Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Canyon Meadow 50k Race Report

My coworker has been hassling me about the excessive length of my last race report, so I'll attempt to humor his sarcastic ass and make this one a little more concise.

I had a great day! I decided kind of last minute to go down to the Bay Area for the Canyon Meadow 50k, part of the Coastal Trail Run series. The race is held in Redwood Regional Park just outside of Oakland, CA. The 50k course consists of two laps of a 13 mi loop (we'll call it Loops 1 and 2) and finished with a different 5 mi loop (Loop 3)- an interesting format that lends to some new bits of strategy.

I woke up- with great effort- at 4 am, ate a bowl of granola with yogurt and coconut milk, and got my sleepy, miserable ass in the car by 4:30. A quick stop at the gas station for some coffee (for alertness, and to get things moving) and I was rolling for the coast. I drove in the dark the whole way, the sun just rising as Johnny Five (my 1995 civic hatchback) crawled his was through the hills above Oakland in search of the race start. I arrived just after seven, pleasantly surprised by the forest and lack of cell phone reception just minutes out of the sprawl. I parked, registered, took care of business, and suited up for the start. It was, true to name, in a canyon, so it was a pretty cold start.

I started with my old school, trusty Camelback Mini-mule and arm warmers. The race starts a 5 mi, half marathon, 30k, marathon, and 50k simultaneously. Luckily, the race immediately enters a long, steep climb, thinning the crowds a bit. Determined to run my own race, and to start conservatively, I alternated running the flatter parts with walking the steeps as we ascended. I was toward the front of the racers, but it was difficult to gauge who was running what. After about 3 mi, the 5 mi loop broke off, further thinning the pack.

Loop 1

I could tell my heart rate and perceived exertion was still a little artificially high for my pace, partly due to race day jitters, my exercise-induced asthma, lack of sleep, lingering head cold, among other things- it felt harder than it should. I resolved to run through it, and settled in to a moderate pace running with a nice guy named Omar for a brief while. When we passed through the first aid station I left before him and didn't see him again, though he finished in a very strong 5th place.

The course was very rolling after topping out the big climb, treats you to some nice views of the coastal range, and eventually enters an extended downhill. After the rough time I had going out too hard on the downhill sections of the American Canyon 50k, I had integrated some hard, fast downhill running into my training to prevent quad devastation. This paid off dividends on race day- I ran the downhills fast and with the confidence that I wouldn't soon regret it- passing a few people along the way. I made a quick #2 stop at the bottom of the descent (when I say quick, I mean I was in and out of the campground pit toilet in about a minute and a half). There were still too many people in other, shorter races ahead of me to know for sure what place I was in.

Loop 2

A runner left the finish line aid station just as I came in, and his bib told me he was a 50k runner. He must have realized that I was too, because he got out of there quick-like, and started cruising up the hill. I held back from chasing, thinking that if he can actually hold that pace, he's going to beat me anyway, but more likely he's going too hard, and I'll catch him later. A bit of a gamble, but I went with it. I was feeling a little rough as I came into the next aid station, so I took an extra second to get some more fluids down, eat a pb&j square, and grab an extra gel. I had been eating 1-2 gels between aid stations, slowly in tiny gulps with water, and this worked out pretty well for me.

When I hit the extended downhill again, I cranked. Well, I stopped to poop again near the top, in the bushes this time, but it cost me less than a minute again. Think about that for a second. No, I don't carry toilet paper, yes, I use sticks and stones, and yes, I am talented. Anyway, I kept thinking about the recent NYT article on Killian, the author describing his downhill running more akin to skiing, and likening him to a wild animal. So I just imagined letting out my inner animal. Part power, part grace, part wild energy. It was fun. When I hit the bottom of the descent and rolled toward the mile 22 aid station, I could see two guys in front of me, just leaving. Grinning, I tried to hush the volunteers as I approached so they wouldn't alert them to my presence with their cheers, but it didn't work. I grabbed some more coke and water and rolled on out of there, knowing I was going to catch them. I had made up over three minutes on those two guys since the last aid station.

I steadily reeled them in, my stride feeling smooth and powerful. I felt like a damn tiger, closing in on my prey. I overtook them easily, and kept my pace quick all the way into the finish line aid station for my final lap.

Loop 3

I stopped only long enough to slam a cup of coke and a cup of water, and to ask if there was anyone in front of me- they thought there was one person in the lead, but gave no indication of how long ago he had come through, but I had the feeling it had been a while. As I was about to leave, I ripped off my camelback pack and handed it to a volunteer. Business time.

There was hardly anything in the pack, but taking it off made me feel lighter and faster, even if it was more mental than anything. I propelled myself up the long climb one last time, but this time I approached it like someone once advised me to do in the Imogene Pass Run- don't leave anything in the tank. Give it your all to get to the top, and gravity and your will power will get you down the other side and to the finish line.

As I ran along the top of the ridge I looked back a few times to see if the two I'd passed were giving chase, but I didn't see them again. When the five mile loop finally broke away, it really was all downhill until the last half mile, where it flattened out to the finish line. It was a glorious cruise down a steep, narrow shaded canyon lined with redwoods, by far my favorite section of the course. I think I was clicking off 5:30ish miles on the way down and through to the finish. I came across the finish line in 4:11, a PR, and I what I thought was under the course record. The Race Director later informed me that it was actually 4:03 until the winner, prolific Bay Area racer Leigh Schmitt had run a 3:58 to claim the 'W' and the new course record. I tracked Leigh down after the race and chatted with him for a bit, but he had to take off pretty quickly. He's a great guy, and I'm hoping to run into him again at his next big race- the Lake Sonoma 50 miler. I'm planning to head down there to heckle the racers, including Flagstaffian Brian Tinder of the AdiUltra Team, and to get out for some runs on new trails myself. I cheered other runners on for a while as I grazed on some finish line food, but soon got on my way in anticipation of my second endurance event of the day- the three hour drive home!
The finish line (photo cred: Coastal Trail Runs)

That was a good day, and a nice boost of confidence going into Leona Divide. This race topped off an 85 mile hard training week, and when I finished I knew I could have run it faster. That's a good feeling to have. It was especially nice to run strongly and finish feeling good after I had turned the last 50k I ran into a sufferfest death march. I'm writing this from the San Francisco International Airport at 4 am Tuesday morning, so the recovery plan is not going perfectly to say the least, but I feel pretty alright given the circumstances. I'm excited for a few more weeks of fine tuning, a nice taper, and to see what I can do in Leona! How's that for brevity?

Final results

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