Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mother Road 100 Race Report

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a full-fledged race report. I know this is a trail running forum, but I figured since there's been a couple other threads on this race, I might as well post. I’ve actually been focused on writing a book proposal for a publisher in my free time, which is humorous considering the likelihood that I could ever get a book published is very small. In fact, when they ask for qualifications, one of the ones listed will be “Runner’s World Forum- Contributor”. This report will be more of a short synopsis rather than a griping tale of triumph and despair, simply because I don’t have the time to create that sort of intrigue….so here goes nothing.After getting patience beaten into me in a few of my recent 100 milers, it was time for a different tack. Going into the Mother Road 100, there was both a lot of anxiety as well as a lot of excitement that this would be a “corner-turning” race. Looking at the race profile and being aware of the general topography of Route 66, I expected this race to be flat at times, but mostly rolling from peak to peak. The first 10-15 miles of the race were rather uneventful, marked by random oil rigs, American trucks whizzing by, and miles of open fields. The most exciting thing were probably the police cruisers that were escorting us out of Elk City. In a marathon, the only one with a police escort is generally the leader. In this case, the entire field followed behind the cruisers. I cruised through the 16.4 mile mark at 2:20:xx, having already intentially started the process of slowing down to 9:00+ min./miles. I was in 6th place at this point, enjoying the fact that I was in a very nice position where I could continue to run alone but maintain a comfortable pace going forward.The first major checkpoint was at mile 30.5 at the Route 66 Museum. Reaching the museum in 4:22:xx, I needed a short break to let my body settle down. Over the last 5-6 miles, I could feel myself start to strain to maintain focus and my posture began to suffer as my stomach began to sour slightly. It was too early to let this race slip away from me when we had so far to go and had already positioned ourselves well, moving from 6th to 2nd from the last checkpoint. We made a concerted effort to not use gels during this race, and stick with solid foods as long as I could take it. Keeping things simple, I pretty much only ate Lays chips, ginger snap cookies and bananas. Every once in awhile, I’d stick in a sugar wafer or different kind of chips/cookies. While I primarily only drank NUUN mixed in water, we also added Propel and G2 at times to add some sweetness. As distances increase, my tolerance for various types of food decreases. This decision was partially aided by Northwest Airlines, who conveniently misplaced my second piece of luggage with a few extra clothing items and all of my GUs. Northwest would eventual return the luggage, a day AFTER I returned home. At various times, I even allowed my mind and eyes to wander, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the Midwest plains. There is quite a bit of history attached to Route 66, and it was great to have an opportunity to take it all in. This included, among other things, copious amounts of road kill. Apparently they didn’t get the memo that Route 66 was still an active road. Over the next 10 miles, the incessant rolling roads continued, broken only by the need to go over (or under) the overpass over Interstate 40. Route 66 often paralleled I-40 for a great deal of the first half of the race. With the aid stations often 10+ miles apart, I would sit in the crew vehicle at times when the sun exposure started to bear down on me. It was taking its toll, but the rest minutes were crucial to keeping me mentally engaged while waiting for the body to “turn the corner”.It was around mile 41-42 that I could feel my body and my pace strengthen once again. I was starting to hold the 10:00 min per mile pace again, intermittently dropping under it for shorter stretches. I was continuing to take advantage of the rolling hills by going down them at or below 9:00 min per mile pace and taking it easier of the ascent. I would throw in 1 min walking times going uphill to take in nutrition before starting up again to give me added momentum on the downhills. I was still holding onto 5th place and although 6th place kept trying to close the gap, I would continue to maintain it through the 50 mile checkpoint. Just before the 50 mile checkpoint, I could see 4th and 3rd place in the distance but chose not to go after them. Instead, I was focused on using the walking breaks to keep my legs fresh in anticipation of strong close over the last 1/3 of the race.After coasting in at around 8:16 to the 50 mile mark, I took 6 minutes to regroup and drink 2 cups of chicken broth. The nutrients and high sodium content hit the spot, tipping the electrolyte and energy scale back into balance. The result of this was a renewed sense of purpose and mission, as well as a more upright running posture signaling that not only was I back in the driver’s seat, but that the engine was just getting warmed up. Only a half-mile out of the aid station, the 4th place competitor was crossing the road to get back out on the course after being tended to by his crew. He looked dazed and unsure of himself, with his head wandering and his legs moving gingerly while trying to run again. I greeted him warmly, wished him well and just kept on moving. Another mile down the road, I could see the 3rd place competitor cresting the next hill as I began down the hill I was on. While the ups and downs were somewhat scattered, these hills were much more uniform in length (anywhere from 2/3 to 1 mile, I think) had a clear rythym to them. The most important thing at that point was developing a strong rythym in order to maintain the 10:00 per mile pace through the rest of the race. I continued to see sub-17 hours as a very real possibility, choosing to focus on my time rather than placing, which would ultimately take care of itself. Passing people was the least of my concerns when an epic blow-up could be lurking in the distance. After catching up with the 3rd place competitor around mile 53, we seemed to change positions back and forth with some measure of frequency. He continued to try to run all sections, while I took a different tack. I would run the downhills at a sub 9:00 to 9:30 min. per mile clip, but I would always give myself a minute of walking about half way up the uphill sections. This allowed me to use some different muscle groups, clear my head and even munch on some food without sacrificing time towards my ultimate goal. I was also believed this would allow me to save muscle strength to significantly drop my pace over the last 10-20 miles. In addition, I was also taking short periods to put on colder weather clothing, keep taking in solid food, and even spend a minute or two in the crew vehicle getting warm. We continued to go back and forth until finally around mile 62.5, I took off for the last time. I was too physically strong to continue holding back and I had grown tired of hanging around him. In no way did it reflect any enmity towards the other runner; it was merely a way to give myself a psychological edge in order to finish strong. By mile 67.5, the gap had grown to 0.75 miles and I just kept pushing forward. The volunteers at the 67.3 mile aid station pegged me at well over 20 minutes behind 2nd place and even further behind 1st place, which kept me solely focused on the sub-17:00 hour race goal and not on the two runners in front of me.After polishing off a strong section with a 9:10 final mile, I arrived at the 73 mile aid station surprised to see the flashing lights of the 2nd place runner in the distance. Things were rolling along quite nicely. After a cup of hot potato soup and putting on more cold weather gear, I was off on my own on the 6 mile off-road dirt section of the course that gave me the isolated feeling of being in “Sleepy Hollow”. The section has a decent amount of foliage, which creates a sort of “tunnel-like” feeling with no end in sight. Away from the concrete, the weather shifted and with some wicked winds picking up, it created a wind tunnel which brought a chill to my bones.As I met my crew member at the outlet from the dirt back to the pavement in the town of Geary, I had originally thought of running with her from here to the end and picking up the vehicle later. However, with the conditions so cold and our formula working well, we didn’t want to mess with a good thing at the time. This is where it got interesting. We were supposed to go on Hwy 273 East, so when we reached an intersection without any markings or signs on the ground as was expected, we simply kept going. There were no signs anywhere that we could see looking ahead. All other major intersections had multiple ground markings painted on as well as one of those two-sided ground signs often seen outside small shops.12 miles later, after continually checking to make sure we were on 273, we realized the truth when there was no aid station. 12 miles and over 2.5 hours later while freezing through winds, humidity and temps in the 20s and low 20s. The time we took reflected the breaks needed to keep the body warm and somehow try to keep clothes dry to stay warm out there. As much as it hurt to be out there, it hurt even more to discover what happened. When you’re one of the first runners out there, there are no “others to follow”. In fact, the only painted symbol on the roadway was on the right hand side (as opposed to the runners being on the left) which was covered up when my crew member stopped for me on the spot to get me another sweater to wear. There were no two-sided signs and the supplies left unmanned were tucked away to the right on a porch that is not very visible from the roadway at night in the quiet, dead-still town of Geary at night. I was spent, emotionally and physically. As much as I could’ve gone back out there at the 17:25 mark (after working with my crew member to sort out what had happened and finally figure out what the race officials recommended) and a little over 21 miles to go, I let it go. To be up there with a chance to close the gap and overtake 1st and 2nd was both awesome and taxing at the same time. The emotional drain when I finally got the news from my crew member was definitely a lot to take in at the moment. I know that I should have just finished, but then I was thinking about all these crazy rules of the race and the flight home to mom’s 60th birthday celebration in SF later that day, and I just decided to rest for at least a few hours before going to the airport to fly home. Should I have just gone back out there and finished? Probably. It probably reflects somewhat poorly on my character considering those who struggle just to make it in 29:59. For that, I do hope that this is more of an abherration than the sign of a long term defect. But in this case, that excitement and anxiety left me fully drained when I figured out that we had taken the wrong road. There was also a bit of an appreciation for the mental drain that those in front go through while jockeying for positions during a race. It adds a layer of excitement, anxiety, and physical strain that can push an individual closer to that “edge”. Usually, races leave me with something to go back to the drawing board with to figure out. In this case, there was nothing about this race (apart from the missed turn) that wasn’t executed well. Sure, the down period between mile 30 to mile 40 wasn’t exactly flawless, but our reaction and execution of our recovery strategy was excellent. Besides, I always plan for this as a down period partly due to the body being drained of stored glycogen. I was so proud of my crew member for helping me manage a race that reflected everything that I had put into planning. It played incredibly well into my strength of closing out the last 10-15 miles of 100 milers incredibly strong. While I was building to closing out with 9:00-9:30 min. miles to finish, I guess I’ll have to save it for next time . It’s enough for me right now to know that a sub-17 hour race as well as the eventual 1st place time of 17:17 were well within my striking range. While normally I would come away from this feeling like nothing good happened because of the non-finish, I am genuinely excited about the future and can still say, “Mission Accomplished” (somewhat ). Next up: CIM and Rodeo Beack 50k.

Stay strong, take care and God bless.