In the end, this was a very memorable day. From the suffering during the run, to hanging with some good people after the race, to a very emotional ride home and kickin' it with my peeps . . . it's just one of those days I'll never forget.
If you've been reading this little blog at all, you might've noted all of the aerobic training/MAF/Aet talk. I've been building my engine so to speak and since I'm relatively new at endurance running, all in all I'm in the process of getting myself in shape to run hard at some organized events. Being the competitor that I am, of course I want results; but that's a ways off considering all of the experienced runners in SoCal alone whose lives have included running, perhaps as a cross-country, track, or long distance runner. Either way, my athleticism has always been there (I played college soccer), but so has my lifestyle of guy-at-the-beach-burning-the-hippy-lettuce-drinking-beer. Now, at 39, I want to be a very legitimate trail runner. Other than a 1:31 1/2 marathon under my belt, this is all new.
The aerobic training focus has really helped me remain pretty healthy and encouraged a more consistent approach to the sport, which are paramount (health and consistency) to being at all successful. So I'm pretty happy so far with the training, etc. And of course I can't wait to keep building. Tim Luchinske lives in Colorado, but has really helped me get a grip on this approach - he's encouraged me push my limits in terms of mileage. I've been building. I'm going to keep going. This summer will, hopefully, include some real strides in mileage. And a lot of that mileage is going to be on the trail. I have to enhance my ability to run hard on trails/mountains. That's my long term focus. The aerobic fitness is coming along, so it's time to run that machine off road.
Which brings me to yesterday's 21k trail race at Vail Lake in Temecula. I had pretty low expectations since my training has consisted almost entirely of aerobic running and what are my expectations anyways? I'm the FNG (f'n new guy). I ran Boney Mountatin 21k in Jan. and Mission Gorge 15k in Feb. That's my trail running experience. So Vail Lake was my third trail race. Again, that's my focus now and for as long as I can imagine. All that is affiliated with the trail and its people float my boat. But I digress.
My expectations for Vail Lake were something along these lines: my fitness would enable me to run pretty hard, but as the race wore on I would get stronger. My diet of Long Steady Distance would surely support such a visualization. From looking at some elevation profiles and talking to people who had some experience with the route, I conceived of some early climbing, especially on The Dam Climb, but by mile 3-4, the course, although steadily up and down, trends down toward the finish. So, I suffer early on the big climb, but recover because of my fitness and then progressively get stronger.
I arrived pretty early and was able to get fairly comfortable talking with other runners, listening to music and checking-out the facility. I did a little warm-up about 30 min before the race. The body felt great. My feet felt good (despite a little recent plantar fasciitis) and the rest of me was ready to go, too.
As the gun sounded, we were off. Right away, I settled-in a few seconds behind the first pack that included Beth and Katya Meyers. We climbed the first little incline and then headed down where we crossed a dry stream-bed and then hit a little rolling section leading to The Dam Climb at about mile 3.5. Running along this relatively flat section, I was running comfortably sub 7 min/mile and my HR was around 180. It was the first time I'd been able to open-up, and although going-out too hard and blowing-up is always a possibility, my perceived fitness and research suggested that there would be some tough early stuff, but the course would get more forgiving and I would get stronger. I knew the heat would affect HR, perhaps dramatically, so I wasn't too concerned with that. Besides, I wasn't about to "save myself" for later. It was on.
As we started to climb Dam Climb, the suffering began. The temperature was climbing (running a race had a lot to do with the relative temp.) and I soon realized that the climbing was going to be pretty consistent. Part of this realization came during and later while talking to people about how this course is the Xterra West bike course. The cyclist will recall the up and down of the course differently than the runner. The runner has to hit all of those climbs. There is some recovery on the back side, but with another climb approaching quickly, this up and down became the basic ingredients of what we might call a heroin sandwich, i.e., pretty hardcore/knarly/hideous with the accompanying heat working its way to the mid-day three digits.
So the first mistake in my approach to the run. The hard part is early and the course would get relatively easier later. Having made that mistake, the second and terribly significant flaw in my reasoning becomes apparent: I was not going to get stronger as the race wore on. I underestimated the climbing (more on this later!!), so needlesstosay, I was in trouble.
By about mile 6 I was hurting pretty bad. Up to that point, my HR hadn't gone below 170. Granted, I went out hard and stayed that way as long as I could (thinking I would slowly recover and maintain because of my fitness: See "My mistakes"). But now the heat and the steady dose of climbing kept things pretty nasty on the perceived exertion end. I was starting to hate life.
Miles 7-10 were simply hanging-on, over-dosing. I didn't take a water bottle with me and I don't think I missed it much. Perhaps I could've kept my neck/head wet, but the stations, as promised, seemed to arrive in time. The end of the race had a little twist that made I'm sure most of us pretty insane. As we summited we thought was the last climb (the back of the first little ascent of the race), the arrows directed us up a ridge that climbed fairly quickly and what probably made the race over 13.5 miles. It was sick. At this point, I was pretty depressed by the whole affair. I was suffering, getting passed by a few folks, and generally felt so out of shape it was a little embarrassing. Finished in 2:15:47, 24/110. Yuck.
The course could accurately be described as a roller coaster, but the day was an emotional roller coaster, as well. I suddenly had a lot of doubt in myself; my perceived fitness coming in didn't seem to meet the challenge. Reality bit me in the ass. But I won my age-group. It's a weird kind of twist to a very intense (Xterra) experience. Because I'm 40 in 2008, they put me in the 40-44 age group. Of course, I know the way the race unfolded and the way I competed. I was weak, truly beat-up. But they threw me a bone and I am very grateful for that twist of fate. It is a win, and I will count it as such, but I also know that I got kinda lucky. It was a very small field.
I'll take it. And I have some things to work-on! I noted before the race that I can't wait to take my training into the hills and the trails. I didn't do any but a day or two of hills in the last three months. Jack, Ang and I went on a hike this morning and I watched some runners hitting the hills there. It really dawned on me how feeble my training was in preparation for A LOT OF F'N HILLS. I ran on a lot of flat terrain to really gauge my MAF/Aet progress - how fast I'm going at specific HRs. I will test later this week because I know I've made a lot of progress - I suspect my splits will be sub 8:00 at 150HR. But I need to hit the hills/ trails, rattle snakes/heat and all. I will look at the race calendar to organize these work-outs, but having realized I did practically no extended hill work, no wonder I became a big fat mess at Vail Lake. And as for the mess, it was almost entirely due to me "cracking." My body was fine. My legs and feet felt pretty good afterwards and today I'm not even feeling much residual affect. Again, we hiked this morning. So, no more "treadmill guy." It's time to get nasty . . . at Aet!
Thanks to JW for taking the pic!