Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Path to the Angeles Crest 100 Mile part I: Sean O' Brien 50 Miler: Race Report

Staying warm before the race.

But most of the day was like this...

Why blog? I'm not sure. I guess it's nice to have something to look back on, and of course my grandmother is a regular reader so that provides some incentive.
  I've fallen off the blogging horse since my last report from my DNF (did not finish) in Oaxaca. I have run a few races since then, but nothing spectacular: I ran a solid 20k at the Picacho race, a local favorite because it is point to point through the local mountains and very technical. I then ran the Mexico City half marathon and then, a month later, nearly froze to death during the Rover Marathon. The race was run in worst rains Mexico has experienced in a generation. I was cold, I got lost, I started running back to an aid station at one point to quit, frustrated to discover the course wasn't marked after being lost for an hour, but then I ran into Chespiro, who knows all these courses and he showed me the way. So I turned around and slogged in for a 6:30 finish, over an hour longer than my time the previous year, and at least 90 minutes over my goal time. Still, I was glad to get the finish.
  There was a lesson there. Don't drink the "DNF's are ok" kool aid. DNF's are horrible and I also suspect they are habit forming. Some folks see no point in "hiking it in." I disagree. Barring the risk of grave bodily harm, it's always best to just get it done.
  I still think about that damn DNF in Oaxaca.

  And then I signed up for the Angeles Crest 100 which will take place on August 2 and 3 in 2014. That run will be the culmination of three solid years of running on trails. But to prepare for that race I needed some 50 mile races to get ready. Last year in February I had a fantastic time starting off the new year racing my first trail 50k at the Ray Miller 50, so I thought I would return this year and do the 50 mile race. It's also a great chance to visit with my sister, Meggin and her family.
  Fortunately, my brother-in-law Jeremy Hardy would be joining me to run his first 50 mile race. We made the foolish mistake last year of running the Surf City Half Marathon the day after the 50k. Lesson learned: run the trail run and then relax on Sunday.
  The training leading up to Sean O' Brien was mixed. I lost a week because of a pulled muscle in my back, and then after Christmas I lost two weeks to illness. I was worried; I was very close to texting Jeremy and saying: "hey dude, sorry but I've got to drop down to the 50k." I rationalized all kinds of reasons why it would be better to drop down and race the 50k.

I feared failure.

  But then I remembered that on August 2 I will run 50 miles and still have 50 miles more to go. At that point it's basically mental. Hell, most training programs for 100 and 50 miles are nearly identical. Most of us don't have bodies that can tolerate 150-200 miles per week of training. And even if I do have that kind of body, I don't have the time.
  So my plan was to show up to the Sean O' Brien 50 and race smart and see how my body responded. I had gotten in a few long back to back weekends (5 hours on Saturday, 5 hours on Sunday) in the months before the race, and that would have to be enough.

 Or so I had hoped. Jeremy and I woke early and my day almost ended with my first step at 3:00am in the morning. Instead of walking to the bathroom I stepped down the stairs in the pitch black. Caught myself on the railing. Time to wake up.

 I ate a big (for pre-race) breakfast: two pieces of toast, an egg. We drove the 40 minute drive to the race and were shocked by the cold: 28F. We checked our drop bags and then we sat in the car with the heat on until 10 minutes before the race.

  After a couple flat miles, the race climbs to the 6.5 mile aid station. I took it at a very easy hike, reminding myself to eat and drink at least one bottle (20oz) before the aid station. I was feeling great, and after this station I ran a few miles with Steve Harvey, a guy who has being doing this for 30 years and puts on a number of races in the SoCal area. I even got to pick his brain a bit about the AC 100 (he ran it in 1986, the inaugural year).

Buenas Vistas (all day long)

 "You know were most people lose it on the AC? On the first climb up Acorn trail." 

At the 18 mile aid station I stopped for some potatoes and refills, and Steve was gone down the long descent to Zuma beach, but I had learned a few good tips and also some interesting anecdotes about the early years of ultrarunning.

  I arrived down at Zuma beach at 5:05, just about an hour ahead of the cut off, so I was no longer worried about that. However, the crux of the course was ahead: two long climbs that were exposed to the sun. Note for next year: this is at minimum a two bottle section unless you are a front runner.

Refueling at Zuma beach aid station

  I climbed well here and was sort of dreading the bonk, as usually it comes somewhere around the 50k mark, but I had been fueling well and drinking well all day, and climbing strong.

 If I had to make a complaint about the course it would be this: too many miles of fire road for my taste (though the views of the Pacific were spectacular), so it was a relief to get back on the Backbone trail, rolling single track that was fun to run. It was late in the day, but I was still feeling strong. I was struggling with downhills. My knee caps were killing me on the downs and I found myself walking at some points just to avoid the pain.

Always a good reminder on long climbs...

  However, I began pushing harder as the sun dropped lower in the sky. When I reached the final aid station at mile 44, I thought perhaps I could make it in 12 hours so I started to push as hard as a I could. It soon became clear that 12 hours wasn't going to happen, but I was catching people at this point in the race and that kept me motivated. In the final miles of the race it was dark and I had a few moments of doubt about the trail, but my memory from the morning served me well (the race was out and back with a loop at the end) and I crossed the finish line moving well, a great contrast to my first 50 mile race in Jemez where I couldn't even muster a jog at the finish and sprawled out on the grass unable to move for some time.

A short bit of video on the final descent.
  Here's a real video of the race:

 Jeremy was there and he had run a great race, going under ten hours.

 I finished in 12:17.

 I buried that DNF from back in July somewhere on the climb out of Zuma Beach.

 I also learned something about fitness here, as my weeks off didn't seem to have much of an effect. I fueled well and started slow and it paid off in the end. Also, while I don't think this course is comparable to Jemez, it was far from easy and I had a 3 hour and 16 minute PR. Can't feel too bad about that.

  Could I have started off stronger earlier in the race and still had the strong finish?

  I guess that's what keeps the game interesting.

Recovery Beverages for Sunday

the details:

ran with one bottle until mile 13 where I picked up my second. This worked well, though probably could have gotten away with one bottle until Zuma beach. Two from Zuma beach is a must for anyone but the front of the pack.

I ran with my Jurek Essential which worked well. I could have carried all my GU's in my bottle holders but much easier access with the belt. I should have brought a ziploc to stash potatoes.

Cascadia 7's and Balega socks. Sad this is my last pair of 7's. I'll try and save them for Zane Grey in April.

  Be wary of depending on aid station gels. I arrived at one and they only had strawberry, which I detest. However, the aid stations here are like buffets at a five star hotel. They have everything. But if you gotta have vanilla Gu, best to bring it with you...

Next  up:

 The big race coming up is the Zane Grey 50. Looking forward to meeting my sister Allison and Jeremy out in Arizona.

March 7: 14k in Tepoztlan
March 29: Carrera de Resistencia 66k. This will be a good long training run for Zane Grey.
April 6: 21k (road) in Veracruz as a member of Team Feel the Magic. Hoping for a half marathon PR here, it's at sea level.

And of course, on August 2, the AC 100....

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