Friday, June 14, 2013

Back to Back Efforts!

                               I have always recovered well from races or hard workouts but 20 miles in to this Saturday's Cayuga Trails 50 I was beginning to doubt my recovery abilities.  I hadn't felt many ill effects of the week before until that point but as we hit the steepest descent of the day for the first time my hamstrings were not letting my stride open up. Matt was running behind me but I could tell he was stronger so I let him pass and he bounded away.
      The weekend before had been my fourth stop on the La Sportiva Mountian cup, at the Rothrock Challenge 30k in Pennsylvania.  I rode up with Jason and Allison Bryant and their chipmunk, the little guy.  We camped the night before, which was just about the only thing the heat was actually good for over the weekend, and I got some insight into the course from the Bryant's who had run the race before.  I had done a lot of training over the spring on steep technical terrain but nothing really prepared me for what lay ahead.  The course itself was brutal.  Steep climbs followed by even steeper descents full of boulders and loose rocks.  That coupled with the 90 degree heat turned an 18 mile race into more of an ultra effort.   Tough as it was though this was definitely one of the funnest races I have ever run, especially the boulder field following the aid station at 13 miles! This boulder field was truly a "climb" and even though I didn't run it I was still able to build a lead by the time I reached the top.  By the time we hit the final aid station however Gabe had re passed me.  I spent a little extra time at the aid station and only gained on him slightly on the following climb.  I knew that the final couple of miles were a gnarly descent and that was where I hoped to move,
although with the heat I wasn't sure I would be able to.  The whole day I had felt the my descending was my strongest asset and with the course ending on the technical descent I was able to pull out the win.  If it had ended any other way I'm not sure.  The win gave me a solid lead in the points standings as well making an already fun weekend even better.  The next day however when I headed down the hill for my run I knew I might be in trouble.  My legs were every bit as sore as they had been after Bear Mountain, and although I didn't have the sluggishness I sometimes feel after an ultra I was still slightly worried.  By mid week however I felt pretty much fully recovered with only a slight hamstring tightness still lingering, and by the time I toed the line at Cayuga Trails any doubts I had were gone.
The Boulder Field
Rothrock Finish!

        This was the first running of the Cayuga Trails 50 where the National Championships will be held next year and the race and course were amazing! The trails were not nearly as technical as I expected but the scenery definitely lived up to my expectations.  The first three miles of the course climbed up through Lucifer falls on a trail cut right into the side of the gorge.  My legs felt comfortable on the climb although I felt slightly uneasy to find myself in the lead.  I didn't lead for too long however and by the time we hit the steepest climb of the day I was in 7th or 8th.  I had suffered a small setback when I swallowed a moth, a first for me, and couldn't stop choking.  By the top of the climb however I was running with Matt, as we closed on Denis, with only Sage out of sight.  I ran with Matt for most of the first loop.  We passed Dennis and had reports that we were gaining on Sage.  Matt kept the pace quick on the flat sections and I pushed the uphills until around mile 18 when he dropped me on the steep down. To be honest the pace he had been setting for the last several miles had bordered on uncomfortable for me and once I settled into my own rhythm I felt a little better.  I didn't lose too much time however and I had caught back up to within 15 or 20 seconds of him again just before the Old Mill aid station when my stomach heaved and I started to puke.  This is a recurring problem for me in ultras and something that I have yet to figure out.  I lost about a minute to Matt during that point and by the turn around at half way I was about 2 minutes back, and saw that Matt was within 30 seconds of Sage.  I tried to climb hard after the turn around but following my normal pattern after hurling I hit an energy low and found myself struggling just to hike up Lucifer Falls.  Looking back on the race I am truly ashamed of the next section of my race.  I was at a low for sure but most of the section between Old Mill and Underpass is mostly downhill and as low as my energy was I should have been able to keep a solid pace and be within striking range when I rebounded.  I let my current state get the best of me at that point however and I gave up.  My legs were tight from Rothroc and I used that as an excuse to throw in the towel.  It's always hard with 20 + miles to go to grasp the idea that you will actually feel better and be running strong again at some point.  My experience told me to keep pushing but I simply gave up.  I was about 90% sure I would drop out at the Underpass aid station and told myself that if I got caught and was in fourth by that point that my day would be over.  I almost wanted to get caught so I could lay down and sleep.  I was still in third however when I shuffled into Underpass and saw my wife, 5 months pregnant standing there with my water bottle.  I knew at that moment that I had to finish.  Less than a mile later I hit the steepest climb of the course for the second time and was shocked to find myself climbing strong.  I knew that I had lost too much time to even think about winning so I just focused on running quick and praying for continued strength. I felt strong on the flat road sections that followed and by the time I reached buttermilk falls halfway through the loop I was confidant I wouldn't get caught and thought that I might even have a chance at catching one of the leaders if they fell off.  At the aid station I ran into some trouble dropping my salt tabs twice as I left the table and then realizing I had forgot my gel and having to run back to grab one.  As I left the aid station the second time someone yelled that I was 9 minutes down.  I asked if that was from first or second and although I wasn't surprised my heart dropped when they yelled second.  I climbed Buttermilk falls very strong however and was still cruising when I hit the Underpass aid station for the last time.  The next few miles were amazing!  Out of nowhere I was sprinting up hills and hurdling logs, running faster than I had all day.  All of a sudden people started telling me I was close to the guy in front of me (I still didn't know if it was Matt or Sage). "Your a minute back one guy yelled." I automatically doubled it in my head as they were running the other way but still I felt encouraged.  I pushed even harder.  Then on a long gravel stretch with about 5 miles to go I caught sight of Matt about a minute up on me. He saw me too and I knew the race was on.  Gaining or not I knew Matt would fight.  By the time we reached Old Mill for the last time I had closed the gap significantly on Matt but my hands and lower arms were starting to tingle.  I had felt this only twice before both times before a complete energy loss where I could barely walk, so as Matt ran through the aid station without stopping I took a few seconds to fill up.  Then I was off again down through the gorge.  My first time through the gorge I took the stairs carefully, at least by my own standards, so that I wouldn't get hurt.  On this final descent I didn't care.  I leaped whole flights barely staying on my feet on the landings.  I still couldn't see Matt on the flat sections so I knew he was doing the same. Still I kept pushing. Then with about half a mile to go the trail turns onto a paved road and there is just a loop of the field before the finish.  As I came out of the trail I could see Matt on the grass and I knew I wouldn't be catching him.  I also saw a guy starting his second lap on the right hand side of the road so I moved to my right to keep my distance.  He moved the same direction.  I kept moving to my right thinking he would move to his right but he kept moving to his left until we collided.  With miles of two way traffic on single track trails behind me I collided with someone on a 20 foot wide road with less than half a mile to go.  I yelled my apologies and kept running. As I looped one side of the field Matt passed me looping the other, still a minute ahead of me.  I had flown on the last descent and hadn't caught up more than a couple steps, if that.  I yelled "great job" to him as we passed, and then rounded the turn into the final stretch myself.  As disappointed as I was to have come so close and ended up third I still knew that this was probably my best performance yet at an ultra distance so I pumped my fist as I crossed the line and congratulated Matt and Sage on their races.  A few minuted later Brian crossed in fourth taking the last cash spot, followed closely by Yassine to round out the top five. I hung around the finish for a little bit as it started to rain and then went to my cabin for a shower and a nap.  There is always a feeling of content when you finish an ultra no matter where you place.  The rest of the day you can rest in that contentment, and the accomplishment of what you have just run.  Then it's time to recover and train, because no matter how great your accomplishment was, you can always do better the next time.
Opening Miles.
Trail through the gorge at Lucifer Falls!

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