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Success. Awesome. Frustrated (a little). Prepared for Leadville, I think so. Overall experience, really cool. These are the basics when I think about yesterday’s 50 mile race through the mountains just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park.
I ran the White River 50 miler yesterday, my second time running the event (ran it back in 2008). It was put in the racing calendar as a tune up for Leadville, and primarily to make doing Leadville training more enjoyable – I have a hard time going out for eight hour runs on my own so having an organized event really helps. The race is very much a mountain racing event with a total elevation change somewhere in the 17,000 ft range. What makes it challenging though is that the elevation change comes from two big climbs and two big descents all capped off with a 6.5 mile sprint to the finish.
We had great weather and the event went smoothly. Julie crewed for me, meeting me four times on the course with ibuprofen, Vaseline, food, and new shoes, along with her smiling face that I managed to kiss each time I passed through, much to the amusement of the crowd as I was all sweaty and gross.
The race started at 6:30 am and we were camped about a quarter mile from the starting line the night before so it was easy to get ready to go on the morning of the race. My game plan for the day was to run quickly on the flat and walk all the uphills in order to save my legs for the latter stages of the race. The race had some studs in it and the pace went out quickly. I had fun going out fast but when we hit the big climb a few miles in I slowed it down to a fast walk. I felt great, was smiling, and cheering people on as I passed the early starters (some people concerned about the cutoff time started at 5:30 am). Once on top of the mountain I hammered the flat as my legs felt really good. I passed a few guys and hit the aid station about 17 miles into the race feeling great. From there it was a little more flat before the big downhill.
Man do I suck at downhills! I was passed by 8 people in about a 5 mile section as we headed to the halfway point as guys flew by me on the steep descent and right as I neared the bottom I was also passed by the female winner Ellie Greenwood. However, I was feeling good about the race and my strategy. I came through 27 miles in around 4:10 and still felt fresh. I got some food and refilled my bottle looking forward to the second climb.
Unfortunately, my right knee started giving me issues. I know the all-too-familiar feeling because in almost every race over 20 miles since Prague this past May, my right knee gets sore. I have been thinking it’s the IT band but I am now questioning this self diagnosis given how consistent it has been at the same point in so many races. It almost feels like my knee gets to a point where I’m rubbing bone on bone, as if the cartilage is gone. Whatever it is, I noticed it as I walked up the second big climb. I also started dealing with some stomach issues. Lesson for Leadville: not eating wheat tortillas with peanut butter and raisins during the race. I felt like I had a brick in my stomach. But I kept trucking and passed a couple guys early into the climb.
By the time I got to the top I knew something was up with the knee. I took 7 minutes to sit, take Ibuprofen, and stretch a bit, hoping my knee would loosen up. I took off down the hill and right away, my body told me a quick descent was not happening. I kept working to find a reasonably painless run down the hill and a few miles in was able to find a slow shuffle that worked pretty well. I was passed quite a bit during this section but still made it in pretty good time without having to walk.
From there it was the rolling flat 6.5 mile section along the river to the finish. I changed shoes to my more cushiony Nike road shoes and felt immediately better. I gave Julie a kiss and headed back to the trail. I was able to maintain around a nine minute mile pace to the end for an overall finish of 8:15, just six minutes slower than my run a few years ago.
The positives, I feel fit and ready to go. I feel good about my race strategy, and my ability to mentally handle the difficulties of the ultra distance. I have had good practice with pacers (on my training runs) and with crew. I think I’m ready for Leadville.
The negatives, my knee keeps acting up and that could make for a longer-than-necessary 100 mile race in a few weeks. I think I’m faster than my finish time indicates but if my body won’t hold up so I am able to actually run, then I’m not really as fast as I think I should be.
We had a great time at the event. Read Julie’s story to hear about all the crazy things that happened outside the race (she’s becoming famous! We encountered numerous people reading or wanting to read her book!). We met a running legend, David Horton, and were entertained, inspired, and educated. We met plenty of other good folks too. The ultra community rocks and we’re really glad to be part of it.
Now it’s on to Leadville!