Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leadville Training Part 8: Pacing and Racing

While having a spouse who is also a runner is great in many (most) respects, it does create some conundrums that must be navigated around when one is training for an ultramarathon.  This past weekend was a good example.  Shannon had planned on running the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, which was held on Saturday morning, for quite some time.  I was planning on running the 7.3 mile Mystic Mountain Trail Run on Sunday.  Somehow, I would need to squeeze a long run out of at least one of those two days so that I could feel warm and fuzzy about my Leadville training.  After some careful thought, and channeling of my inner Dean Karnazes, the answer was obvious.  I would run the half marathon with Shannon, but I would do it twice, getting in a good long run and pacing her in the process (as an added bonus, this would also be, by far, the furthest distance we had ever run together.....well, whether that was a "bonus" per se, is up for debate, but ultimately it worked out just fine).

So, my weekend started off with a 3:00 wakeup call on Saturday morning.  Honestly, it's at those moments, and not when I'm 50 miles into a 100 mile run, when I wonder if I am truly just a little bit crazy for doing this shit.  After the requisite amount of coffee and some last minute preparations, I set off to Spearfish separately from Shannon and parked at the finish line of the half marathon.  Being an anal-retentive mileage tracker, I had decided that 30 miles on my Strava feed would look MUCH better than "only" 26.2, so I ran a couple of miles down the bike path and back before starting up the actual half marathon race course (aka, Spearfish Canyon).  The race itself starts 13 miles up the road and is almost all downhill back into the Spearfish City Park.  My "warmup" would therefore include 13 miles of almost constant uphill to reach the start line.  Now, this uphill is child's play compared to, say, running up Crow Peak four times consecutively, but it is just enough to slow you down a bit and the camber of the road got to be a bit annoying. My biggest worry going in was nailing down the timing of the whole endeavor.  I didn't want to get up to the start too soon and end up standing around and stiffening up, but I also obviously didn't want to be late for the start of the actual race.  As it turns out, I nailed it pretty well, arriving at the start with just under 20 minutes to spare.  Once there, I refilled my water bottles, at a PB and J, pinned on my bib (yes, I did register for the race), met up with Shannon and was ready to head back down.

Our goal was to run sub-2:05, which would be a PR for Shannon.  Along those lines, my job was to set the pace somewhere in the 9:30/mile range.  Secretly, I thought it might be prudent if we ran just a tad faster on the more downhill early miles, but I tried to keep it no faster than 9:15ish.  We quickly fell into a good pace as we headed downhill and started clicking off miles between 9:20 and 9:30 on a consistent basis.  Funny thing was, I had somehow tricked my mind into believing that the 17 mile warmup had never happened.  When I reached mile marker 5, I didn't think "oh, I've gone 22 miles", it was "hey, we're 5 miles into this thing".  It was only when we reached mile 9 that it occurred to me that I had just completed a full marathon.  Regardless, my legs felt fine and I tried to keep a nice, steady pace as well as I could.  Things were going tremendously well until about mile 10, when Shannon's left calf started cramping.  We took a few walk breaks to let it loosen and I was still thinking we could maybe get that 2:05 since we had built a little cushion early on, but the cramps persisted and we ended up running 2:10.  Still, not a bad effort at all. Other than some cussing and arguing about how long the walk breaks should be there toward the end, it was a heart-warming couples experience.  Well, we're still married at least.  Not sure if Shannon will accept any future offers to pace her, though.

Post-run, my legs felt totally fine and I was actually having a hard time remembering that I had just completed a 30 mile day (again, my mind kept forgetting the first 17).  I'll take that as a good sign, I guess, and it left me with some optimism about my prospects at Mystic Mtn. on Sunday.  Mystic, which was held for the 43rd consecutive year this year, is the oldest race in western South Dakota and, probably, the oldest trail race in the state.  But, in my seven years of living here, I'd never run it.  So, being a Mystic virgin, I didn't really know what to expect.  Looking at familiar names on past results, I figured that a top 10 finish and something under an hour would be reasonable.  The race itself starts near the old townsite of Mystic, of which there isn't much left nowadays.  It follows a gravel road for the first couple of miles before heading up some steep single-track on the Bright Angel trail and looping back around to the Deerfield trail and back down to the start/finish.  After a few miles of warmup to loosen up the legs, I felt reasonably ready to run hard.  Once the race actually started, I quickly found myself back in 15th or 16th place as it always takes me a little bit to get into a rhythm on these shorter, faster races.  After about a half mile, though, I started picking people off and, soon enough, had moved up to 8th place.  By that time, the top 6 were in a loose group way up ahead and 7th place was also well ahead.  Less than two miles in, and it seemed fairly obvious that my goal for the remainder of the race would be to hold onto 8th.  By the time we left the road, I could no longer hear footsteps behind me, but wasn't exactly sure just how far back the next runner was.  As we headed up Bright Angel, I eventually did hear him not too far back and assumed that I would get passed before the top of the hill.  That never happened though, and after topping out I was able to drop the pace back down on the all-too-brief downhill and build a little bit of a gap again.  It didn't last long though as soon enough we were heading back uphill, this time on a much more gradual, but much longer, two track road.  Again, I thought for sure that whoever it was that was behind me would pass me soon enough but, again, it never happened.  After the long uphill, we hit a series of shorter ups and downs and I could hear footsteps behind me the whole way.  Finally, we hit the last hill on the course and the lady running the aid station at the top said "all downhill from here" and, I'll be damned, she was actually right (in my experience, spectators/volunteers who say that are very rarely ever right).  I tried to hammer the downhill a bit to build a gap but, being unsure of how much further we had to go, I didn't want to push too hard just yet.  My shadow was apparently doing the same as I could hear the constant sound of footsteps just a few yards behind me, never drawing closer but never falling back either.  Finally, we came around a small bend and I caught a glimpse of vehicles down below.  Knowing that the finish was definitely near, I started my final push and could tell right away that the dude behind me had done the same.  From there, it was an all out push to the finish, probably the hardest I've ever run at the end of a trail race. It paid off in the end as I crossed the line just a step ahead.  We actually finished with the same time (57:54) and, honestly, if the race would've been just a few yards further I probably wouldn't have been able to hold on.  As it turns out, our little race within the race ended up being for top honors in the 30-39 age group.  Bonus!

So, all in all not a bad weekend.  Some long distance pacing and some short distance racing.  Not sure how, or if, it will all benefit me in Leadville.  I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

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