Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Winning in Vegas

OK, so it was actually about 30 miles outside and a couple of thousand feet above Vegas proper and I didn't win any money or anything, but I did manage to come in 3rd.

Having missed the Diablo 50 again and with plans to head to Las Vegas for my son's basketball tournament, I turned to the good old reliable run100s website to see if there might be a race to run in the area. It turned out I was in luck as I found a link to a local running series held by Calico Racing:

The very weekend I was planning to be there, they would be holding the Labor of Love 50K event (along with a marathon, 1/2 marathon and 10K). I signed up even though it was mostly run on roads. I needed a good long run to jump-start my plans to have a big month of May. Despite the course looking pretty tame (22 miles paved and 9 of dirt road, only about 3500ft of climbing, etc), it did start around 4500ft elevation and top out around 6800ft so at least I would be giving my lungs a good workout. While not exactly steep, the road was gradual uphill the whole way and I didn't plan to do much walking along the course. Finally, the location of the race was Lovell Canyon in the Spring Mountains which is sort of the back-side of Red Rocks Canyon. While not nearly as dramatic as it's neighbor over the hills, the high desert was definitely a beautiful setting for a race.

The 50K race started at 6am, but there was a short shuttle from the parking area to the start and we were asked to get there early to allow plenty of time. With the very early (3:40am) wake-up call and quick snack for breakfast, I was in the rental car and heading west towards the hills. As I began to climb, I watched the temperature gauge go from 50s to 40s to low 40s. I was glad to have packed my Moeben sleeves and Brooks gloves, though I was still thinking things could get warm later in the day. When I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by a blast of freezing wind that turned out to be foretelling of things to come.

The bus was waiting so I hopped on and soon a number of others did as well. This bus was all 50K runners and it wasn't long before conversations began. This is the first race I have been at in a long time where I didn't know anyone, but everyone seemed friendly especially given the size of the race. It was a very small group with a number of runners going for their first attempt at the distance. It was definitely strange to feel like one of the veterans. I guess we really are spoiled in the Bay Area having such a huge array of races from which to choose.

From Labor of Love

Once we arrived at the start, it was clear that there was not going to be any sort of early respite from the cold. We would have to wait until at least the sun came up, but the clouds looming over the hills in the distance didn't give one much confidence. At the start, one runner took off like a rabbit at what looked to be around a 7-mpm pace. Pretty much everyone else went out much more casually. I was trying to take it easy, reminding myself that I was training and not racing. My only goal was to finish under 6 hours since I needed to make it to my son's game, but I figured something around 5;30 should be pretty easy given the course. However, the desire to keep warm meant that I was going a little fast than I should have. Besides, other than the one speedster, I was basically bunched with what could be called the frontrunners. A nice treat for a perennial mid-packer.

It never really seemed to warm up. In fact, as the day went on and we headed higher into the hills, it just got colder. At one point I was running along with another guy somewhere around mile 6 or 7 and I noticed these white things floating in the air. I thought to myself: pollen? Then one of them hit my face and melted. What the heck? I looked over at the guy running next to me and he just said, "Is that...?". Yep, snow. It was just a few little flurries, but we were about to head up about another 1000ft once we hit the dirt.

Eventually the final road aid station arrived and I was very happy to be heading off the asphalt. Many people stopped to change shoes, but I just filled my bottle, grabed some grub and headed on up. Suddenly, it seemed that the course was tying to make up for all that smooth road I'd been running. The firetrail was relatively rocky and it started to become steep enough to be considered a real climb. Finally, just as I began the final ascent to the peak, the snow came on for real. Between the wind and the snow, I actually had to keep my head down as I pushed up the slope. I could see white stuff accumulating on the hairs of mu legs and I started to feel the altitude for the first time. I was definitely pushing harder than I should have, but dang it was cold!

The snow let up just before the final peak which I was glad to summit. The last couple of downhill miles to the turnaround felt very nice. It was here that the leader passed me going to other way and he was still pushing hard up that hill. I estimate he was at least 4 miles ahead of me at this point and showed no signs of slowing. Nothing like a good reminder of where you stand in the world. As I came into the aid station, the second place guy was only ahead of me by about 5 minutes. However, I knew I was going to pay for the pushing I'd done to get through the snow and the climb back out would not be particularly fast. I ran what I could, but focused mainly on my powerhiking.

I was starting to let up and rest when I noticed someone behind me and ego got the best of me. I wanted to keep my 3rd place position and knew if that if I could just make it to the downhill, I could hold this guy off...at least for a while longer. I made it and had fun flying down the hill. Alas, it was back to the road and while it was mostly downhill, it was really too gradual to use gravity to my advantage. I figured that folly of holding my spot would disappear about 5 miles from the finish where there was a nice little hill upon which I would likely be passed. Ah, well.

The road was now filled with marathoners and 1/2 marathoners which helped distract from the pain beneath my feet. I chatted with a few people and was very surprised to come upon a runner who was actually from Fremont! He was running the marathon distance and came out to Vegas specifically for the race. I guess there's that whole "small world" thing for ya. At this point I was still in 3rd, but the hill was coming and I was pretty sure 4th place was not far back. As I hit the aid station before the climb, I was told that the guy in front of me had just left. Midway through the climb and I could see him just ahead of me. Then I turned around and saw the guy behind me. I turned to him and told him to "hurry up and pass me so I could stop pushing."

As expected I was caught, but we both passed the guy in 2nd who was beginning to stuggle with some fatigue. The two of us ran together a while. He was from Utah and running his first 50K. He took it very conservatively in the beginning and I told him how strong he looked. Eventually, I told him that 2nd place was all his and let him push on ahead. I would be more than satisfied with 3rd and really had no conceivable reason to push for a faster finish. The lead guy was at least an hour ahead of us. I was nowhere near a PR for the distance and I was supposed to be taking it easy anyway. I spent the last miles just working on my mental game as running the road, especially one where you can see a few miles ahead, can be really taxing on the mental state. I was ready to be done. With one last little "kiss goodbye" the course turned in the last half mile and presented a tremendous headwind all the way into the finish.

In the end it was a fun race and a different sort of challenge. The race organizers did a great job combining the best elements of a road marathon (frequent aid and support) with an ultra (decent challenges, snacks at key stations and a finish line buffet). We received some very cool technical shirts along with a medal for our efforts.

From Labor of Love

Oh, and lest I forget, I received the most unique award for my 3rd place finish. I little bit of the desert to take home with me:

From Labor of Love


Peter Lubbers said...

Nice job, Steve! Congrats on your third place finish. Sounds like a fun race.

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Sounds like fun, and congrats on a third place finish!

Having dropped Diablo and Miwok from your schedule, I bet you are feeling pretty smug right now, considering how awful the weather was for both events (completely opposite, but awful nonetheless). Lots of people dropped out or were pulled for missing cutoffs (me!) due to the unfavorable conditions. Though not good for PRs, Diablo would have been good for heat training.

Good luck with the rest of your training and races!


Serious Running: Chris Barber said...

Great story about the Labor of Love race. I find it difficult as well to "take it easy" when running a race. No matter what kind of pace or time I want to run, I always end up racing and pushing myself harder than I should. There's something to be said for the mental toughness you had to have in order to hold yourself back from challenging the 2nd place runner. Most of us probably would have killed ourselves trying to keep up and would not have been better off for it. Great race!

Eudemus said...

Cynthia, I suppose if I were a road runner, avoiding the harsh weather would give me some consolation. However, isn't pitting one's resolve against whatever conditions nature throws at you a pretty major part of why we do these trail ultras? At any rate, I did get to battle through a pretty unexpected snow storm!

Eudemus said...

Chris, thanks for the comments. Maybe it helps that I'm not all that serious a runner ;-). At any rate, I'll check out your site as it sounds like a very interesting resource.

olga said...

Steve, how cute! I love how when travel we just jump into what we can find. I ran Silver State marathon like that while on vacation with the family:) 3rd place to hoot! Old Pueblo give cacti awards, neat! Hope your son had a great time as well. Man, I miss participating in races every other weekend...