Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inaugural Cuyamaca 100K - October 6, 2012

Pre-Race Build-up and Thoughts

After Coyote Ridge, the trend to returning to normal running continued gradually.  In the weeks between Coyote Ridge and Cuyamaca 100K, I ran a 5K, a track workout, and two interval workouts.  It had been months since I'd done any of those things.  The 5K was the first time running sub-6 pace on flat road since April, and it had been just as long since my last track workout.  These runs gave me confidence that my knee and body were ready to gear back up and run fast again.

I continued to carefully run more.  By the time Cuyamaca got here, I still hadn't worked my way up to any kind of high mileage, but did manage several runs in the 15-22 mile range.  The two weeks before Cuyamaca, with about 73 and 65 miles, respectively, were my highest mileage weeks this summer post-injury.  The weekend before Cuyamaca I went to Point Mugu State Park, camped on the beach and enjoyed a beautiful jaunt for about 4 hours on the Ray Miller Trail, Boney Mountain, and the connecting trails.  It was as beautiful as I was hoping it would be.  Stunning views, difficult climbs, fun descents.

So anyway, going into the Cuyamaca 100K, there were lots of things on my mind.  I had been feeling healthy, so I was confident that I was past my injuries and would be able to finish the race.  The rest was pretty uncertain, though.  I was glad to be definitely on the upward trend again with my running, but I was nowhere near the level of fitness I was at in Fall 2011 or late Spring this year.  The fact that the only other 100K I've run (Bandera, January 2012) was a complete disaster left me feeling a bit uneasy about going that same distance again.  Cuyamaca would have more elevation change than Bandera, but better surface.  The big problem at Bandera, though, was that I had overestimated my fitness, underestimated the distance, and just recovered from an injury that returned halfway through the race.

I planned to use the uneasiness from Bandera to help me run a smarter race at Cuyamaca.  And Bandera was indeed on my mind several times throughout the race.

Oh yeah, the other thing that I was really anxious about was heat.  One of (if not the) worst encounters with heat I've ever had was when I ran the second half of the Cuyamaca course with a group in late July.  It was terrible, and San Diego had been experiencing much higher than usual heat in the weeks leading up to the Cuyamaca race.  I was very thankful, then, that the weather cooled down JUST in time for race weekend, so the heat was no longer much of an issue.

trying to recover from post-run heat exhaustion back in July
Of course, there was a ton to be excited about this race.  I was really looking forward to being part of an inaugural event.  And now that it's over, I'm sure it is one that will be around for a long time and become very popular very quickly.  Also, my dad flew in for the race weekend to crew for me.  Thanks to the fantastic race organization and relative proximity of the aid stations to each other, I was able to see my dad probably about every hour on average - at all but one aid station.  I have issues sometimes forcing myself to fuel properly.  JFK 2011, probably the best race I've ever run, went so well largely due to a regular, disciplined fueling routine.  My dad was there at Cuyamaca to ensure I took all the gels, electrolytes and food that I needed to avoid crashing.

The Race

Wow...since moving to San Diego in late June, this was my third ultra, and it felt like truly complete immersion in the California trail scene.  The race directors were truly experts.  It was one of the most well organized events I've run -- and it was the first time it's been held!  Every aid station was well stocked and staffed by cheerful and exuberant volunteers.  It's always nice when you can tell that the volunteers are having a great time being out there, AND they do everything they can to make sure the runners get what they need.

It was quite a chilly morning before the start - kind of refreshing to start running with the temperature still in the high 40s/low 50s F (that's a guess).  I said goodbye to my dad and joined everyone else on the starting line, where I ran into the one person that I knew who was also running: Joel, who I'd become acquainted with at the training run.

The first 8 miles were pretty fast terrain, generally downhill.  I fell into a long line of runners on the singletrack, which gradually thinned out into smaller groups.  I recognized a couple others from the July  training run.  With Bandera in mind, I made sure to maintain a feeling of reservation in this first segment.  It was a beautiful morning!

I felt great and fresh.  I reached the first aid station in a bit shorter time that I had anticipated, but that was just because of the generally downhill first section - I was being careful and staying very conservative, so I wasn't worried that I'd gone out too fast at all.

from the race's Facebook - getting close to Green Valley (Aid Station 2)
Between miles 8 and 13, I started to pass people once in a while.  I had found a good rhythm, but it was still early and essentially all of the 10,000+ feet of climbing was still ahead.  The next aid station was at Green Valley Campground, and we ran down a road that went through the whole campground before actually reaching the aid station.  It was nice to be cheered on by the little groups of campers that had recently rolled out of their tents.  The volunteers at Green Valley advised that I have two bottles or a camelback for the next section.  It was 9 miles almost entirely uphill to the peak of Mount Cuyamaca.  Honestly, and in hind sight, that sounds worse than it actually is.  I don't know exactly, but my guess is that we had about 2,000 feet to gain from Green Valley to the peak.  So 2,000 feet in 9 miles is really a nice gradual climb.  Also, it was still nice and relatively cool out.  The climb up Cuyamaca exposed us to some nice winds blowing through the valleys, too.  But since I only had one bottle, I took in a good bit of nutrition at Green Valley, and the volunteers gave me a bottle of water to carry with me in addition.  My dad was there to help, but the aid station at the peak was the only one that was not crew accessible, so it would be about 13 miles and 2-3 hours until I saw him again.  

The climb to the top of Mount Cuyamaca ended up being my favorite section all day.  I had never been on that trail before, and it was wonderful!  Great views, awesome trail, and perfect weather.  I went on to pass a couple more people on the climb until I settled into what would basically be my position for the remainder of the day.  About 3/4 or so of the way up the climb, I passed a girl named Ashley who was sponsored by Pearl Izumi.  I was excited about this, because I love PI products, and I was wearing PI shoes and shorts.  I passed her then, which represented the beginning of a game of cat-and-mouse which would endure the next 7 hours.  

I was almost disappointed when this 9-mile section was over, but the aid station at the top was phenomenal and had a great view (big kudos to the RDs for getting such a complete aid station all the way up there!).  

Next up was a 4 mile descent, much of which was on an uncomfortably rocky trail down the east side of the mountain.  This section actually made me think about Bandera a lot.  The footing was similarly difficult to the rocks that cover half of the Bandera course.  I'd been feeling great all morning, but this section actually started to beat me up a bit.  The footing was frustrating, and my feet began to hurt.  Soon enough, though, I was at Paso Picacho, where I had camped before and my dad awaited me.  Ashley came into the aid station just after me and left just before me.  It was only 4 or 5 miles from here to the end of the first 50K, so I didn't spend too much time.  I then ran a good bit of the next segment with Ashley, chatting a bit - nice to have a little company after my rough patch coming down off Cuyamaca.  
entering Paso Picacho, feeling a little rough
Our cat-and-mouse game continued at the completion of the first loop.  Again, I entered the aid station before her, but she left before me.  I tried to eat and drink a lot here, because I had been feeling somewhat low and up next was an 8 mile segment.  I finished the first 50K in about 5:13, I think, and left to begin loop 2 at about 5:18.  I felt decent at the beginning of loop 2 (a 12-mile loop), but still not very good.  My plan/hope was that the second half of the race would be less painful and unpleasant than the training run on the second half of the course in July, which took about 6 hours total.  And honestly, although I wasn't feeling great at the time, I had a feeling I could run the second half in less than 6 hours, which would put me finishing at 11:20 or better - a time which I considered quite respectable!

On the plus side, everything I had ahead of me now I'd already seen before.  However, the climb at the beginning of loop 2 was significantly tougher than I remembered.  I was a bit surprised, really, and I walked much of it.  This was also the hottest part of the day, as it was early afternoon.  It was nowhere near as bad as that late-July training run, though.  As the trail dumped me out into a meadow toward the top of the climb, I began to feel a little better.  I saw Ashley again up ahead of me and counted her about two minutes ahead of me.  It was now a couple more miles, much of it back downhill, to the next aid station, and I started rolling again.  When I got to the next aid station and saw my dad (mile 39ish), I was feeling good.  I put lots of cold water in my head and ate some fruit.  Then it was only 4 miles back to camp to finish loop 2 and start the final loop.  I caught up to Ashley again at the aid station, but she left to begin loop 3 before I did.  Again, I was stuck around to fuel up a lot because the next segment was about 7 miles, and I remembered it being difficult when I ran it in July.  It included a pretty good climb for 3 miles or so.  

On a dirt path leading to the beginning of the climb, I saw Ashley up ahead again.  After a mile or so, I caught up with her and jogged next to her briefly.  I knew this was the last bad climb of the course and that there was a good bit of downhill to the finish, so I shared that with her.  I went ahead a little bit and got into a good rhythm on the climb.  My legs were tired and definitely feeling the day's miles, but I was all there mentally.  I remembered how miserable I was on this climb a couple months prior and was  perhaps motivated by how much better I was moving up it this time.  

I was then very pleased when I reached the Sunrise Highway aid station at mile 50.9 in just about exactly 9 hours.  All things considered, 9 hours for those 50 miles seemed pretty good.  Also, it was now about 11.5 miles to the finish.  The next 4-5 miles were relatively easy terrain, and then the final 6-7 were almost entirely flat or downhill.  It was here that I began to consider the possibility of running under 11 hours.

taken by a spectator - approaching Sunrise at mile 51
I left Sunrise just as Ashley was entering, as our game continued.  I began to run hard off and on during the next segment as the thought of 11 hours drove me forward.  I was a bit discouraged, though, as this section seemed to last longer than I was expecting.  It wasn't huge, but I anticipated reaching the final aid station, Pedro Fages at mile 55.5, at about 9:50 run time.  Instead, I arrived at 10 hours, but still feeling really good.  My dad was there, and everyone seemed to be in a great mood.  It was just under 7  miles from here to the finish, and I had just under an hour to do it if I was going to break 11 hours.  I left the aid station at a walk for a couple minutes while I ate, but then began to push.  I began some self talk at this point, telling myself not to leave anything out on the trail and making the conscious decision to run faster than I was at any given moment if I had it in me.  I couldn't believe how hard I was running for the last 3 miles or so.  I felt like I was running at marathon pace.  I didn't know how far I had to the finish, but I knew I was going to be close to 11:00.  The uncertainty made me push harder.
entering Pedro Fages at mile 55.5 - last aid station!
homeward bound - leaving Pedro Fages!

Eventually, I saw a trail sign that made me think I had about a mile to go, and my watch was at 10:52 I think.  I knew I could run an 8-minute mile at this point, so I was excited.  

There was a tiny little hill about a quarter mile before the finish that slowed me down drastically for the 20 or 30 seconds that it lasted, which I thought was kind of funny.  As soon as it leveled off, though, I was back at a fast pace.  And I had timed it just about perfectly, crossing the line in 10:59:08.

The RD, Scott Crellin, was there to greet me and I expressed my excitement about his race and how wonderfully impressed I was.  I was also really happy that I ran a good race and finished before sunset - so my dad didn't fly all the way out to San Diego to see me crash and burn and/or run into the night.  I definitely ran a much smarter race than I did at Bandera.  At Bandera, my 50K splits were about 5:00 and 7:30, whereas at Cuyamaca they were about 5:20 and 5:40.  Also, I met my goal of running the second half better than the training run a couple months ago.

And best of all, I felt great almost all day!  No injuries or nags whatsoever, and high energy almost the entire time.  And then, I was equally (if not more) excited about the running I did in the days/week right after Cuyamaca 100K.  While my legs were a bit tired and my joints a little stiff, I was going on normal runs and feeling good...that may sound kind of weird, but I don't really feel like explaining it.  The bottom line is, I finally feel like I'm getting back into good shape now and able to get into a regular running routine.

After Bandera 100K, I knew I didn't run a smart race and I paid for it dearly.  However, I did like the 100K distance.  Cuyamaca 100K reaffirmed that for me; it is a very enjoyable distance.  I'd really like to get into another 100K or 50 miler sometime soon, but I'm still looking for one that will fit into my schedule.
Good day - time for a milkshake at Descanso Junction with Dad

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