Well, if you were at the finish line you probably heard the same two responses to the race that I did. Either it was: "I had a huge PR" or "I caught the flu 3 days ago and didn't think I was going to be able to run"... AKA, "I did not have a huge PR."
I on the other hand, felt somewhere in between. I felt a bit in no man's land in regards to my emotions after the race. Coming into Way Too Cool, I set two goals for myself.
1. Run faster than I did last year (3:43)
2. Make the top 5.
And (sorry for the lack of drama), I did both of these things. So, why did I feel so detached from my results? Maybe it was because I barely achieved both of my goals. Maybe it was because, over the last few years, I have seemed to be able to always do more on race day than I thought I would be able to and that didn't happen today. But, more realistically what happened was, it was a "good" but not a "great" day. I also never had those moments out there when running feels effortless, your feet are flowing, and it almost feels too easy. No, Way Too Cool 2012 felt like a lunch pail effort out there. I was having to earn every second gained on my ghost of 2011.
Okay, back to the beginning. Everything set up well. I headed down to the event with my good buddies Ken Sinclair and Denise Bourassa. The drive went smoothly and we had a good time trash talking and looking forward to the event. That evening, we had a great dinner at the Alehouse with my good buddy George Plomarity and a few others. Sleep came easy and I was ready to roll in the morning. In fact, as I did a quick warm up before the start, my legs felt ridiculously good; light, fresh, and ready to roll after a proper taper.
I headed to the starting line at the last minute, the gun went off and I felt.... reasonably flat. The last two years I have whipped through the 1 mile marker in about 5:58 or so. Today, I felt awkward and pressing and passed through in 6:04. Immediately, my confidence felt a bit shaken. "I'm getting old". "I didn't put in enough speed work" (there may be some truth in that) went through my head. I quickly fell into about 8th place or so which felt pretty natural and I just tried to find my groove. I certainly didn't feel horrible but again, I did feel like I was just grinding. In retrospect, last year, I was in a pack with Hal Koerner and Tim Olson for the first 15 miles or so and that kept me pretty motivated to keep plugging along and made the miles roll roll reasonably effortlessly. This year, I didn't know any of the guys around me and most of the time, I was the one setting the pace.
I felt relieved to pass the by the start area again around mile 8 and assured myself that I would feel better once I was on the single track trails and able to blaze along with the river below. I was jockeying with Chris Knorzer and he was hanging tough leaving me on the dirt roads and I'd make up time on him on the trails. At about mile 15, we reeled in Van McCarty who was running well and didn't relent at all as we caught up. Eventually (even though I forgot) the trail did a pretty steep climb at about mile 18 or so and Van and I seemed to drop Chris at that point and I was now in 5th place and was happy to hit the rolling trails where I felt I would finally be at my strongest. I was just settling in when I heard a yell behind me and Jacob Rydman came barreling through. I'm usually pretty decent at this stage in a race but he just went by me like I was literally standing still. Um, wow, where did that come from? I tried to pick it up a little in the hopes that he had just gassed himself a bit to demoralize me (which thoroughly worked) but he was just gone. I looked at my watch and I was running about 7:15 pace on rolling trails so it wasn't like I was dogging it, he was just running really, really well and went on to a stellar 3rd place finish. Congrats, Jacob! I tried to make that motivate me and turn on the gas a little to put a little distance between myself and Van. This seemed to work pretty well and as I looked back on some of the little openings, I didn't see anyone. After a while I noticed that I hadn't seen a flag in a long time and even though I was damn sure I was on the right trail, this slowed me down a little as I was worried that I missed a sharp turn. However, finally, I hit the turn off for the dreaded Goat Hill climb (though it isn't that bad) and saw someone right ahead of me. Right then I caught Sam Robinson who was visibly not doing very well after being in the top pack all day. I offered him some salt or anything else I had but he said he was okay so I continued on.
I personally (probably because I'm a wuss) choose to hike most of Goat Hill as I feel like you aren't going to gain much climbing such a steep hill and it will probably come back to haunt you as you head towards the finish. As I hiked, I looked back and Van was running the whole thing and entered the aid station at the same time I did. He grabbed a little bit of supplies and went off before me. I waited for a second, grabbed some gels, and downed a cup of coke and GU20. The minute I headed off, my right calf (massive as it is ;) cramped up and I was instantly really worried. I stopped tried to stretch it, which did nothing, and grabbed a salt tab and slowly started to trot. After about a minute, I found my groove a little bit and headed off. I had kind of accepted that I wouldn't catch Van again as he looked really strong and I felt, well, pretty dumpy. But, I headed out and slowly seemed to be reeling him in. By mile 29, I had caught him and we talked for a few minutes before I passed him on a wider section of trail right near the quarry and he urged me to take off as he felt pretty gassed. I slowly eased ahead and had about 10 seconds or so on him at the last aid station at about mile 30. I threw my water bottle at Jesse Barragan at the aid station and became more focused on trying to break my time from the year before. I ran just about all of the climb out of HWY 49 and felt relieved to finally hit the last section of dirt road that leads to the finish line. 3:41:44. About a minute and 40 second PR. I felt happy to have the PR and be done.
In truth, I think my time was very comparable to last year. The course was way drier this year and my splits were essentially identical going into the last 5 miles of the race. That is where having a dry course matters the most as this section can get very sloppy. But, its still a PR on the course and my highest finish placing in this incredibly competitive event. Full results are here.
So, it leaves me feeling grateful that I hit my goals, a little lucky with the course conditions, and motivated to keep up my training and improve as the season continues. There is no doubt that my focus is on the 100 milers that I will run this year but this race always means a lot to me as it is a good measuring stick of how my base training and speed are coming along. It will motivate me to get a little more aggressive with my tempo workouts and a good reminder that you can't cheat them.
A huge congrats to my travel companions, Ken and Denise as they scored huge PRs and were stoked.
A big, big thank you to Julie Fingar for being one of the best Race Directors in the country and catering an event that is inclusive to elites and first time ultrarunners. I think that is a hard balance to achieve and she does it seamlessly.
Also, a huge thank you to my most prized sponsor, Patagonia. I feel proud to represent the brand and to try and embrace the ethics that they represent. It was great to hang out in the Patagonia "Recovery lounge" that was set up with fraternity style couches and I poured beers for folks from the keg. All in all, a great day.
Lastly, as always, a hug thank you to my wife, Katie. A few days away from the kids goes by in a snap for me but with three kids, well, time never goes by in a snap so a huge thanks to her for taking up the slack as I start another running season.
And for everyone who didn't have a huge PR. I know, I know. It was the flu. :)