The Fat Dog race had a homey, low key vibe that was ideal for what I was looking for. Waiting in the bathroom line before the start of the 70 miler a local who had run the race in a previous year said that the people that come to this race come because of the atmosphere and the beautiful trails. This all sounded good to me.
As the forty runners gathered around the trailhead which was our starting point, one of the runners said that it was thirty seconds before 7am. He then began counting down when it got to ten seconds, and then we all simply started running. No ceremony, no singing, no cannons, just a runner counting down and we were off.
Looking back, I can divide the course into three distinct parts. The beginning 12+ miles were high up on ridges with mountain meadows interspersed. It was slower running but it felt like I was back on a thru hiking trail again. I was socked in a cloud the entire time but I imagine the views would have been impressive. I kept my effort really relaxed and shortly after the aid station at 12 miles, we began a steady descent that went on for a long, long time. It was gradual and easy to run quicker on. I made up time during this section
Somewhere on the downhill we shifted into the second distinct part of the race. This part was characterized by low elevation forest running. At times it was pretty and enjoyable. Other times it was suffocating, surprisingly hot and muggy, and downright unpleasant. There were sections with a good deal of overgrowth, and by the time I got to the end of this long section at the fifty mile aid station I was slightly agitated and grumpy. My legs itched, I was a bit overheated and hot, and a little too low on water.
At this point I was 50 miles in (8:10) and feeling just OK, given that I’d already covered 50 miles. Twenty miles remaining didn’t seem too difficult but everyone warned about this last section. For anyone scouting out this race by reading this, the last twenty are way more challenging than the first 50. The views are fantastic and once the big climb was completed, I rejoiced being out of the buggy, hot low forest. However, due to some tactical mistakes regarding fluid intake (which I’ve gotten progressively better with the more I race), my threshold for crossing into overdrive was lowered significantly at this point in the race such that whenever I’d start going uphill, my heart rate would spike and I’d need to slow down. To compound the problem, I haven’t hiked in nearly a year and my hiking muscles were out of shape. It was tough for me to walk up the hill. Needless to say, this section was a struggle.
I made it up though and somewhere around mile 60 my low threshold finally reached a breaking point. I spotted a flat, shaded spot of ground off the trail and was immediately on the ground, eyes closed taking some much needed rest. I was listening to music at this point and told myself I could have two songs to rest. Midway through song three I got up, wiped the dirt off me, and thankfully realized I was actually a little chilly. I thought of putting on my jacket but then remembered from the hiking days that the best way to warm up is to get moving. So I started running. I felt much better, heart rate was back down, stomach was a little more relaxed, and amazingly, my legs felt fine.
I carefully managed the last section of mountain running, watching my effort level relative to how my body was reacting. I took one more break to lie in the dirt before the final descent and then sped into the finish, placing first in 13:14.
One big take away from this for me is the reminder that ultras are tough and while I like doing them, it’s not just a fun day in the park for me. I suffered quite a bit during the latter stages of this run. I remember some emotions rushing across me where I would tell myself how tough I was and that I could keep pushing, and while I am glad I was able to push through, I’d rather not have to make this decision to suffer too often. That said, when it’s time to step up to the suffer table, I know I can hang.
Thankfully, I am in good shape right now, I’m not injured, and the competition was such that I could focus on my race completely, managing my effort and fueling throughout without distraction. The end result is that I got some hard work in, I taxed myself mentally, and I came out without any injuries. In fact, this is one of the few races that didn’t leave my knees achy and inflamed. My muscles were sore, but that was the extent of the physical damage.
As I was out on the course, I was continually relating my experience, mainly my shortcomings, with what needed to be done for Run Rabbit Run in a few weeks. For example, I need to get my hiking legs back! I don’t think I’ll be running all the ups in Colorado so I better get some hiking strength. I also need to work my upper body and core a bit more. My lower back ached as I tried hiking up the late steep climbs. I also need some system for keeping my body systems in check, and a more refined rest strategy in the event that things get a little too far out of whack. I picked up my pace significantly after the rest after 60 and had I pushed on without the rest, I’m confident I would not only have suffered more, but I would have been slower overall.
So in conclusion, I have lots to think about before heading out to Colorado next week. I feel strong and in shape and I think I can do well. I also know there is plenty I can improve upon between now and then. One thing that works for sure is having Julie Urbanski as my crew chief. She is talented with organization, she knows ultras, and she knows me. She has been there at all the right times this racing season and I’m very thankful for her love and support. Also, great seeing locals out there. Matt and Kerry Stebbins, your cheers at mile 62 helped me tremendously, Stacey and Keegan – great having you along for the adventure, and whoever you were at mile 24 that said, “Trey Bailey says you need to pick it up”, thank you – you kept my mind occupied and motivated for quite a few miles.