Training for an ultramarathon (or any race, for that matter) has its ebbs and flows. Some days you feel great, like you could run forever and never feel tired. Other days, grinding out a 6 mile recovery run takes everything you've got. Obviously, you hope that everything comes together and you have one of the good days on race day. In my last post, I whined a bit about how that has not been the case so far this year, with two of the down days miring my runs at Moab and Quad Rock. Fortunately, it seems when your confidence is most shaky, you get a string of the good days to bring it back up, and that's what I got this past week.
Well, not the entire week. Early in the week I was still have some issues associated with the malady that affected me at Quad Rock. Nothing major, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Once that finally cleared up, I resolved to put Quad Rock behind me with a solid weekend set of long runs. Normally, I would run back to back long runs on, well, back to back days, but this past weekend real life intervened. I am one of the coaches for my son's little league team and we had a tournament in Deadwood Friday evening and most of the day Saturday. So, I tweaked the schedule and decided to run long on Friday and Sunday mornings rather than the traditional Fri/Sat or Sat/Sun.
Friday's run was the longer (but not necessarily harder) one, 25 miles on the Centennial trail from the Elk Creek trailhead (miles 17/83 of the Black Hills 100 course) to Dalton Lake (miles 29/71). This is arguably the toughest section of the trail with a couple of shorter climbs and then a nice (or horrible, depending on your state of mind) grinder to the top of the ridge above Dalton Lake before finally descending to the lake itself. On this day, after my legs got warmed up on the earlier, shorter climbs, I got into a good groove and was able to drop it into what I call my "grind gear" and run most of the uphills. The return trip from Dalton to Elk Cr is theoretically easier since there is more downhill, but I am inevitably surprised by the amount of relatively short uphills there are along the way, which is one of the reasons this section is so tough....mentally, it's just hard to keep grinding on the short uphills when you think you should be running entirely downhill. But, in reality, it's pretty much all runnable if your legs are feeling good. Mine weren't great, but they were good enough and I ground out the entire run feeling pretty good (and finished the 25 miles about 30 minutes faster than my Quad Rock 25, albeit with less elevation gain).
After an easy 8 on roads before the baseball games commenced on Saturday morning, I was up at the asscrack of dawn on Sunday to tackle the real beast of the weekend, a triple summit of Crow Peak. The Crow Peak trail is about 6.4 miles total, 3.2 up and 3.2 back down with around 1500 ft of elevation gain per lap. I've run Crow Peak several times and had only ever run the entire ascent once before. On Sunday, my climbing legs felt great and although I thought maybe I should hold back and save something for the 2nd and 3rd ascents, I couldn't "waste" the feeling so just rode the wave and ran the entire first ascent. The descent is a good chance to stretch your legs a bit, but also features some good technical downhill running on the steep rocky pitches near the summit. After refueling at the trailhead, I headed up for ascent #2 and found that the grind gear was working well....well enough to run the entire ascent again. Another cruise back down to the car, another quick pit stop, and back up for ascent #3. I was expecting this one to be a real slog, with a lot of hiking involved, and while it was definitely slower, there were only a few pitches I had to power hike. A quick rest break at the top (it was pouring rain and a bit windy) and I cruised back down, feeling great. I reached the trailhead after 19 miles and a little over 4500 ft of ascent in 3:35, a full 22 minutes faster than the only other time I've run a Crow Peak triple. And, since I still felt great and since nice round numbers have some stupid magical aura, I cranked out another mile on the dirt road to get to an even 20 for the day.
So, as they have a way of doing, things have bounced back quite nicely. I'll happily ride the wave while it lasts.