Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Firsts and Lasts: Promise Land 50k

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I am a closer.  I'm content to not race a 50k again for a while as I really need to figure out how to start hard enough to remain competitive at the distance. I find it amusing now, several years into running ultras that I consider 50k's too fast--or really, any ultra distance too fast.

Doing our usual pre-race discussions in the week leading up to Promise Land this year, Rudy and I decided to go out hard and try to keep with the lead.  Rudy can do that--he's on fire right now and generally faster than me anyway.  I have yet to figure out how to do an uphill start hard.  In recent memory, I have only started two races hard--StumpJump and Holiday Lake--both of which have very flat starts.  I kept up with them for the first 12 minutes or so of the climb, with Jake Reed well out of sight, before I had to pull back and start my hike-run.  That's that.  I wouldn't see them the rest of the day.

When I hit the long grassy road that overlaps the Hellgate course, my race plans changed abruptly.  Puke #1, out of nowhere.  Weird, I don't feel bad.  Not long before aid station two 9 miles in I had puke #2.  Switch to coke in my bottle, hoping that settles things.  Grunt my way up to the parkway not feeling bad but not eating.

My plan had been to switch gears into racing when I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway ~11 miles in, taking advantage of the extremely long downhill to come.  When I did hit the parkway in-race, I had not had any real calories--just the cup of coke in my bottle--since mile 5.  I decided then I would just stick with my original plan and hope to out-run my eventual bonk. I hit the gentle downhill across the parkway solidly under 7-minute mile pace, cruised past a couple guys and into the aid. I am extremely glad we had crew here this year so I could grab new gels that might work.  Steve filled my bottle with more watered-down coke and I bolted down the hill.  The technical descent from Sunset Fields is extremely fun, but also so full of loose rock that I was slightly worried about my choice of shoe--Nike Lunaracers that I plan to wear at Western States.  I wanted to try them out on real technical trail in a race setting, and they did just fine. I passed a guy on this stretch complaining about his feet and mine felt great! I love hopping on the rocks, and my stomach was empty enough that it didn't feel upset. I ran this stretch well and finally got Ginger ale into my bottle and belly at Cornelius Creek.  Two guys left the aid station just before me, and I was still trying to just outrun my bonk, so I took off down the gravel road with a nice 13:10 2-mile stretch before popping back onto singletrack.  Finally on the brief climb away from the road, my hunger won out of the upset stomach and I scarfed down two Passion Fruit Gu Roctane gels--they went down smooth and I yo-yo'd with a guy here briefly before he pulled away on an extended climb. I would pass him up the ever-brutal Apple Orchard Falls climb.

More coke in the bottle at the mile 25 aid station and I was off to the only boring part of the course, rolling service road to connect back with Cornelius Creek at mile 29. I actually enjoy this section; it's fun to cruise on.  However, my stomach decided to give me some more surprises and I lost about 5 minutes to pit-stops between these two aid stations alone.

I saw Jordan Chang just before Cornelius Creek 2, prior to aforementioned climb, who was surviving the Boston-Promise Land double that is much hard than Boston 2 Big Sur, only 5 days after his massive PR up in Massachusetts.  The aid station was mayhem with all the people still coming down the mountain hitting it the first time and taking their time at the table.  A cup of Mountain Dew rocket fuel in my bottle and another straight down the hatch and I took off trying to keep making up time.  I ran the Apple Orchard Falls climb a full minute faster than the year before in a not-fast, but respectable 45 minutes.  I was surprised it was faster than the year before as I made a point to run every step last year and actually hiked some this year.

I also actually stopped to fill my bottle and dip my hat in a stream on the way up this year.  I felt elated hitting the top in decent time, and did not even stop. I walked through the aid station to down a cup of mountain dew, but that was all knowing I can run the last 5 downhill miles in ~30 minutes. Or so I thought. I ran hard across the field and up the last tiny climb. I tried for one last nip of gel to ensure I had ample energy to hammer all the way down to the finish, and ended up losing a couple minutes giving it back to the trail on top of the little bop out of that field.  Oh well, time to get at it.

I leaned forward and let momentum get me into a fast rhythm through the singletrack section of the descent as I tried to shake off puke #4.  One of my goals for the race was to run a sub-5 mile on the final gravel road descent.  At least I met that goal. I hit that final 2.5 mile road like a bat out of hell with the first mile on it at 4:47 and the full final 5k of the race being 16:24.  Is it still a 5k PR if it's downhill?

I passed another two people on this final road descent to end up 8th overall. I believe I was 20th or so at the Blue Ridge Parkway 10 miles into the race.  No one passed me from then on either.

Patagonia Air Flow Tank--our new team jersey and the first shirt I don't mind wearing for a full ultra when the weather is actually warm.
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts--Love how many pockets these have so I can keep everything in separate pockets and not have to dig around looking for anything particular.
Nike Lunaracers--if I could find a way to get these cheap I'd probably run in them almost exclusively. Best ultra-racing shoe I've found.
Simple Hydration Bottle--it just works!


Overall, I really can't complain. I know I was in shape to run 4:50 or so, but I'm actually pretty happy to run a 11 minute PR off so little calories. I got out for a tempo run the next day even.  I feel like I processed the run like a fast long run rather than a race, which is much better for the next two months leading up to Western States.

On the team front, Rudy crushed another one. Watch out for him at Bighorn in June. Same with Darren; that kid finally discovered the magic of gels during races--he'll be poised to crush San Juan Solstice once he gets a few long days at altitude.  Our girls team is really coming along as well; which makes me super happy. I was worried there wouldn't be more than one or two of them.

I really cannot say enough about how special the team is to me.  I hope it continues to grow.  We will be working this summer on ways to make that happen without the founding parties around.  I hope I can check back in 5-10 years and see a flourishing community of ultrarunners at Virginia Tech, even more so than we have now.

Western States is just under 8 weeks away now.  I'm planning to just keep rolling since I ended up not racing Promise Land.  Time to get into the big boy mileage.  Western States is very much my course. It is downhill and a back-half course. I hope to be picking people off for about 40 miles ;)

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