This was my first race of 2012, and the first of several that I'm using as long 'training runs' in preparation for a couple of summer 100 milers (San Diego and hopefully Cascade Crest). Orcas also happens to be one of our favorite mini vacation spots, and a really great and challenging race... A perfect opportunity for a little family getaway!
A quick note on my training. Since Deception Pass 50k in early December I've been using Karl Meltzer's expert coaching service to fine tune my training. The focus has been on quality over quantity (averaging low 60 mile weeks), and good recovery. I am truely in the best running shape of my life! The plan for Orcas was to treat it like a 'B' race. Basically, try to run well, and be strong at the end in order to recover quickly. No worrying about my place overall. Turns out that's a good thing since this was the biggest field ever at this 50k (around 300), and some real speedsters showed up!
Another goal for this race was to start dialing in my nutrition needs. I have a habit of delaying calorie intake in the heat of battle, and paying for it dearly in the later stages. The last 50k I ran I took in only 600 calories (a gel every 45 minutes) and ended up hurting. I started here with a good breakfast, and a hundred or so calories just before the start. Then a gel every 20 minutes for as long as I could stand it.
The weather was absolutely perfect. Frosty cold, but no wind, and clear skies giving way to mid-forties by noon. Time to race!
I started out in the front row to aviod the 'conga line' that often developes in these things. I allowed a couple of dozen speedsters to go out front and settled in behind Shawna Tompkins for the first mile.
Running was smooth and easy as I dropped Shawna slightly and passed a couple of other slowing runners. The first climb has some steep parts that I hiked in order to conserve myself for later in the race. By the end of this climb (mile 5 ish) I was already passing early starters and thinking that they were in for a very long day! Next came about 5 miles of mostly downhill. Here the pacing gets more difficult since the cardio isn't taxed, but the legs take a beating. I chose to run fairly hard in order to take advantage of gravity. Rolling into the first aid at mile 10 I figured I was in about 20th position, and feeling really comfortable. Then came the very steep and gruelling climb up the powerlines. I must have passed a couple of dozen runners on this stretch (mostly early starters) even though I hiked most of it. The plan was to save it for the nice wooded cruiser downhill that started at the top of the powerline climb. This paid off as that was one of the most enjoyable sections of the run! Narrow padded single track through old growth cedar forrest! Awesome! Then came several miles of rolling trail around Mountain lake before the mile 19 mini aid station and the big climb to the top of Mt Constitution began. This was a pretty tough one. Last year here I started bonking badly (and never recovered). This year the additional calories provided a noticable benefit. My legs were starting to get kind of rubbery, but no bonk. After about a mile we popped out on the ridge and were greeted by spectacular views of Puget Sound and Mt Baker that truely made the hard work worthwhile! A quick refuel at the summit aid station (mile 22) and back on the trail for the last 9 miles. This section starts with a steep descent (too steep and switchbacked to take advantage of), and then a moderate climb for a couple of miles. I hit a low point on this climb. I could have run most of it, but my head wasn't in it and I was mostly hiking. The stomach was feeling a bit off, but I did choke down a gel (the first one in a while). This seemed to hit the system right about the end of the climb. After this the course is downhill (a mix of steep and trecherous and smooth and flowing) for about three or four miles, and then rolling terrain around Cascade Lake (a mile or so) to the finish. Last year this descent was a painful disaster, and the lake loop was more of the same. This year I felt stronger and stronger on the descent, and was able to run smoothly, even strongly, all the way to the finish. My family can't always accompany me to my races, but one of the highlites of this race was seeing them cheering for me at the finish, and then crossing the line with two of my three boys (the five-week-old can't quite jog yet). It really makes my day when I can share the whole experience with people I love!
I ended up with a time of 5:13.. that would've been 3rd last year, but this year it got me 11th. Oh well, my time was 26 minutes faster than last year (when I also came in 11th), and I call that a success. The only person that passed my after the start was a guy from Portland (Jeff?) that I ran with from around mile three all the way to 23 or 24. He dropped me when I was feeling sorry for myself, and I'm pretty sure I was reeling him in on the descent, it just wasn't quite enough. Although my quads are a little tenderized as I write this (the next day), I feel pretty darn good overall. Recovery is coming quicker and quicker on these things.
How to improve for the next one? I left time on the course with a very conservative start, but going out faster probably wouldn't save more than a minute or two. Same goes for everything up to the climb starting at mile 19. Could've run that harder. That's where I started playing my old game of not eating. I just didn't feel like it, and, coincidently or not, the next climb a half hour later didn't go very well. I need to make a point of eating on schedule, and then maybe even double downing when I start to 'not feel like it' (unless there is a legitimate possibility of getting sick). The climb at mile 24 is probably where I lost the most time. I think that was mostly a mental low, and those happen. Practice helps, and nutrition early in the race put me in a position to bounce back strong.
Thanks to James Varner and Candice Burt of Rainshadow Running. The events they put on are top notch! Also a big thumbs up to all the volunteers who cheerfully endure the elements so we can play... what more can be said? The post race food, beer, and band really cap it off... I can't wait for the next one!