Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chasing Bears

Why not?  Three months ago I decided I'd give ultra-running a second shot.  Maybe and only maybe if I trained hard enough I would accomplish something to be proud of.  Something to brag about.  After all, over the past two years, I've learned that training hard really does pay off.  The not-so-awesome part of that is that I became overly competitive.  Which, in the end, isn't that bad, is it?

Well, first things first.  After recovering from Ironman (or what I considered recovery) I started running like crazy.  More than usual, that's for sure.  I also asked Mr. EK to make me faster... and well, he kicks my a$$, but boy, am I getting faster.  I signed up for the Bear Chase 50K.  Seemed easy enough that I would be able to do well.  What's easy about a 50K?  Not much, except that ultra marathons tend to be in hard trails, with LOTS of hills and they're mainly self-supported.

The Bear Chase, on the other hand, had an aid station at roughly every 3-4 miles, the trails were not technical, it was close to home, and the total elevation gain wasn't as bad as some others.  That said, the only challenge was to actually run 31 miles.

Race day came by, and I wasn't 100% sure I was ready.  I guess I was busy doing other stuff and the fact that I was running 31 miles didn't sink in until 2 days before.  I was busy the day before the race with family in town, friends wanting to have lunch and ended up going to bed early-ish.

Sunday morning, I got up at 4:15am, showered, got ready and left the house at 4:45.  Arrived at the parking area at 5:30, caught the shuttle to the start area and picked up my race packet.  Although race organizers said we should get there early, I was all set at 5:50... even though the race didn't start til 6:50am.  There were other events going on.  The 50 mile, the half marathon and the 10k.  The 50 mile people were starting at 6:30.  I was surprised to see how many there were... Made me feel at ease that I wouldn't be feeling lonely towards the end of the race.  Most 50-miler people would probably still be out there when I finished.

I met up with Ryan, Kevin and Courtney and we lined up at the start line at roughly 6:45.  Courtney was running with Kevin, and his goal was to run an average 12 min/mile.  Ryan wanted to go a tad faster and said he'd stick to  my pace, which was 11:30.  The 50K race was a 3 loop run.  The first would be the 10K loop, then you'd have to complete two 12.4 mile loops.

When the gun went off, I started jogging and was stuck in the middle of the pack as we hit the single track.  I was content with the pace which was around 10 min/mile.  Ryan was ahead of me and Kevin behind.  Ryan seemed to be at sight for a while and eventually Kevin and Courtney passed me, but I decided to focus on my own thing and stick to my pace, which up until now, was still faster than I wanted it to be.

Settling into a comfortable pace 
I completed the first loop (a 6.2 mile loop) right on pace.  I was pretty content and I continued on to the second.  Kevin and Courtney were around the Start/Finish area and I lost them again when I stopped at the porta-potty (TMI? I don't care... It's MY blog!).  The first part of the "long" loop was the same as the 10K one and I felt pretty comfortable, except that this time, I wasn't stuck in the middle of the pack on the single track and while trying to stick to a pace, I realized that those first couple miles were actually uphill... Took notes for the next loop.  That's always good to know.  At around mile 5, (of the loop, but total, roughly mile 11), you hit the big climb.  The biggest of all climbs.  I didn't even try... I just walked.  Both coach Eric and the COO of my company (an ultra runner) suggested I walk the big climbs, ESPECIALLY the first time around.  They both suggested, that if I had some energy left on the second loop, to just go for it.  So I walked, and I'm glad, cause it was hard.

As soon as I hit the top, I was able to start jogging and it was a super fun downhill run. After that, it gets flat, then it rolls for a bit... but then, you have to cross one creek (with no bridge), then another, and then a third.  Fun times.

River crossings
After this, you start climbing again.  It's not steep, but with soaking wet socks and shoes, any little hill seems REALLY hard.  You get to the next aid station a half a mile after the river crossings.  I ate some GU and moved on.  This last stretch back to the finish, seemed REALLY hard.  Well, lots of BIG rolling hills and what looked flat was actually uphill.  I didn't realize this until after the race when I pulled the elevation profile one last time and indeed... lots of climbing at the end.  The last aid station is roughly 2 miles from the Start/Finish area. After this, you hit one more big climb, a mellow climb and the last 3/4 of a mile are all downhill.

I got to the Start/Finish... and had to do it all over again.  One more loop.  I knew the way out was uphill, and I felt ok.  Then I started going back... nice and steady downhill, but I noticed I was getting close to hitting a wall.  I caught up to Kevin and Courtney and said hi... Kevin was not feeling so great (knee problems), we reached the aid station that was right next to a lake where I desperately wanted to jump in the water... I kept going.  I was not feeling great... mentally, but kept talking myself into putting one foot in front of the other.

Focused at around mile 23
I got to the big hill. I walked, and it was good.  It was helpful to re-group and make me run strong again on the way down.  I got to the flats where there were lots of people cheering us on, I smiled and said: "5 miles to go!!" I thought to myself: "I've done 5 mile runs SO MANY TIMES, I can do this."  I kept going.  I hit the river crossings and the cold water felt amazing on my ankles.  I wanted to stay there for longer.  Before I got out of the third, I stopped, counted to 10 and kept going.  4 miles to go.  I got this.  Smiles and more smiles.

After the next aid station, came that part that looked flat but wasn't and the big rolling hills.  I walked the ups, jogged the "flats" and downs.  Other runners were cheering me on since I had a nice lil pace going on.  Kept me strong.  3 miles to go... then 2. Got to the last aid station... some water, and off I go.  Not without getting some compliments for running Denver the weekend before (I was wearing the Denver Marathon t-shirt from the race the previous weekend, some people thought I was bad-a$$). Also kept me strong.  I kept going... and then THE WALL.  It was finally here in the form of a BIG climb.  The last one, but mentally, I couldn't deal with it.  I walked it.  Got to the top and kept walking.  First climb all day that was followed by a downhill walk.  Up until then, I had been able to start jogging the second I'd hit the top.  But not this time.

"What's wrong? You have less than 2 miles to go! You can do this!!!"  Half way down the hill I started jogging, but picked up the pace when I saw the big sign that said: "One mile to go". Then, before I knew it, I was running downhill... I could hear the finish... wait... I can SEE  the finish!

Crossing the Finish Line: Sense of relief
I had completed a very respectable 50K in JUST under 6 hours, which is EXACTLY what I wanted. 5h59m11s.  PERFECTION.

Turns out, that somewhere along the course, I had also passed Ryan.  I have no idea where... but I was the first of our group to finish.  I felt good.  I got my medal and left... but I didn't go home.  I went straight to Denver, to the Mile High Stadium, to see my dear Broncos defeat the Raiders.  It was an amazing game.  Needless to say, I got home quite tired, quite hungry and quite sore.  It was good times.

There's always time for some football!!!