Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rio del Lago 100-Mile Race Report

Author's Note: I haven't published a formal race report in close to three years. Why? Maybe the "ultra blog" is dead; or, the demand (/attention span) of the public no longer values them.

But a funny thing happened. When I was officially granted a sponsor spot for the 2018 Western States, the first thing I did was read my 2013 race report.  I wanted to learn from my mistakes (and what I did right), that year. 

As such, the true value of a race report is self-reflection, and historical archive. Thus, the race report (for now) is back.

Walk of Shame to a frigid, foggy, surreal ALT. Picture: Callie Alice. 

Pre-Race. My goals for Rio del Lago were simple, straightforward, and process-oriented:
  • A strong, even effort
  • Form-focused and efficient
  • A positive experience
  • Lay down “good memories” in an area that already has a lot of positive vibes
Training leading up to RdL was pretty great:
  • Mileage was strong but moderate: I hit 100 miles a couple times, but otherwise moderated with legitimate rest weeks
  • Workouts were quality, including a series of “ultra-grind” efforts, akin to marathon pace/effort work. In a six week span between early September and early October, I notched five runs ranging from 20 to 26 miles, where at least 50% (and in one case, 100%) of that mileage was at threshold or race-pace speed and effort. This, indeed, is the “lost gear” that – while risky and requiring disciplined execution – is absolutely crucial for peak performance at any ultra-distance
  • Lastly, I had a strong but moderate “marathon event”, four weeks out from the race. Running on my own (with light crew support from Callie Alice), I ran 2:51 over 26.2 rolling miles (1500' gain!) on a self-selected Oregon Coast road route. It was difficult but by no means full effort. While I was tired, I felt it was an optimal stimulus going into RdL

Overall health was solid, save for a few minor (but substantial) issues:
  • I had some bilateral foot and ankle pain – namely my right ankle – due to some stride inefficiencies over the summer, but that improved a great deal before race day.
  • I contracted giardia in January. It was successfully treated, only to return (in some form) in August. A subsequent aggressive treatment (9x the original anti-protozoan/antibiotic), while effective in eradicating the flare-up, it also was a major gut-bomb to the healthy flora of my GI system. As such, I had a handful of sleepless periods, as – to my great surprise & dismay – I became “utterly” (get it?) diary intolerant. In retrospect, this also happened in the spring, though I never put it together. In short, when I digest dairy I get a histamine response (asthma, fatigue, head fog), and later on (and more severely, this fall), I will have substantial lower GI pain and distress. No fun.
  • It was a tough late summer and fall to be an Oregonian: first, it was wildfire smoke. Not only does the smoke impact training capacity, but it has systemic effects in every day lift, including mild (but sustained) histamine responses and impaired sleep overnight, even when indoors. Then, it was “burn pile season”, where rural residents are allowed to burn piles of wood and leaves on their property. This smoke gets trapped in the South Willamette valley and causes the same symptoms as wildfire smoke. It’s extremely frustrating.
  • Fall illness began to roll into my office. I was in contact with one coaching client, and at least one PT client who were ill in the week leading up to the race. This would loom large over the day.
Pre-race. Callie and I headed south on Thursday night for our “NorCal Race Routine”: overnight in Ashland, then run the Lithia Park trails on Friday morning. Thursday night usually includes a stop at Creekside Pizza, which I obliged, and although I had to get a cheese-less pizza and salad, it was still great. We slept well, got up early, and had a rather enjoyable rainy and cool run at sunrise on the ‘chips along the creek, up and down stream. I felt OK, but a little heavy.

But after breakfast, I felt “off”. Like, super tired. I thought it was allergies (it’s always, all the allergies, right?), so I popped an Allegra at breakfast and seemingly felt better. Callie and I split driving down to Sacramento and got into town, late-afternoon. I did a bit of PT multi-tasking, then met up with The BGD for dinner before returning to his house for the night. I felt really tired, but I thought that was a good thing.

Sleep was fitful; I was more anxious than I thought I’d be, but I finally got some sleep. At 3:45 we were up and the pre-race prep: gear, stretching/strength, “breakfast” and loading up was as effortless as many ever! By 4:30 we were at Beal’s Point. It was warm and breezy…and, at 5AM, that might’ve been the warmest it’d be all day.

Mom and Tammy (one of my coaching clients, and a friend from elementary school in Northern MN that I’ve known for 35 years!) were there and we huddled together ‘til the start. Hugs and kisses later (the latter to Callie Alice, only!) and it was time. I felt fine, and ready to “run all day”. I lined up next to Dominic Layfield near the front just before 5.

The Start to Beal’s (0-18 miles). When the horn sounded, the start was extremely easy. By pace, it was nearly as slow as the first 100m up Squaw Valley, only this was a 3% bike path grade! It was so easy, I actually slowed down so I wouldn’t lead. Among the field that’d be mixing it up were Layfield, Chikara Omine (a multi-time World 100K team member), Nathan Yanko, Van, and perhaps one other guy. But within the first mile, as we drew out of Beals and headed toward Folsom, most of those guys quickly – inexplicably – tailed off, leaving just me and Dom.

I didn’t wear a GPS watch. I wasn’t going to monitor HR, and I didn’t care about pacing or distance. I had a regular Timex with a repeating timer – something I use for hydration consistency. While it’s not universally advised to “drink to a schedule”, I’ve learned what my body needs at a moderate effort in these conditions, and a little sip of water every seven-and-a-half-minutes is a perfect way to titrate that hydration.

Without a watch, I literally hadn’t the slightest idea how fast we were going. But I knew it was EEEEE-ZZZZY! SO easy. One sub-goal I had was not to race – or otherwise “micro—manage” this opening 18-mile river path loop that would take us downriver, then back to Beal’s. Rather, one goal I had was to “sleep until Beal’s” – or be so relaxed that those miles would simply fly by. As such< I floated well behind Dom, allowing him to lead, and allowing me to be in my own thoughts and avoid any pre-dawn chatter.

So Dom lead, a good 30-50m in front most of the time. We were running so easy that at times, , I’d nearly stop and walk a light paved uphill to keep that buffer. We cruised downhill and I did my best to hone an efficient flat (and downhill) stride. It didn’t feel great, but fine enough. But above all, it felt utterly effortless, which was perfect.

The route crossed to the south side of the American River about 3 miles in. These crossings have a tendency to be clover turns, which can be confusing, but early on some volunteers helped guide the way. The course was…well, “lightly marked”. It had ribbons, but they weren’t reflective. So they required both a strong lamp and vigilance to see them. I benefitted from having Dom up front, doubly so since he’s run the race before. This experience would prove to be an invaluable partnership as the day progressed.

We hit the aid station (mile x) in 50:xx. I had no idea what mile it was at the time, and neither did the runner kids manning that first aid station. I got a water fill and left).  From there, we got on the Natoma loop – a run Jake and I did in September. Familiarity such as this – and previous runs at the American River 50 – would prove to be a double-edge sword: on one hand, you “know” those loops; but on the other, you could never assume you’d be following that same, precise route. That’d be a major mistake repeated by a lot of folks, throughout the day.

That first case occurred as we got to Hazel Bridge. To run a typical Natoma loop, you’d simply get onto the bridge and cross. RdL had you run under the bridge, then clover-loop back on the other side to cross. The issue – here, and time and again – was that this crucial area was lightly-, poorly-, or otherwise unmarked. This was the first of many stagger-or-stops, where we had to look sharply, or sometimes simply guess the route, and when Dom and I began to run together. We eventually found the route to go over the bridge, back to the north, then on our way back upstream. After I saved the day by finding the bridge on-ramp, Dom quickly repaid the favor by pointing out a steep trail uphill I’d missed (as my brain wanted to stay on the bike path).

From there until a mile out from Beal’s, we stuck together: Dom graciously led, while I ran in his shadow. The course ran on some convoluted mountain bike singletrack that teasingly paralleled the (much easier) bike path, and besides the convolution, that, too, wasn’t precisely marked. It had a myriad of side trails that could’ve been “flour-marked off” – or blocked with a simple flour line across them. Such a temporary mark would have been extremely useful for the precise amount of time needed (2-4 hours), then easily eradicated by either foot prints or the rain – the latter, which began, just before sunrise.

During those miles, as we both woke up, Dom and I chatted a bit. I met him back in 2014 as we both helped pace Ford Smith at Western States that summer. He’s just a solid guy, and a very strong runner. But, like myself, he wasn’t feeling super-strong, early, so we both moderated our efforts. Despite that, there wasn’t even a hint of anyone behind us.

After an hour of undulating dirt, the course spat back onto the bike path in Folsom, leading to the mild upgrade back to Beal’s. I wasn’t feeling great. In fact, my legs had this strange heaviness to them; yet, at the same time, the effort still felt extremely easy. So I let my form take over and, without any additional effort, I began to pull away from Dom. Without any hurry, I gradually make my way up the hill, back toward civilization and into the dawn. I rolled into Beal’s Point, mile 18.5, happy to have that road section behind me.

My split of 2:3x was neither impressive, dangerous, or surprising at all. That 8:xx pace was exactly how it felt: super-easy and conservative. Yet, I just felt…off. When I hit the aid station, my mom, Callie and a couple other elementary school friends – who happen to live in Sacramento, and there to support Tammy – where waiting.

“The effort feels super-easy, it’s like I’m not even trying”, I told them, as I guzzled some kombucha and reloaded fuel, “but my legs feel achy.”

And that was it. It felt easy, but it didn’t feel good. The effort was like nothing, yet it felt like the legs couldn’t (or wouldn’t do much more). Because it was early, I was fine with that, and went about my business, executing the race plan: hydration and fuel consistency (titrating both), stride efficiency, and moderate, even, “all-day effort”. After maybe a minute in the aid, I departed, up and over the hill, and along the levy toward Folsom Lake.

Beals to the Overlook (18-40ish miles). This section was definitely reminiscent of American River 50, which features this transition from river path to horse trail, en route to Auburn. Yet it was unfamiliar enough – and opaquely marked – to raise some doubts about the course. Those doubts were realized when, about a mile out the aid station, I realized I’d gone off course. It was mostly my fault; there were a couple runners ahead on the trail  (non-racers) and, I’d see a flag in the direction they were going, a left fork. I followed, running a good kilo at least, ‘til the trail led to some sort of school park. Shit. I doubled back, annoyed, This was at least the fourth time I’d lost the course, but the first time I’d gone severely off course – ever, in an ultra. I doubled back, then, once I found the orange flagging, actually started going backwards on the course, ‘til I came across another runner. I cursed a bit, then, when I about-faced and found the junction, I angrily transferred the offending, aberrant ribbon to the appropriate side of the trail. While it might seem to be common sense that, if the trail is going right, said marks would only be on the right, that was not the case here. I tore off the ribbon and took the time to re-tie it with its brethren.

I was now in at least second place, but there was nothing to do. I just chugged along. Second place guy (??) pulled ahead as he (as would several guys that morning) would grind the piss out of uphills, then float the downs. I tended to do the opposite, and shuffle-float the ups and gobble the downs. I stayed close by, as we negotiated the tedious jeep road rollers (where I first met Jake, over six years ago) that led to the singletrack.

While I still felt heavy, after I got over the lost time and added distance, I felt better. Fuel seemed to give me a bump, and things were stabilizing. A mile or two out, the course markings were noticeably better (The theme of the day; as markings were typically done by as many as two dozen people, within a radius of an aid station), and we had no trouble rolling into Granite Beach AS (mile 23.x), Callie was there, worried, as Dom had come through a few minutes earlier. I asked for my first soda of the day, but they didn’t have it out yet, so I went to the van for more kombucha, until an aid station worker brought me a can of Coke. I was mildly annoyed, but more concerned about my heavy, aching legs. Again, the effort didn’t feel good, but felt like I was going as easy as possible without overtly walking. A quick in and out and we were off.

This was the “meat grinder section”, which marked Granite Beach to Horseshoe Bar. Within a half-mile of leaving the AS, another, new runner rolled up behind, who stayed behind me, seemingly uninterested in passing. I again floated the ups and tried to quick-foot the descents. But my leg aching was worsening, and I was less agile than usual. Still, we rolled together until, a couple miles down the trail, we finally reeled in Dom. As the trail became overtly more rocky and rugged, we had even more visitors, which included Yanko and Van. We all ran together for a spell, commiserating humorously about the day thus far, including making Barkley jokes on how “we need to stick together to help navigate!”  While I stated that in jest, it would, once again, prove to be true. Not long after that, Yanko and Van peeled off. I drifted behind them, while Dom and xx were behind me.

As we rolled through that rugged, rocky section, I began to feel better. It was a dreary, Oregon day: thick clouds, and the morning mist had vacillated between rain and sort of a suspended dew. That’s nothing new to me, but certainly rare for this area. I took frequently looks out to the barren lake – surprisingly uninhabited, given that we’re still in a major metro area. It was peaceful and enjoyable. The two leaders pulled away, but I was patiently doing my best to “float”. My early Pearl Jam classics shifted toward this Modest Mouse favorite, in hopes that it would reinforce the goal of this section. “Float! I’m not working hard!”

Horseshoe AS came and went. It nice to see a familiar face in Eric Tosci, but I didn’t linger. The trail improved as we inched toward Rattlesnake, but the markings did not. A mile out that aid station, finally, there was Chikara. Like some sort of video game character, he appeared out of nowhere, on some sort of turboboost, and simply flew by me. “Wow”, I thought. I wondered if maybe he was treating this race as a workout: going intentionally slow, then ramping the pace.

That that point there were three guys in front. A mile later, I passed a trail junction: one with no markings. “Uh-oh”, I thought. The left fork stayed on the level plateau; the right fork descended. I took the latter, but it didn’t feel quite right. A kilometer later, here comes the trio, running back at me.

“Shit.”, I said. “There’s no markings ahead!”, someone said, as the trio blasted by, westbound. I, too, about-faced, and heavily shifted momentum back downriver, and up the hill, only to run into Dom, coming at us.

I’m not sure if he said anything to those guys, or if they didn’t hear them, but I stopped and said, “We can’t find the course”.

“Well, my watch [on which he loaded the course .gpx file] says we’re still on it…”

So I followed him. And, for the time being, we were eastbound again. But we ran along for a good kilo-plus without a single mark. More descending, too. Finally, we hit a four-way intersection with a double-track – potentially a major confusion point, but some secondary emotion in me reminded me of AR50, and I directed us to follow it steeply downhill. Dom concurred. “The aid station’s at the bottom”.

A half-mile later, finally a ribbon! Huzzah! But it had to have been a mile-and-a-half of no markings. Really frustrating. In a case like that, they’ve typically been removed (either innocently, or maliciously, by non-racing pedestrians or horseriders).

We finally made it to Rattlesnake AS. I notified the aid station captain of the missing marks, and got more kombucha from Callie, as well as a few shots of coke and a gel re-stock, before shuffling out again. “Your stride’s a little shuffly, pick it up!”, Callie said. “I know”, I replied, annoyingly. Not at her, but at the reality of my situation.

As we’d entered the aid station, I shared with Dom that I wasn’t feeling well. At first I thought I might’ve over-done the allergy medication. I’d taken a half-pill that morning, after a full pill Friday morning and half-pill before bed. That’s two, 24 hour doses…taken in successive days: hardly an “overdose”, but it’s been known that when I take such doses, I can get an upset stomach and drowsiness. I felt that maybe that’s why I felt so “low”, yet the effort felt easy. The legs, at times, felt like they’d come around, only to begin to ache more.

The section from Rattlesnake to Cardiac? It was just a tough section. I forgot – or simply blocked out – this section from my AR50 memory. It was tough. At first the trail was pretty smooth and runnable as we rolled past Avery’s Pond and the last of the upper reaches of the reservoir, proper. But once we got along the actual river, boy, did it roll. Up and down, up and down. Making it a dimension more challenging was the rain, which had picked up, and made the dirt, muddy, and the rocks, wet. It was slow-going.

Dom and I seemed to be having a contest as to who could go the slowest, yet still run. I apparently took over that “lead” after the pond, and pulled away just slightly on that singletrack. That section, and the rollers, seemed endless: up and down, up and down, up and down. I try not to look at my watch, but when it hit 50:xx and there was no aid in sight, my heart sunk a bit. But no sooner did I get down than the “Chikara Kart” pulled up behind, on another turboboost! Letting him past was almost reflexive. HE blew past us again, and my brief side-step was enough to get Dom back in sight.

Finally, finally. Cardiac Aid. More sodas and gels (“Quesadilla??” “No thanks.”). Chikara took time, but then frantically left and seemingly thrashed his way up the steep gravel, Cardiac road climb. Dom and I left about the same time, hiking. “Look at him. But look at how slowly he’s pulling away”, Dom said. He was right: a lot of thrashing, but Chikara didn’t gain much.

I hiked the entire gravel section of this climb. Heroic finishes at AR50, where this encompasses the final 3 miles of the race, involve a brutal, gut-churning run up this. But not 40% into a hundred. We hiked, and my pace was enough to pull away from Dom and keep Chikara in sight.

I passed a couple camouflaged fisherman hiking up. 

“How’s it goin?”
“Ah, no good, the water’s too low!”, they said. “How far you going?”
“A hundred.”
“Oh, cool”. They’re Auburn residents, so they were non-plussed. “Have a good one”

About a mile up, the gravel cedes to paved road, and a mercilessly-runnable grade of about 5-8%. I shuffle-ran it. It just felt better, and, really, was runnable. I ran maybe 12-minute pace. Chikara finally pulled out of sight. I didn’t care. I simply wanted to get to the Overlook.

Pulling up into Auburn in those conditions – dreary, foggy, mist-covered hills—was surreal. But finally - finally! - we were there. Uphills felt good; downs did not. This was weird, but emblematic of the “leg ache”, that seemed to grow as the day went on. So I shuffle-ran the steep trail up to Overlook, mile 40.x.

There was a nice crew up there. Beside my mom and Callie, both Craig and Laurie Thornley were hanging out, and we chatted a bit. But I was just…really lethargic. Not bonky, not overly tired, just…drained. I had the urge to deuce, but it was transient, so when the lone bathroom at the point was occupied (of course), I kept going. Chikara and Dom, who was right behind me, got out front as we got onto the proper Western States trail and made our way to Robie Point.

Things were deteriorating, and I knew it. The ache was spreading and – in a way that I hadn’t felt in literally years – I was having trouble descending. The legs felt sooo heavy. This is a true aberration. Even during the years in which I lacked fitness, when I couldn’t climb for shit, I could always descend well. Today? It was the opposite. Ups felt…OK, but downs – and even flats – taxed and added to the progressive ache in my legs: quads, calves, hamstrings and even glutes joined in. 

Perplexing and frustrating.

I shuffled along, making no efforts to keep up with anyone, including a spry looking fellow who rolled up behind me. He seemed about ten times fresher than me, hiking the uphill confidently, then floating the downs with an effortless, efficient stride. “Wow, that guy looks great, I’m not keeping up with him”. I was right. He’d go on to win the race.

At that point, I tried my best to reset: “OK, this is a new race: the lower river is behind us, it’s time to tackle The Cool Loop” – named as such, since it encompassed the Lower Quarry Road and Western States Trail, the mid-section of the race. Like Jurek did in his 2005 Badwater win, I tried to “start over” in my mind, take this section as a race a new, and simply execute. The legs felt like ass, but I could still execute, I thought.

Myriad rollers finally led us to the Robie junction and the proper WSER course. Whew, it was muddy! It was slow-going down to the quarry trail and I cursed at myself for dawdling so much. I peed for the first time in a while, indicating (what I thought) was balanced hydration (not too little, and certainly not too much). I continued to titrate gels, taking small “nips of courage’ – perhaps an eighth of a pouch – over the course of a half-hour. And I took a salt pill (albeit only my second of the day). Execute.

I made It to No Hands. Callie and BGD were there (but couldn’t crew), I grimaced their direction and made my way out the aid. Seeing the “Next Aid, 10.5 miles” was a tough pill to swallow. It’d be a long section.

Up to K2, then down to the 49 crossing we went: no runners in sight. Callie and BGD were there, and Jake ran with me for nearly a mile down the road. Coincidentally (or not) this might’ve been my lowest point of the day: I felt so low, so heavy, so achy – accentuated by the utter runnability of the road. BGD propped me up and even said my stride looked good!

We talked about the plan: Callie was going to “appear” on the trail before ALT and run with me for a bit. Pacers were allowed after Overlook 1, but she was banged up and unable to run that whole 30-mile loop; instead, Jake was going to drive to the ALT area and we’d meet there. I was really looking forward to sharing that great – and my favorite – section of that trail with her, and was committed to doing whatever it took to get there in one piece, feeling OK.

He finally bid goodbye and turned back. I was alone again.

I shuffled to the rock wall and heard voiced behind. It was Yanko and his pacer, Galen Burrell. They were super-chatty and in good spirits and before long, then passed.

I did my best to negotiate the rollers from the rock wall to Browns Bar. “Execute!”, I said aloud: tall, forward, high knees – which was increasingly difficult for my achy quads and hamstrings – but it kept me going. I walked any steep ups and shuffled the rest. It was OK pace, but the trajectory was clearly downward.  At that point, I didn’t care about that, as much as simply stabilizing, and trying to figure out how to preserve my legs and stem the tide of the ache.

Approaching Maine Bar is when the wheels truly began to fall off. The ache spread: now my whole back, from lower neck to low back, just ached. And my legs were heavy as ever. The climb from Maine Bar, up to American Canyon Trail, was a merciful break. But once one the ACT, I made myself run again.

Oh, man, do I love this trail. This Lower-Quarry, ACT, WSER loop is one of my favorites, and a great run that Jake, Callie and I grinded back in February of 2015. We had a blast on a similarly cool and damp day. Today, I could barely muster eleven-minute pace on that flat, smooth singletrack. It was heartbreaking.

Finally, another climb, upward along the creek, up toward the WSER trail, and more merciful hiking, but even that got sluggish.

At that point, things got fuzzy. My head started to go. Breathing got labored, and – predictably, as I slowed – a chill set in. I walked the slightest uphill, as the course made its way to the Western States trail. Once there, I stopped.

I was done.

It was just over. I could barely move. I heard more voices behind me – another couple guys, happily chatting, as one should, midway through a hundred. They passed me as a shuffle-walked along. I assured them that I was “OK” (enough to not hurt myself), but I was clearly in a bad spot. They passed, but there was no sight of Jake or Callie.

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I knew my body was shutting down. Running was out of the question because I was now having difficulty walking. Everything – all my muscles – just ached and ached. I shuffle-walked down the trail, hands in makeshift pockets in my Houdini jackets, as my temperature dipped.

Finally, they appeared. Thank goodness. But it was just so disappointing. I was looking forward all day to this moment, and it was over. Thank God for them both, because Callie literally gave me the shirt off her back, replacing my drenched shirt with her long sleeve, as well as a hat and gloves, while BGD gave me his Waldo puffy. Even with these amazing gifts, I struggled to stay warm.

“Let’s get you to ALT and see what we can do”, Jake and Callie both seemed to say. In my compromised state, I felt any sort of resurrection was a longshot, but I agreed to try. So we shuffled along. But I literally could not walk faster than about 2 miles an hour. I ached and ached. We chatted a bit to pass the time, and those two did their best to troubleshoot, but I relayed to them how progressively off I felt all day, and the uniqueness of this “ache”. I felt truly sick.

Finally, finally, we passed the cougar bench, and made our way to the aid station. I plopped into a bag chair under a tarp that mercifully blocked the rain, which was now steady upon us. The fog and rain at ALT – usually a piping-hot evening aid station at Western States – was truly surreal.
The aid folks, including the medical captain, Sheri Tweed (with whom I worked at Robinson Flat during this year’s WSER) tried to encourage me to continue, but with every passing minute, I got colder, even as I sat, ensconced in jacket, Mylar blanket and a second jacket on my legs, until I was shivering.

I tried to stay positive. Other runners trickled in and out of the aid station. They gave a lot of encouragement.

“How you doing, man?”
“Well”, I said, lethargically, collecting my thoughts, “…I’ve seen better days…”

And I think it was Jake that reflexively added, with his utmost pop culture database, …and the bottom dropped out! (This would henceforth be the theme song of the weekend).

I was officially done. Sheri shifted mercifully from cheerleader to care provision and got me (and Jake) into the medical tent, on to a cot and under multiple sleeping bags and blankets, which stemmed some of the shivering. Callie went to get the car.

And that was the day. Over. Done at mile 59.

Aid Station (mile/split mile): Splits
Willow Creek (6.5/6.5):         50:05
Negro Bar (14.0/7.5):             67:57
Beals Point (18.5/4.5)             37:33       (2:25:36 Start to Beal's =8:22 pace)
Granite Beach (23/4.5)           42:50     (Lost course - added 1 mile)
Horseshoe Bar (32.5/9.5)        83:31
Rattlesnake Bar (35.5/3.0)      32:18    (Lost Course - added 0.75 mile)
Cardiac (41.0/5.5)                   60:47
Overlook (44.5/3.5)                35:32
No Hands (48.5/4.0)               41:44
Auburn Lake Trails (59/10.5)   ???


Post-race reflection. Initially, I couldn’t quite understand what happened. Did I simply have an off day? Was I insufficiently rested from the marathon (or otherwise over-trained)? Did I over-do the allergy meds, which can cause malaise and muscle aches?

In retrospect, I’d simply gotten sick. It’s so rare that I do, but when I do, it’s frequently both subtle and disguised as allergies (which are far more common). But in the aftermath of the race, while my legs – which continued to ache for a day or two – bounced back, I had a head cold and mild fever that I’m just now [as of mid-November] just beginning to get over. I’d simply picked up something and likely began to feel it on Friday (or even Thursday).

To blame all the troubles on illness is both liberating but also a cop-out. I need to both take solace in the notion that – in all my years of running, and seven years of ultras – I’ve felt such ‘ache” only once, and that was racing Bandera in 2014, right after having the flu. As such, I’m confident that illness was the primary factor.

That said, I also need to acknowledge other possible factors – things in my control – where I may have erred, either contributing to the off-day, or contracting the illness, including:

Deficits & Issues. Preceding the race:
  • Poor nutritional discipline, which led to some sleep-deprived nights and decreased rest
  • Poor sanitary discipline at work (got sick!)
  • Deficient race logistical preparation:
    • I needed to know the course better to avoid getting lost, adding distance, or otherwise adding frustration
    • My headlamp sucked and was uncomfortable
    • I didn’t know the aid stations and distances well enough
  • Deficient goal-setting: perhaps having “too light” of goals (“just have a good day”) might have allowed the day to slip away
  • Stubbornness, and failure to take more time to “fix problems”. Should I have spent more time at aid stations, early on, when my legs began to ache? Maybe, but I’m not certain how that would have helped or what I could have done. Experience tells me that such stops only make issues like that, worse. However, I have yet to learn how to “stop and rest” – and allow time to fix a downward spiral – before it goes beyond the point of no return. I’m still not sure how to do that, and that’s a major deficit in my skill set.
That said, I feel good about taking away a lot of positives from the day, including:
  • Excellent nutrition and hydration. Once again, it worked really well to titrate both calories and water in small doses. Small nips of both between aid stations worked great and avoided any overloads, while larger boluses of calories at aid stations would also provide a more substantial boost. I peed a lot, and had no deuce stops in 59 miles and eight-plus hours of running.
  • Race gear:
    • Loved the Pearl Izumi N2 Roads. They had good grip, even in the mud and slick rock, and were light and comfortable. This could be a great Western States shoe.
    • The Sporthill ultra shorts? The BEST shorts I’ve worn in a long time. They got a little loose (I might need a size smaller, or to use the draw string) with the bottle in the back, but they were supportive but soft, breathable and warm. Great shorts!
  • The stride, on the whole, was very solid:
    • Sagittal plane was GOOD. Both Callie and Jake said I was forward (enough), and arched in my spine.
    • I could feel like I was using my hips well, both pulling beneath and pushing behind. Heel recovery (“Salazar stride”) was pretty good
    • Feet…were OK. 
    • The one stride element that was off: I was a little (but significantly) "A Leaner": pelvis right/trunk left. As a result, my right ankle got stiff and left knee and quad were beat up, again. I’d simply neglected to focus on this much at all.
  • Pacing was…good. To start out, I could not have executed better. I keep thinking, “If Jim Walmsley had raced this, he would’ve run [the first river loop] in two hours, flat” (I ran 2:35/8:2x pace). It was so damn easy. And efficient. And effortless. It couldn’t have been better. Then, when the other guys went grinding past, I kept my cool.
  • I kept my head in the race, and fought as valiantly as possible. I cycled through my goals from A  (win, run fast) to Z (keep moving, simply finish). I did all I possibly could, and with the maximal positivity. It just wasn’t enough.  
Post-script notes. As it turns out, there was more to that day. I had actually planned to propose to Callie, mid-race, while she was pacing me. While that may have added to the “pressure” of the day, if anything, I felt it balanced my goals for the day. I was never super-pressured to race fast and win. Rather, I wanted to have a positive, special day. That it ultimately fell apart made it even more disappointing.

But things happen for a reason, and we “got things done”, two weeks later, on the Oregon Coast!

Cape Perpetua Lookout - 11/18/2017 - #teammatesforlife
After the race, I got bonafide sick – and stayed sick – for the entire month of November. Pretty incredible, but I get it: a virus invades, staging an initial attack; you go run an ultramarathon (in my case, 59 miles over 9+ hours); the body now has something new to work on, repairing the race damage, and letting the virus run roughshod. It took the entire month to finally dispense of it, resulting in prolonged off-season!

Now that the lottery has come and gone, I finally feel read to prepare for 2018. I hope this turns out to be a good training – and learning – experience.