Thursday, April 19, 2007

Peterson Ridge Rumble: yet another learning experience

I had thought this race would be one in which I really came into my own, it is the perfect terrain and distance for me. That clearly didn't happen, but I had a great day and learned a lot of lessons. Best of all I collected a lot of incredible smiles from the fantastic people who show up at ultras.

My wife and I decided to make a family mini-vacation out of this race. We stayed up on Mt. Hood on Friday night, had a fantastic dinner at Timberline Lodge, then spent the day skiing together at Mount Hood Meadows. It's been ages since we spent the day skiing together, just us. After skiing we drove down and stayed in Bend. Despite all my encouragement, Sweetie was completely uninterested in showing up at the race: she doesn't like running, or running people {shrugs sadly} so she dropped me off at Sisters Middle School at 7 AM and then went back to sleep in.

Upon arriving I was welcomed by all the usual hugs and smiles and hellos from everyone. Despite being new at this, I really feel like I know so many people already. It's hard not to love the whole lot of them to death. I spent a little while chatting with James Varner (who I'd not met before) and found what everyone had warned me about was true: James is an exceptionally warm and gracious person who stands out even among the ultra crowd.

As the race started I made my usual mistake of taking the first few miles too fast. This hurt me as much as it usually does (which is not at all) and gave me the benefit of getting to talk with a lot of people as they gradually passed me. But I learned my first lesson of many for the day as I realized that all of my working around injuries all winter has taken its toll: I simply don't have the fitness to run at quite the pace I could six months ago. This made me feel a little better about my post-Chuckanut decision to shift my schedule towards more knee-friendly races.

Somewhere in the early miles I developed a hot spot on one of the places I always tape for road marathons but don't feel the need to for trails. I made the wise decision to sit down at AS2 and get it taped. Unfortunately, the volunteers had to spend some time scurrying around looking for duct tape, but this was still probably a smart choice. I had some tape in my drop bag at AS3 but by then my foot would have probably been a mess.

I've never really used drop bags before, but having one at AS3 was really helpful, primarily as a place to strip off my headband, shirt, and sunglasses. This was the start of the "grunt loop" with a little bit of technical trail. My plan was to take this section relatively easy, pushing the uphills and really saving myself on the downs, even if I had to walk them. I've been discovering that running downs hard early in the race really slows my time as all the muscles above and below my knee tighten up in an attempt to protect it and turn the rest of the race into a shuffle. This strategy worked very well for me: no real knee problems later in the race and no apparent need for knee rehab-recovery the day after the race.

There is a long steep escarpment to climb at the end of the "grunt loop" and here I got my final lesson of the day in "what to do right." I passed Van, who was having a horrific asthma attack. I really hate it when I pass her, as I'm not in her league and if I do pass her it's only because she is having a really bad day. As we pulled back into AS3 though, she reminded me that I should use my inhaler so that I wouldn't have the same problem. We stood around for a few seconds doing group inhaler-puffing and I was saved from having any problems later in the race. Thanks Van!

My luck changed there somewhere after AS3B: all my lessons up to then were in "what to do right." Afterwards it was nothing other than "what not to do."

Heading down to Aid Station 4 was one of those emotional highs I always remember, though this time it would eventually lead to my undoing. I was rested from my easy pace in the grunt loop, the terrain was easily runnable and gently downhill, and my legs had loosened up into that fast-ultra pace that I can sometimes sustain forever. I started to pass a number of other runners, all except for Michele, who passed me about six times. She was having a difficult day or I would have never seen her at all, but since she always has a great smile and friendly comments I was happy to see her so many times. If I needed any other motivation to become a better ultra runner it would be to be able to run with her on a good day for her.

So as I came into AS5 I was pretty full of myself. I was fresh and running well, with all the tough terrain behind me and only hippo-friendly trail in front. I'd been eating and drinking well, and always had lots of drink left in my bottles at every Aid Station. What could go wrong?

So I made my big mistake and didn't top off my bottles at AS5. Less than a mile later the course came out into full sunshine and its longest interval without aid. I realized early that I was in trouble, and started to conserve water but still ran out with miles to go. What followed was a nightmare of running without hydration, baking in the sunshine and being forced to slow down which only prolonged the time I had to endure. The last several miles of this stretch is a gentle upgrade on a dirt road: normally this would be where I would gain ground on everyone, but I was forced to walk most of it in hopes that I could make AS6 without making too much of a mess of myself. My only consolation was seeing Michele up ahead not pulling ahead very much. I know she's a better runner (at least most days) so it was good to be reminded that I wasn't falling back that badly.

Somehow I made it to AS6 and spent a little while there drinking and getting bottles filled. Sadly, the damage had been done though and the rest of the race was an uncoordinated stumble over what should have been easy trail. I wasn't going all that slowly, but easy miles after mile 30 is usually where I make up ground.

I really enjoyed the end of the race, which is a lap around the school track. Since almost the entire field had finished in front of me, it they were all there eating great food and Sascha's (Sean's dog) birthday cake. It made my day to hear so many people call me by name as I stepped onto the track - my first ultra was last July yet it seems like I have so many friends!

The best news about this race is that I had an easy recovery and will be 100% for the Mt Si 50 miler on Sunday. This reinforces my decision to be a slacker-backofthepacker at Miwok and then retreat to a bunch of relaxing road marathons until July. I must be one of the few people in ultras who thinks that 2-3 road marathons a month is the best way to rest up and get healthy. All the real ultrarunners think I'm crazy for this attitude.


Backofpack said...

Isn't it amazing how quickly things can go bad if you don't eat and drink? It's taken me a while to figure that out too - the first couple races I waited till I actually felt hungry and thirsty - big mistake!

See you Sunday (on the trail though - I'm doing the 50K).

olga said...

It is a lesson every time we are out there. Have fun at Mt. Si, one day I'll make it up there, and may be even have a PR for 50M after all the mountain races I tend to sign up - I think I am a slacker because I am too scared of flattish runs:)

Sarah said...

It was nice to have a chance to chat after the race. It sounds like you made the most of the day! See you next time. : )