:35 (long). Finally, I passed the 13mi mark in 1:19:02 (6:00) and saw 1st already coming back ("That took FOREVER!" He exclaimed. Apparently he felt the same way I did!). I hit the 13.1mi turnaround in 1:19:50 and now it was game on.
I bolted from the aid and rode the mostly downhill grade with focus and determination. In my mind, I was going to catch this guy and win the race. Miles 14 and 15 came quickly in 6:38 (long) and 5:20 (short). I saw him weave around a bend in the bike path and counted the seconds until I hit that exact point. 37 seconds was all that separated us. I was making up ground. Now it was a matter of "would my body hold up and allow me to do it."
Mile 16 and 17 then came in 5:56 and 6:00 and the gap remained the same. Blast! The other marathon and 50k runners kept encouraging me (which I was SUPS' thankful for), "Your gonna catch him!" "I'm trying!" I would say, smile back, and thank them for that.
It was here, though, that my lack of pavement pounding and his road marathon-prepped body would go our separate ways. Just like in my first 26.2mi experience at CIM in 2009, the pavement began to eat into my muscles and while my breathing was TOTS' fine, I couldn't get my legs to go as fast as I wanted them to. Therefore, miles 18 and 19 came in frustrating splits of 6:48 (uphill) and 5:45 (short). There was still hope once I hit the bridge, to turn things around, but who was I fooling; it takes specificity to be strong in the late stages of a marathon and I had done very little heading in.
Mile 20 was another long marker (8:13) and 21 was another shorty (5:49). Just before the bridge though, there's this short, but steep little climb and it was at that point that my hamstrings threw in the towel. They were in pre-cramp mode and it was annoying that I couldn't pick up the pace on the downhill stretch going down the bridge. This is just training. Yes, it is. This is like an ultra. My legs feel done, and now I have to get it done. One foot in front of the other. Keep it simple. Mini-goals. Get to the next marker.
My brain liked this newly-adjusted plan and even though I had thrown in the towel racing-wise, here's where the most beneficial training probably lay. Can the mind keep the body pushing - at minimum - at a decent pace? Yes. It can. Miles 22 and 23 came in 6:35 and 6:30 (how am I still running 6:30's? I feel like a SNAIL!). Dude, this is Western States training right here. Get from ALT to Brown's Bar. You can move well on the flats with dead legs. Yes. I can.
So with 5k to go and a sub-2:40 now very much likely out of reach, I just kept moving forward. Sometimes ok, sometimes pretty ugly. But I kept going. I'm not training for a road marathon. I'm training for Western States I would coax my deflated ego.
So, like the snail that I was, I FINALLY made it to miles 24 and 25 in 7:26 (ouch!) and 6:55. Ok, 1.2 miles to go. Robie to Placer, right here. I picked it up slightly and with a few hundred meters to go, saw some of the William Jessup Track guys (along with Coach Parker Daniells) there to bring me in. My only concern here was how one of the guys (Tony) - who was running the half-marathon today in hopes of bagging the NAIA National Marathon qualifying standard - did in his race. "Did Tony get it?!"......"Yep, 1:13:50, he got it!"...."YES!" Very proud of him for the hard work he's put in and the fruit of his labor he's now able to enjoy.
After another bend in the bike path, there was my beautiful wife Sara, mom, and grandma (they never miss a race! Family support is HUGE!) there to cheer me in. I definitely didn't try to kick it in and shuffled into the finish in a time of 2:45:23 (6:18 pace). It's a new PR by 12min and far from my best effort, but I'll take it. I finished. I got it done. I pushed through some pain. Mission accomplished. I swear one of these days I'm actually gonna train for one of these. Or not. Pavement hurts. In a good way. Or so I keep telling myself.
Shorts - NB XS 3inch Split (modified w/ pockets)
Shirt - Only @ NB Roseville (sweet shirt to race in)
Shoes - NB 890v2 (~200mi's so far on this pair)
Socks - Injinji RUN 2.0's (4th race in a row with no blisters....Wish I would have worn the TRAIL 2.0's though. I like the thicker, more comfy feel and it's what I'll wear at Western States. Another thing I'd like to say, the Injinji Performance Ex-Celerator Compression Sock has been PIVOTAL in terms of performance and recovery....Truly legit).
Food - 12 Shot Bloks (~400 cal's)
Water - None
Salt - None
Some pic's Mom took:
|David: "Yeah, I'll stick with the 1500m...No way I want to look like this guy."|
|Nice facial expression. Looks like I'm trying not to crap my pants.|
|Sweet wind-blown hair.|
|Sara: "Stop complaining. I ran CIM in a hurricane!"|
|Gotta look good for the camera.|