As part of my training for the upcoming Tahoe 200 in September, I’m letting all my failures and weaknesses materialize in race settings before Tahoe so that I can continually improve and hopefully arrive at the 200 as a strong, mentally tough, well-prepared runner. I would say that mission was accomplished yesterday at the Chuckanut 50k, however humbling it may have been, and I learned some good things about myself. There’s a lot that I’m terrible at, there’s a lot I’ve admittedly ignored, but at least there are a few things that have thankfully improved.
If I could have it my way, I’d always run distances short enough to never warrant the need for much nutrition, because I truly suck at taking in calories. But, I love the allure of an ultra and the challenges it presents, even if that means the challenges of calories. On the very first climb, just after the 7 mile mark, I felt familiar nausea start creeping in and didn’t feel better until I threw up some gel around mile 12 and then after I ate a boiled potato at mile 13. For the entire race, I could only stomach 3 Powergels, two boiled potatoes with salt, and a handful of potato chips. I was able to drink some water without revolting. Obviously Tahoe will require calories no matter what, so I need to improve here, whether it’s more practice eating on long runs, different food choices, or even slowing down to eat (seriously, I feel like I’m already at a snail’s pace, so not sure how this is possible).
Hills and Technical Terrain:
Ok, ok, I’ll admit, I really didn’t train enough for the 5,000 feet of gain over 18 miles of this course, along with a several mile stretch of technical ridgeline. I secretly wanted to believe that I could make up enough time on the flat 6.75 mile section that started and ended the race, so much that the hills and technical wouldn’t hurt my time too much. Wrong! I ended up walking a lot of the hills, much more than I would have ever thought, and my time really suffered from it. I simply didn’t train enough for hills or technical stuff, again with a secret hope that my thru-hiker legs from the CDT would magically surface after months of dormancy, but that didn’t happen. At all.
Chin Scraper. Yeah, that was the name of a (1 mile?) section around mile 20 that was laughably unrunnable. After that we cut the cord and flew down a hill and it felt glorious to finally run free again. After that hill, the rest of the race was all downhill or flat and I was in flatlander bliss, my Ohio roots cheering me on.
Hips and Form:
Finally, some good news. In past ultra races, the first of my body parts to hurt, to weaken, and then to eventually fail me, have been my hip flexors. I have quit races because I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. Not yesterday. My hip flexors felt strong, I was using my glutes going up climbs, and Matt’s hips started failing him, while I never even felt a twinge in mine. Now that was shocking. I attribute my stronger hips to the last several months of 90 minutes of yoga, 2 times per week. I need to up my practice of the Myrtle routine as well to make sure my hips and all that surrounding area continues to improve.
In the last 6.75 miles, Matt and I passed 20 people. All day people were talking about how much they dreaded that last stretch because it was so flat and never-ending. Are you kidding? Those kinds of miles are my bread and butter and I couldn’t wait to reach that last aid station so I could finally get my form back and use my legs. While I don’t think we were clocking any fast miles, like 9 minute pace at best, I actually had good running form, good turnover, and only a little soreness and burn in my legs. With 5 miles to go I started sputtering a little, but I was able to hold down a gel and again pick up the pace.
Sooo, I secretly hoped I would run something around 5:15 for this race, based on my 5:08 a year ago at Holiday Lake 50K++, the ++ because it was 34 miles. Yep, wrong again after coming in at 5:51. I figured that with more elevation gain but fewer miles than Holiday Lake, I had a shot. Well, that dream quickly ended on the first hill. Hell, the dream ended in my first few sluggish miles on the flat stuff, not even the hills. I just wasn’t feeling great, my stomach felt crappy early, and I was fairly underprepared for dreaming big. Early on, I knew I’d just have to grind it out, put in a good effort knowing it was all in the name of training for Tahoe, and enjoy the company around me. I kept hoping that if I just kept putting in a steady effort, something might click.
Miles 13-20 took forever. The section was mainly on the ridgeline, with some elevation changes, but mainly with lots of technical footing. It was in those miles that I fought off a few mental demons, mainly the ones that give me the thought, “Oh my god, I’m going to be out here for forever.” Sometimes I have mini-freakouts when I start calculating just how long I could be out on the course, and I certainly had a couple in that 7 mile section. Rather than let it overtake me, I focused on micro-managing the course, running whenever possible, walking as fast as possible, and just compartmentalizing every section. Once the course was runnable yet again, I called on some more mental strength to keep it together and run as fast as possible in the last few miles, rather than just shuffling it in. I finished feeling physically strong and was really proud that I never fell apart mentally. For me, that will be a big part of sticking with Tahoe. Fully living out the “this too shall pass” mentality will be key for the long haul.
Bottom line: I have a lot of work to do. Good news: I’ve also already done a lot and I can look forward at the calendar and see that I’ll have a lot of good chances to keep testing my strengths and weaknesses. There are tons of local races, from 12 hours around Green Lake (pancake flat), to a 100k race in the Gorge (not so flat), to another 12 hour race in Carkeek Park (ugly hilly), all just in the next few weeks!
One area I realized I need to improve is the ability to switch between walking and running. It’s oh so nice to walk in a race, telling myself that I’ll run eventually, but damn it’s hard to start shuffling again. I’d like to practice running/hiking a lot more, knowing that my hiking legs will be called upon a lot at Tahoe, and yet my running legs had better be there when I want them. Hopefully I can train with running/hiking in some upcoming races and long weekend trips. I’m guessing hiking poles will be resurfacing again as well, as I really missed them on the climbs yesterday.
Kind of a strange format for a race report but for me the race was much more of a “lessons learned” kind of a race rather than a blow-by-blow report. Though it was hard, it thankfully only rained for about 2 minutes the entire race, despite a forecast of 100% chance of rain. What could have been a mud fest was actually a nicely groomed set of trails with very little mud. I had a lot of fun running with Matt all day since he’s coming back from injuries and taking it easy at my pace, and I enjoyed meeting all the runners out on the course. While I would have liked to have raced better, it just didn’t come together and I’m still proud for having finished strong and kept it together when things started falling apart. We should have many more races and training reports coming up in the next few months, so let’s hope there’s a trend of improvement!