After coming off a 115 mile week, I tapered and ate as best as I could. I think I did an okay job with race prep. I biked twice (which may have contributed to the tendinitis), cross trained a bit, slept more, and focused well on race day.
I woke up at 3:45, got ready, arrived at Malibu Creek at 5:00am, slept for 30 minutes, and then got ready to race. There weren't as many people in the 50k as I had anticipated, but there was Guillermo Medina and Dean Dobertsen who were capable of pushing the field to some good times. Sitting in the car before the race, I had some interesting thoughts going through my head. My mind was circling around a past event over and over, and I was getting so angry over it that I actually stopped and laughed out loud at myself. I thought about where I was right there and then, how the past was the past, the future was yet to be lived, and I decided to make my best attempt to live in the moment.
This reminder about living in the present was very beneficial for the race. The course is two loops of: a 3 mi small climb up to Bulldog road, a 2,000+ ft climb over 4 miles on "Bulldog", another few miles of ridge running with some steeper short hills and tricky sandstone sections, a 3 mile down hill, a 500+ ft climb over a 1.5 mile stretch, and a 1.5 mile flat return to the start. It's about an 7,000+ climbing day, and with my current climbing abilities, it's easy to let my mind wander and worry about later hills in the race.
The race started casually, and so I took the lead casually. Lately, I've been racing trails in a pair of New Balance 769's (road shoes); they feel relatively light to me, the toe-off makes you want to run faster, and the dynamic heel takes downhill running pretty well. I had two hand-helds with a little bit of GU20, 3 Gu's, a tiger milk, and some salt sticks. I lead through the first aid station, but heard the voices of the pack behind me, and could almost pick out doubters saying I was going too hard for my own good or that I'd burn out by the second loop. The fact that my competitors were talking when we were competing kind of bugged me a little, but I decided to stay in the moment and run my own race. I didn't believe I could lead wire to wire, but I knew I was going to run my own pace and let the rest of the race do their own thing.
About 10 minutes from the summit, another younger runner came up on me and asked if my name was Kevin Dean. I said no and he kept pressing on. We were about 45 seconds apart at the top of bulldog, and as we headed down into the first aid station I was right with him. I got a pretty loud/exciting cheer from Eric W and although I felt pretty good, I didn't get too excited and pass the other runner immediately. I had a gu and some water at the second aid station and was gone in 15 seconds. I felt confident in my downhill running, and didn't think the other runner had the legs or shoes (he was wearing XC flats, great for climbing, too thin for fast downhills) and decided to simply watch him through the short steep climbs along the ridge. I finally passed him on the descent off Bulldog, and didn't see him ever again.
Coming into the 3rd aid station, I felt fine, had a few pretzels, a 2nd gu, and was gone in 15 seconds. I decided to have my tiger milk bar and half a salt stick pill after I crested the last small climb and was a half mile from the second lap. I was looking forward to seeing my crew to get more GU's but I was early/they was in the wrong place. I had my 2 hand-helds refilled with water, dumped a few wrappers, drank a little gatorade, and was out in about a minute. My split was 1:56 for the first lap.
I was nervous that I didn't see any other runners at the end of the first loop. I knew 1:56 was a decent split, but I had anticipated someone else leading the second climb up Bulldog. I kept running through the prequel to the start of bulldog, but held back a little bit to give my stomach a chance to digest the tiger's milk bar and the electrolytes. I started the climb up Bulldog and was still leading at the first aid station. The people at the aid station were really excited for me, and gave me a big boost as I jogged by. I didn't even stop as I sipped a bit of a gatorade cup from them as I continued up, and went into battle mode focusing on the hill and running the whole way.
I made a note of the time I passed the aid station and strained my ears to hear the cheers for the next runner. The next cheers I thought I hear were about 2:30 behind me. I knew if I lead the rest of the way up Bulldog, I just may have a chance of winning the race. However, I thought it was more likely that I'd get passed before the top and have to work hard on the downhill to take back the lead. I kept running up the hill, and soon saw more and more 25k-er's walking (who had started 56 minutes before I started my second loop). They were a bit surprised to see me running up the hill, but they were encouraging and congratulated me on leading. I ended up at the top of the Bulldog less than a minute slower than my first climb earlier in the day and felt great. I felt a little cocky thinking about what I'd say to the nay-sayers at the start of the race who claimed they'd pass me the second time up Bulldog. I was on the small downhill to the 2nd aid station and was feeling on top of the world. I got into the station and denied any refills just taking some pretzels and a half a cup of water. The refills probably wouldn't have hurt for dousing myself with water, but I was in too much of a rush and knew I shouldn't drink too much water and get stomach aches.
I struggled through the last few uphills on the ridge walking about 30 seconds for the first time in 24 miles, and then plunged into the downhill, confident someone was about to catch me. I couldn't tell who was who for the last 6 miles of the race because I was in the thick of the 25k-er's who were also running downhill. I saw Brian and Sean hiking the course backwards on the downhill and smiled big as they reminded me I was the first 50k-er.
The last aid station was a bit crowded, but I just took a few sips of gatorade and filled one bottle with ice water. After sipping less than 10 oz over the last 5 miles from the last aid station, the ice water was too tasty not to sip more. I kept trying to mainly douse myself with it, but I couldn't help drinking it too. I ran most of the last hill and then ended up puking most of it back up on the small descent on the other side. It was pretty entertaining to the 25ker I passed, but I still ran quickly immediately after it. I finished the second loop in about 1:59 (a 3 minute positive split!) and ran the last 4 minutes into the finish (that I didn't know exisisted) pretty hard to earn my first sub-4 50k, and my first ultra win. Two nice plaques, a head band, some moebens, and a 100$ gift certificate to phidipides (probably just going to buy all their food) were my rewards.
I talked to Guillermo Medina afterwards, and congratulated him on his Mt. D 50mi win two weeks ago. We both agreed AC was going to be much more challenging and interesting than either race, and wished each other the best of luck. He was 7 minutes back at the end, but I think he could have been much closer or ahead if the race wasn't so close to Mt. D or AC. Jimmy finished 30 back, and is now the recipient of months of teasing from me.
Overall the race went pretty well for me. I have some minor tendinitis on my left knee, but it was runnable on Sunday when I ran 11 miles of flat trail. I ran a smart race and showed good discipline except for a few minor mistakes late in the race. Less than 3 minutes out of 239 minutes of racing were spent walking.. which is pretty good for me :)
The feeling of leading and leading and then still leading later in a race is indescribable. Though this race wasn't the biggest showcase of trail running talent in the world, it's really an incredible feeling to hear people cheering for you as the leader. In their eyes, you're the best athlete on the day, and they're excited to give you any aid or support they can. I almost wanted to cry a few times because those feelings were always something I dreamed of but never thought I would experience. The rush of running as best as you can for hours and hours while leading a couple hundred other runners (and a pro), is an incredible feeling. It's almost like taking a test and just having the perfect answer for every question and finishing first. You feel as if you're using every gift that God ever gave you, and everyone around you believes in you as your adrenaline flows plentifully and freely. The trail isn't just dirt and rocks and hills anymore, but a glowing instinctual, (almost spiritual) path. THAT feeling is more than worth all the long weeks of training, and worth all the pain and suffering on race day.
Now I feel as if the process of competing in ultras is simpler, and the future holds a lot of potential. My fears of not being fast enough, too young, not tough enough, or too much of a dreamer and not enough of a do-er are a bit smaller now. I also feel like my life in general is simpler: impossible isn't such an absolute word, success can be simple, and I am more appreciative and understanding of everyone else. We all are instinctual and trying to do our best to be happy and succeed in our goals. I didn't just start trying to win ultras on Saturday (I always have tried to win), but Saturday was when I understood the challenge the best and applied my effort well. Similarly in life, most people have good intentions, but misaligned processes. Understanding this, I don't have much to be mad at anyone for.
Also, walking/jogging is really booring! I crave for some curvey downhill single track like a hungry mountain lion craves red meat! I'm excited for AC100, and believe anything is possible that day..