Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chuckanut 50k

March 17, 2012

For a couple of years now, I've been contemplating trying some ultra races (anything longer than a marathon). I know quite a few people who compete in races up to a 100 Miles and more and while I'm not certain I ever want to go quite that far, I did want to give some "shorter" ultras a crack. All races from short track events all the way up to marathon and beyond are challenging in their own way. It always amuses me when someone comments about a 5k being easy because it is short since it is obvious that they have never run one at effort. While it doesn't last long, it really hurts to push at that intensity. As hard as these shorter races may be, there is something enticing about the challenge of longer races. They really are an accomplishment and it is certainly harder to pull off successful race.

I choose Chuckanut as my first race since I know a couple people who have done it in previous years and have indicated it was a good course. I also knew that it had been attracting a competitive field the last couple of years so I could certainly get a chance to see how I stacked up against some serious talent. It also worked out timing wise by being able to slot it in 4 weeks out from Boston as I also figured that I could train for both Boston and Chuckanut at the same time. They are not exactly the same (more hills are required for Chuckanut and more overall time), but they still both require longer training runs that I normally do. My training went fairly well although I probably could have run a few more hilly long runs. Since I raced at 5 Island Race Series races, I had to tack on long runs after each race. I had not tried this tactic before and I was a little worried that doing a long run after a race effort would turn out to be brutal, it actually worked well. The legs were of course fatigued from racing, but energy levels were generally good and most of the runs felt they they were done with quality.

As the race day approached and I checked out the registered racers, it turned out competitive was a bit of an understatement. The large field (up to 1000 were being allowing this year as a 20th anniversary celebration) and previous competitive nature of the race had attracted some of the best ultra runners in North America. It was shaping up to be possibly the most competitive 50k in US this year. I Run Far had a great summary of the stellar field. I had set modest goals for this race, not quite knowing how I would fair over the new distance. The base goal was just to finish, but that really wasn't in doubt unless I somehow got injured. Ideally, I wanted to race a smart race and more or less maintain my pace and position throughout. Since the race was so stacked, I wasn't anticipating a high finish even if everything went as planned. Based on previous results of other people I know, I was hoping to finish in the 4 hour range.

Fast forward to race day. Sonja (who was also racing) and I had to get up pretty early for the first wave start at 8am. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but enticing with temps hovering just a few degrees above freezing and a steady rain pelting down. At higher elevations, the rain was coming down as snow so we all knew traction could be an issue.

Given the competitive field, it was no surprise that the race started pretty briskly. Jason Loutitt quickly moved out in front of the main pack. I had no intention of running with the leaders and instead settled into a approximate 4 min/km pace. The first (and last) 10k of the course is on a mostly flat wide gravel trail so keeping up a good pace is fairly easy. After 10k I figured I was in about 25th spot and I hoped to pick off of few fast starters as the race wore on. I chatted a bit with Mark Nelson who was also running is first 50k. He hadn't done a lot of longer runs so it was be interesting to see how he fared.

The race course map (click to expand)

I arrived at the first aid station at the Fragrance Lake Trailhead (10.7 km) in 43:42, which was pretty much bang on with my plan. I was feeling OK at this point, if a little sluggish. I hoped the upcoming climbs would rev me up and as we started the first climb I did manage to get a bit of a boost by out climbing those behind me and reeling in a couple if front of me. The climb was a solid 300m and brought us up past the snow level - just a thin layer, but I would see lot of the white stuff for the next 25k+.

We were treated to some nice single track down to the next aid station at Cleator Road after 5.9 km on the single track (it took 31:31). Next came a long gradual climb of about 400m on Cleator Road. As soon as I hit this climb, I found my legs felt like they were already toast - they were very heavy and felt fatigued as if I had done a massive workout the previous day. This was quite disappointing as we were not even 20k into the race so I knew it was going to be a long day. While not particularly steep, the climb was excruciating for my heavy legs and it felt like I was just crawling along and 4.5 km felt at least twice as long as it really was (it took 24:58) . I didn't really lose a lot of ground to anyone else, but if I had felt good, I know I could have gained some time here. I was so relieved to finally reach the next aid station at the start of the Chuckanut Ridge Trail and give my battered legs a bit of relief.

Right away, I passed a couple of guys on the technical ridge trail. There was more snow here no traction was a bit of an issue. I really didn't want to have a fall at this point - I wasn't particularly worried about injury, but a fall can really mess up your rhythm. I was feeling better, but still seemed to lack any racing gear and the legs were not getting any fresher. About halfway down, one guy went bombing past me - I don't know if he started too slow or made a wrong turn, but keeping up to him was not an option for me in my condition. Shortly after, another guy slowly caught up to me and tucked in behind for awhile. We ended up running together for the remainder of the ridge trail and all of the North Lost Lake Trail.

He was just ahead as we arrived at the forth checkpoint at the base of the last climb (7.2 km in 36:29). This climb with the somewhat ominous name of "Chinscaper" doesn't gain a lot of elevation with a modest 175m climb, but is the steepest on the course. I expected it to hurt my already tired legs. Somehow though I managed to run nearly all of it except a few small sections. Although my "run" was about as fast as a granny with a walker. After an agonizing 15:30 (over only 1.8 km), I finally peaked out and knew all the major climbing was finally over.

A long decent on road followed. The first part was on Cleator Road where we saw some of the other racers heading up towards the 3rd aid station. I was damn happy to not have to climb that one again. My legs were doing OK on the decent, but I still didn't have the ability to hammer too hard - I could only keep a steady pace going. The guy I had run with for a while slowly pulled ahead and disappeared into the distance. A little while later I was passed again by a fast moving runner. I was actually ready to see the end of the downhill when I finally made it to the last aid station after 5.9 km in 25:06. Not really a great pace considering the significant elevation loss.

Now I knew exactly what was left. About 10 km on the same trail we came in on. While I wasn't going to set any speed records, at least felt I could move at a reasonable pace since the flat trail didn't punish the legs too much. Unfortunately, I didn't have as much left in the tank as some others and I got passed by about 4 people along the way including the woman's winner Ellie Greenwood on her way to breaking her own course record. I really wanted to be able to stick with some of these people, but it wasn't happening - I only had one speed - a mediocre 4:30ish pace. Near the finish one mild hill wasn't fun, but eventually made it to the finish after a 46:26 final 10.1 km. I finished in 4:11:44 in 24th place. Not quite what I was looking for, but considering that I felt off for the whole race, my time wasn't actually too bad.

It was great to see that Adam Campbell, a fellow Canadian, pulled at an impressive win over very deep field. He narrowly beat out 2nd place Sage Canaday by just 33s. Race favorite, Max King, went off course due to unprepared marshals and marking and ended up finishing well back. Jason held a high position until late it the race when he cracked and faded to 9th. Mark Nelson faded in the 2nd half, but managed to get the job done. Ellie put over 2 min into me in the last 6km or so setting the new woman's course record in 4:09:27. Sonja managed a solid 20th place finish in the woman's division with a 5:33:44 so it was great to see her finish strong. Results.

While definitely not what I wanted in terms of time and how I felt, some things went well. I didn't crack, didn't cramp, didn't have any blisters or hammer any toes. Probably because I couldn't push hard, my recovery also went very well, even doing a hill workout 3 days later. I was using a Salomon hydration vest with bottles in the front that worked pretty well except some tough to reach pockets and bottles that gave me some minor rib bruising. My hydration and nutation was sufficient although I could probably have taken it a few more calories (I estimate that I probably took in about 600 calories in Gatorade, Carbo Pro, home made shot blocks, a gel, and sport beans. On the the next race, the Boston marathon.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bazan Bay 5k

March 4, 2012

Bazan Bay is the last race in my of Island Race Series calendar this year and also 3rd in as many weeks. This distance is always painful as it is so intense since the entire effort is well under the lactate threshold (my LT is around 3:24/km). Last year I ran quite well here (15:36) and this year I hoped to be able to get under 15:30. Honestly though, I wasn't particularly looking forward to the race itself since it is such a tough effort even iwhen it goes well.

Due to construction, the course was altered this year to a pure out and back race starting near the Washington State Ferries terminal on Lochside Drive and heading south 2.5km before turning back to the finish. It is fairly flat, but has a mild climb from 1-2km of about 10m and a few other very minor elevation changes. Unfortunately, despite being calm in Victoria, a steady breeze was coming off the water in Sidney and this meant that on the way out there was a bit of a headwind. It wasn't brutal, but was still significant.

Unlike last year, which was a relatively shallow field (compared to other years), this year the race was stacked, both on the men's and women's side. Large contingents of speedy runners from the National Triathlon Club, UVic Vikes, Point Grey Track Club, and Speed River Club were in attendance and would end up dominating the race.

With the large field, the start line was a bit crowded and everyone had to be careful to not get trampled once the gun went off. Unfortunately, I guess one guy was tripped on the line and went down. Hopefully he still finished OK. There was also a bit of gun jumping which meant that I went instantly from being on the front line to about 20th place. Its not really a big deal overall, but it is annoying when people don't wait for the gun.

A large group formed in front and I soon found that I had fallen off that pace despite moving at what felt like a quick rate. Normally, this would have been fine and I generally prefer to run my own race especially on the road, but because of the wind I found myself quite exposed with only a couple of other guys running around me. After about 500-600m of this, I decided that I should try and bridge the gap to the group ahead to give me some protection from the wind. I surged to accomplish the task, but it turned out to be a bit more of an effort than I expected. It did lead to a quick opening km in 3:01 which could be good or bad depending on what happened later. It didn't turn out to be very effective, however, since by the time I actually made it to the group, it had started to splinter and I didn't gain much wind blocking advantage. Also, it took a bit out of me and I had to throttle back a bit to recover and with the wind and slight uphill grade I slowed to 3:16, a full 10s off my goal pace. It wasn't going to be easy to make that back.

I picked it up a bit more on the next km, but with the turnaround it was still a relatively slow 3:11. At this point, I was in about 12th place, but around 3km, Nick Walker breezed passed me and I felt that I was already at a maximal effort and couldn't respond without blowing up. Nick is strong at this distance so I wasn't shocked, but it is still a bit disappointing to be passed. As is always the case in a 5k, the last 2k or so are really excruciating and this race was no different. At this point, every minute feels like 10 and it is all you to do to will your body to keep going. Fortunately, we did have wind assist on the way back so faster splits than normal were possible. My 4th km, was back on track with a 3:06, and I dug in for the final kilometre. Soon after, Ian Hallam went flying past me, just hammering out the final section of the course. I tried to go with him, but he redoubled his efforts and I didn't have anything more. I still managed an reasonable sprint to the finish and with a final 2:59km, actually managed to salvage the race to end with a 1s PB in 15:35.

I was 14th overall, down 7 places from last year, attesting to the depth of the field. I somehow still managed to place first in the M35 category - sometimes is pays to be a bit older! Geoff Martinson broke the course record with a 14:20 performance. Even more impressive was Malindi Elmore's performance winning the woman's division in 15:48 and setting a new all time IRS new points record of 943. There were a number of other great performances and records set on the day which are summed up nicely by Bob Reid on the PIH Runner of the Week writeup for March 4.

My post race volume training of 27km at a steady pace went well and I felt strong until the last 15 min or so. I even happened to come upon ironman triathete, Adam O'Meara, who was finishing up a large 2x60 min session and was running just under 4min km's, very close to my run pace.


Splits: 3:01, 3:16, 3:11, 3:06, 2:59

Cobble Hill 10k

February 26, 2012

We finally got the chance to run this course after it was rescheduled from January due to snow. Cobble is one of the places where I have run decently several times, but have never had an exceptional performance.

Due to the rescheduling, the field was down in numbers to under 400, but there would still be plenty of competition for me with Sean Chester, Ben Brzezynski, and Mark Cryderman in attendance. The weather was a bit cold, but there was no frost and no wind. Once we got going, it was comfortable enough. I didn't have a specific goal in mind for this race except for wanted to PB on this course (last year I ran 33:30), anything faster than that would be a bonus. For this race, I even got to sport my green sprint jersey. I didn't expect to win the sprint again so it was kind of fun to at least wear it once.

Sean Chester surged ahead right off the line, trying to command the race. I settled in behind with Ben and Mark and cruised through the first km in a pretty quick 3:12. We headed downhill for the 2nd km, which passed by in 3:11. I knew the pace was a little quick, but decided to push it a bit and see what I could do. One the way back from the turn-around was a little slower, but still quite decent.

Sean had stayed about the same distance in front of me and when we came to the gradual climb from 3-5km, I decided to see if I could bridge the gap. I pushed the pace and started to gain on him finally making contact around 4km. I even managed to pass him and set the pace for a short time, but I think he then realized that he had more in the tank and surged ahead again. I didn't think I could match his pace in the long run to resolved to run my own race.

In my surge to catch Sean, I had managed to drop Ben and Mark, but I knew they were both strong runners and could easily come back if I faded even a little bit. I pressed on, starting to hurt a bit around 5k, and posting my slowest km from 5-6km at 3:23. The return route, while overall downhill, definitely has some undulations in it that require you to dig in to overcome.

Around 7km, I heard footsteps behind - I didn't look, knowing this can give away the fact that you are worried that whoever it is may overtake you. I suspected it was likely Ben who is a fierce competitor and knows how to push to the end. It certainly helped me keep the pressure up though, I knew that I may get passed, but I wouldn't make it easy. The last two km are mostly downhill and I was able pick the pace up a bit. I was hurting, but still had a bit in reserve so when I came to the 100m sprint mat, I gave it everything. I certainly didn't want to get caught on the line.

I finished in 32:49, just 6 seconds off my my 10k PB from TC last year and a full 41s faster than I have ever ran this course. It was better than expected and a pleasant surprise. Ben finished just 4s back, 2 of which I gained on the last 100m. Mark was only another 5s back from Ben. Sean cruised to a comfortable win in 32:25 taking his first IRS win of the year. The top woman was Catrin Jones in 36:36 followed by another strong performance by Clare Morgan in 37:17. A big congrats to Sonja and Larry Nylan for both breaking 40min for the first time. A huge milestone!


Splits: 3:12, 3:11, 3:20, 3:16, 3:22, 3:23, 3:16, 3:20, 3:15. 3:08

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