"How did I do that?"
(Photo by Michael Lebowitz)
That was the question I asked myself (and everyone around me) a gazillion times at the finish of this year's Mt Hood 50 mile race. I'm not sure words can accurately convey my feelings about what went down at this race.
I originally was planning to run this race with a friend to pace her to her first 50 mile finish. However she is coming back from a major injury in 2012 and realized a month or so ago that she wouldn't be ready to attempt a 50 miler just yet. So I was going to run this on my own at my own pace. With Waldo and Mountain Lakes on the horizon I wasn't thinking of this as a goal race. But with a sub 11 hour finish at Capitol Peak 50M back in April, I wanted to prove to myself that wasn't a fluke and was hoping for a sub 11 hour finish at Mt Hood too. That would mean a 30 minute course PR. Mt Hood would be hotter than Capitol Peak, but I think it's probably a little easier (at least based on overall elevation gain) so I thought it was a doable goal while still maintaining Mt Hood as a training race for Waldo and Mountain Lake.
|Waiting for the regular start|
(Photo by Marc)
|Hanging with fellow Animal, Arron. We would run the first out/back together. (Photo by Marc)|
|Nervous energy at the start (Photo by Marc)|
For the first time, I decided to take the regular start and it was kind of luxurious to sleep in until 4:45. (As per our usual, we camped across the road from the start at the Clackamas Lake CG.) There was a little confusion at the start - a woman with a similar name had dropped a few days prior. And instead of dropping her from the roster, they dropped me. But it was sorted out, no problem. I visited with friends and chatted with fellow Animal Athlete, Arron who was running his first 50 miler.
In the past 2 year, I've run the first out/back in 5:37 and 5:39. My goal was to run it in 5:30 or under. This section always feels fast and I figured I had the most room for improvement on the second out/back, which I had run in 6:14 and 5:53 in the past. Within the first few miles I realized that Arron had settled in behind me. That was fine by me. The last two years I've ended up running much of the race with a friend, unplanned but that's how it turned out, and it's nice to have the company. Arron and I are pretty evenly matched and he let me lead, which I prefer, so it worked out well. We'd chat, but then have longer periods of silence...it was great to have his company!
Yassine and the Animal Athletics crew were working the Little Crater Lake AS, at miles 6 and 22, so seeing them was something to look forward to. We rolled into the AS under an hour. Oops, maybe we were going too fast. Yassine might have thought so too since he reminded us this was a training run and encouraged us to power hike the hills. We both were carrying plenty of fuel so after a quick top off of my bottle we were out of there.
The rest of the first section went really well. We hiked some hills but ran a lot too. I told Arron what to expect on the course and we agreed to try to work together as long as possible. It didn't seem long before we we back at the Little Crate Lake AS - mile 22. We could hear the Animals whooping it up a quarter mile away, which was a big boost. As we got close, Yassine ran out and grabbed my bottle to fill. The whole crew gave us a lot of encouragement.
|Yassine running us into the AS at mile 22 (Photo by Samantha de la Vega)|
Yassine continued to encourage us to power hike the hills. So on the 6 mile section back to the start/finish I tried to give my legs a little rest and hike some of the steeper short hills.
|Checking out the aid station grub (Photo by Samantha de la Vega)|
As we got within a mile of the start/finish, Arron told me he wasn't sure he could keep up and didn't want to hold me back. I encouraged him to hold on as long as he could but he ended up dropping back soon after that. I rolled into the start/finish feeling great! The time was almost 5 hours exactly on my watch. At this point I felt very confident I could make my sub 11 hour goal since I was pretty sure I could complete the 2nd section quicker than my 5:53 from last year. I'd been trying to keep my AS time to a minimum but knew this one would be a little longer since I needed to pick up my 2nd bottle. Unfortunately I ended up spending about 10 minutes at the AS but finally rolled out at 5:11 to take on the more difficult second section.
|With Arron, coming back along Timothy Lake - about halfway (Photo by Michael Lebowitz)|
|(Photo by Michael Lebowitz)|
The first section temps were cool....in fact I wore gloves for the first 10 miles. But the second section is always hot, and I'm glad I picked up a second bottle. The first few miles after the start/finish are always tough for me and this time wasn't any different. I was still moving well, but I experienced my first wave of nausea on the way to the Red Wolf AS. When it's warm I usually attribute this to mild dehydration so I pushed the liquids and forced down some shot bloks. About halfway to the Red Wolf AS I saw Arron. I had been wondering where he was since I didn't see him pass me at the start/finish AS so didn't know if he was in front or behind me. It was good to see him, but he was mostly power hiking so I passed him and wished him well. Around this spot is where I started to pass more people from both the regular and early starts. Worked on running as much as possible but power hiking when necessary. I never felt like I was struggling with my pace or redlining.
I wasn't thinking too much about time until I hit the Warm Spring AS (and turnaround) just as my watched buzzed 7:30. I had only one big hill to conquer on the way back and thought I could do 11 miles in 3 hours. So maybe 10:30 would be possible? It was my new goal. That one big hill is a big one - definitely a hike all the way. I hiked it strong, passing a few people and trying to pull from the strength of people I remember passing me on this stretch in years past. I arrived at the final aid station at about 8:50 and tried to remember how long it had taken me to get there from the start/finish. I thought maybe an hour and ten minutes. Dang! With a mostly downhill finish I could go for sub 10! My head was reeling! Was that really possible? I left the AS at 8:53 and was going for it!
My nausea had gotten better but now I wasn't feeling like eating much again. But I had tanked up on coke at the AS and had a few bloks to get me to the finish. I barreled out of the AS with my sights on the finish line. It was a huge advantage to know this course so well. I knew I had some good runnable downhill and then it would flatten out a bit. I ran steady on the downhills, passing a few people (guys, I might add), and tried to not let up on the flats. There were a few gentle, very runnable risers, but I let myself hike them to give my legs a break. I was anxiously looking for the turnoff to the Miller Trail. It's less than a mile from there to the finish and I told myself if I got there with 15 minutes to spare I was golden!
Eventually I saw a family, likely out to support a loved one runner, who called out "Good job number 155! I said thanks and then realized I was at the trail cutoff. I looked at my watch and saw I had a huge cushion to make sub 10 hours - maybe 20 minutes. What a feeling of elation! I wanted to cry but still had 3/4 of a mile to cover. I ran the rolling trail, crossed the road to the campground and was on the short last section of single track. I passed a hiker who cheered for me..."You're almost there!" "I know!" I beamed. I was so happy. As I started up the little hill to the pavement I saw a figure in a tie dyed shirt. Lo and behold, it was the Little Guy, with Marc. They weren't there looking for me, but just so happened to be walking by with their raft to the campground before they came back to the finish to wait for me. What a coincidence! I yelled "Sub 10, baby!!" and tossed my bottle to them.
|(Photo by Michael Lebowitz)|
Running down the pavement and turning the corner to the finish will go down as one of the highlights of my running life. I had a big fat smile on my face the whole way. I saw Yassine who gave me a big high five as I ran the last few yards to the finish....9:47:58! And a course PR by about 1:42 (!!)
|(Photo by Michael Lebowitz)|
What a shocker! I was hoping for sub 11 hours but not in my wildest dreams did I think I'd run sub 10 hours. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it. But what a huge confidence boost going into Waldo and Mountain Lakes.
|Words can't describe (photo by Michael Lebowitz)|
I've had some really great races this year and I guess I have to finally admit I've become a different runner. Hard work pays off. I did a lot of work on my own over the winter and spring building my endurance. But since May I've been working with my coach, Yassine Diboun, whose training and support has been invaluable. And I love, love, love being part of the Animal Athletics tribe. You won't find a more supportive group of runners, of all paces, anywhere. I hope I can keep riding this wave of success through the rest of my summer races.
|Enjoying a cool glass of refreshing water in my finisher's pint glass. Beer later. :) (Photo by Marc)|