Monday, September 26, 2011

UROC 100k Race Recap

The UROC 100k ended up being quite unlike any race I've ever run. I've had races with a few low points, but never so many as I had in this race. The good thing was that when I would battle through the low points and turn things around I would feel great for a period of time. In this way it felt a lot like 5 or 6 races crammed into one 9 hour run.

I actually felt really good in my training leading up to this race, but being that I basically only trained 2 weeks I certainly wasn't expecting too much on race day. The open mindedness that I took into this race was probably the only thing that kept me plugging along with almost constant focus and determination all day. Had I gone into this expecting more from my body it might have been hard to keep pushing through so many struggles.

Things started pretty typical. A few guys running really hard out front (especially Mackey and Gall) and a "chase group" of 6 or 8 guys including Wardian, Flaherty, Grossman, Sharman, Basham, myself, and others. For the first 20 miles I felt okay. Certainly I wasn't feeling great but I was having fun and I was happy with my position in the race. At this point I was running anywhere between 3rd and 6th, anywhere from 3-6 minutes behind Mackey and Gall. The pace was fast and I was quite certain that no one was going to keep up anything close to this pace, but I felt like maybe I could hold on to something close to this and hope to drop others as the miles built up.

But then we hit the largest climb of the race, just after mile 20. Almost as soon as we started up it became obvious that I was the one that was going to get dropped. Flaherty and Wardian both put some time on me on this climb and I got to the top of it (mile 26) feeling pretty horrible. I knew I was going to keep plugging along and finish the race but I certainly didn't think there was much chance I would be able to do it as a serious competitor near the front. At one point just past the mile 26 aid station I remember doing the math and trying to figure out whether I was even going to be able to finish this thing before dark. It took me about 3:40 to run the first 26 miles and I was pretty sure I was going to be lucky to run the last 36 miles anywhere near this pace. I was thinking sub 12 hours was going to be a challenge.

And thus down the road I went from mile 26. But slowly I started to feel a little bit better. I was running in 5th place and kept looking behind me. Not because I was worried about whether someone was going to catch me from behind, but because I just wanted to run with someone for awhile. I thought if I could just take my mind off of how crappy I was feeling I might be able to turn things around. And then somewhere a little bit before the mile 33 aid station I realized that I was actually feeling really good. I hit the aid station and got a boost from the fact that I was only 6 minutes behind Flaherty and 10 minutes behind the leaders (this turned out to be some good sugar coating from the folks at the aid station as I was actually 16 minutes behind the leaders at that point). The best news I got here though was that I was getting back onto rolling, technical trail for the next 8 miles. All day I was running stronger than anyone whenever we hit the rolling or downhill trail. I just never really had it on the uphills or on the roads. And so I hit this trail and hit it hard. Suddenly out of nowhere I was feeling about as good as I've ever felt in a race. Within minutes I saw Dave who was walking back to the aid station to drop out; passed Scott who was hurting pretty bad (and would eventually drop out); and passed Matt. These 3 had come through the aid station 16, 11, and 7 minutes ahead of me respectively. And I passed all of them within 3 miles! By now Wardian was the only one ahead of me and when I met him (this is an out and back section) on the trail he looked smooth and strong.

When I finished the out and back trail I was 16 minutes behind Wardian (had taken only a minute off his lead in that 8 miles) with just over 20 miles to go in the race. It was clearly going to be a serious battle to try to catch him. And this was when things got really crazy for me. I would feel great for 2 or 3 minutes at a time, become almost certain that I was going to be able to chase down the lead and then almost out of nowhere I would feel horrible again. Just when I would get frustrated with how bad I felt I would start to feel good again without even realizing it. The stretch from mile 41 to mile 48.5 is entirely road. I knew no matter how strong I ran this part I wasn't going to gain too much on Wardian so I just tried to keep moving steady and save as much as I could for the last part of the race that would really cater to my strengths (mile 48.5 - 53.5). When I got to the aid station at mile 48.5 I found out that I had cut another few minutes off his lead. I was now about 14 minutes behind and feeling pretty good (even though I had had about 5 distinct ups and downs in this stretch).

I headed up the dirt road out of the aid station and just began preparing myself mentally and physically for the 3 or 4 miles of downhill technical trail coming up. I knew that if my body responded the way I was hoping it would that I could likely cut his lead in half on this one short stretch of trail. I hit the downhill and my body responded. I was running smoother and faster than I had run all race. I wanted this terrain to continue all the way to the finish, but knowing that it wouldn't (the last 9 miles of the race is all road) made me push even harder to make up as much time as possible. I was cruising down the narrow trail when I came across some folks at a junction in the trail who told me that it seemed quite likely that Wardian had taken the fork to the left (because no one had seen him ahead on the proper trail that went to the right). This was a very easy spot to go off course because earlier in the race we had come up from the trail to the left and the course markings were still there in that direction because there were still a few back of the pack racers coming up that way.

Almost instantly this news took a huge amount of focus and determination out of me. I didn't know for sure if he had in fact made the wrong turn, but I also didn't know if he was out in front of me. Suddenly I had no idea if I was chasing or being chased. And I was low on calories and I was bummed. Bummed for Mike, but also bummed because I was having so much fun trying to chase him down. Eventually I received confirmation that he had gone off course and that I had a large lead. I put it into low gear and just grinded it out to the finish.

In hindsight it seems very unlikely that I could have caught him if he had stayed on course, but I also think that I would have been able to make it very interesting for the last few miles. He was running uphills stronger than me all day and the last 3 miles of the race is all uphill. Even had I somehow found the energy to pull even with him it's hard to imagine that I then would have been able to out race him up that last climb. But it sure would have been fun to try.

In all this was a really satisfying race and great learning experience for me. It was far from my best day physically, but for the first time ever I learned that I'm capable of pushing through so many low points in one run. I got a bit lucky to win the race, but I feel really satisfied with the fact that on pretty much persistence alone I was able to be in the position to finish near the front of this race. In almost all respects I think this race taught me more as a runner (and as a person) than it would have if I had felt great all day and been able to simply run away from the field on physical strength alone.

It was also a really well run event and a great group of folks to run with (many who I've run with a lot in the past, and many I had never met before). I think this first UROC race was a huge success and it was cool to see everyone involved so excited about the event and looking forward to where it goes from here. I know I am. It seems almost certain it'll only get more exciting in the coming years.

27 comments:

PatrickGarcia said...

Congrats Geoff, great to see you back on top!

Matt and Jess said...

Congrats on your win! It was fun to watch the race. What do you think of the east coast mountains for running compared to west?

jun said...

All I have to say about your race is that you have a stunning amount of class regarding your comments about Mike. Seriously, first class. Thanks for representing the sport so well and congrats on the win.

johnnyc said...

Nice one geoff. Feel sorry for Wardian, but hats off to you. Good race

Andrew Krueger said...

Geoff, it was great getting the chance to watch you race at UROC. It was obvious you were in a pretty rough patch on the rocky section of the climb up Bald Mountain when I saw you, which made your stretch on Whetstone Ridge all the more impressive.

Your persistence throughout the race was awesome. Great job running your own race.

eric said...

geoff, it would be great if you could post a bit more on what it is you do to get through those low points. i'm specifically curious whether you get through them (and into a better state) more through a mentality approach or more through a physiological approach (like WS last year, gels, slow pace, etc...). i'm sure it's a combination of both, but would love to hear your insights, especially as you insight-fully have indicating that this kind of racing is primarily about managing the lows.

anyway, great race report, great race.

Scott Dunlap said...

You stuck to your guns through all those low points, and that's what kept you in striking distance. Well done! Congrats!!!

OM Kids Yoga said...

Nice work Geoff. Since I mentioned in an earlier email that I thought you were "due" I will take full credit for your win! Sounds like the lows made the victory that much sweeter. Proud of you man.

Charlie said...

Well done Geoff, albeit a bit lucky, I remember you lost a race last year after going off course so maybe that is Karma or something.

Bad luck for Mike. How he can race as often and to such a high level every time is incredible - I mean he ran a 6:42 100k just 2 weeks before! What a freak.

JR said...

Good race! Congrats on your win.

Jason Schlarb said...

This was hands down the most interesting and exciting race to follow this season. I really enjoyed reading the race report Geoff, what a serious mental adventure!

Eric said...

Well done Geoff. Nice to get another win, huh?

Footfeathers said...

Congratulations, Geoff. Happy for you and looking forward to seeing you run in SF.
Tim

Joe said...

great race, glad to see ya back in the lead. Always appreciate your humility and recognition of other athlestes, very classy !

Joe said...

Congrats Geoff, glad to see you back int he lead...always appreciate your humility and recognition of other athletes..very classy !

Brett said...
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Brett said...

I think these videos of the top runners getting compliments showered down on them while they look down and scruff their feet like 'awe shucks' in the dirt are freaking great. Humility. Meanwhile, in the NFL a below-average receiver makes a routine/meaningless 5 yard catch and then does a taunting dance for 3 minutes.

Something tells me though that Cloud is not so humored right about now. Hee hee.

tim white said...

Best we all stop mentioning this pathetic, fire starting internet trolls name! The more he/it sees that name the more he/it feels justified in making those meaningless, disrespectful, irrelevant, and quite asinine comments.... passing it off as somehow useful coaching/advise.

Much more importantly.... Congratulations Geoff on a put your head down... dig deep and get it done victory! I admire your humility and class more with every post.

Jon Allen said...

Geoff- it was nice to meet you this weekend. Congrats on a win despite feeling like crap multiple times. Best of luck the rest of the year.

trailrutger said...

great way of bouncing back, congrats on the win.

pasi.koskinen said...

Congrats Geoff! You believe yourself and so it goes.
Happy trails - also no target oriented as we wrote...

Cloud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric B said...

Great job Geoff, way to fight through all the lows. It made my day to hear you won the race. Sounds like a pretty wicked climb mile 20 to 26.

Chaser Bren said...

Great race Geoff! Enjoyable report as well.
Random question, but what sort of strength training, if any, do you do?

Andy said...

Nice race report and great work, Geoff. Also nice to know I'm in good company as a back-o'-the-pack finisher who also had my worst stretch on the rocky doubletrack up Bald Mtn. The 40% DNF rate in 100k says something about the toughness of the course. Great meeting you and congrats on the win.

Tiffany Guerra said...

Great work Geoff! Hearing about your highs and lows is a great reminder that if you're going through a low spot, keep going... things might look really different a little while down the road.
A well-won victory. Way to keep plugging away and get it done.

Athreya said...

Congrats! Fantastic job!