Saturday, April 17, 2010

American River, and unexpected goals

Sorry its taken me so long to write this.  There really isn't a reason for the procrastination, im just lazy.

This race was number one on my list in order of importance.  As I've stated in previous posts, I really wanted to hit a target time of 5:50 to qualify for the selection pool of the 100k world team.

The day before the race I got a chance to see the starting line, as I was staying at the Comfort Inn approximately one mile from the start.  I also jogged/walked about 4 miles around the area to get my legs moving after the car ride from San Francisco.

The next morning, I walked with my parents over to the start and stripped off my sweatshirt and jacket.  As I've been told (and have read on many blogs), this race usually starts out pretty fact.  I'm not sure if its the excitement or simply peoples' preference to go all out on the paved, flat section.  Something about this race makes people shoot out of the starting gate like their ass is on fire.  I had been told to run my own race, and that is what I attempted to do for the first few miles.  Until mile 4 or 5, I was hitting what I thought to be around 6:40 pace.  As I began to converse with two runners next to me, I learned their goal time was sub-7 hours.  This worried me a bit and I gradually increased the pace until my stride was as long as it could be without being labored.

Just as we passed through the first aid station, I met up with Mark Gilligan (founder of and began to talk with him about nothing in particular.  I also missed my parents.  It turns out they were having trouble not only finding the aid stations, but getting into the parks that charge $10 every time you enter, regardless of how long you stay.  The day was cool and cloudy though, and I didn't need any more gels this early in the race.

After a few more miles I finally caught up with what I thought to be the lead pack.  I found out moments later that this was a chase pack, with ranks 2-8 chasing the leader Michael Buchanan.  He was 4 minutes ahead at the half marathon.  Mark, being the helpful person he is, gave us constant updates on his whereabouts.  As I had predicted, he had just gone out too fast and the pack was gaining ground with every step.

At around mile 20, there was an unexpected uphill and then back to flat ground.  After this section, Geoff Roes had to make a pit-stop, and shortly after that there was about a half mile section of single track.  It was at this point that I made a surge, or I guess just kept the same pace.  Everyone else seemed to slow down a lot (which Anton Krupicka also mentioned about his 2008 race) on the single track section.  The pack also spread out quite a bit, and I ended up gaining about a 200 meter lead on Mike Wolfe and Max King.  I kept this lead until the marathon mark, where I also passed Michael Buchanan, passing the marathon mark in a new PR of 2:46:??.  Coming through the aid station I felt awesome.  Maybe it was just the excitement of taking the lead or the 2X caffeinated gel I took moments earlier.  Most likely it was a mixture of the two.

At this point you venture off of the road to rolling single track.  After less than a mile, it was obvious I had the wrong idea of what rolling single track meant.  I had imagined soft, rolling hills and pristine trails that you often see in California and the Pacific Northwest.  This was a little bit more technical, and also had steeper hills than I had expected.  Not that it really mattered, but as I began to bound up the steep, short and rocky uphills, I started to feel little twitches in my hamstrings.  This was a feeling I've had only once before and I knew that some serious pain was on its way.  Just as I had predicted, on one of the steeper hills I tried to hop over a large rock and my hamstring instantly tightened up to the point where I had to stop and stretch it out.  I then walked for about 30 seconds and tried to run down the hill.  This didn't work so well and I was forced again to stretch it out.  This is the point where Max King ran by and I simultaneously saw my sub-5:50 goal disintegrate.  First to third in a distance of 2 miles.  After about 5 minutes of jog/hobble/walking I made it to the next aid station and gulped down a gel and 3 S! caps.  I new it would only be 20 minutes or so for them to start working, but I had already lost my mental charge from losing two spots.

Here is where I will divert from the race report a bit, and mention something I had learned just before this race.  My mom had mentioned reading the blogs of Tim Parr and Duncan Callahan, and saw their strategy of staying positive even when things look their worst.  This can be done in plenty of ways.  Mine was to just remember why I had come to this race in the first place, all of the miles I had put in, and just to keep my mind focused on the fact that I really love what I'm doing at the moment regardless of how much pain I'm feeling.  To put it succinctly, "Laugh the pain away."

This strategy worked until I could feel the effects of the S! caps, and soon after I was back at 7ish minute pace.  After a few more miles, I could hear the cheers from an aid station, and I realized that I was only 30-45 seconds away from an unknown runner ahead of me.  As I made my way through the station, I switched water bottles with my parents, and then set out to catch the mystery runner holding spot #2.  Mere seconds after the hill next to the aid station, I saw Max walking up the remainder of the hill and this was the point where I knew I had a solid chance for 2nd place.  Geoff was long gone in my mind (and in actuality), but if I could piece together 8 more miles, I was a shoe-in for Western States.  This wasn't my original goal, but it became a driving force in these final miles.

I was still intent upon finishing under  5:50, but as the next corner became an immeasurable distance to the next aid station (the sign said 2.8 miles, but i think it was more like 4), I realized that goal was gone once again.  As the negative thoughts began creeping into my head, I decided to run the race as if Max were nipping at my heels (he very well could have been, in this race its impossible to see more than 100 meters behind you in most places).  This helped my pace, but also caused me to look back about 50 times while climbing up the final 3 miles.  Once the road leveled off I saw Mark again and he started yelling.  I traded shirts with him so I could finally get a picture in an Ultrasingup jersey at the finish line.  Crossing the line, all of the pain and emotion seems to melt away.  You're left with the notion of accomplishment and sheer joy.

Anyway, I think the race went really well despite missing my goal time by 6 minutes.   I still feel there are 6+ minutes out there somewhere on the course, but I'm not losing any sleep over my performance.  Not to say I could have hung on to Geoff for the whole race either.  He is a very strong runner and I'm certain he would have done whatever it took to win the race.

I've been given an opportunity now to run one of the most prestigious and competitive 100 milers in the world, and I think that qualifies as a pretty good consolation prize.

Thanks Mom and Dad!