Before the race, I made it my goal to run the first 10-15 miles at about 8 min. mile pace, and then pick it up through to the finish, hopefully going under 2:40 which (based on last year's results) could put me in the top 30 or 25 of the 250+ person field, depending on who else showed up and what I could throw down the last 5 or so miles. Having never negative split any race (I always get caught up in the start and go out way too hard!), I figured I'd use this relatively short race as a chance to practice running smartly.
A couple of days earlier I'd gone out for a run on smooth, flat, wide trail at 8 minute pace and it felt very comfortable, despite the fact that I normally run around 10 minute pace on much steeper and more technical terrain. I dedicated myself to running this pace at least until the half-way point. I figured the slight uphill for the first 10 miles (and slight down for the last 10) would help me keep it in check, and make it even more likely I might negative split and finish fast.
Standing at the starting line, I looked around and realized there were A LOT of fast people in this race. I'd seen Yassine Diboun, Rob "Runs Epic", Ryan Bak (who would win, and almost break 2 hours), and Ian Dobson (an Olympian who'd go on to run 2:08 at this race...with his dog "Chap"). AND there were plenty of other guys who looked like they were serious road marathoners (not your typical starting line to the ultra distance events I've become used to). There was an absence of beards, bottles, and strong shuffling legs, and many more bird chests, strides, very short shorts, and gazelle stems. I told myself to just run my own race.
As luck would have it, I ran into a trail running friend, Taryn, from Corvallis who was back from injury. We met by way of The Queen, and she ran around Waldo Lake with a group of us last year. We chatted, discussed our plan to approach this race as more of a training run, and caught up for about the first 5 miles or so of the race. I think this helped to keep me right on 8 minute pace at the start. Once we hit mile 5, however, we started to go uphill a bit more and our pace slowed some. Determined not to get too far behind 8 min mile pace (we hit mile 5 around 40:15) I went on ahead and relished how easy the uphill felt compared to my normal climbs at Pisgah and the Butte.
The next 5 miles were all about moving quickly through the only technical, somewhat steep, sections on the course, and making sure I stayed between 8 and 9 minute mile pace all-the-while. I remember feeling HOT. The start of the race the temperature was only about 40, but I was quickly regretting gloves, arm warmers, and tights as it got up to what felt closer to a dry 70. Despite the arid climate, I just couldn't make myself drink water (I have a hard time with this, something I'll need to practice before the heat and dryness of R2R2R in a couple of weeks). Anyway, I stayed feeling pretty good, although the knee still felt a bit off, and I hit the 10 mile half-way mark in just over 1:21. I wasn't too disturbed by this, as I figured that was due to the steeper climby section and I was still hopeful that the downhill of the second half would easily give me the opportunity to gain back the one minute I was behind my projected pace.
Miles 10-15 were really awesome. It felt like I was running down the singletrack very quickly (for me) and I'm fairly sure I made up any lost time and more from the first 10 miles. I think I was also feeling the affects of taking my first gel around the 1:15 mark. I managed to pass some people and we started to link up with some runners from the 40 mile. Somewhere in this section, I had the realization that I have very little practice running singletrack this quickly. I do run up-tempo at times, but it always seems to be on the track or road. I made a note-to-self to practice picking up the pace on the trails more often.
I hit the 16 mile aid station at 2:02 just before popping out on the fire road, and someone there said we were only 4 miles to the finish. I remember thinking (ok, that means I just have to run these last four miles in under 38 minutes--no PROBLEM--to get in under 2:40). I must have been MOVING through the last 5 miles! This made me relax, but also made me slow my pace, spend more time at this last aid station, and lessen any sense of urgency for a short while.
Well, turns out the guy at the aid station was wrong! I realized this I'd gone 4 miles from the aid and still had a ways to go to the finish!).
The last 4 or 5 miles are mostly on fire road and slightly downhill. This is where I tried to lock-in to 7:30 pace, which felt like a sprint. For some reason, my Suunto did not update the mile splits to Movescount, so unfortunately I don't have the mile by mile, but I looked down and hit a couple of miles at under 7:30 pace, which felt great this late in the trail race. I was completing my goal of a fast finish and negative split. I also picked up some carnage of people who had gone out too hard. I was never passed the last five miles and picked up 4 or 5 spots. I never cramped or even had a tinge of a cramp (another good sign), despite taking no salt and drinking very little (maybe 10 oz of water and 6 oz of coke the whole race). Surprising.
Despite my quickening pace, I knew I was still a ways away from the track and 2:40 was getting scarily close. I just kept pushing the pace faster and faster. I hit the track at 2:38:30, with the epiphany that I'd have to run a sub-90 second 400m to break 2:40, which is under 6 minute mile pace. Turns out all I had was a 97, but I was happy to finish that fast, although just over 2:40 for the over-all race time:
|Turning onto the track, after realizing I need to drop a sub-6min pace 400 to break 2:40...not gonna happen at mile 20|
|2:40:07 (97 was all I had)|
The race was a success. Even though I didn't break 2:40 (my original goal), I was able to negative split and finish running really hard, rather than just holding on (my normal race pattern). I also reaffirmed that I can run fast on trails, if need be. And man, it HURTS to run fast. I'm not gonna lie, the race got me thinking about a sub 3:05 road marathon too. If I could run a strong 20 miles on singletrack at 8 minute pace, 7 minute pace on a flat road is not that far off. We shall see.
I think most of the pain that has ensued in my knee since the race has been due to getting right into the car afterwards and staying seated for the next 2 hours while we drove home, so Blaine could make her afternoon yoga class. A BIG thanks to Blaine who drove all the way with me to support. It was a lot of driving and getting up early for someone who has to do this almost everyday for work. Anyway, the knee got REALLY tight during the drive home, and was not happy when I got out of the car. This helped though : ).
|A surprise gas-station present from m wonderful wife!|