Sunday, June 10, 2012

Elk Lake 50k, Colliery Dam Gutbuster Half, North Olympic Discovery Marathon

I've been busy racing and not blogging so here are some quick race updates from the last month.  Three solid races for me.

May 12
Elk Beaver 50k:

I decided to pop into this race primarily as an good excuse to get a solid long training run in.  I wasn't trying to set any records and mostly wanted to just run smart and finish strong.   I didn't even realize until a few days before the race that the 50k distance was the National Championship this year.  This didn't really change anything except that I was not allowed to have any pacers for the event.  I was initially thinking of asking some friends to see if they wanted to run some laps with me, but it wasn't a big deal since I am accustomed to running on my own and pushing myself.  The 50k consists of 5 laps around Elk/Beaver Lake.  Perhaps it is not the most exciting of race courses given the repetition, but is a flat and fast course and does make refueling easy since you pass by your own drop bag every 10k.

When I picked up my race number the night before, there was talk of a 2:20 marathoner being entered into the event, but I race day, no one materialized, so I don't know if it was just a rumor or if he was a no show.  The start time was a painful 6am which makes sense for the longer 50 Mile and 100k distances some others where running, but seemed pretty early for a 50k.  On the plus side, I planned to finish well before 10am which left more of the day (most likely just for napping, however).

I was curious if I would have any competition during the day and as soon as we started I found myself running with Chris Barth, a talented Masters runner from White Rock.  Chris competes in a decent number of long events and with a marathon PB in the low 2:40's is a solid competitor.  Within a few kilometres, Chris mentioned that he had just completed the Vancouver marathon a week before and could still feel it in his legs.  I was not surprised, as marathons definitely take their toll on the muscle fibres and require more than a week to recover.

We set out at just over a 40 min 10k pace, which was just slightly faster than I had planned to go, but it was still quite comfortable for me.  The first lap went by in 41:07 and I grabbed some fuel and headed out for the 2nd lap.  I mentioned to Chris that I was going to slow down just a bit so I could finish the race strong and that he could move on ahead if he wanted to go faster.  He opted to stay with me though and we chatted a bit while cruising through the lap.  I was feeling quite good at this point which is the way I knew I had to feel if I wanted to avoid fading.  The 3rd lap also felt good, and on the start of the 4th, I decided it was time to push a bit harder.  Chris, certainly feeling his marathon now, was unable to stay with me and fell back after a few kilometres.  Now, I just had 18km more to go!

Things started be be less comfortable at about the 35km mark as my legs started to tire and my right hip was becoming sore and strained for some reason.  Still, I was able to maintain my pace and resolved to push to the end.  At 40k, I grabbed some final fuel and headed out for the final lap.  Things were certainly more challenging now and although I fully expected to be able to finish fairly strong, I did think that I may slow just a bit.  Probably the worst thing I was feeling was my left foot where my sock seam (which was not quite placed correctly), started to rub on one of my toes.  At times it was quite painful and I knew a large blister was forming.  It almost forced me to limp, but wasn't quite bad enough to make me stop.

I managed to work my way thorough that pain and general fatigue although I did have to stop to water the trees at one point.  I was able to muster a decent surge to the finish line and was surprised to find that I actually ran that final lap faster than any others, clocking it in at 40:36.  My total time was 3:25:59 - not near a course record and probably a little slower than I am capable of, but still respectable for me.  Chris had a rough go for the last 20k and finished 12 min back.  Jim Swadling rounded out the top 3 and Robyn Standing took the win for the women.  Apparently I am now the National Canadian 50k champ...although it felt just a little too easy to claim that crown.


May 27
Colliery Dam Half Marathon Gutbuster

This year boasted a new course designed by Jeremey Clegg which promised to offer some sweet single track.  Jeremy was also racing and since he has been training very hard, I expected him to offer stiff competition.  Also in attendance was Shawn Nelson, who despite only doing minimal training at the moment, was still a serious contender.

The course started with a gentle climb and for the first couple of kilometres and I tucked in behind Shawn with Jeremy and several others just behind. My plan was to bide my time until I saw a place to make a break for the lead. I generally prefer to run out in front setting my own pace rather than coming from behind (assuming I can do this without risking blowing up).  We were moving at a decent pace, but it felt quite sustainable.

At about 5k, we hit the first the 3 main climbs consisting of a modest grade 150m climb.  Shawn slowed down and I saw an opportunity to put on a bit of a surge to see if anyone would respond.  I felt good powering up the grade and no one seems keen to come with me.  Within a few minutes I was on my own and was soon treated to some great downhill single track that I bombed down.  

A few kilometres later I faced the toughest climb of the day, peaking out at about 350m above sea level (we started at around 60m).  There was a couple of especially tough sections, but I managed to run everything and was still feeling pretty solid.  I flew down the downhill, but near the bottom I caught a toe on something and did nice flying sprawl drawing some blood in a number of places.  Fortunately, it was nothing serious and I scrambled to my feet and got moving.

The final climb was gradual, but was a bit of a grind after the first two.  I was happy to peak out and be able to head downhill for a while.  After a bit of gravel road and some more single track adjacent to Colliery Dam I finally neared the finish line.  I pushed hard to the line and crossed in 1:40:02 a bit over 3 min ahead of Jeremy who had a strong race.  Shawn would have finished 3rd, but somehow missed a turn (the course was very well marked) and cut the course short.  Brad Crowe benefited from his mistake, taking the third spot.  Laylee Beales took the woman's win in 2:08:18.

Overall it was a great race for me and I really enjoyed the course.  Thanks to Jeremy for putting together a fun one and to all the race organizers (Frontrunners Westshore) and volunteers.  It takes work to put such a great race together.


June 3
North Olympic Discovery Marathon

After my disaster at Boston, I decided I wanted to take advantage of my fitness and training and prove to myself I could pull off a decent marathon.  This race was a good option, with the timing working and being in Port Angeles just across the Juan de Fuca Straight.  I scaled back my goal from sub 2:35 to sub 2:40 perhaps aiming for a little less than what I am capable, instead wanting to have a positive experience rather than potentially blow up and suffer to the finish.

With a field of only around 300, this race generally doesn't boast a deep field, but about half the time the winner has posted times under 2:40 so it was uncertain if I would have competition or not.  Regardless of who was out, I was planning to run my own race.

Race start was a reasonable 9am, but it required a shuttle out to Sequim where the race began.  After a small loop in that town, the course continued toward Port Angeles and was primarily on a paved trail.  Chris Calendar won this race last year and gave me some useful info on the course.  It wasn't overly hilly, but did have several steep climbs out of creek valleys plus a few gradual climbs.  Luckily there is a nice downhill on the later section of the course and after that, it is pretty much dead flat along the water.

I took an earlier shuttle than required so had to wait nearly an hour before the race started.  Since it was a marathon, I did not need to do any warm-up since I didn't want to be on me feet any more than required.  On the start line, I chatted a bit with other Victoria racers, Mark Richie and Craig Payne who were both hoping to finish in the 3 hour range.  I bid them good luck and soon we were off.  The one nice thing about the marathon is that the start feels quite comfortable and almost effortless.  Of course, near the end of the race that same 'effortless' pace becomes extremely difficult to maintain, but at first it feels great.

One young guy pushed ahead quite fast, but I could tell just by looking that we would be unable to maintain that pace so settled into my pace in 2nd place.  As expected, before the first mile marker, I caught and passed him and he was already breathing hard - not a good way to start a marathon!  After the race, I heard he finished in the 4 hour range and I'll wager that wasn't a fun time for him.

I needed to run a 3:48/km pace to get a 2:40 time, but since we were in the US, I had to start to think in miles a bit more.  I incorrectly converted that pace into about a 6:15/Mile (it is actually 6:06).  This unfortunately meant that I went out a little slow and this was complicated by the fact that the mile markers were not placed correcting or were completely absent in some cases.  This is my only criticism of the race.  If you are going to have markers, you should measure them out to be at least reasonably accurate - some of them were out by over 300m!  In retrospect, I should simply used my Garman to track my kilometers - it wouldn't have been exact, but would have been close at least.  What this meant was that by the time I hit  half way (or about where I though half way was since it wasn't actually marked), I was over 1:30 off my goal time.  If I was going to reach my goal I would really have to pick it up.

Luckily, the first half had felt good and well in control so picking up the pace seemed quite possible.  From that point on, I put the pressure on myself to run hard and test myself.  Unlike Boston, conditions were cool and overcast - basically perfect for running.  The aid stations were placed about every 2 Miles, which was frequent enough and I utilized most of them to grab some water or Gatorade to make sure my hydration level stayed high enough.  There were only a few spectators, but both they and the aid station attendants were enthusiastic.  The nice thing about leading was that I never once had to second guess my route choice since there were 2 lead cyclists in front of me the whole time.

To be honest, much of the race blurs together, but I do recall a lot of paved trail with a few of the afore mentioned dips for creeks.  There was a bit of a sustained gradual climb at one point which forced me to dig deep for, but which I still moved fairly well.  When I hit the 16 Mile marker, I started to count down....OK, just 10 Miles left now.  This is one advantage of the imperial system - it is easier to fool yourself into thinking it isn't that far to go!  Slowly the miles ticked off and I still continued to feel good and was able to sustain brisk pace.  With about 5 Miles to go, Chris Calandar was on course just after the big downhill to cheer me on.  He had already won the 10k race earlier in the day.

I pushed on and was soon running along the ocean on the Discovery Trail.  I had been passing early start marathon walkers and slower half marathon participants for quite some time now, but the density really increased along this section.  Many of them were great, and stopped and turned around to cheer me on when they were alerted to my presence by the lead cyclists.  It really does provide a boost, especially this late in the race so thanks to all everyone!  The miles did go by slowly at this point, but compared to how I felt at Boston at this point in the race, I was as fresh as a daisy!

I was trying to calculate how close I was to being able to break 2:40 and I knew I was on the cusp, but my fatigued brain couldn't quite figure out exactly how close I was.  With a couple miles to go, we were diverted off the flat trail to make a small detour on gravel around a construction site - it wasn't terrible, but certainly affected my time a bit.  Eventually, I saw the 25 Mile marker and knew there I was on the final stretch - at 26 Miles, I looked at my watch and saw that I had mere seconds to make my goal - I gunned it finished the last 0.2 Miles in a 3:08/km pace which I felt pretty good about.  Unfortunately, it wasn't quite fast enough and I crossed the line in 2:40:14 - so close!  I was a bit bummed to not quite make it after all that distance especially since I almost for sure could have done it if I had just been closer to on pace on the first half of the race.  Still, I couldn't be too disappointed to get the win, feel good doing it, and be very near my goal while setting a 6min PB.  Those are things that seem to be particularly tough at the marathon distance.

I found out later that Pascal Spino passed a fading Kevin Saur on the last Mile to claim second place in 2:55:06.  On the woman's side Ginger Gruber claimed the title after several previous tries in 3:28:15.  Mark Richie came in forth with a huge PB getting under the 3 hour mark.  Other than the Mile markers, it was a well run event.  I even got interviewed by a couple of local reporters after the race.  The Marathon definitely attracts the most attention.


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