In 2013, Dick Collins was my first 50 mile trail race. I had no idea how to pace myself. I just said that I was going to “walk every hill”. I finished just under 10 hours and I was very proud of that time. Last year, I was in pretty good shape and I ran it again, knocking about a half an hour off my time, and finishing in 9:29. This year, I was not in pretty good shape. I had been running about 15 – 30 miles a week and doing 1 or 2 days of HIIT training. I was not watching what I ate and I had been spending long hours at work and getting not enough sleep every day.
My expectations of myself were pretty low. I just wanted to get under 11 hours, which would mean basically I could run a minute and a half per mile slower (or walk more) than last year and I would still be okay. There was a friend of mine who ran last year and we ended up finishing together (hand in hand across the finish line!) and he was also running this year and I thought my A goal would be to just keep up with him.
The race starts off in the dark, along a paved path that goes partially around Lake Chabot. I ran along and talked to some friends, but soon I felt that need to pass people (I always get antsy at the start) and so I said goodbye to them and took off. Luckily this part of the race was on a fire trail so it was no pressure to pass or be passed, like it would on a single track. I ended up running with a lady who was running her first 50 mile race and she was doing a great job. We ran together for several miles before she peeled off to visit the bushes and I pressed on.
Luckily, the weather was cooperating. It was about 50 degrees and it was a bit foggy, which was perfect running weather. Like all trail races, this one has a lot of ups and downs (almost 9,000 ft total), but there is also a lot of trail that is runnable. For about 10 miles it was a slight downhill or a flattish area and I was running under a 10 minute pace. Around mile 15, I hit the Skyline Gate, which is where I often end up when I run from my house. In my mind for a second I thought how easy it would be to just run down the hill to my house from here. But no, I grabbed some watermelon, used the facilities and pressed on. From here on out, there is a lot of single trail. As I started out, there were two people just keeping pace with me. One was a girl, who when I came up behind her, happily pulled over to let me pass. In my mind, even though I did not think this was going to be a great race for me, I still wanted to pass that girl.
As the race went on, the girl and I were neck and neck. We would swap places on the ups or the downs (she was faster on the ups; I was faster on the downs) and we would sometimes both roll into an aid station around the same time and one of us would get through faster, but we were right next to each other most of the time. But we did not speak; we just kept leap frogging. Then came the long downhill to the turnaround. Since I had been faster at the downs, I got a bit of a lead on her at this point. I came into the 25 mile turnaround, grabbed a grilled cheese (still my favorite ultra food) and headed back out without slowing. She came in about 45 seconds behind me.
The next 4 miles was a steady uphill climb. I was about halfway through the climb when the girl caught up to me and I jokingly said, “darn it!” to her. We continued on together after that, talking and enjoying the company, and griping over our aches and pains for the day. I was feeling better than expected, but my back was hurting me and my knee was giving me a twinge now and then. After the long climb up, there was a pretty steep road down to the aid station and then a pretty steep downhill single trail, where my knee really started acting up. I actually had to walk down the hills in some places.
Soon we were back to Skyline gate, which meant we had about 15 miles left. The girl and I ran together for some parts and did our own thing for others. However, we were pretty much within sight of each other the entire time. Then we came to the last 5 miles. She pulled ahead of me, but I could still see her there, my carrot on a stick. The final 2 miles are paved and I could still see her, and I gave it my all, ramping up to under a 9 minute pace. My feet were hurting; my quads were burning; my back and knee were telling me to hurry up and get to the finish so we can rest!
I made it to the finish just behind the girl. I went up to her and thanked her for being my carrot and she told me that I had been her carrot in the beginning and she would not have run as fast if I had not been there. She ended up getting first in our age group and I ended up with 2nd, which I was happy with because I ended up being much faster than I had anticipated!
Final time: 9:31
Gender: 8 / 60 finishers (+22 DNFs)
Overall: 36 / 185 finishers (+69 DNFs)
Overall, I would say that I was very happy with my results. In fact, I may try to change up my training plan going forward so that it is more strength and cross training (cycling mostly) and less miles, since it surprisingly seemed to work.
Have you ever done better than expected at something even though you did not prepare as well as you would have liked? What is your “carrot” when you are going for a particular goal?