Friday, August 18, 2006

Stage 5 - 25k Hilly Trail Race

Abstract

I felt good heading into the run, and for the first two laps, Bob and I ran together, but Bob pushed the pace on the third lap and I wasn’t able to respond. I thought he might come back later in the race, but he had a great day and now leads the ENDURrun by 3:20(ish).


You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that there was a cricket outside my window last night, so I won’t. But there was. And after a great day with Kate and Stefan, I only got six hours of sleep, but I am not sure that affected the day.

This was my third stage last year, and I ran with Mike Strano for most of it, before he pulled ahead on the last loop. While Lloyd had made some small changes to the course this year, I felt that my experience last year would serve me well today. I had two good treatments yesterday and, even though I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked, I felt good when we walked up to the start line.

Today was going to be an interesting stage as it was the last chance for any real change to occur in the overall standings of the ENDURrun. It is the first of three days of running and the hilliest (and some would argue the hardest) stage of the race. 5 loops of a 5.2 kilometer course that features 2.5 summits of Chicopee Ski Hill each lap. The total elevation for the entire course was 725m, which is more than Comfortably Numb 25k in Whistler, and about the same as the Iron Knee 25k (which was 770m). The difference between this one and those is that you get the same hills every lap, providing very little relief and no extended downhills. I should qualify that; the extended downhills in the course today were pretty much straight down ski runs, which meant that I was breaking the whole time as the hill was not groomed (read: long grass with possible holes anywhere), and decently steep (read: too steep to just throw it in neutral and go).

The first lap was a get acquainted lap as a relay runner, Peter, and Mike Strano, back for another round, took an early lead. Bob settled in on my shoulder, and we took it out conservatively, with me setting the pace. In my head I kept thinking, “the race starts at 17k”, and I wanted to get to that point feeling good. We had a quiet first lap, a little chatting, but the hills kept us quiet.

The course starts with a technical section that is relatively flat and last about 1500m. After passing an aid station and the Start/Finish, we then turned up a gravel/sand road and climbed to the 2k marker, where we leveled out for a little while. The course was well marked again by Lloyd and after a short road section, we were back into technical trails which switchbacked up the rest of the hill. We passed the 3k mark as we emerged on the summit of the hill and promptly were lead straight down the main ski run of Chicopee, back toward the Start/Finish. This course is great because you pass the Start/Finish, and all the supporters and volunteers, at least 3 times per lap. This connection with everyone really helps the motivation, especially later in the race as the fatigue and doubt set in. After passing through an aid station at the Start/Finish, it was straight back up the ski run next to the one we just descended. This was a long, grueling climb, completely exposed to the sun and heat and with a nasty pitch change at the end of the climb. Once we summited the hill again, we ran around the backside, past the 4k marker, and down another run. This run followed a switchback route down, as we swooshed (yes, we swooshed) across the hill as we descended. It was then a flat grass section until we hit the “little bastard”, a short hard climb which lead to yet another downhill, complete with long grass and pothole and the 5k marker. From there it was a little rise and a 150-200m run to the Start/Finish.

I had taken it out conservatively, hoping that we would decide this race in the last 10k. Bob seemed content to stay on my shoulder, so I ran my pace. Now, the issue with going out a conservative pace is that it is sometimes quite difficult to drastically change speed. Your body becomes used to running at a given pace and it becomes hard to increase the range of motion and power needed to go faster.


coming out of the trails early in the race

The first 10k felt quite good, as it should have, and it actually went by quickly. The heat was rising quickly as the humidity settled. There is a call for a thunderstorm tomorrow, so if you are aware of Ontario before a storm, you will understand what we were feeling. As we came down the last hill of the lap, Bob and jockeyed position in order to get what we needed at the aid stations. I had left another hand-held water bottle with Eload and some gels, and Bob ended up in front of me getting water. As we entered the flat technical section, Bob began to push the pace. We went through the first kilometer 30 seconds faster than we did the previous lap. I saw this, and while I felt good, I decided not to try to stay with him at this point. We were only 11k into the run and I knew how this course wears you down. We had passed Peter and caught right up to Mike Strano. I decided to stay steady and let Bob go at this point, trusting that consistency would win out on the day and he would come back to me later. I backed off on the climb to 2k and watched Bob push the pace more.



I had been feeling good on the first laps, but it was quickly becoming apparent that I didn’t have the power in my legs that I would need to run fast on this course. Any success that I have in trail races is largely accounted for by the technical descents, where I am able to make up lots of time on people who are otherwise stronger runners than me. This course had a no net elevation gain (which means it starts and finishes at the same elevation, or spot), but all the downhills were wide open ski runs. This essentially nullifies my ability to “rest’ during the race and forces me to really recruit my quads, groin, and glutes, in slowing my descent. This eccentric contraction (the muscle is under stress while it lengthens, as opposed to when it shortens, which is concentric) is very hard on the muscle fibre and, ultimately, left me facing my weakness (running uphill) without my strength (running technical downhills).

Ray, Bob’s coach, gave me my time behind, 40 seconds, at the top of the long hill (a testament to his character, giving his athlete’s competitor course information). Bob was still at 40 seconds as we went through the Start/Finish, completing our third lap (15k). That was the last time anyone would give me a split on Bob, out of kindness rather than withholding of information. As I slowly deteriorated, he became stronger. I saw the lead stretch to a minute, before I no longer saw him. I kept taking water and trying to cool off as well as invoking Mike Liedtke (another trail runner who I try to emulate when running uphill – small steps, small steps, keep up the cadence) and Jasper Blake (remembering the times I as struggling to maintain contact with him in our long runs at the lakes). Mike passed me again on the 4th lap, running very well, and yelled at me to get going. We ran together for almost a loop, all the time he was talking me through the run. He was great at getting me motivated, but the legs just wouldn’t respond. He too left me and ended up having another great run.

The last loop felt good, but I was on my own. I actually zoned out so much that I missed a turn, only to end up in someone’s driveway, swearing and turning around, losing about 15 seconds. I summited the hill and descended the ski run to the incredible support of the volunteers. If anyone decides to come out to Ontario in the future to take part in this event, it will be the dedication of the volunteers that you will remember most fondly. Their unending support and enthusiasm has carried me through some rough spots in this race. And it is the same support, genuine energy, that is given to every runner, although the comment of one younger volunteer to Bob today (“Run like you play ping pong!”), left me wondering if I should have been playing Ping Pong. Maybe tomorrow night at the pre-marathon BBQ.

As I turned up the long, hard hill for the last time, with no Bob in sight, that things had changed dramatically today. I had hoped to run with Bob for the race, carrying to Gold Jersey into tomorrow’s 10k Time Trial, starting last and beginning with a lead heading into the marathon. This was not to be. I now had to run to stop the clock. Once Bob crossed the line, the counting would begin. It was up to me to stop it.

I tried to be consistent up the hill, no walking this time (like I did on the 4th lap). I passed Spencer, one of Lloyd and Julie’s (his wife) six kids. Spencer has been great as he has been running the loops at Bechtel Park (the 30k) and at Chicopee in skate shoes. We think it is tough for us, but Spencer is up early setting up the course with his family, and then he does a lap or two – and he is, I am guessing, about 13/14. It was with great joy that I saw him on the hill, as I had someone to focus on, and someone to say hi to. It can be a lonely day when things are going as planned.

I ran the backside of the course as well as I could, feeling decent, but not fast, and finally crossed the line at 2:03:48. Early in the second lap, Bob had asked me what time I had run here last year. I had answered around 2:01. Turns out I lied. Lloyd informed later, with last year’s results in hand, that I had run 2:05. Bob ran 1:58:59. When I heard that, I was impressed. It also helped to clarify some things for me.

1. There was no way I as running a 1:59 today, even under good conditions, so I felt better knowing that Bob had a great day.
2. I ran faster than last year. It must be stated that this course was slightly different, but I don’t think it was significantly shorter. A technical section at the top was replaced with a technical section at the base, and while it may have been a little shorter, the 180 degree turn in sand coming out of the forest, slowed us down each time. The conditions (warm and dry) were better than last year (cold and wet), so that helps. But for me to feel as weak as I did, and think that I had an off day, and to have run faster than last year, encourages me.
3. Bob had a good run, and is a stronger hill runner than I, but we will see what occurs over the next two stages, which are flatter road runs.

So, if one ice bath is good, then two must be better! Two ice baths later, and a short nap, some food and a little clean up of the house, and here I am. I start in the penultimate position tomorrow, so now I am being chased. This 10k is going to be short. Mark, from Price Chiropractic (who are sponsors of the event and very good chiros) worked on me and I feel good now. I will stretch tonight and seek out crickets with a vengeance like you have never seen from me!

I would be remiss if I did not mention how well the other guys are doing. Chris is looking strong and it still amazes me that he was barely running for a couple of weeks prior to the event because of an injury. And not only that, but he did a 5 Peaks trail race the day BEFORE the ENDURrun started. Steven, in his fourth ENDURrun, is a model of consistency, today running within seconds of his Bechtel Park time. And Jeff looked solid as always, running with great form and a steadiness that I wished for today.

So, tomorrow is the prelude to the big one. Bob is hoping to run sub 2:40 for the Philadelphia marathon, which shows the kind of shape that he is in. Nik Southwell, in all his deranged wisdom, believes that I can run near that time as well. Neither of us will be close to that time on Sunday, but it should shape up to be a pretty cool run.

I find myself thinking about this run and trying to really comprehend it. When I first came across it, I thought doing the 30k and 10 miler were going to be crazy. But then I added the 25k, and I survived. If I was talking to me, I would say I was crazy for doing this, but once you are in it, maybe you lose perspective, but the next day comes and you run. It is not an impossible race, but you have to be realistic with yourself. You cannot run hard everyday, and there are going to rough patches (i.e. today). But it is an amazing event as the community of runners, spectators, and volunteers comes together. It takes longer for people to leave after each race as more stories and insights are shared. If I make it back to this race next year (an Iceland ultra is still dancing in my mind), then it will be for the camaraderie and community.

Thanks for reading. Things just got interesting. Enjoy your run!
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