Today: Sleep + Eat
Yesterday: Run 50 miles
Resurrection Pass 50 mile race report:
This is going to be a difficult post. Difficult to explain my thoughts about yesterday's race because the 30 hours since I finished just haven't been enough time for me to figure out exactly what happened.
By all accounts things went amazingly well. So well in fact that I'm having a hard time simply accepting the result. Going into this race I thought of 7:30 as my most likely time. Anything much faster than that would be satisfying and anything much slower than that would be disappointing. The course record in this race was 6:59 and I thought maybe if I had the perfect day I could threaten this time. If 6:59 would have been a perfect day then I just don't know what words to use to describe what actually happened: I finished in 6:09:19!!! (7:23 per mile pace). Since I haven't yet been able to come to a full understanding of this result in my mind I won't even try to interpret it here. Rather, I'll lay out some of the details of my run.
22 runners lined up at 6:00 am and after some brief route following instructions we were off and running on an overcast, cool, damp morning. I was the first runner out of the parking lot and onto the trail and quickly fell into a very comfortable pace. Evan Hone ran with me for about 4 miles but after he stopped to take a leak I never saw another 50 mile racer the rest of the day.
I worked my way slowly into a bit more ambitious pace as I pushed ahead, but I was feeling great and felt like I was still running very conservative. I'm not sure of the exact amount of total climbing in this race but I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in the 4,000-5,000 range. Most of this occurs in the first 20 miles as you make your way up to Resurrection Pass. Going into the race I assumed I would walk the steepest part of this climb which occurs just past Swan Lake. It's not ever all that steep but there is about a one or two mile stretch that has some pretty good steady climbing. I was feeling great though and ended up running the entire climb. And then I was above treeline, was soaking wet, the wind was kicking up, and I was getting cold.
From my memory of hiking this trail 4 years ago I thought this stretch above treeline was about a mile so I just kept moving without stopping to put on my wind/rain shell that was in my pocket. I knew I'd be warm again as soon as I dropped back down into the trees on the other side of the pass and it seemed like a waste of time to put on a layer that I would just be taking back off in a few minutes. Only problem with this plan was that this stretch up on top of the pass is more like 5 or 6 miles. Luckily about halfway through the wind shifted around behind me and I warmed up enough to feel my arms and legs again.
As I suspected I was instantly warm as soon as I got back in the trees and it felt great to have the flexibility back that you just don't have when your muscles are cold. I was now more than 20 miles in and for the first time I began to really make a serious effort at pushing my pace. At times this felt great and other times I felt like I was beginning to struggle just a bit. It never got any worse though and every time I felt like I was struggling at all I took down some calories and felt pretty good again.
At mile 38 the trail portion of the race ends and the last 12 miles is on gravel road. Mile 38 is also the first aid station. I hit this at 4:39 feeling pretty good, but I was dreading getting onto the harder surface of the gravel road. I ditched my running vest and coat at the aid station and headed off with a bottle in one hand, a banana in the other, and a few gels in my pockets. I knew at this point that breaking 7 hours was well within reach but I was really starting to feel tired and with 4 miles of climbing still ahead of me I knew that I still had a lot of work to do.
This was only my third Ultra. In the previous two (LittleSu 50k and Susitna 100) I struggled desperately in the last 20% of the race so I just kind of assumed that I would slow considerably in the last 10 miles of this 50 miler. I'd be lying if I said this stretch didn't hurt at all but I really felt stronger and stronger as I progressed beyond 40 miles. At about mile 42 you hit a climb that continues steady for 4 miles. It's never a steep climb but in 4 miles it never eases up, not even for a few feet. I ran this climb in 37 minutes (9:15 pace)! At the end of the climb you hit another aid station, turn around, and drop back down to the finish about 4.5 miles away. I discarded my banana peel, got a little more water and turned around back down the hill I had just worked so hard to climb.
For the first few hundred feet of downhill I wasn't sure I was going to be able to stride out very effectively. Even though it was all downhill from there I thought I was going to have to shuffle along slowly with pain shooting through the legs with every stride. But then everything loosened up and I was able to stretch out my stride and let gravity take over. Slowly I sped up more and more and next thing I knew I was rounding a corner to the finish. I ended up running the last 4.5 miles of the race at about 6:25 pace! I was pretty tired out but honestly felt like I could have pushed that pace for a few more miles. Such an opposite feeling from the finish of the other two ultras that I've done.
Just after the finish it really started to rain hard and I huddled under a tarp and ate soup, glad to be done and really feeling for those still out there in the cold rain. I visited with those gathered around the finish area for about 90 minutes and then, still unable to believe that I had just run a 6:09, we took off in my friend's truck and measured the road stretch of the course because I just didn't believe it could be a full 50 based on how fast my time was. I knew that the trail section was in fact 38 miles, but I was feeling like the 12 miles of road must have been a few miles short. The course however measured out as advertised.
I guess it's a wonderful thing to run so fast that you don't believe that your time is legitimate. It's just takes a little while to really sink in and turn from confusion to elation. Right now I'm still somewhere in the middle. I'm still trying to figure out how I possibly could have run such a fast 50 miler yesterday, but slowly I'm running out of "conspiracy theories" and beginning to realize that I simply ran such a great race because I've had a great season of training and had a great day yesterday... or maybe it was that UFO that came down and picked me up and dropped me off about 10 miles down the trail.
It's great to end my season of racing on such a high note, but already I feel the temptation for more. I've thought on and off all year about running the Equinox Marathon up in Fairbanks next month. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to do it (I really think a couple months off from any serious training or racing before I start preparing for the Iditarod Trail Invitational would be the best thing for me right now), but there is a part of me that is still thinking about one more race. I guess I'll spend a few days getting good and recovered and then think more seriously about that.
Hammer Gel: 450 calories
PowerGel: 500 calories
Perpetuem: 500 calories
Cliff Salty Nut bar: 200 calories
Montrail Odyssey (I've never been a big fan of "trail" shoes but I'm on my second pair of these this summer and am really starting to like them).
Totals for last week: Bike 26 miles; run 70 miles; 11.5 hours.