Saturday, April 21, 2007

BIG UPDATE

This past week has been hectic to say the least. I am sitting in a ferry line-up right now, taking this spare moment to jot down some ramblings about running, for once I hit the mainland, there will be little time to do much.

Let’s start after the race on Sunday. Pleased with my performance two weeks out from the TC10k, I had a couple of days to squeeze any last fitness from my training. Monday was a technical run with my track team. I hooked up with Nik Southwell on Tuesday for 6x2 min with 1 min rest. Our warm up came to an abrupt end when I asked how fast the 2 minutes were supposed to be.

“Fast.”

“Uh, 5k pace?”

“More like 1k to 800m pace.”

“Oh, so you mean we are not running this workout together.”

Nik is Fit with a capital F and, while he was kind to sometimes hang out with me for one minute of the two minutes, he glided away from me effortlessly. I have been pleased with my running of late, and I can see the empirical proof of my fitness, but it is important for me to run with people who are one or two levels above me so that I keep perspective and motivation. I left the workout tired and feeling heavy, but knowing that it was in the bank.

Wednesday was with the clinic at the track, trying to dial in their marathon pace. A light run for me as I was coaching throughout. Thursday became a day off due to circumstance (read: too much work to complete at school; report cards are next week!) I squeezed in a 30 minute run along the waterfront on last night (Friday), which was incredibly beautiful. A setting sun illuminating the Olympic mountain range across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was clear and there were small white caps on the ocean. I savoured the run and spent some time with Terry at Mile 0.

Which brings us to today. After a talk at Frontrunners I hustled up to Duncan for the Mt. Tzouhalem Gutbuster. The Gutbuster Trail Race series is a first class event and, I think, possibly underappreciated by the Island community. We are spoiled by the number of incredible events we have here, but the thought and attention to detail that goes into these races, both by Bryan Tasaka and the MOMEC team, as well as the host running clubs, is wonderful. The Mt. Zoo race is basically a run straight to the summit and then a winding descent back to the start.

There are three hills in this race. The first one is anywhere from 20-45 minutes long. I crested the first summit at about 20 minutes, and reached the end of the climb at about 25 minutes. There is little to no relief on this climb. In most races there is a moment or two of respite, but not here. It is all up all the time. And some of the pitches are quite severe, almost warranting being on all fours to scramble up.

But this race shines in its descent. It is about 35 minutes of downhill running, with two nasty climbs thrown in to make sure you aren’t lulled into a sense of confidence. The climbs serve notice that your legs are on the verge of cramping and revolting – about ready to pack their bags and leave, yelling at you as they slam the door. I am told that there are spectacular views, but my head was down the whole time, so I didn’t see them. The winding single track has some of the best flow I have run and it gets very technical in sections. I loved it. But the long run out on fire roads is killer. About 15 minutes of steep descent where you have to run hard or else risk being overtaken by someone who was more conservative on the uphill.

I arrived later than I usually would, a result of the talk at Frontrunners. An abbreviated warm and I was on the start line, listening to final instructions being read out by race director Bryan Tasaka.

“There is no aid station on the course, so carry your own water.”

What!?! There was one last year. Rookie mistake. I didn’t read the race information this year, assuming that everything was the same. Last year there was an aid station at the very top, and I was counting on that this year for some water. I knew that the race was about an hour long and I usually will take water for anything over 30 minutes. I, along with about five other of the faster guys, ran over the to water jug adjacent to the start line and took a couple more Dixie cups.

The gun went and everything was good. I didn’t feel as though the shorter warm-up was affecting me. I made a conscious decision to work harder than previous years on the uphill. I wanted to see what effect it had on my legs during the downhill. I was consistent on the ascent and was surprised to see Shane just ahead of me as we passed the first summit. I had not ever been this close to Shane after a hill climb, so one of two things was about to happen: a great race or an epic explosion. We were situated in third and fourth, with fifth place within earshot. I passed Shane during the ridge run across the top and was in third place at the start of the descent.

I knew I had to work hard on the downhill as Shane is a strong downhill runner. Downhill is my strength in the trails, and I was also hoping that I might be able to make some time on the leaders, Sean Chester (who ran 32:57 at Sun Run) and Sean Stevens (a 17 year old wunderkid). I pushed hard on the downhills, loving the technical single track and cursing Tasaka (although he wasn’t the course designer, but I had to curse someone) for every uphill thrown in. I caught a glimpse of Shane and another runner at one point on a switchback and that knocked out of a momentary complacency. I began racing ghosts.

Leaping, turning, slowing down and speeding up, I navigated the tight twists and turns of the forest, with a face-wide smile. But after all the fun was the long run out on the fire road. I had not seen the guys in front of me, and had not looked back to see where the others were, although I pegged them at about 30 seconds based on cheers from volunteers.

I pushed on the fire road, knowing that there was one final nasty climb about 200m from the finish. I felt confident as I began to recognize the end of the course, but knew that 30 seconds was not a lot on that final hill. I found some unexpected inspiration in seeing Rozee (one of the run leaders for Club Mud) finishing her short course. I called to her to see how her rehabilitating ankle held up, to which she responded with a thumbs up and positive word. It is great to see friends out on course, and knowing that I HAD to look good in front of someone I know, I pushed up the hill. Surprisingly, I found it easier than I was expecting. Cresting the hill I strided the final 150m to the finish and third place overall. But better than the placing (because if all the really fast people had shown up, I would have been 10th), was the fact that I ran the course about 3 minutes faster than last year. To his credit, Shane was also about a minute faster than last year as well. It is inspiring to see many people running well. A good day that I will feel tomorrow.

Club Mud also had a great day. Some podium finishes, some draw prize winners, and some inspiring races. They are coming along very well and I am confident that they will find the Iron Knee easier than the race they have constructed in their mind.

And so I sit on the ferry now, about to sail to Vancouver for a teaching conference. I hope to get out on a run or two while I am there as it is always to run in a new place.
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