Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mad City Madness - 100km National Championship Race Report

(Sorry for the tardiness on this one. Blogging has been on the back burner lately, or more accurately, off the stove altogether. Why didn't anyone warn me that Little League and kids softball would eat up every spare minute of your life?!? As if I had tons of extra time to spare!)

My experiences on the US 100km team have been nothing short of amazing and it has been a privilege to be on the team these past three years (even though Worlds were cancelled last year). Worlds are my surrogate Olympics and they excite me in exactly the same way. Nothing makes me feel more patriotic than wearing ‘USA’ on my chest and representing this country in international competition. For those reasons it was a high priority for me to get back on the team for 2014. The best opportunity to qualify was at Mad City, which also serves as the USATF National Championships.

I am happy to say I not only secured an automatic team spot but I also picked up my first national championship title! Yes, I know many of the top ultra-runners were at Lake Sonoma and even more don’t care about road racing at all, so the race wasn’t super competitive, but I am still pretty excited about the title, especially since I have been second or third at a USATF national championship five times without winning! I have a little bit less enthusiasm for my overall race performance, though. To coin my own Yogi Berra-ism, my race was “90% perfect.” ;) Nine out of the ten 10k loops went great, but lap 9 was a big fat F, total failure! I think the splits sum things up quite nicely:

45:50, 45:11, 45:03, 45:50, 45:56, 46:02, 47:22, 54:30, 46:46 (some of the lap 8 time should actually be on lap 9 (explained below) so lap 8 isn’t that far off pace and lap 9 was even worse than this shows)

While there weren’t a lot of big name ultra-runners in the women’s race, I was excited because there were two fast roadies entered: super-star marathoner Camille Herron and Amy Halselth, whose one ultra was a 6:19 50 miler. There was plenty of room on the team for all three of us, so I never had to worry about losing my spot as long as I ran decently, but I thought adding some unknown (to me) runners with obviously very different strengths than mine would make the race really interesting. But Camille decided ultra-running wasn’t her priority right now and took a DNS. That left me and Amy as the main contenders.

We hit mile one in what felt like a very comfortable 7:30, but the first mile is always very comfortable! Amy said she hadn’t wanted to run faster than 8 minutes for the first mile, but she didn’t back off at all. In fact, she seemed to be hitching the pace up, little by little.

Ultra-runners frequently say things like “I just want to run my own race”. It’s a good concept: run to your own abilities and don’t get caught up with what other people are doing. I thought about dropping back a bit, but I knew I could bonk hard and still make the team. I had a little strategy pow-wow inside my head as we started lap 2: It seemed a bit fast, but still comfortable. And I didn’t really want Amy to get a big gap, because even though I didn’t have to win, I still wanted to win. And I always start so conservatively, I thought it'd be good to test myself. Besides, I figured I had experience on my side and knew how to trouble-shoot or push through rough patches. So I committed to staying with Amy and I tucked in and followed for a lap.
The early miles - keeping pace with Amy Halseth
The loop has a few rolling hills (120’ gain per loop!!) with the biggest hill around 2.5 miles from the start. On lap 3, I pulled a step ahead on the hill: excelling at douche grade can come in handy sometimes!! At the top of the hill there are two fairly tight turns that allow an easy glance behind without too much contortion. By lap 4, Amy was about 50 yards back. By loop 5 she was 100 yards back and I was feeling good that I was maintaining pace and putting a little cushion on my lead.

Just jogging around the lake a time or two...or ten
After the 50k (3:47), the cumulative miles became noticeable; the pace got a bit harder to maintain and the mile splits were slowing, but only so slightly. By the second half, the winds were really picking up and there were strong in-your-face gusts along the lake on the back half which added to the fatigue for slower splits. But I couldn’t see Amy behind me at all on the hill for laps 6,7, and 8. I figured she was close, but at the end of lap 8, I wanted to know exactly. USA team member Carolyn Smith and her sister Cindy were out to cheer and help and so I asked, “How far is the gap to second?”

“About an hour,” they answered back.

“What??! How far, really?” I needed the truth, not silly jokes!

“Really, it’s about an hour. Maybe more,” they replied.

“Amy was right behind me.”

“Amy dropped. You’ve already lapped second place. We can get the exact split for you next time, but it’s around an hour.”

It was seemingly good news, but it robbed me of all my race day focus, tenacity and toughness. I was relieved, but the relief somehow let me acknowledge the tiredness and stop pushing it out of my mind. I stopped at the aid station and just stared at everything there, looking for some panacea for fatigue. And the Coke was calling to me like Alice in Wonderland: “Drink me!” I stood there and downed three glasses even though I know caffeine is not my friend. But I didn’t have too much longer and 9 ounces of Coke isn’t such a big deal right? After 30 seconds or so, I set off at a slow pace. “Well I can just jog it in,” I thought to myself. (Since the AS was right before the start/finish mat, the AS time actually got recorded as part of lap 8, but I consider it to be part of the whole lap 9 demise).

My first mile was more than 30 seconds slower than any other mile up to that point. I realized that was a little pathetic and tried to pick it up a bit. And then the Coke had a certain effect with 2.5 miles to the next bathroom! There were a few trees here and there, but at this point the course was along a golf course and through a residential area, and, well, squatting behind a tree just didn’t seem right. And honestly, I didn't care. I settled back into jog pace till I got to the AS at mile 3.8 on the loop. No doubt I needed to stop, but I fully admit that I didn’t attend to business with any sort of haste. And then I walked the 100 or so meters back to the aid station and again stood there looking for food. At least this time I was smart enough to go for the caffeine free ginger ale! I put back three more cups of soda plus six orange quarters, again without any alacrity or particular attention to time, and I just jogged my way out.

When I got back to the start/finish, Carolyn and Cindy assured me that I did indeed have more than an hour lead. “You could just walk it in, and you’ll win.” I am not sure if all the sugar finally kicked in or if the idea of walking it in just seemed too absurd, but right then it was like my racing brain turned back on. I didn’t want to walk it in or even just jog. Part of starting fast was to test myself, and with an hour+ lead, there was no safer place to test myself. Bam - the fire was back! I chugged two cups of ginger ale and was out there, falling in right around 7:35 pace.

Certainly my legs were tired, but halfway around the lake, I felt like it would’ve been well within me to have kept that pace for lap 9, too. I finished with a 6:50 last mile “kick” - proof to myself that I could finish strong, but also further confirmation that I wasn’t totally spent. Of course, I made it no more than 100 yards from the finish line before I slumped to the ground and lay in the grass and dirt like a pig for the next half hour before getting up, so you could say there was some fatigue there!

See? I still have enough energy to start the "YMCA" dance.

Overall it was a good race. I took two weeks off after Rocky Raccoon and didn’t start training again until Feb 17. I thought it’d be a pretty good day if I could break 8:00, so 7:47 was way ahead of expectations. But Dakota Jones said in his Buffalo Stampede race report that complacency is the ultimate flaw (that kid is wise beyond his years!). I definitely feel like I suffered some complacency out there, and that disappoints me. I think having a deeper field would have helped a lot, but still it feels like it fell short of my best effort. And learning that I was only 80 seconds off the course record makes the sting a little worse. Unfortunately, I never ever had the course record on my mind, and I feel confident (in retrospect) that with a little more focus, I had it in me. I absolutely think a great effort/great race is better than a great place and this one feels like I “settled” for the win, instead of putting forth a great effort the whole time. I also know the nutrition wasn't perfect, and I don't like that either. The first six laps went really well drinking half an Ultimate Direction handheld full of Perpetuem and then dropping the bottle off at the next aid station. Unfortunately, the bottles were mixed ahead, there wasn't any ice, and I got sick of warm Perpetuem really quickly. After lap six I think I got a little behind on calories, which probably has a lot to do with why I wanted the Coke so badly and also why my head got out of it a bit. If I had known I was going to have such awesome crew, I think bringing another flavor or getting Carolyn and Cindy to add ice would have helped a lot.

So not a perfect race, but I am trying not to be too hard on myself because I am happy with my overall fitness right now and I am very glad to be joining team USA again this year. There won’t be any complacency in Qatar!
"Sure you can take my picture, as long as I don't have to stand up!" That is grass all over me,  because I was laying in it  with my legs on the car bumper about two minutes earlier!

1 comment:

Rob said...

Way to keep it real (as usual) and give all the dirt! It was still very cool to compare your nutrition write up to your race notes. Even if you didn't do it perfect you knew where it went wrong. All the analyzing and critiquing will surely pay off in Qatar. Best wishes!