Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Short race?

I don't think I have ever felt less motivated the night before a race than I did before the Quad Dipsea. It's strange because I had really been looking forward to this race for most of the year. I've done the Double Dipsea in the past and was excited about having the Quad as a "season finale" as well as knowing that I would see lots of friends at this popular event. However, sitting in bed on Friday night at 8pm having not even started to prepare I was having my doubts. I just wasn't really feeling it either physically or mentally.

I turned to my wife and said, "I think I'm going to hurt myself tomorrow."

Her response, as always, was simply, "Yeah, but are you going to have fun?"

I smiled, "Of course!"

With that I got up and started getting my things together. It being a relatively short race with good aid station support would not require too much prep. Well, at 28.4 it's short only in terms of mileage. The 9200ft of climb/descent is more than just about any 50K trail race out there and more than quite a few 50-milers. I estimated that it should take me about the same time as a relatively tough 50K race. That is, assuming everything held together physically and I could get myself motivated mentally to do this thing.

I don't want to whine too much here, but physically I had a number of issues going on. I've had a pretty big year in terms of racing and I know that it has taken its toll. The first problem is the chronic heel pain in my right foot that still wasn't better. Not sure why I would expect it to be, since I haven't let it fully recover since it first flared up. My new inserts were helping some, but until I allow for a full rehab, even custom orthotics aren't going to really fix the problem. It'd been bothering me quite a bit since Javelina, but I knew I could get it in shape to make it through one more race. There were also a couple new issues since my last 100 including some knee pains and shin tightness mainly on the right side that started after my ill-advised mountain bike ride up Mission Peak one week after the race. Add to this, a strain in my lower abdominal on the left side that sprung up after doing speedwork on the treadmill the following week. Finally, a general feeling of malaise had started to creep in during the past few days. I hadn't been sleeping well recently and had awoken the past few mornings with some slight dizziness , chest tightness and an overall feeling of fatigue. I wrote most of it off as just the lack of sleep.

Basically, I had plenty of excuses to give myself for not really being excited about one more race. However, I also think that other factors played in as well. The holidays were here and I was enjoying the long 4-day weekend, Jefferson was home from college and I had also just found out that Freddy had a basketball scrimmage that I was going to miss on Saturday. I just kept thinking, "do I really want to do this?" I finally concluded that the best motivation was the fact that after the race, whether I hurt myself or not, I would be forced to take time off. Maybe even longer than I had originally planned. I would get it done and then enjoy the month of December free of regrets or second thoughts.

By the time I arose in the morning and went through my routine, I was much more motivated. I arrived in Mill Valley plenty early, went to check in and then walked around to see who else was there. I met a few friendly faces, but most people were staying in their cars as it was quite cold. I found Beat and ended up sitting in his car as it was closer to the start than mine. Eventually we got out a few minutes to race time and said hello to a number of other people whom we each knew. It was here, talking to Wendell Doman, that my goal for the race was set. I was trying to have no expectations for myself, but Wendell insisted that I needed to finish below 6 hours so there it was. At some point people started organizing into a starting area, the RD made some comments I couldn't really hear and then we were on our way.

The start hits the stairs pretty quickly so there isn't much running to begin with other than those up front. 676 steps in the first mile is enough to warm you up plenty, but there really is no way this feels like taking it easy regardless of how slow you go. Eventually we head down some trail stairs where I passed a few runners and then we have a stretch along the road before getting back to the main trail. I passed a few people on the little downhill and kept a relatively good pace on the road. In general, I was taking this first leg a bit stiffer than I would normally in an ultra, but I knew that there was a beautiful, technical downhill section later that was just my thing. I didn't want to be bottlenecked and have to pass too many people on those trails. Physically, none of my leg pains were a problem, but I definitely felt the effort as I bided my time waiting for the downhill. It was worth it as I thoroughly enjoyed flying by folks on the side of the steps going down through the deep woods. Then it was more blazing downhill on fireroad to the turnaround at the beach. An hour sixteen was probably a bit fast for me on this course, but I reasoned that this should be my faster direction as the stairs on the other side would limit my downhill speed significantly.

The return trip also starts out at a grind having to head back up the steep hills I'd just flown down. Here the focus was just on continued forward progress. I knew the steps through the woods would be a bear and it would be a long climb before the downhill respite. One might expect the longer, more gradual downhill in this direction to be faster, but for me the steeper the better to a point. I generally just let gravity set my pace going down and rarely push beyond that as I can gain both speed and recovery at the same time. Also, I am generally not as good on downhill fireroad for some reason. I think it is because the technical stuff with twists turns and things to leap over tend to keep me airborne a bit more. I also feel that the straight-down stuff takes more of a toll on my feet. Speaking of which, I began to feel some issues arising in my left foot and leg on this return trip. However, I made it to the stairs without incident and made my way down. I finished the double in 2:45. Just about right as that left plenty of buffer for a sub-6 hour Quad finish.

I didn't dally at the aid station as I always like to get out on the course fairly quickly after the half-way point. Soon, I would learn that a little more time might have been prudent. Immediately, I felt my body starting to degrade as I headed back up the stairs. My hamstrings were not happy and the more I climbed the more I felt a tightness knotting in my right leg. Furthermore, my knee which I didn't feel at all while bombing downhill, was twinging as I pushed up the steps. It was also starting to warm a bit so I decided to take an S!Cap a bit earlier and up my drinking on this leg to help stave off what felt like developing cramps. I made it to the road and then my right foot decided to join the chorus of pain as the pavement did a number on my heel. I could feel my gait becoming very uneven and the more I focused on the feeling that my whole right side was falling apart, the more my mental state followed my physical into the abyss. The final straw came during the climb up Cardiac as the slurping sound let me know that I had fully drained my bottle. The rest of the way to the aid station was a total trudge. When I arrived, I decided it was time to take some time. I handed my bottle over to Chuck Wilson who was running this station and ambled on over to the table.

I drank more, I ate more, I just sort of stood there for a while. I kind of gave up on my goal and even wondered if I should do more. I eventually guilted myself into moving again reminding myself once more that I had an entire month for recovery. My start along the ridge was at a limp. I hit a little downhill and found I could run that a bit more normally and going up I could still power-walk though my hamstring complained, but anything flat and my run was a limp. I passed someone coming the other way who looked at me and said, "just wait for the Advil to kick in." That was all the excuse I needed. I took the one Ibuprofen I had brought with me and hopped that it would eventually take effect. The downhill to the turnaround was not nearly as fast nor as fun as the last trip, but I was so glad when I finally made it. Coming in at 4:27, I heard the news about Kyle Skaggs who had already won the race in near record time. His 3:53 was not quite fast enough to drop Carl's record, but that amazing effort made him the only other person to break the illusive 4-hour barrier.

I was pretty efficient at the turnaround and grabbed some things to go as I walked a bit out of the aid station. I decided to just enjoy the rest of the course and the beautiful day we'd been given as I headed up the steep hills. I figured my goals to be shot unless somehow a miraculous recovery came about (which it usually does). I met up with "jennyray" from the Runner's World online forums and her husband. I chatted with her as we worked our way up. I eventually fell into complaining mode which was a bad place to be. It wasn't until a guy in front of us made a comment that I shook myself out of it. I said, "OK, nothing but positive thoughts from here on out" and began my uphill shuffle. The race was more than 3/4 done so I might as well just push it and see what I had in me. I basically kept this shuffle for the remainder of the hills. Being up on my toes a bit more seemed to help both my foot (stretching the PF) and my leg (moving the stress from hamstring to calf). I made it to the aid station before I realized. I allowed myself one more vitamin-I from the table when I realized that a sub-6 might still be a possibility if I really crushed the coming downhills. I mentally turned off my pain receptors and just let it go. I made great time and passed a number of people.

At the parking lot someone told me that it was just 2 more miles. I had 25 minutes to cover that. Normally this would seem a very simple task, but there was some good uphill coming up including a steep section with steps and then it was all downhill, but most of that on stairs. I continued to push the uphill pace as much as I could. I think I may have caught another person or two here, but I'm not sure. The steep little dirt section and the final road were tough. With a mile to go I was looking at something around 8-9 minutes. Those stairs were going to be an issue. I took the first stairs pretty well and there was a small section where I could go along side them in the dirt. However, the final stairs were even steeper. I was doing the best I could when I caught myself almost slip. I let up a bit. The next flight of stairs and two more near slips convinced me that breaking 6 hours was just not that important. I knew I wouldn't make it down the final flight and to the finish with a minute to go so I just focused on not falling. Fred Ecks passed me going the other way as he headed out once more to turn his Quad into a Hex. I couldn't even imagine turning my body around and going back up. I looked towards the finish as I came off the stairs to see a "6" already on the clock. I didn't push to hard in those final meters, but came in at 6:00:15. Dropping the seconds since this is an ultra gives me a 6-hour flat. Good enough for me.

The rest of the day was spent milling around, eating, chatting and cheering. This was the best part of the day and reason enough to do this race. I can't even begin to name all the people I knew at this race let alone the new names and faces I'd met. I eventually managed to tear myself away and head home. I was really looking forward to some rest. I slept like a baby that night, but awoke feeling totally trashed. Literally, I think I felt as bad or worse than after either of my 100-milers. I think I explained it as feeling like I had a terrible hangover from a night of drinking where I had passed out and been beaten about the legs with a stick. Even four days later, my body doesn't quite feel right. I'm not sure if it is a bug or something, but I still feel like my equilibrium is "off" and I just feel drained in general. So, my main goal of forced recovery is now officially under way.

Despite not having a great race and feeling pretty beat up, The Quad is still a fabulous way to end the racing season.


rick said...

I felt pretty much the same way. I love the Quad, it's how I've ended my season the last 5 years but I too was pretty beat and exhausted from a long season. I tapered my training dramatically after Firetrails. It pretty much hurt and like you I looked forward to a long rest. Still a whole lot better than 2005 when I showed up over trained, blew up and finished at 6:30.

It was great meeting and running with you this year, Angel Island 50k right. Since then it seemed like you were in all the races I was in. It's hard to keep up with you on the downhills. Hope to see you and all the other kids again in 08.

andyb said...

Great race report, sounds like you really had to dig for this one.

You definitely earned your rest. I hope your recovery goes well and you're able to run strong beginning next January.

Have a restful and happy holidays! :-)


Gundy said...



Eudemus said...

Rick, it was great meeting and seeing you in so many races this year also. Looking forward to more meet-ups in the coming year.

Eudemus said...

Thanks Andy. I will definitely be doing lots of resting. The trick is not to gain weight in the process :-)