Friday, November 2, 2012

Autumn Leaves 50K - 2012

You never forget your first: Autumn Leaves was the site of my first-ever ultra race, and the 2012 event was the two-year anniversary of that momentous (and admittedly life-changing) day.  I return to Autumn Leaves each year for that reason, and others:

- It's a local race (only of only two that I've run), organize by great and friendly folks: Bret and Gale Henry
- It's become my "defacto marathon", on account of it's flat[er], fast[ish] nature
- It's a good speed work tune-up for the longer races, like TNF.
- The half-out and back, loop course, provides a unique opportunity to interact with all your fellow racers from front to back - great for mutual encouragement and fun. 

I try to run hard, but I try not to be rested.  A year ago, I ran the famed Squaw to Michigan Bluff with BGD the week before.  This week, I went a bit further: not only did I put in a long day in the mountains (this time with Nick Clark in Rocky Mountain NP, on Monday) and my usual tempo work and light workouts this week, I also managed to get myself sick for the first time in two years!  So handicaps (and excuses) abounded going into this year's event.

I really wanted the course record.  Friend/Eugenian Matt Lonergan ran a solid 3:17:59 on the course. Though not fresh, I thought it'd be easy work: <6:20 pace, how tough could it be?

The Start/Finish Turnaround, at pre-dawn (and pre-rain) hour.
 The forecast conditions were rain.  Lots.  But not until later in the day.  I hoped I could show up, buzz my five laps, then get off course and around the campfire with coffee in hand. 

It wouldn't be the case. 

The skies stayed dry until I pulled into Champoeg State Park.  Light drizzle greeted me.  I jogged a bit, then retreated to the cold bathroom to apply a liberal layer of extra virgin to shield against the precipitation.  The mist consolidated to rain just before the start, so I also wore a jacket. 

A good hundred or so folks - in both the 50K and big-boy 50M - toed the line in the dark and rain, and off we were.

Lap One
Starting a hard road[ish] effort in the dark is tough; difficult to gauge pace.  I pushed it out the gate along the first "chunk" - the flat path from the start to the midway aid.  I was a bit disappointed to see there was no mile (or other) marker.  So I guaged a random tree and saw I hit it in 6:30 and figured that was over a mile.  Through "chunk two" - the river flats - and into the third - "the wooded rollers".  I weaved through the forest and up the 100m hill to the turn around, hitting it in about 18:20.  I had no idea what mile marking that was.  Probably less than 5K, but no clue.  From there it's a back track until midway aid, where we then split off on the last section: the single track.

It rained hard that first lap - enough to soak everything and even numb the thighs, despite the lube insulation.  Moreover, the rain made quick work of the already uneven, winding trail section, rendering it muddy and slick from the first lap.  But I picked my way through, back onto the pavement and up the incline to the start/finish for a respectable 37:57 lap.

Lap Two
Without stopping for aid, I rolled through, breaking stride only to grab a home-made 10-oz hand-held, made from thin disposable bottles + packing tape for a hand loop.  They worked great.  Affixed to each was a single leg.  I carried an additional 4 in my shorts.  The routine was: a gel and water to wash at the start, and one at the turnaround.

At the turnaround of both midway and the start-finish, I noticed another guy hot on my tail - less than 20 seconds back!  "Huh!".  I didn't know who he was; he looked to be in his early 20s and he ran in basketball shorts.  That was it.  I thought he was going out a bit hot for a 50K, but I didn't pay much attention.  

Lap two was uneventful. The rain continued, the field strung out, and the skies lightened.  I failed to remember to lose my headlamp, so I ran a second lap with it on my gourd.  At the junction of the first and last loop sections was J-Bob, Jason Leman, dutifully directing the racers in the cold, wet conditions.  I gave him virtual fistbumps as I ran past - all ten times - and tried to keep strong and relaxed.  

I slowed a bit on that second lap; basketball shorts guy was still behind, the same ~20 second gap separating.  The trail section was a bit slower the second time 'round, as I began to pass folks.  Still, my second lap was respectable: 38:35.

Rolling through the early stages of the Trail Section - you can see that big ol' foot ready to strike too far out front!  Photo credit: unknown/Autumn Leaves 50/50.
Lap Three
Into the third lap, I felt trouble.  I was tired.  My stride felt brake-y.  Worst off, my stomach was grumbling.  Damn.  I took an S-cap, which was a pain to get the mini-bag out of my shorts, then open the seal to obtain.  I felt a bit better, but it didn't quell my stomach.  Just before entering the "wooded rollers", I stepped off trail to a set-back patch of trees with massive, wet maple leaves abounding.  I "went" as rapidly as possible, but it kept coming!  I wiped frantically then got on trail, feeling a ton better.  

The stop - and the pre-stop malaise, and post-stop momentum loss - slowed me. 39:54 for lap three.

Lap Four
Going into the tough lap, I reasoned, "OK, even if you do simply 40s, you'll still break the record".  Long-gone was the notion of busting it open - now it was a fight to hang on.  Both calves were trashed.  Braking.  Damn.  The good news was, my right leg push-off was really good and the "trash" was at least symmetrical.  I focused on keeping forward momentum.  

I reached for another S-cap*, once again a bitch to get out, but before I got it into my mouth, I dropped it into a puddle!  "#@$%!"  I stopped, fished it out, and shuffled along.  Big-time slow down.  

(*I tried a salt tab at the AS, but they were E-Caps, not S - accept no substitutes!) 

I felt like crap...and I needed to. Again!  "#@$%!"  I ran past the nook in the trees, made it through the rollers and the halfway mark, hoping I could hold it, but on the way back, I couldn't resist any longer: another stop. I got shuffling again, trying to hone the stride and get my feet beneath me; my calves began to protest, so I did everything I could to stay efficient avoid cramps. 

The trail segment was slow - uphills were a real drag, but I did my best to keep churning.  I hit the penultimate finish.  Bret asked me how I was doing: "Rough", I said.  I guzzled two cups of Coke and shuffled out, an abysmal 41:17 split - my slowest since the 50M in 2010.

Lap Five
Just as I entered the AS before the last lap, I saw the clock: "2:37:37...38..."  Shockingly, my brain was coherent enough to realize that, if I could run a 40-flat last lap, I could still break the record.  Having taken but a few seconds to pound the soda, I took off down the path on the last lap.

I felt brutal.  I was tired, my legs roughed up with a crappy stride.  The rain continued with a slight wind.  I fumbled annoyingly for one last S!cap before falling into the last lap.  I churned the legs, but they felt slow and heavy.  The gut held up as I hit the half-way point, but it was an absymal 19:5x - a full 90 seconds slow than the first lap's split.  

As I turned for the final 5K, I resigned myself to relative defeat, but kept moving, gulping one last distasteful vanilla gel (Note: the new PB GUs are excellent - they taste like Bit-O-Honey!)  As I made my way through the rollers, I perked up.  The ghost of "The BGD" appeared.  

"Get the feet moving!  Lean forward! Tap-tap-tap-tap!"

I obediently and expediently obliged.  

I picked it up, the sluggish turnover beginning to resemble something athletic.  There was still a chance.  I hit the midway AS but slowed only enough to ditch my last bottle to free the hands.  

The Brain iPod was abysmal as the weather: I started off with that new Flo Rida song, "I Cry",  with that annoying high-pitched hookI tried to sneak in some Jessie J, mid-race, but it didn't take.  Finally, in the last lap, I loaded some Usher, which helped.  But as I hit the trail section - with 1.4 miles to go - I looked down at my watch and saw 31:xx.  "Let's go!"

I busted out the Bushwacker arms through the muddy grass, around the tight corners and up the short, killer uphills.  Luckily there were very few fellow racers in this section as I blew through - passing only a pair in the last bit of trail before the parking lot home stretch.  

Through the lot and up the hill, I pushed nearly as hard as I ever had at the end of an ultra, but as I climbed the final 100m incline to the finish, I watched the clock tick "3:17:57...58...59...".  

Too late.  I crossed the line in 3:18:06.  A solid but unspectacular 40:21 for an equally descriptive overall effort. 

Who has the sillier nickname?  Olive Oil Joe with RD Bret "Fat-Boyee" Henry, post-race.

Post-race: you know it's a little chilly and wet when your first request, seconds after crossing the line, is coffee!  I enjoyed two cups and huddled around the fire ring, oozing post-race contentment, just-missed-it chagrin, and watery olive oil. 

Had a great time hanging out, watching people flow through on their laps in varying states of admirable decay.  The fire ring was clutch in keeping me warm.

Classic Ultra Running Moment: Runner crosses finish line (or did he still have laps to go)....

...and promptly roasts a marshmallow...

I enjoyed a terrific post-race massage from Lowell Welch, LMT, who practices out of Newberg.  He worked a lot of kinks out of my calves and thighs - the best post-race work I've ever had!  After that, I hustled back to the fire, grabbed some grub, then shoved off just as another wave of hard rain set in. 

Gear: has some fun with some homemade disposable hand-helds: 10oz crappy plastic affixed with packing-tape handles and an extra gel. I wore the adidas adizeros - a solid shoe, but not a great choice for the wet leafy pavement, much less the wet, slick grass and mud.  The Drymax Socks were clutch as usual - this time I went with the "Hot Weather Running" variety: an odd choice, seemingly, but a great mid-thickness sock ideal for the distance and terrain...and moisture.

The Grades

Pacing: B.  Not very good.  Too fast in the first 10K, an abysmal 4th.  But I went for it.  The effort was strong. 

Mechanics: B+.  High grades for symmetry - I think my hips were doing their thing with symmetry I haven't seen in maybe over 4 years.  Great news.  But I was still braking - dealing with the lingering effects of 3-4 years of disregarding the flexion phase of running and - quite simply - landing too far out front.  The "blipping" calves in the last 15K were evidence (along with dural tension in the gluts and hammies earlier) that I wasn't landing well enough beneath.  BUT...symmetry trumps all.  A positive step.

Fueling: A/F.  A perfect "A" for race day fuel: the water bottles + two gels/station were perfect.  A flat-out "F" for eating crappy frozen pizza the night before.  What was I thinking?  I'm not 25 and Wisconsinite any more... Never again!  Those two deuces cost me the CR.

Mental Toughness: B.  Good, not great.  I gave up on myself in the penultimate 5K; mild bonus points for the hard running in the last 5K.

Joy: B.  Tough to be joyful in the rain and the dark.  I didn't do a great job of encouraging others as I'd like (though that's harder to do at 6:00/mile than it is 9:00/mile); I did enjoy the post-race atmosphere, and cheering the other racers.