Time flies. As a runner you'd think I would have a better understanding of this than most. I've experienced time moving at all stages of a race- too quickly when trying to hold a pace that my body can't sustain, as well as the opposite end of the spectrum when time seems to stand still and your flowing through it covering miles faster and more effortlessly than you knew possible. It's an elusive feeling, it has more than one name, but I think of it as: flow. I was able to find this at Gorge 100K, and I'm excited about holding on to it the rest of the summer.
I finished up 2015 on an awesome high note. I recovered from some nasty IT Band Syndrome and got sweet redemption at Pine to Palm (recap in blog). It was a great way to cap off the year, and I happily moved into a runner's version of hibernation, aka bunch of exploratory trail runs in my new backyard. Josie and I even got to spend the month of December in Israel with my parents visiting our family and exploring the land of Hummus. We had a great trip, it was wonderful getting to spend a month traveling and especially getting to spend it with family.
As January rolled around I was rested and amped to start working my way back into shape. I set my race schedule for the year:
- March 12th- Marin Ultra Challenge 50M
- April 2nd- Gorge Waterfalls 100K
- June 3rd- San Diego 100M
- August 6th- Angeles Crest 100M
With three of these races being events I've already run once, I wanted to explore at least one new race, and after multiple years hearing how great the waterfalls were at Gorge Waterfalls 100K, I knew that was the newbie race for the year.
January and February were great building block months. I was cognizant of not ramping up miles too quickly, keeping in mind that both Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) and the Gorge were early season races, that I wanted to do well, but don't quite hold sway with me the way the summer hundo's have come to.
Keeping that in mind, I choose not to taper for MUC. I showed up on March 12th feeling a bit tired, nervous to see where my fitness was, and ready to fight the rain and wind that the Marin Headlands promised for the day. This race, put on by the awesome crew at Inside Trail, was actually my first 50 miler back in 2012. I originally ran it a couple months before heading to LA and felt a pull to give it another go four years later as I returned home to the Bay. Being honest with myself I didn't quite give my best effort all-day. The weather was rough, miles 20-40 really felt like my legs were stuck in cement, not to mention fearing I would be blown off Mt. Tam! Oddly enough, with about 10 miles left I started to pick up the pace and felt a renewed sense of energy. With each passing mile my body felt stronger and I finished the race feeling like I had plenty left in the tank.
I came out of MUC feeling strong and March was by far my best running month of the year yet. I was feeling good, confident, and ready to go for Gorge 100K!
I headed to Portland Friday morning, and spent the day exploring the city. With so many cool shops, coffee spots, and a perfect day of weather before I knew it it was time to check-in to my hotel and focus on race day. Heading into the race my goals were:
- Time: 10-11 Hour finish
- Effort: Run a bit closer to my limit, without blowing up;)
In the past I've enjoyed racing to the point of maybe going out a bit cautious, and running under my ability. This is not to say I haven't given honest efforts and most definitely been worked by plenty of courses. But there have been days where I felt I may have left time on a course. I think for my first few years of ultra running this was actually what was best for my (hopeful) longevity in the sport, and each year as I get to know myself better as an endurance runner I have also gotten more comfortable with the idea of pushing my limits.
Start to Cascade Locks Aid Station (Mile 22)
Keeping in mind my goal of pushing limits a bit further I took off at the start. But it looked like I was not to be the only one with this mindset. Within the first couple of miles the race climbs its steepest hill and as much as I wanted to run I knew there was no point in pushing hard this early. It constantly amazes me how many runners will go out so hard, and then fade. As we climbed up and up, we were immediately treated to the most amazing waterfalls. I was blown away, everything was so green, lush, and running under 30 ft.+ waterfalls all-day was a unique experience I won't forget anytime soon!
As we topped out of the first climb I started to push the downhill grade and within a few minutes started catching runners. This would be the case for most of the first 22 miles of the day. I felt like I was running strong, efficient, and pushing myself harder than I had before in a race of this distance. I came into Cascade Locks AS 3:30 into my race and was flowing.
Cascade Locks to Cascade Locks (Out 'N Back Course Mile 41)
In the middle section of the course is when I started really humming. Totally on instinct I increased my calorie consumption. I've normally been a 200 calorie/hour runner and at times struggled to get two gels down in an hour. As I reached the turn-around AS Wyeth (Mile 32) in 5:05 I had a gut feeling (pun-intended) that to maintain my effort I needed to feed the engine more. So I started taking in calories every 20 minutes. This was a shift for me, but one that totally worked out. I could feel my mind and body riding that line between a sustainable effort and a bit of red-lining and with half the race still to go I knew I needed as much fuel as I could sustain.
It was also in this section where I really settled in to racing. Somehow I found myself smack in the middle of some super speedy women and had a front row seat to them going back and forth the rest of the day. In the past I have been caught in the later stages of a race and watched runners put considerable time on me prior to the finish. This was not the case at the Gorge! As I ebbed and flowed with a handful of other runners I reveled in the rush of the beauty of the day, how freeing it was to get to spend a Saturday running through technical single-track, I was flying high.
Cascade Locks to Finish (41-63)
The last 23 miles went by in a blur. Like a legitimate blur, something I haven't experienced for 3+ hours in a race before. When I think back to the final 22 miles of the course, I am reminded of the difficulty and single-mindedness of running hard for an extended period of time. While this may sound easy, or simple, it truly is a difficult task. I was zoned in, and moving strong. As the miles ticked by, I had few other thoughts than the present task at hand. As I get older, life has gotten infinitely more wonderful and complex, being able to find such a clear focus can be a challenging task. I feel fortunate that running has helped me find clarity in focus, and the practice continues to teach me new lessons daily.
As I reached the last AS (no-name mile 57) I was intimidated for the final climb. Especially as I was quickly caught and passed by a runner I had been going back and forth with all day. As Keely pulled away from me on the climb I was impressed by her ability to push at such a late stage. I dug deep and knew it was time to throw any last bit of energy I had left into this race. Two-thirds of the way up I started getting peaks of her as the switchbacks pulled us up the mountain. I could see that I was gaining on her, and found a renewed-sense of determination to push my pace. I started to really run the climb at this point, and before I knew it passed her by and had reached the top.
The Gorge finished with a technical 3.5 mile descent, my favorite way to end a race! As I threw myself down the mountain with the reckless abandon of one who's been running for 10+ hours I couldn't wipe the shit-eattin grin from my face. I was proud of the effort I gave all day, and couldn't wait to be done!
I finished the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in 10:53, and 17th overall. I actually still feel like I left time on the course, but ran harder than I have previously. This gives me even more confidence in my ability to run hard, and I am excited for what the summer hundo's will bring. It was a great day, filled with tons of fast and competitive runners, awesome aid stations and volunteers, and an epic course. Special thanks to Rainshadow Running, you put on an awesome race and I highly recommend it to anyone who even kind-of likes waterfalls;)
Im about two months out from San Diego 100. I've taken the past week to rest, and am feeling great heading into this last block of training for SD100. I had such a great time there last year, and with having to shut it down 7 miles from the finish (recap in previous post), I am looking forward to (hopefully) getting the job done!
Thanks for reading!