What can I say... this race was a late season focus and I F'd it up before I even got to the start line. How? Well, I spent the 2 weeks leading up to it on a solo road trip. Taking my time getting from Ketchum, ID to California in order to avoid training in the cold/snow. In theory it should have worked out well. I got to explore some great places, saw some friends, and had nothing to do but train.
I did enjoy the trip, but I also lacked the structure I had before Moab 26.2 and as a result felt like I lost some of my fitness. Not to mention tweaking the back of my left knee about 10 days before the race.. from over stretching it in my truck on a cold night.
The race itself was executed well. I ran by HR, sat back, and picked people off all day. I was just too far back and lacked the fitness to go any faster.
Lesson Learned: Make a plan and stick to it - and don't sit too much!! (Road Trip)
Talk about pressure... after nearly 2 months of inconsistent training while dealing with posterior tib tendinitis, and just 2 weeks after my first DNF I was in desperate need of a good day. The fact that this race was the final of the US Skyrunning Ultra series, a 20% points bonus, and I was currently leading the series just made that pressure even heavier. I didn't need to win the race to win the series, but I needed to flawlessly execute my race plan and finish amongst the front runners, particularly Cody Lind.
Cody & I have raced each other at each of the 3 series events that have given us points. Cody edged me out at the first one taking 2nd to my 3rd at the Quest for the Crest 50k in May. In July we raced again at the Power of Four 50k where I took 2nd while Cody was 5th. With Flagstaff being out final "battle" and just 10 points separating us it was bound to be an exciting day.
To my surprise, the race started out very casual. We had a lead group of about 5-7 guys for nearly 10 miles. No one really wanted to lead. Eventually the group decreased to 5 and as we approached the top of the second climb I took a pit stop. When I started running again just 20-30 seconds later I quickly realized that I wasn't going to make up the lost ground. Every time I tried my HR would climb above my intended effort. Knowing that I would almost certainly blow up if I pushed any harder I made the smart choice and continued on solo at my own pace. As we approached half way, I was still in 5th and continuing to lose ground. At one point the gap reached 9 minutes.
Damn, I thought. All I want to do is race and compete at the front where I have been all season. No sitting back here running solo and having to hear updates along the way. (Later I would find out that it was Cody who was leading at that point and making the gap wider and wider) Eventually though I started to feel some rhythm, although not fast, it felt steady. I cought and passed the 4th place guy, and then began the long grinding climb up towards the final portion of the course which was a VK on the ski resort. To get there though we had to climb up the "power line". Thats where I saw him.
To my surprise, and believe me, I was both very surprised and excited all at once. There was Cody. He looked rough, but was still moving. I was tired and had been running conservative all day but at that moment had to make the only move I could. I pushed my HR up a bit and did my beset to look relaxed and in control as I went past. I still had a chance at winning the series and I knew that Cody would re-group and try to come after me, so I needed every second I could possibly gain, and fast!
I pushed the pace as much as I could without going too deep into the red zone. The gap opened and soon I was on the final climb. Also to my surprise was that I soon could see both the 1st and 2nd place guys just in front of me up the slopes. Anything is possible, so I gave it hell and pushed even harder. I was highly motivated to stay in front of Cody, but now I began trying to close the gap on the lead. I felt I was moving well until that first jump... there were a lot of drainage ditches that we had to jump over, both on the way up and on the way down the final VK. Each time I jumped my calves and quads nearly seized. Effort cramps!! Damn it! I don't even hurt or feel like I've pushed my body, why the hell can't it handle one final climb?!
With so much training lost over the previous 2 months I realized that even though I felt rested and ready, my legs did not have the same fitness that they did 2 months prior. I had to ease off the pace and make sure I conserved enough in order to hold my position and secure the overall title. It was more important than the race itself and was my main goal from the start of the year. Pushing too hard and losing it now would be devastating, so I backed off. Then I got passed... who is this guy and where did he come from!!?? It wasn't Cody, so the points title was still safe for the moment but damn, he's moving and I can't respond.
Talk about exciting and fun (at least now it is as I'm looking back at it). I held cody off and won the series title, finishing 3rd. That guy who blew past me was in the 25k. I was so focused on the numbers that I neglected to look at his bib and see that we were in different races. Cody finished just 6 minutes behind me in 4th. I was a mere 11 minutes behind Dan who won the race with a respective 6 hr 55k on a course with over 10k of vert. I got my descent race, I got the title, and I succeeded in getting my main goal of the season - US Skyrunning Ultra champion.
There are times when you struggle in training and racing, but the highs and lows come and go with the wind. I was able to work through the lows this season and come back to have a good performance after weeks of little training. This race left me satisfied and content but ever so hungry for more. I know it wasn't my best season, hell, the season isn't over yet, but hopefully the lows are.
Saver the highs, remember the lows. Then share a beer and a good laugh with your competitors. Many of them are good friends and feel like family in this sport. Not to ment and the ones who make competing worth while. See you all at the next adventure.
Four hours… starting at a wall on an elliptical at the gym and that is about all I could do. Cross training on a stationary trainer of any kind was never my strongest form of injury rehab. With a 100 mile race on the schedule and approaching quickly there were few other options.
Over the summer I was having a blast racing a handful of Skyrunning events and spending the weekends in the high peaks chasing vert and adventure. Those races along with a special focus this season on improving my downhill running must have pushed my body just a little too far. Sometime in July I noticed tightness in my ankle. It wasn’t much, but enough know better and pull back on the rains a bit. With some days off, flatter recovery runs, and a little extra time with the foam roller I was able to continue to put in solid training and race well for another month before it got any worse.
With just 3 weeks to go before the Run Rabbit Run 100 I had finally pushed it too far. Just moving my ankle under the covers at night left it screaming with discomforting pain. Something needed to be done and fast, so I got my bike tuned up, bought another gym membership and dove into the cross training. In those 3 weeks leading up to the race I didn’t run a single step.
Having ran this race and finished well the previous two years (4th in 2013 & 2nd in 2014) I knew the course and had a pretty good idea of how things would play out. Last year I ran solely off of heart rate and this year would be no different. My plan was solid, I knew my execution on race day would be precise, but I was flying blinds as to how my body would react after not running for 20 days. It wasn’t a complete crap shoot though. Jason set the CR 2 years ago after training on an elliptical, Ashley does a large portion of her training on one and crushes nearly every race, so it can be done.
When the race started I could feel that my left groin was tight but otherwise the legs felt alright, or so I thought. With the initial miles being a relatively casual hike up the ski resort I hoped that they would loosen up by the top. As soon as I started running though I could feel that the groin tightness was still there. By 10 miles my hip flexors were getting tight, and when I made it to the bottom of Fish Creek Falls my quads were getting tight as well. Nearly 3 hours in and about 10 minutes behind the lead group was not ideal, but it was still early in the day and I was on top of everything else.
I had Ashley & her mom Karen crewing for me which was great. Ashley was waiting at Fish Creek to crew and run the 4 mile stretch down the road to Olympian. I quickly filled her in on the details of the day and prepped her for what I needed at the next aid: New legs, new shoes / socks (I was getting a hot spot already), and a whole list of other things. Considering how smoothly last year went this was starting out as a suffer fest. "Just wait for the legs to loosen up, just wait" I kept telling myself.
I kept on waiting but after 7 hours of running, losing nearly an hour or more to the lead group and my legs not loosening up at all (actually getting worse) I decided it wasn't worth it. I had had enough. In two weeks I'll be racing the US Skyrunnign Final in Flagstaff, AZ. Currently leading that series, I don't want to force myself to go on and end up causing an injury or unnecessarily trashed legs. Once I decided I was finished and just make it down to the mile 43 aid station I savored the final miles and sunset chatting with Timmy Olson about running and life.
I wan't disappointed in the race, just slightly frustrated with my body and the tendinitis that kept me from training. Had the race been a month earlier I feel as if I was fit enough to compete at the front with Jason and finish well. Some days you've got it, some days you don't and you can't dwell on bad days. Given the situation and my goals for the race I know I made the right decision and should bounce back and hopefully have a descent race in Flagstaff. After all, winning the US Skyrunning ultra series was my first goal of the season. All I can do is learn from this race and make the appropriate adjustments to keep it from happening again. As Pat O'Niel would say: "move on, run pure, stay hungry".
Did I mention the fall colors coming down Fish Creek Falls were spectacular!
Friday morning I woke up to an email from the Breck Crest Marathon race director Jeff Westcott. A few weeks earlier I sent him a message and asked about comped elite entries and to let him know I was interested in running his race. Since I had't heard back from him until then, I decided that I would stay home and do a longer run in Boulder. After getting his email though, I figured what the heck. Might as well make the drive up there and get my long run done in the high country with some company. Plus, there was a little prize money for the top 3 overall!
I quickly emailed him back and said that I would rally and see him there in the morning. (This was Friday& the race was on Saturday) Later that evening I was informed that Joe Gray would also be up there. Great, so much for a shot at the $400 first place check... For anyone that doesn't know Joe, just Google search his name. He's on a different level than just about everyone in the sport. He's a great guy, amazing athlete, and a friend but damn if I wasn't just a little bit bummed to hear he was racing. (I'm trying to save up some cash to get a topper for my truck!) Regardless, it would be good to catch up since I hadn't seen him since last fall and the forecast called for perfect weather in the high mountains. It was surely going to be a fun day.
At 4:00 AM I woke up to my alarm in Boulder. After a quick bite to eat, I grabbed my gear, jumped in my truck, and hit the road at 4:40 for the mountains. With little traffic I was able to make good time. Following a bright and full setting moon all the way to summit county, I got to Breck right at dawn and with plenty of time to relax before the start. After chatting with some friends and filling out registration forms I geared up and made my way to the start line.
My race plan was to run at about my 50k race effort (based on HR) and use this as a steady effort long run. As soon as the gun went off though, a few guys bolted off the front and I found myself running at about 10 bpm faster than I had planned. Danm... I thought this was a mountain marathon, and who are these guys! After chatting with Joe in the early miles he pulled ahead and I settled into what I thought was 5th place. By the time we climbed above treeline I was in 4th with a whole string of guys filling the single track behind me. Joe and the other 2 guys were well ahead and I was beginning to question my decision to enter so last minute. My effort was still much faster than I wanted and I was getting my butt kicked!
As we neared the crest and the 2nd aid station I remembered that the half marathoners also started with us. So I asked the guy behind me which race he was in. When he said the half, I instantly felt much better. At the aid station, where the two races split I was told that Joe was the only guy in front of me. Phew! Now that I took the first climb way too fast I instantly regretted it but was also relieved. I glanced back and saw Paul Steinweg who I was told would be a podium contender about a minute behind me. With Joe way out front and Paul in sight (behind me) I knew I was in a good position and quickly made a new game plan. With RRR100 coming up I didn't want to overdo it, so instead of trying to chase Joe, I just keyed off of Paul. Above treeline you can see for quite a ways so I ran fast enough to stay about a minute ahead of Paul then would press the pace on the descent for a while once we were back in the trees.
With about 10 miles to go the descent began. Initially steep then fairly mellow and fast. I knew I was moving at a good clip yet holding enough back to either race hard those final miles or save my legs for RRR100 in a few weeks. As the miles ticked on, I was ready to be done. My legs were a little tired from the initial effort up the first climb and I had reached the point where I was satisfied with the amount of fatigue that had accumulated. I consciously eased up a little more but no so much that I would get caught. As I neared town and reached some longer open stretches I took several glances over my shoulder to make sure no one was closing. I didn't see anyone so I kept a chill effort the rest of the way to the finish.
The Breck Crest Marathon (23.8 miles & about 5k+ of vert) is definitely a race that I'll come back to. It was a beautiful course and I really wished that I had my camera for the first climb as the sun was coming up! Lots of rocky / rooty section as well as flat & fast trails trails made for a perfect combination of terrain. And the views from the top along right ridge are stunning. I wold have liked to finish a little closer to Joe (he crushed it and set a new CR I believe), but I also didn't want to push so hard that it would effect my race coming up. And to top it all off, I'm a $200 closer to paying for that topper! So definitely no complaints. Huge thanks to Jeff for responding to my email & letting me in the race on such short notice and to all of the volunteers & spectators for keeping us all moving quick and having fun!