Monday, October 6, 2014

The View to Huasca: UTMX 100. Meditations on training, racing, losing (and finding) motivation.

AC 100 Finish: The end of a long journey.             Photo: Larry Gassan

  After finishing the Angeles Crest 100, (which you can read about here), I took five days off, but then tried to get right back on the horse. A couple things held my training back:

1. Motivation. The AC 100 was the culmination of 3 years of training and racing, and 6 months of focused training. After that effort I simply didn't have the same desire to get out of bed to run 3-5 hours in the mountains on Saturday and then repeat on Sunday. My body seemed ok; my mind needed a break: a longer break than 5 days.

2. Return to teaching. I was back in school the week following AC. The beginning of a school year is hectic and all-consuming: driving out to the mountains mid-week was no longer in the cards.

  However, I didn't stop running. I wasn't tracking my mileage, but I was doing speed workouts a couple times a week, and a ten miler here or there. I did get out for a great long run with Martin and Hiram for my first summit of Ajusco in August, but there wasn't much more than that.

Great run/hike up to Ajusco with Hiram and Martin.                           Photo: Hiram Marave

  And yet the UTMX 100k loomed, and all indications were that this was going to be the race of the year in Mexico. Fantastic organization; magical location. So that knowledge kept kicking me out the door to run. Just not for as long or steep as I needed to run. It's easier for me to run a race than it is to go out by myself for a long run, so I signed up for some races.

First Annual Tepozotlan 21k, Sept. 7

Wildflowers, rocks and climbs....                                      

   On September 7, I ran the Solo Para Salvajes race in Tepozotlan. Solo Para Salvajes is the mountain (and trail) running group run by Pedro Fletes Omaña. One can't speak of mountain running in Mexico without mentioning Pedro Fletes. His group efficiently runs nearly two races a month all year long. He has being doing this since the late 80's. His races feature aesthetic routes, adequate aid, and an absurdly economical price tag. About 22 USD for a race. The races are a mix of long time classics and newer ventures. Tepozotlan was a new one: a point to point race, and it was a beauty on all fronts: wild terrain that was a mix of cross-country off trail climbing and descending, and narrow, rocky single track throughout. Also, in the manner of all of all Salvajes' races it was simply, yet effectively organized: the route was fairly marked, there were aid stations were you needed them and had what you needed (salt, sugar, liquids). And, as always, a family of runners in good spirits.  We also lucked out with perfect weather: sunny, but not too warm. This race is an instant classic in my mind. Which brings me to a point I'll focus on more later: what makes a great race? Aside from organization, it's simple: the route. The route is everything. Most experienced trail runners don't give a shit about running 20 or 50 or 100 or 165 kilometers (why not 17 or 56 or 151?): we care about the trail. Trails that are aesthetically pleasing, trails that offer challenges. And beauty. 

A route that makes sense. Stunning.                    

Loops within loops don't make sense. Little out-and backs just to add distance don't make sense. If there is a peak in the area, the route should go up to that point.

Tepozotlan was the perfect route. And I had a good day, as I was in fantastic spirits as I discovered how awesome the course was. I'll be back next year.

Course was so nice I hiked back out there with Milly after the race

Ajusco 50k, Sept. 21

 I guess my only problem with the Tepozotlan 21k was that it wasn't long enough. So I had signed up for a new race being organized by some friends of mine. They aren't experienced race directors, but they have a passion for trails, and I had run with them in the area, so I was excited about the race. Also, I felt that mentally I needed a 50k long run, as this would give me some confidence going into the 100k in Huasca. I hadn't run longer than 21k in more than a month.

  Well, as every trail runner in the Mexico City area now knows, the race didn't go as planned. There were problems. Basically, the race imploded. I'm not going to rehash all the details, but I will offer a couple observations. Most complained about the trail markings, but I didn't find this to be a problem. I think the problem is that there were too many races, and the route (see my comment above about loops within loops) was not intuitive: in my mind, it didn't make sense. Also, my friends just underestimated how many folks it takes to organize a race, especially a race with a lot of new trail runners. Some hotheads called it a "deception" and a "fraud," and, frankly, that's ridiculous. It was some runners who got in over their heads and things spiraled out of control. 

It was a race. It went poorly. It's just running. Get over it.

  My race in Ajusco ended at the end of the first 25k(?) loop. Why did it end? Because of the organizational problems? Because the trail was hard to follow? Because the the finisher arch was prematurely deflated? Nope. It ended because I was dead tired. I've never felt that poorly in any race. Before Ajusco, I've never thought about dropping early in a race, but the DNF excuses were already filling my brain on the first climb. I had nothing. So when I got to the end of the first loop, I ended my race. Can't blame that on anyone else but me. I don't feel bad about it, as I was absolutely zonked and the idea of trudging around another loop had zero appeal.

But a bad day running in the mountains is still a good day...               Photo: Martin Forstmann

  I was sure my 100k Huasca dream was done. I would do the sensible thing and drop to the 42k. I told a few folks I would switch races, I wasn't ready for 100k, mentally or physically. So it goes.

 Camino Largo y Sinuoso 33k, September 28
 And then I had a good run a few days later. My body started to feel better. And I signed up for the 33k run the following Sunday, one of the classics of the Solo Para Salvajes group. I knew this route well, as I've trained here many times, and ran the race two years ago (report here). I decided that THIS would be my long run for Huasca. And the race went well: I took the first climb easy, descended down to the cuarto dinamo, which is the half-way point, and then started to push a bit from there. And I found myself able to push hard all the way to the finish. And I still finished with something in the tank. I told Milly I would finish around 5 hours, 5:15, and I ran in at 4:42. Suddenly, I was feeling great about Huasca.

UTMX 100k: Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico. October 11, 2014


  But, one solid twenty-miler does not a 100k training plan make. Frankly, I don't care. It's an experiment. How much of my base have I maintained since running 100 miles? How much has slipped away? I'm running the 100k to find out.

  But really, I'm running this event because it's going to be freaking awesome.

  I don't want to miss this race. It's not just another race. Everything indicates it's going to be the premier Ultra running event of the year in Mexico (and if I'm mistaken on that count, someone please tell me where I should go run): I know a bit of the route from my previous experience running Marcos Ferro's race two years ago (report), and it's beautiful, rugged and varied (and also: very, very well organized). Running down into the Barranca (canyon) de Metzitlan (and climbing back out) is only going to raise the "Epic-ness" of this great event. If you are a mountain runner in Mexico, you will be at this event. Some have claimed that it is pricey (100USD for the 100k), and while that may seem true --by Mexican trail race standards-- remember that these guys have been working on this race for a year, with nearly a 100 volunteers and workers on race day to make sure everything goes smoothly. It's not a for-profit venture, folks: Ferro and co. are putting this own because they want to share some great trails with the trail community.

  I can't wait.

  My race-day goals:
  1. Enjoy the highs
  2. Embrace the lows.
  3. Stay in the moment

Yeah, sure I have some time goals floating around, but without knowing the course --and never having run the 100k distance-- (pace it like a 100 miler? a 50 miler?) they are guesstimates:
A goal: sub-16
B goal: sub-17
C goal: stumble across the finish line with a smile on my face at midnight (19 hour time limit).

Gettin' ready..

And after Huasca? I think a good long rest is in order....

But that race in Chico and the Salvajes classic Triple Corona look tempting....

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