My race yesterday was a hard day. I’m not sure why, but despite many favorable conditions I did terrible. I certainly finished, but not far off DFL. It was bright and sunny, cool but not too cold and the trail was dry without any traces of lingering snow. I didn’t really feel particularly bad running, but after about the first mile I was well in contention for last place and I just watched helplessly as the whole field of runners in front of me faded off into the distance. I never really saw anyone else for most of the rest of the run.
The high desert area is very similar to Flagstaff. It’s rocky, lots of scrub brush in early spring buds and lots of tall pine trees. Often we were up higher and there were just low bushes with little pink flowers and lots of bees buzzing around. There was a view of the Three Sisters mountains at the top of all the rises, sometimes with little puffy white clouds and the sky was as sky blue as you can imagine.
The first part of the run moves over dirt/gravel road then onto single track. Sometimes it’s soft pine needles, sometimes trail bike routes and sometimes horse trails. There were many rocks and pine cones around to trip on and I’ve never nearly fallen so many times in one race. During the first half of the race I kept stubbing my toes on I’m not sure what. Even things 2 feet off trail seemed to find their way under my feet and sent me into gyrating contortions in an effort to remain upright. Each jolt of adrenaline sent my heart rate soaring as I analyzed the repercussions of the various hard and prickly surfaces I could have landed on.
After a slow climb through the first 3 aid stations there’s a loop of about 6 miles that returns to aid station # 3 again. The first half of this was an uninspired uphill drudge and not 5 minutes out of the aid station I fell into the dirt, landing on a rock with my right knee and cutting my thumb on something. I dripped blood on myself. Great. My knee hurt but seemed stable for running and I couldn’t think of any excuse to stop and rest it. And besides, I didn’t want to fall any further behind. After the first few minutes it was fine and even now it only has a small bruise.
The trail eventually took up over some switchbacks onto a much more picturesque route along a roaring river swollen with spring melt off. Sometimes the trail was a thin sliver right next to the edge of the cliffs. After several miles of this we came onto “the grunt” – a 100 yard nearly vertical climb up onto the last 1/2 mile trail returning to the aid station. I found this the easiest part of the day, and one of the few I was able to actually catch up to someone on. I hiked straight up going sideways and I hardly felt winded and my quads never felt like I was doing that much work. By the time I made it to the top I actually felt rested. How odd. I had to stop at the next aid station and re-treat a hot spot on one food and band-aid up my bleeding thumb before leaving. I think I was 3rd from last at this point.
We then ran down a lot of the elevation we gained on the way up and I found another place to face plant and land on my left shin. Ouch. My face was completely dusted and I almost started to cry in frustration but decided I didn’t want to have streaky tear face at the next aid station. I told myself to just buck up and keep moving. Eventually I came upon a small stream and was able to rinse off my hands and face in the ice cold water. I made it to aid station 5 and refilled my water bottle. The aid station folks were some high school cross country runners who were the beneficiaries of the race proceeds and they were vague about how far it was to the next aid.
It tuned out to be almost 7 miles and most of it was on a red dirt lava rock strewn road of interminable 4-10% grade. Yuck. It was slow going and I ran out of water well before I got to the next aid station. I did happen to pass 2 people on this section. One woman admitted she’d already fallen at least 10 times and had a large, tense but painless swelling on the back of one wrist. I reached right over and started prodding and examining it without permission, forgetting I wasn’t in Dr. mode. Oops. I think she thought I was rude.
It’s hard to catch up on poor hydration after the fact. If you put too much in your stomach to make up for it, things tend to just sit around and slosh. And I realized I couldn’t find my second stash of salt supplements either. That never helps. So from aid station 6 through 7 I didn’t eat enough nor drink enough as my stomach started to take a turn for the worse. And I kept tripping. But, now the trail wound down, down, down back towards the start and there were some of the most spectacular views of the whole day and I tried to enjoy them. Tall snowy peaks looking so close it seemed they were within running distance (ha!) rose above the tree line.
After aid station 7 I grabbed a few potato chips and it took me 5 minutes to chew them up and force myself to swallow them. I was moving steady through this and grateful for all the downhill. Eventually I passed 2 women about 3 miles from the end and one fellow at the last aid station who was walking. About 2 miles from the finish I found my second wind. I wish it had showed up somewhere around mile 20. I kept speeding up as I knew I was almost done. I also kept tripping and almost falling until I made my mantra “DON’T TRIP – DON’T FALL” with each step and I didn’t let my mind wander. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the trail right in front of my feet. I “flew” past the ladies and back down to the school where we started and then ran a pretty speedy 440 around the track to the finish. Although technically a 60K I heard that it’s actually somewhat closer to 38 miles.
Originally I had expected to finish in about 7 hours but clocked in just a tick over 8:10. Ugh. It’s not a very inspiring performance and I’m feeling fairly low about how poorly (slow) I ran compared to EVERYONE else. I’m grateful this one didn’t have any cut offs or I’m sure I would have been pulled form the course. I sure hope I don’t continue to get slower and slower or else I’ll never finish some of the ultras I have planned this summer.
But – all that being said, I’m glad I finished and I’m looking forward to accomplishing another fun run in the mountains next month…God help me.