Thursday, March 04, 2010
I guess only someone who run's ultras would think of an 18.6 mile race as short. My intent last Saturday was to run the Sequoia 50K. But, this is basketball season and my son's high school team is in the regional playoffs. His game for Saturday was scheduled for 2:45pm. It didn't take too much math to realize that I would have to break the course record and PR by over an hour at the 50K distance to run that race and make it to his game. Needless to say, I didn't quite feel up to the task.
After a quick email to the RD, I was able to drop my registration down to the 30K distance. With an 8:30am start, I figured I could finish between 3 and 3-1/2 hours and still have plenty of time to shower and clean up before heading down to San Jose. The only problem was that I really hadn't raced a distance less than 50K in a long time. I was wondering how I should pace myself. I was also wondering about the fact that in an ultra, I generally feel pretty bad somewhere around the 3 to 3-1/2 hour zone.
I figured that if I could stick with some 50K runner who would normally be a bit faster than me, I would be at the right pace. Luckily, Harry was signed up for the full distance and he is not only faster than me, but also a good friend. Race morning was clear, but major rains had dumped the night before so it was going to be another muddy race for 2010. Harry and I started a bit far back in the field, but passed a number of people running up some of the early hills. Running hard uphill early in a race was definitely not something I would not have done in a longer event.
Harry and I stuck together through the initial miles through Joaquin Miller Park, but after the course enters Redwood there is a nice steep downhill on which I knew I would loose him though the mud did keep me a bit in check. I expected him to catch me again on either the next uphill or the rolling section of French Trail, but either he wasn't having a great day or I was pushing hard. It turned out to be a bit of both.
I decided to see what I could do and worked my way up a bit, passing people on the downhills and trying to hang on to them on the ups. I ended up coming upon one guy that I couldn't pass downhill. He wasn't that great going uphill, but on the downs he was actually out pacing me. He even dropped me on the Golden Spike trail which I alway considered myself to have "wired." I've always known there were better downhill runners than me further up in the field. The interesting thing was that he wasn't that much better a climber than me. I guess others are just as lopsided in their abilities as I am, only faster at both.
When we reached the flats, I caught up with this guy and we chatted a bit. He was doing the 50K so had I ordered the full meal deal, I would unlikely be seeing him at this point in the race. It turns out that he was doing his first ultra. It also turned out that he was closer to my son's age than mine. I also learned that we went to the same college only separated by a decade or so. I didn't stick with him on the way back as I was just focused on getting the race done and seeing if I could keep the pace.
Running in the mud is actually much worse on the uphill. I could feel that extra bit of effort with every step climbing up to the West Ridge. Had I known at the time how close I would finish to 3 hours, maybe I would have pushed a bit hard once we reached it. I was already pretty far outside my comfort zone and, being an ultrarunner, I have sort of installed a permanent governor on my ability to push into the red zone before the final miles of a race, my inner voice echoing "not yet, not yet" inside my head.
From the final aid station it was just two miles to the finish, but I was already pretty sure a sub-3 was not going to happen since I knew the trails pretty well. I took a little breather on the climb up out of Redwood to let myself focus on the final downhills. I knew the descent down Cinderella was going to be a blast. At this point in the race, we'd already caught up with many of the 20K runners. I think I scared a few of them on my way down muddy technical trail. I wanted to believe that I could still break 3 hours. Unfortunately, I knew the final rolling bit of trail after the downhill was just long enough to keep that from a reality.
I watched 3 hours go by just as I was heading up towards the final little hill. My hamstrings were feeling it and there was no reason to push to the limit at this point. I was plenty satisfied with coming in just under 3:02. Finishing 15th was certainly better than I had expected at the start. I did get a tiny bit of excitement before learning my final place. When I finished they had only put up the first 10 finishers. There were only 2 others listed ahead of me in the Men's 40-49 category! I thought there was a chance that it was younger field given the shorter distance. Alas, 3 of the 4 people posted next ahead of me were all in my same age group. Oh well, back to my mid-packer ultrarunning status.