So my last post talked about a great run in Sicily. Following that run I was able to get in a couple of good weeks of running that included back to back 15's on trails/narrow jeep roads servicing hundreds of acres of beautiful orange groves near base in Sigonella. The real question mark for me was a couple of weeks of road biking. Riding with my friend Eric, and the Italians from a nearby cycling club is worthy of its own blog, but for the purpose of running I really wonder what the effect is on overall running fitness. Does a 100 mile ride with 7000' of climing equal a tough 20 mile trail run? Am I gaining cardio while freshening up my running legs? These questions have been asked, and I'm sure the answers are different for everyone, or even for a single person at different times. I have no clue, but I tried to balance it as best I could while making the most of the opportunity to tour parts of Sicily (and Germany and Crete) that I could never reach by foot.
Devil on my shoulder: "This is poor training, you'll never be ready to run well at Sun Mountain let alone San Diego 100!"
Me: "Don't worry about it, cross-training can be good, and you've been consistently running 50-70 miles per week for about the last year!"
My decision to run Sun Mountain was made when I looked for a convenient training race for the San Diego 100 that is coming up on June 9th (just three weeks). When my brother Tim and his girlfriend Morgan decided to run with me as part of a vacation it became a real event (Tim's first ultra!); much more than a training run, and something I've been really excited for for months! My original plan to run 50 miles was couched by logistics, and I decided that perhaps 50k/31 miles might give me the desired training effect while saving the legs from some pounding and allowing quicker recovery. Again.. always second guessing my training!
I lined up near the front after wishing Tim and Morgan luck, and before I knew it we were off. The first mile closed in just about 6:30, and I was running behind several people who were getting smaller and smaller in the distance! I decided I'd have to settle into my pace and see what happened in a couple of hours (Devil: "No way you can hang at the front with guys this fast"). I was running slightly conservatively in order to guarantee a quicker recovery. No reason to waste myself running an easier 50k just three weeks prior to my goal race. I felt like I was doing a good job getting calories (gu) every 20 minutes, and the first 15 miles kind of flew by in about two hours flat. This section was mostly smooth, some climbing, but not too steep, and quite a few miles on double-track, or smooth gravel roads. At the halfway aid station I was told I was in second place, just a couple of minutes behind first. Just at that point Gary Robins rolled into the aid about one minute behind me. I skeedadled, but tried to keep it smooth, figuring that Gary had probably been catching me, and if he was much faster I'd just be wasting my energy trying to hold him off with a surge. This part of the course was my favorite. Beautiful single-track through forest land, interspersed with openings that showed off amazing views, and fields of wild-flowers. Hey, if I'm going to do this/torture myself I'm going to take a minute to enjoy the places I'm running through, even if it risks tripping and falling off a mountain! Next came a steep climb of perhaps 500' up Sun Mountain. The climb was exposed, and soon I was able to see Gary below me, just about one minute behind. After the descent, at about mile 20, I looked back, and there he was just 100 yards back. And then I ate dirt. By the time I'd collected myself and got my rythm back Gary passed. Now, I didn't have any real low points in the entire race, but I was kind of waiting for one to appear. I wondered who else was there ready to knock me off the 'podium'. I sucked down a gel, and actually felt fine, keeping up with Gary, and even running stronger in places.
"Just let him go, you're going to start feeling really tired here in a minute, no reason to try to hang with this guy."
"Well, I'm feeling ok now, so let's not let him get too far up the road.. there, we actually closed that gap!"
"You're never going to hang in there when this guy puts the hammer down."
"Gary just ran a 112k race last weekend.. I think he's probably got some dead legs."
"Watch him smoke us on the little road section leading to the last climb up Patterson."
"Did I just put 10 seconds on him on the road, and did he seem reluctant to leave that aid?"
We left the last aid with six miles to go together, and Gary led up the big climb at Patterson. First place was coming down the hill as we neared the top, about five minutes ahead of us, so it didn't look likely we could catch him. The battle was for second/third. I felt stronger in places, and planned to pass on the way down... but Gary took off like a gazelle. I just tried to stay close, and actually had a great time on this exposed hillside. I didn't worry too much about the end results, and figured I'd duke it out in the final mile. It could have been hot, but instead cloud cover and even a light misting kept the temps down. Perfect for me! We popped off the mountain and crossed the road to jump back on single-track for the final uphill mile. I wondered if I'd have the mental power to will my dead legs to run fast enough to challenge for second place, but all of a sudden Gary seemed to slow quite dramatically, so I passed, concentrated on quick legs for a minute, and then glanced back to see... nothing. At least 30 seconds lead, head down and back to work. This section is longer than it seems like it should be. I could smell the barn, but there always seemed to be another hill, or another corner, but no finish line! Well, finally it arrived in four hours and eleven minutes, about four minutes behind first, and two minutes ahead of Gary in third. The fact is Gary Robins spent all of last year with a broken foot, and although he's worked back into good fitness, he raced a 110k in Spain just a week prior to this one. I guess we probably need a rematch, and since he's the course record holder at the HURT 100 in Hawaii, and we're moving there in less than a year, I might get my chance!
Morgan finished the 25k in just over three hours, a time almost an hour faster than her goal! Tim ran a steller first ultra on limited training. He was just one hour behind me, and in 15th place. I couldn't be prouder of him!
The big downer of the weekend was that my beautiful wife and my three boys couldn't come join us for the weekend. Thanks go to her for holding down the fort again! We'll go back to Winthrop for a family weekend soon!
Also thanks to James and Candice, and all volunteers. I've run four 50k's since December, and they've all been Rainshadow Running races. Each one has been on unique terrain, but the constant has been the class act race-directing. Perfectly marked courses, great food and refreshments during and after, well organized, and well attended.
Now it's on to the last three weeks of training and tapering before the San Diego 100. Am I ready? No. I wish I had a 50 mile run on my legs in the last month, but there is nothing I can do now. We'll just have to see! I'm going to give it everything.