Saturday, April 7, 2012

2012 Pirate's Cove 50k Recap

It’s been a little over a week since PCTR’s Pirate’s Cove 50k on Saturday, March 24th, so I thought I’d check-in with a report on a race that wasn’t initially on my radar. Coming off of the Way Too Cool 50k on March 10th, there was a 5 week gap of time until the Lake Sonoma 50 miler on April 14th. While I’m generally hesitant to put more than 1 race a month on the calendar for reasons such as time, travel and cost (except under certain circumstances), my training needed a bit of a jump start with too many 70-80 mile weeks lately instead of the more intense 100+ mileweeks I tend to seek out once every 4 weeks when trying to peak for racing season. While the race would only move the distance needle to 75 miles for the week (with Sunday left), it would providethe kind of intense, longer runs that are critical to getting my long-distance speed more finely tuned for Lake Sonoma, the Miwok 100k and ultimately Badwater.

When looking at all the races and weekends available on the calendar during this time period, the weekends of March 24th and March 31st stood out as the most logical to push hard while stillallowing for a proper 2-week taper leading up the Lake Sonoma 50. Then, on the weekend I didn’t race, I was planning a trip for my wife and I to visit friends in Los Angeles. Ultimately, I wanted a race where I had a familiarity with the course and where other top local ultrarunners had run so that the result could provide a better gauge for where I’m at physically in relation to my myself as well as the community at large. Of the races being offered, this one and one in Pacifica on the 31st were the best bets. While Pacifica packs a bigger punch as far as elevation gain is concerned, Pirate’s Cove (which uses the same course as the Rodeo Beach in December) has a more similar profile to Lake Sonoma.Going into the race, I was coming off the 3:53:59 at Way Too Cool with 2000 ft. less climbing. I felt fairly well recovered and ready to get close to that 4 hour 50k barrier once again.

I came into the race with a little more confidence in my abilities this year and the ability/desire to push a little bit more throughout the race. The PC50k course record was 3:59:23 by Victor Ballesteros, an accomplished ultrarunner and fellow Tamalpa teammate. While 4 hours sat in the back of my mind, I knew that would require a sub-2:25 opening 30k loop before entertaining that as apossibility. Based on training runs out there in admittedly drier conditions, I had a really good handle on a sustainable effort that I could hold that might bring me in under 2:25 for the first 30k. I ultimately geared my mind to shoot for a 4:00-4:10 time range with a “take it as it comes” approach for that final 20k. I just wanted something to gear my pacing towards in to gain more and more confidence and fine-tune the pre-race and in-race Paleo-adapted fueling strategy. The weather wasn’t really something I thought too much about before the race. But with skies opening up the night before the race and a constant drizzle coming down at Rodeo Beach, I knew the trails would be a bit muddy but didn’t really allow that to play into my race strategy which was just to go hard and not worry about things I can’t control. Besides, I always feel like bad weather on a familiar course is a good thing for me. Knowledge about where the tread is firmest on particular trails and the confidence to find the right lines to run on to push it is invaluable to me as a runner and competitor. I always want to put my best foot forward and expand the possibilities about what times are possible even in less than favorable conditions. The start was typical of PCTR races: Very mellow, easy-going and relaxed. As always, there’s always a familiar face to see with Kermit Cuff jokingly jockeying for position with me nearthe front and Rick snapping our picture before the start. Before we knew it, the 10 second countdown had begun and eventually, the starting siren blaring from the megaphone sent uson our way up the 1 ½ mile climb up to the WW2 era Bunker Hill. The climb has a mix of trail, road and stairs which provides a nice mix of running early on to engage the senses. I can usually push it fairly well on these trails in my Brooks Racer ST5 road shoes, so that’s what I went with for this race. I added a warm headband and gloves to my normal Headlands outfit to keep comfortable and leave me with little excuse for trying to push hard.

Early on, I went to the front with a couple of other runners trailing close behind. One of my big emphases this off-season has been to stay consistent on the climbs. Even if I wasn’t burning it up, I wanted to stay in constant motion and start to save those precious minutes that I’ve tended to lose in large quantities to the lighter folks that can’t be simply made up for on the downhills. Eventually, the gap grew to what looked like a good minute and I started to enjoy simply being in my own space. After treading gently down Wolf Ridge and powering down Old Springs, I scooted through Tennessee Valley at the 4ish mile mark in just under 33 minutes. This is about what I was thinking based on past races. The key for this first 30k loop, though, would be this next 6.6 mile loopback to Tennessee Valley along the Miwok trail, Coyote Ridge and Pirate’s Cove areas. There was plenty of hills that, although not extremely difficult, present great opportunities to work on staying in motion. I would have to be back in Tennessee Valley sometime around 1:26-1:28 in order to keep that 2:25in sight.

The initial mile long climb up the Miwok trail gave me a bit of a glimpse of what to expect: slick rock interspersed with a filthy, soft mud. However, the trail didn’t start getting really interesting until I crested Coyote Ridge over looking the Pacific Ocean. The ground here was just a big sloppy mess that in certain parts looked more like a big slip n’ slide than a runnable trail. While some sections where runnable with support from grassy roots, others forced me to mix in a bit of my skiing technique to keep up my pace. It didn’t diminish the joy of just being out there and running. Rather, it heightened my senses and made me aware that turning the throttle down on certain parts would be wise in order to avoid falling off the cliffs overlooking Pirate’s Cove and the Pacific Ocean. Coming back to Tennessee Valley from the Pacific Ocean along the Coastal Fireroad was a bit less eventful with a firm footing allowing me topush the pace a bit. I came to the aidstation at 1:28:15, getting a quick top-off of my water bottle and then leavingon my way. Now, returning to run thetrails run by the runners in the shorter distance events, I started to see theimpact of the wet weather and the well-worn trails on my footing. I wasn’t losing significant amounts of timeagainst what I do on these trails in training. But I think like Coyote Ridge and Pirate’s Cove, these trails werecausing me to work a little harder and not always move in a straight line inorder to find firm footing. Seconds hereand there eventually add up, but my focus was again on just moving along withthe pursuers out of sight now. There’s not too much to highlight about traversing theridgeline overlooking the San Francisco Bay, except to say that even in drearyweather the Golden Gate still looks as good as ever. I was able to start to get back into the 6:XXmin/mile pace on the flattest single-track and the eventual drop back down into Rodeo Valley and the Beach area.

I eventually cruised through the 30k mark at theStart/Finish area in 2:27:15, stopping for about 30 seconds to refill my bottle(thanks, Rick!) and go. I had prepared abottle with more GU Roctane, my fuel of choice, to get me through the rest ofthe race but could not locate it where I had left it. I just took off, knowing I had enough to getme through the next section but not enough for the final hour of the race.While a bit bummed about not finding my pre-prepped bottle,I just focused on my uphill stride and getting to Tennessee Valley sometimeshortly after the 3 hour mark. The trailhad sufficiently been torn up on the downhills here that I just relaxed and gotthrough it as expeditiously as possible.While a more ambitious approach might have been more desirable oncertain downhill sections, I still had plenty in the tank and looked forward tokeep pushing forward for the final 8 miles after TV.

I cruised into Tennessee Valley in 3:04:45 and made amistake I wish I hadn’t. My body lovescalories and when it’s fueled, it moves well.However, there is a small 20 second detour you have to take to get to theaid station table versus going straight up the steady grade of the Marincellotrail and the final 8 miles of the race. After refilling my water bottle from a spigot on the trail on the waydown to Tennessee Valley, I didn’t really feel like shopping and didn’t thinkthe lack of calories for the next 40+ minutes would do much to me.What happened over the next 4 ½ miles wasn’t what I wouldcall a meltdown or collapse; just more of a grind than anything else. I could chalk it up to the course being sloppier overall, but that certainly wouldn’t explain consciously easing into aslower pace on the downhill sections with firmer footing. I think it’s that little bit of extrastruggle and extra soreness in the legs that seems to let me know that I coulduse some calories. As the miles passed by and the possibility of being chased down waned, I just focused on maintaining a consistent pace and getting to the finish line to get warm.

I picked up a couple of chocolate chip cookies and some electrolyte fluid at the last aid station before cruising down the Coastal Trail and into Rodeo Valley to the finish.I ended up crossing the finish line in 4:13:59, looking for shelter atlast on this progressively wet and cold day in Marin. It was a good time overall considering I wasnever really threatened or pushed and can be looked at favorably by mosthistorical standards on that course. I’lltake the 1st place in a small overall field, with the medal and mug that comes with it. While it may not have been the best day to run for time, it was a great to run nonetheless as I look forward to the Lake Sonoma 50 on April 14th and the Miwok 100k on May 5th. Bigger challenges await……