“Well welcome back race fans, it’s Cavalcade Sports Time once again, here at the Jamboree, home of the hits. How you doing Bob, it’s the last stretch and my heart.. my heart stays in the lead, and as we can see first, second behind my heart is my mind, third behind my mind is my body, fourth behind my body is my soul, and my heart stays in the lead.. coming around the stretch..”
-Lyrics from Glassjaw – The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports
Saturday morning finally rolled around, and we were finally ready to race on a soaked TNFEC 46 mile championship course that featured 40 or so miles of rain soaked fireroads. Originally the course was destined to be a good mix of fireroad and singletrack, but the closure of trails around Mt. Tam by the California Park Service put us on a mostly fire road course. The incline was shall we say.. 90% douche-grade. Yet, this was the last race of the year, something I thought I had trained well for, and I was going to give it my best. I felt remarkably calm going into the race, but thought my energy levels would rise on the morning of. I awoke at 4, made coffee, caught a ride with Monica and Katie to Fort Barry, and still felt very calm on the start line.
Start to Tennessee Valley – mi 0-9: 6:10, 7:04, 8:00, 6:46, 5:21, 6:05, 9:31, 7:10, 6:12
The rain was falling consistently with 10-20 MPH winds out of the west. It was pitch black dark, and headlamps were illuminating a meteor shower of rain for 100 minutes until the black sky began to glow gray. The pace at the front was easy at first, and then more and more aggressive as the fast road runners in the field found the gentle grade to be too gentle for any prudent pacing. The pack stretched out and despite my best efforts to keep up and keep my pacing consistent, I was already a few minutes back at Tennessee Valley running alongside Ryan Ghelfi around 15-20th place. Ghelfi remarked the pace seemed a bit fast, and I replied there was no such thing as too fast today..
Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach – mi 9-13: 6:41, 11:08, 10:19, 7:14
Running down the paved road to Pirates Cove, I began to realize the immediate challenge coming up at Pirates Cove. The rain was beating directly in my eyes and I knew the technical, steep, and muddy single track would be pretty dangerous in the dark and foggy conditions. I fell back with Jesse Haynes and tried to keep up on the technical muddy descent, but ultimately chickened out in the thick fog and rain and trotted very cautiously through the cove. By the time I made it to the other side, I could barely tell where I was, but recognized the single track turning to fire road and headed left towards Muir Beach. I shut off my headlamp and flew down the slick fireroad to Muir Beach. I saw the lead pack that hadn’t turned off early (Miguel/Dylan/etc.) leaving as I approached the Y and checked my splits as I ran the loop around the lagoon. Six minutes in 14 miles was disheartening, but I was doing the best I could, so I pushed on and took out my 3oz jacket to try to warm up.
Muir to Tennessee Valley – mi 13-18: 9:57, 11:24, 7:28, 7:08, 8:55
Perhaps it was the feverish pace, perhaps it was the cold, perhaps it was the end of the year, but my energy was abnormally low as Jesse and I climbed up from Muir Beach. Though I’m always grateful and happy to have the chance to race, I felt sleepy and tired. I had gotten plenty of rest tapering before the race, but everything felt groggy and lethargic. I had drank a cup of coffee in the condo and downed 4 caffeinated gels (along with my PowerBar Endurance drink in my bottles) and had no logical reason for the lack of energy. I pushed on and tried to get some momentum back on the downhills, but everything felt flat.
TV to Fort Barry 18-23: 9:53, 7:45, 7:06, 6:20, 7:11
I saw Anna at Tennessee Valley 2 and she yelled out "top 20". I took some solace in that, but on the inside I felt nothing. Two weeks ago I had built some confidence on a much tougher 30 mile run on Jorge's favorite front country loop, and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get any response out of my legs on the flatter terrain. Maybe I hadn't ran enough roads (I think I'd trained maybe 20 miles on the road all year), whatever the reason, my turnover was definitely lacking. I felt a small boost of energy meeting up with the 50k runners, but the empty feeling in my body only got deeper despite more gels. Finally I made it into Fort Barry to see I was only a 2 minutes back of Hal. Neither of us was too excited about the flattened course, but we seemed to have made it 23 miles.
Fort Barry to TV 23-32: 7:20, 8:56, 10:30, 9:26, 6:40, 7:51, 10:50, 10:07, 7:17
I kept moving through the aid station and pushed back out to start my second loop of the course. Alright, there's barely any incline, let's go Dom, push the legs back... Nothing. Some 2 minutes slower per mile than that morning, and I felt even worse. The tendonitis in my knee from Hardrock was suddenly back and plantar fasciitis from the spring was starting to flare up. I realized the problem was my form was getting lazy and my body was running itself to pieces. The will to "push through the pain" was causing more pain. I reached Alta for the 3rd time and hoped that the low point would pass. No luck, just more tired, sloppy, wet, cold miles with more pain from my knee and plantar. How about one more climb up the Miwok trail? I took some soup and potatoes down at the aid station before the climb (something unusual for me to do in a 7 hour race), and I slogged up the hill. My attempts became more and more pitiful as I flailed to run for 20 seconds before succumbing to walking and pushing myself to run again. The descent into Tennessee Valley confirmed my fears, every downhill mile was tearing my knee apart even more. I came into the aid station sad and exhausted. Katie threw some Motrin in me to try and save my knee for another 14 miles, but it was in vain as my labored exit from the aid station resulted in a 50 yard jog before I had to shut it tearfully shut it down. 32 miles in 4:20.
I don't know exactly why my training didn't work out, but I have a few theories:
-Not enough of a break after Hardrock.
-Too much travel/racing/training/work on the year
-Too much mountain running
Ultimately, I think my 2012 racing season was a mountain year and my slowest turnover year as well. I think I came into the sport with a bit of road speed from college, and in converting into a mountain/trail runner, I lost a lot of that speed that made me competitive. I spent so much time stressing over being capable of finishing Hardrock, that I essentially locked up my stride length. I've always been inspired by the great mountain runners of our sport, and have no regrets in going into that vein of ultra running, but I thought that I'd still be competitive going back to trail running.
To do so, one must be able to truly appreciate the speed required to compete in modern trail ultras. Miguel Heras ran about 7:15 pace for 46 miles. That doesn't leave much room for uphills slower than 8:00, or downhills slower than 6:00. When I go on a steep mountainous training run, it's all well and good that my quads and tendons are sturdy at an 8-10 minute average pace, but it doesn't mean much when I need to go closer to 7 minute pace in the race. My stride needs to be open and free, my VO2 max needs to be tapped out, my legs need to have no speed limit. My plan for 2013 includes more trail and mountain races, but also more road speed work, and maybe even some yoga. It's undeniable when I see how desperately my stride needs to open up!
Tight stride, coming into Tennessee Valley for the 3rd time, Photo: Brett Rivers
Rac Remix of Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition"