Got into town around six in the evening after an uneventful but long drive from the Fort. Chatted with Chris Grauch, Harry Harcrow and Brooks Williams at the packet pick-up before heading out to Rabbit Valley campground to meet the brothers Goding, their dad Norm and friend Mark.
Bunked down in the back of the truck, I was warm and I was getting the feeling that things were only going to get warmer. At 6:30 the next morning, as the bullhorn blew, it was already a very comfortable 55 degrees. We had clear skies and it was looking like we might be in for a roasting on the benches and ridgelines of this stunningly beautiful course.
Race director Reid Delman asked for a moment of silence just before the race started in memory of Jenna Gruben who tragically died in a car accident in February. The field of 250 was silent to a person, and it was a nice moment of reflection for an unceasingly friendly and warm person who was an ambassador for the sport of trail running.
Somewhat unusually for a 25/50 mile race, the organizers offer a $100 premium to the first guy and first girl to cover the 1.3 miles to the base of the first climb. Basically a guy is standing there with a single hundred dollar bill waiting for the runners. Whoever gets it then has to navigate the rest of the course being sure not to lose the Benjamin. In previous years I haven't bothered with the premium, figuring it would be foolish to ruin my race in the first mile, but this year I'd decided that I would at least go out with the pack to feel it out.
The start, Courtesy: Duncan Callahan
Dan Goding and Chris Grauch took off from the go and they looked like they were pretty serious about picking up the cash. I stuck with them for a half mile, before deciding that the pace was just a little too hot and entirely counterproductive, so I let them go. A couple other 25-mile guys caught up to me as I was easing off, so I decided to pick up their pace, which with about a quarter mile to the money had us back on Dan and Chris' shoulders. We were now a pack of six guys racing for a hundred dollar bill. On a slight downslope before a steep little climb to the money, I decided to go for it, breaking from the pack and picking up a head of steam on the down while carrying it into the climb. Nobody came with me. Omar Martinez, I think, shouted some advice along the lines of, 'don't ruin your race.' I told him not to worry about me and snatched the cash, stuffing it deep into the pocket of my waist pack in with my salt caps and some gel packets.
Dan (middle chair) had a tough day in the sun. Bryan (left) ran a strong 8:11 while Norm (right) magically appeared at just about every aid station. Mark (foreground) had a solid run in the 25.With that little interlude out of the way, I hunkered down for the first climb of the day and attempted to settle things down a bit in a bid to find my 50-mile pace. Problem being I was now stuck in the middle of a train of five 25-mile guys who were all moving well. I kept contact with the pack through the climb up Moore Fun trail to the ridge, where thankfully the two guys behind me darted through and took off, allowing me the chance to truly find my pace and assess things a bit. Aerobically I felt good: breathing easy and chugging along nicely. In the leg department, however, I was feeling heavy and clumsy. Fifty miles was sounding like a long way to run.
Up on the ridge, I could see that Ryan Burch and the second pack of runners were a good minute or two behind me, so I concentrated on settling in and trying to find a rhythm. On the switchbacks coming down from the ridge toward the first aid station, I could tell that Ryan was pushing to catch up to me. He had let me and others go at Salida through the first half of the race last month and he never quite caught back up to challenge for a podium. It looked like he didn't want to let that happen again in Fruita.
By the six-mile aid station, Ryan had caught up to me and we ran together for a bit, although I went straight through the aid while Ryan stopped to refuel, so I got out and headed up the second climb of the day with a slight lead in the 50-mile race. By the time we hit the river and the canyons, the trail eased up significantly on the technical front, and I was finally able to find a bit of cohesiveness to my running.
Three of the 25 milers were off the front of the race, while Ryan was settled in 10-20 meters behind me, with Dakota Jones making up the gap to run with Ryan by the time we hit aid two at 9.5 miles. I went straight through this one as I had the first and by the time we rolled into aid three at 12.5 miles, Dakota, Ryan and myself were running pretty much as a pack.
I stopped to fill up on water, as did Ryan, and Dakota shot through without stopping, opening up a 10-20 meter lead. Ryan and I ran together for the seven-mile rolling stretch to the next aid station, chatting about how it was setting up to be a scorcher and whether or not we thought Dakota was going to hold his pace, among other things. I have to say I wasn't too worried at this point, as while we were certainly moving at a good clip, there was over 30 miles of running to go. I had no zip in my legs, but I still felt like I could muscle out a solid effort.
On the long and sometimes steep climb out of the 19-mile aid, I put a bit of a gap on Ryan and figured I would have Dakota reeled in by the top. As it turned out, I probably picked up a half minute, but no more, on Dakota who still had a good 45 seconds to a minute on me by Mack Ridge. I took it easy coming down from Mack, allowing Ryan to catch back up, and then on the mile of dirt road back to the start/finish/turnaround, we watched Dakota pull in to finish his first loop in 3:21. He was out before Ryan and I got there, so he probably had 90 seconds on us as we pulled in. I pulled a handheld from my drop bag to go with the bottle I had in my waistpack, scoffed a couple of oranges and took off, maybe 30 seconds back on Ryan who transitioned quicker than me, and two to three minutes back on Dakota.
The climb back up to Mack Ridge felt much better than it did last year, however I was again surprised that I made up little to no time on Dakota by the top. Ryan dropped a half minute on the climb, and I kept the gap on Ryan through the long descent to the mile 31 aid. The aid station volunteers told me the gap was three minutes to Dakota, and I could see Ryan coming down the hill 30 or 40 seconds back. Fourth (Duncan C), fifth (Marty Walker) and sixth (Bryan Goding) were ten to fifteen minutes back at the turn, so I figured they wouldn't be a factor as long a I didn't totally implode in the sun.
The seven-mile stretch to the 38 mile aid is a long hot one with relentless rollers. Last year I only had one bottle through this stretch and ended up nursing a dribble of tepid water for most of the hour it took me to cover the ground, so I was stoked to now have the luxury of two bottles. From updates I was getting from outbound runners, it seemed like Dakota was maintaining a slightly faster pace than mine through here, and then with 12 miles to go the aid station volunteers had the gap at six minutes, then at 9 it was seven, and at the last aid station it was nine minutes. Game over. The last climb was as soul sapping as I remembered it from last year, but I felt like I may have been moving a bit better, although it was still no more than a token run.
So a few things to take from this race.
First, I am going to need to take the taper for Western States seriously so that I can really go in with a fresh pair of pins. My legs were tired and sluggish all day yesterday, and from the beginning I knew it was going to be a grind. I think I am going to employ a three-week taper for States, and really cut back on the mileage with two weeks to go, while also hammering out some local up and down time trials for intensity and leg strength.
Second, heat acclimation is going to be crucial. I bonked just about as hard as I did last year over the last 10-12 miles because the sun just zapped me. I was much better on fluids than I was last year, and okay on fueling, but I still withered like a delicate petal, so obviously I need to do something about that or I won't stand a chance of a strong run through the 100 degree canyons at States. As I understand it, heat acclimation is gained and lost quickly, so it's during the three-week taper that I'll really focus in on that.
Third, racing too much is detrimental to sharpness.
Anyway, another great event put on by Reid and his band of Desert Rats. And really, if you live anywhere remotely close to this one, you need to get it on the calendar for next year or some time in the not too distant future.