Wednesday, February 12, 2014

January Racing

January was a great month for racing and a particularly poor month of weather at the same time.  I raced three times, with wildly different conditions at each event.

Tecumseh Trail Marathon (January 11th)

First up was the Tecumseh Trail Marathon, a race rescheduled from December (due to snow and ice) to January 11th.  Leading up to the race the trails in the Yellowwood State Forest were covered in heavy snow and ice.  However, a warm snap and plenty of overnight rain caused the snow covered trails to turn to pools of water and mud.  The gravel roads were left covered from edge to edge in sheets of still thick ice.

With these conditions in mind, the race organizers opted to alter the normal point to point route into an out and back with a loop in the middle run three times (a lollipop I guess).  At first I thought this might be a faster course, but as it turned out the conditions made a mess of everything.

My strategy was simple: "Go out hard on the first gravel mile, get to the single track first before it is crowded and the muddy trails deteriorate.  Run the first loop as hard as possible as well because it will likely to be difficult to make up time on the second and third pass after all the runners have already been through once and wrecked the trails."

This was my kind of strategy anyway.  I hate going out easy.  I talked with my friend Ben Bartley about this and even he agreed that it was probably a wise choice.  With that thought in mind, I arrived at the race start and tried to stay warm in the still cool conditions while talking to friends and Quaff On teammates.

Race Start

So, as planned I went out fast.  Two other runners went out even faster.  I was willing to dash through the first mile of gravel to get to the trail but under 6 minutes per mile seemed a little excessive for a trail marathon start.  I ended up taking the first mile in 6:35 along with Ben.  We crossed our first stream of deep ice water and it was apparent that keeping feet dry was a lost cause.

We hit the trails and the mud next.  We passed the first of the two rabbits who was struggling to navigate the muddy trail in road shoes.  For the first time ever I realized the shoes I had just purchased were actually making a difference.  A few days prior I bought a pair of Salomon Fellraiser trail racing shoes with nice rubber half inch lugs.  These would be terrible for road running but today was the day for condition specific shoes if there ever was one.  I flew through the mud with relative ease with Ben running just behind.

Then we hit the ice pool.  It was an unavoidable lake of foot deep ice water, blanketed underneath by a sheet of solid ice.  There was no choice but to carefully wade through it.  There was no doubt in my mind that some would fall here and get a freezing soak along with it.

The Loop

Finally the trail circumnavigating Yellowwood lake ended and we ran a small patch of gravel road to the largest climb on the specially made loop course.  I fell back and lost Ben and two others here, leaving me fifth place.  As I methodically grinded my way up the several hundred foot climb and hit the upper gravel road I saw the others just ahead.  I made up a little distance and tried to comfortably run a little under 7 minutes per mile.  The road went by fast and then back down a winding and muddy trail I went.  Since few had trafficked it as of yet it wasn't so bad.  I was comfortable but pushing.

I repeated this pattern three times, going back to the gravel road for the start of the loop, and then up the climb and back to the road again.  I drank no water, only pausing to take two gels up the climb on my third pass.

All the while I chased the fourth runner, but never did seem to get any closer when I saw him on the gravel roads between the deteriorating muddy trails.  I also never saw anyone chasing me, not even once.  I did see Katie and her friend Amy spectating and cheering so that lifted my spirits each time.  I also saw Danny Webb and my friends Alex and Ted spectating as well.  I stayed motivated and tried to charge the miles of gravel road while just maintaining pace on the increasingly treacherous trails as the entire crowd of runners passed through each loop.

The Finish

I finally hit a low point after finishing the loops and getting back on the lake trail toward the finish.  I knew I was starting to lose my mental stability and focus so I ate another gel.  The gel worked, and I ran on toward the trail exit and back to the mile of gravel road we started on.

Finally, I saw Ben running having come back to run it in with me to the finish.  What a good friend!  He had finished in 1st (winner) and come back to see how I was doing.  Unfortunately the fourth runner was just a little too far ahead so I pushed hard to the finish but didn't have enough to catch anyone.  But top 5 is top 5!  I was happy about it!

Racing around the flags to Finish

5th Overall - 3:34:28 (hopefully a personal best as I will never have to run the modified version of this course ever again!)

Frosty Trails 5 Mile (January 18th) (Brown County State Park Mountain Bike Trails)

This was a nice small local race, and lots of the Quaff On team showed up to race.  This would be a fun opportunity to compete with some of the guys on my own team.

As a bonus, since it was a 5 miler Katie decided to run it as well so it was a good day for family fun on snowy trails with some nice hot soup afterward.

We went out reasonably hard at the start and gradually climbed our way to the top of the 5 mile mountain bike trail loop.  We had a pack of five Quaff On guys and also Ryan Wells and Andrew Walker in tow.  I ran close to the front, pushing my way up to the high point at 3 miles with the rest.

After about a mile or two, Ryan (the fastest of the group) took off.   The question was raised, but nobody was ready to chase him at this point.  He wisely got out of sight quickly and that was pretty much the end of the race for first place and a free pair of shoes from Indiana Running Company.

Running in the Pack

I pushed and pushed but when we began to hit the downhills the pack fractured.  I think according to my GPS Danny Webb and a few others were just too much faster downhill even at a 6 minute pace.  I threw up in my mouth a little and gagged loudly.  The others noticed and cheered but there wasn't much I could do but fight through it.  I lost them a hundred meters ahead but kept pushing.  It seemed that 6 minute trail miles were unreasonably hard in snow and I felt the pain of trying to sustain that pace flying around bends downhill.

There was a sprint finish through an open field and unfortunately I was a little less than a minute too late to contend with the numerous others in the chase pack.  Regardless, it was a fun day of racing and good workout.  I have some work to do on turning my legs loose downhill as the other guys blasted away from me at this race.

I cooled down with a large group of teammates on the Brown County cross country course nearby and then got some delicious soup with Katie.  She was happy to have run consistently and beat numerous women!  I also still got a free pair of smart wool socks for my 7th place finish so at least that was something!  I should admit that my performance was probably also okay for having poured out plenty of my energy at the Tecumseh Trail Marathon the weekend before.

7th Overall (5.22 Miles) - 34:46

Mountain Mist 5ok (Huntsville, Alabama - January 25th)

I knew coming into this race it would be tough.  Not just because of climbs triple the height of those here in Bloomington, but also because of the consistently extremely rocky and difficult terrain.  I also knew I didn't have the right trail shoes to deal with this sort of terrain, so I got a pair of Salomon Sense Mantra trail shoes.  These light but very rigid and "rock tough" shoes seemed to be according to reviews and testing the right fit for the terrain.

Scott and another friend of ours (Beau) had been lobbying for me to join them on this race road trip so I decided to give it a shot.  I felt good and training had been consistent as my daily running streak continued.

Monte Sano - The Course

From the start, I lined up next to Scott, pro David Riddle, and many fast local runners to get a start that would push my abilities.  I went out aggressively in the front of the pack and ran the road start at 6:30 to 6:40 miles with Scott and David until we hit the trail.  I stuck with them and gradually lost all the other runners chasing.  The three of us continued, with myself not even pausing to think as the trail became rockier and more treacherous on the way down to the bottom of the mountain at mile 10.  I was surprised to still be hanging on to these two.  There wasn't much to say as we all were focused on running the trails without falling.  Scott fell once after surging and David and I caught up.

There was some fantastic scenery here off the mountain side I would love to have photos of but there wasn't any time for that obviously (nor did I have a camera).

As we reached the first big climb I lost them both.  They climbed faster and I wished them both good luck as I lost them.  This was when the going got a little harder.  After the climb I hung on to my 7 to 8 minute miles and tried to focus on maintaining efficiency and not tripping on rocks.  Then there were more rocky descents.  Each got trickier than the last as I jumped over rocks, onto rocks, down from rocks, slipped through rock crevices and even ran through a cave.  This was cool.  This wasn't Brown County.  This wasn't like anything I had raced before.

I hung onto third place for a while but by mile 17 the seasoned local runners (some who had won previous years) caught me.  It wasn't ideal, but at least I could tell they were running strong and were great competitors.

At mile 23 things got out of hand.  I reached the gigantic 800 foot "waterline" climb up the mountain and had little to give.  I hadn't been running many hills and it showed.  I lost sight of all the runners who had passed me.  I was in 9th place and would stay in 9th place till the end.

Mountain Mist Elevation Profile

At the top of the waterline climb I reached 30% grades over an ice waterfall that had to be gripped and crawled up.  I was so zapped I thought I might tumble down backward and roll back to the bottom of the course.  I hadn't taken any gels, but grabbed Coca Cola or Mountain Dew from every aid station.  That helped.  Carbonated beverages are glorious for a runner with a stomach in poor condition.

Back down another icy and rocky climb I went, this time frustratingly close to the finish dropping another 800 feet in vertical.  I knew I would have to climb back up again to finish.  Nobody caught me, but I certainly wasn't gaining on anyone as I was reduced to an alternating jog and power hike up the steeps.  Finally when the trail flattened I just tried to put one leg in front of the other and at least run eight minute miles as I followed the several mile section to the finish.

Finally I got there!  I was beat.  My training and shoes had helped as I wasn't really sore but I was just excruciatingly tired.  The course was slightly longer than 50K and so difficult that I was very pleased to best my last over 5 hour 50K with a 4:49:10 finishing time.  I saw Scott (he won!) and Beau (unfortunate DNF, not his day) waiting for me and was glad to be back with the crew.

What a race.  Of anything I've run on trail I can't recommend this one strongly enough for someone looking for a reasonably close by technical and mountainous race.  The course sucked me in with a downhill start and then crushed me with the finish back up the mountain.  These Huntsville folks knew how to design a tough course.

9th Overall - 4:49:10

With January complete and still cold weather upon us, I'm done racing for the moment.  The next race for me will be in March at Dances With Dirt Green Swamp (Florida) with the Quaff On team.  Since this will be a relay it should be fast and flat trail repeats of 4-7 miles.  I just can't wait to run in warm weather.

However, I have finally embraced the cold.  My weekly mileage had been hovering around 50-60, so I decided to push for more miles and hills last week and got a 70 mile week of all hilly routes.  I ran the hills on the Lake Griffy roads almost every day. 

Hopefully some consistent training without racing should put me in good shape for races to come this year and also for the upcoming Hoosier Half Marathon in April here in Bloomington.  It feels good to be training consistently and getting stronger this early in the year!