Monday, May 05, 2008

"Well, I finished"

The inevitable answer we give at the end of an ultra when the results weren't quite up to our own internal expectations of performance, were behind some goal we'd set for ourselves or when we simply finished feeling a whole lot more beat up than planned. I finished this race 20 minutes slower than last year which, considering my starting condition, is something I should be fairly satisfied with. However, all those pre-game excuses just seem to go out the window once you are in the race and especially when you are feeling good in those early miles. I think I still had that elusive 12-hour finish stuck in the back of my mind and I know that I really wanted to better last year's time. Being one who likes variety, I don't often repeat races and, being still relatively new to ultras, I have always improved my times when I have returned to a particular venue. This was my first repeat race where the return engagement yielded in a slower finish time. In the end, there is always something to be learned. So, rather than run through my normal details of the race, section by section, I am going to follow up on the theme from my last post.

This is what I learned from my 2nd Miwok 100K
  • Don't listen to other people
    • Right at the start I saw Meridith whom I had met last year at this race where we helped one another push through some tough bits. Meridith insisted we were both going to break 12 hours. While I'd claimed to have given up on that goal, it was obviously still there in my head and this probably fueled my pushing more in the early miles than I should have.
  • OK, sometimes listen to other people
    • I also met Olga at the start and spent some time with her early in the race and then again later before the turnaround. It was great to meet her after exchanging blog comments over the years. We also both had original 12-hour goals, but she was dealing with her own pre-race issues and we both agreed that today might not be the day. At one point I remember her saying to me, "you know, you do sound like you are still a bit sick." This was early on and probably should have been a clue.
  • Listen to your body
    • Early in the race I decided to work on my uphill pace. Specifically, my poor power-hiking speed. I felt like I was doing well and keeping close to people who would normally drop me on the uphills (I usually then catch them on the downhills). However, by around mile 12, my hamstrings were feeling very tight and both them and my calves felt on the verge of cramping. I tried upping my electrolytes, assuring I was hydrated and focusing on my fuel, but the feeling pretty much never abated. This basically hearkened back to last year's Mt. Diablo 50K where I had also been ill the week before the race. The cramping feeling stuck around that whole day there as well. Sometimes, your body is telling you that it just isn't up for effort and nothing you do is going to let you push it beyond that point. At least, not without paying a price.
  • Listen to yourself
    • I did say, even publicly, that I was letting go of that 12-hour goal and I remember thinking that if I needed a goal to focus on that 13 might be a bit more achievable. My focus was supposed to be on feeling good and enjoying the day. And, truth is, there was much to enjoy and many things that did go right. For the second race in a row, I anticipated and pushed more smoothly through the 4-hour barrier. I had a descent recovery after the turnaround (though not as good as last year) and I even hit Pantoll Station on the way back at near the same time (10 hours). However, I knew there was much less "there" in terms of overall energy and my body was just not in the same condition it was last year. It is pretty much as I said going into the race.
  • Remember what you've said in the past
    • At the end of last year's race my initial thoughts were that, unlike at the end of some other races, "I did not immediately think that I could come back and run this better next year. Just finishing Miwok in whatever time I could is such an accomplishment that coming back and doing it again would just be icing." I probably should have read my race report from last year before hitting the starting line this year. Last year I approached Miwok as a goal race for the season. I had run a couple of 50Ks and one 50mi which was three weeks out. I was healthy, tapered and focused. This year, I've already run a tough 100-miler and two 50mi with the most recent one being a PR performance just two weeks prior to Miwok. Furthermore, I came down with a nasty cold immediately afterwards and was sick for a week. Now, why exactly did I think I might actually be able to better my previous performance?
  • Listen to your wife
    • As well as being the voice inside my head that pushes me through some of the tough spots, my wife usually sends me off in the morning before my races with two very important pieces of advice: "Don't hurt yourself and have fun." At the end of the day, these two goals should be all that really matters. While I did take one nice fall and I have the sorest post-race legs I have had in a long time, I didn't do anything that I would consider "hurting myself". I also definitely did have fun out there despite the discomfort. In fact, no moment will stick better in my head from this year's race than having Craig hand me an ice cream sandwich at the mile 49.5 aid station. Though not an ultrarunner, my wife is a fellow ice cream lover and can certainly appreciate the pure child-like joy of receiving this unexpected gift of sweet-milky-icy-goodness. Craig is my hero!
  • Occasionally, listen to your kids
    • Sunday morning I was hobbling around as my son came home from his friend's house so I could drive him to basketball practice. He asked me how my race went. I said, "20 minutes slower than last year" probably sounding more dejected than intended. He just gave me a funny look and said, "you've been sick" with the "what'd you expect" added by the tone in his voice. It was kind of a "duh!" moment and all I could do was smile. It was the role-reversal from the times when he'd be down after a bad game and we'd try to lift him up, but still provide the necessary dose of reality. Sometimes, I just need to take my own medicine.
In the end Miwok is, as I said last year, a tough race. I learned that if the day isn't right you can work harder from end to end, push yourself more, finish with less in the tank and feel more beat up at the afterwards, but still perform worse. Gary Cantrell has a great article in this month's Ultrarunning Magazine where he says (paraphrasing) that "without the possibility of failure, success is meaningless" This emphasizes one more thing that I love about this sport. With all the ups and downs, low points and amazing recoveries, you never really know how your race is going to come out until you are literally almost done. You can crash and burn at the end of a long race, you can make up an amazing amount of time in just the last 20% or you can sustain and hold everything together for a lot longer than you might think.

Final thoughts. 100K is a tough distance, especially on trails. Even though someone like Dave Mackey, who crushed the course record this year, may be able to finish in under 8 hours, for most of us mere mortals this is one long, all-day affair. I heard a certain sentiment echoed by a few others during the post-run BBQ that I agree with even though it may sound rather strange to the uninitiated. In some ways, running 100K is actually harder than running 100 miles. Don't get me wrong, 100-milers are tough. They take more than just physical endurance and I have never felt so completely drained, physically, mentally and emotionally as at the end (or even the next day after) completing 100 miles. However, there are times in a 100 mile race when most of us take a more relaxed attitude. I definitely force myself to take it much, much easier in the early miles. I never worry about the minutes. I often take a little extra time at an aid station if its warranted, especially during the night hours. If I find I am really not feeling well, the idea of just walking for an hour or so is not out of the question. Finally, there are times during a 100 miler where ALL that matters is making forward progress; a 20 minute mile may bring me to near delirium. On the other hand, in a 100K, the possibility to really push myself from start to finish is a reality. In a race like Miwok where there are plenty of hills, but all of which would be runnable in a shorter event, the desire to "go, go, go" is ever-present. Starting in the morning and wanting to finish before dark (or not too far into dark for some) is a further added incentive. Basically, outside of the elite group, the 100K is about the longest standard race distance that most of us can run in a single day and so, to me at least, it's the longest distance that still feels like a race. A very long, hard race.


miki said...

Always a pleasure to read about your races Steve. :)

Kevin Luu said...

Yeah, I second that. Very detailed and personal posting of your Miwok 2008 race. This was my first time doing the Miwok 100K and first ultra beyond a 50K(last year's TNF 50K).

I hear you on long and grueling path across Coastal Trail and across Bolinas down to Randall(which seemed like the longest 7-8miles ever. :)

Even with a sore knee, I was happy to get a 62-miler under my belt and hope to recover soon so I get hit the trails again.

I see you're doing Diablo in June. I'm signed up for the 25k. See you then and can't wait to see your thoughts on it when you're done running it.

keep on runnin',


olga said...

It was so great to spend countless miles with you, basically half the race! I hope you recover fully for your next adventure - and thanks for everything:)

angie's pink fuzzy said...

great thoughts!

Eudemus said...

Miki, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

Kevin, congrats on your first Miwok. Your time was excellent! I definitely had my toughest moments between Bolinas and Randall this year. I will do Diablo 50K again this year. Hopefully better than last year where I had a stomach virus the week before.

Olga, thanks. It was great seeing you and I hope everything works out.

Thanks Angie.

meredith said...

You knew those words would come out of my mouth at the start!! I am so happy that you finished. Not everyday can be the "best" day, but they are all amazing adventures on beautiful trails!

Much needed rest and recovery is on your schedule, and I will see you at Headlands!

SLB said...

Great post, thanks for sharing. There is a lot of wisdom in your writing, of course applying it on race day is a discipline in unto itself!

Donald said...

Great report, and great job to finish after everything your body has been through recently. I completely understand your logic about the 100K vs 100M - it makes great sense.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great insights--makes for a post worth re-reading (I actually titled one of my sections "listen to your...wife..."). I agree with Donald and you about the 100k versus 100 miler.

Hey, I wonder when they broke out that ice cream--it's like everyone ate it except me (maybe just as well...)

Baldwyn said...


Congrats on another day and another run. Your insights are appreciated!


Alan said...


Great race report - love the insights and descriptives.