Monday, September 22, 2014

Wasatch Front 100 mile race report

"Training to run 100 miles is like training to get hit by a truck." -Luis Escobar

I first wanted to write something big, similar to my last year's Western States report. But I understood that I don't have that many emotions left as I had after Western States. And I don't really have a desire to write a big fat race report. All I wanted to say is generally already said in my facebook. I think Western States together with my first road marathon are two races that left me in the most excited state ever. Because that's the first time you do something big and overwhelming, and no matter how many times and how hard you try to experience the same feeling again, it's just not happening. Probably because your first time all you care about is finishing and having fun, and your second and all future times are always about PR (at road marathon), or finishing time and placement (at an ultra).

I selected Wasatch as my second 100 because I wanted to finish a hard 100 miler. Western States is not the easiest ultra, but it is not hard. It is a fast course, most of the terrain is not technical, and well, "it's all downhill". I did not get lucky in Hardrock lottery (seriously, I was going to run it as my second 100 in the case I'd succeeded in the lottery), but I got lucky in Wasatch lottery. Wasatch is a hard 100. It is at the altitude between 5,000 feet (1.5km) and 10,500 feet (3.2km), that is not too bad, but for someone who lives at the sea level it actually is quite bad. It has 25,000 feet (7.6km) of elevation gain, and the same amount of elevation loss. That's quite a lot. The trails are mostly very technical and very rocky, and there are lots of very steep hands on knees climbs. Some descents were really steep too, with lots of loose rocks. So it is something that satisfied my requirements of the "hard 100 mile race".  It is also a Hardrock qualifier with no chances to be excluded from the list, so I got covered for 2015-2016 lotteries.

I trained hard, and I was in a good shape by the race day. My training mostly consisted of slow power hiking up the steep climbs. Think about combining Section line trail, Chirico trail, Poo top trail and Cable Line trail into a single workout (nah, not gonna call it a "run") on Tiger. I also raced in Utah in Wasatch range twice to check the terrain - at Squaw Peak 50M (2nd female, 10:11) and Speedgoat 50K (18th female, 8:21). I felt pretty bad because of the altitude both times, terrain didn't feel that bad, but it was clear that the hardest race in WA is not comparable with any of races in Wasatch. It's just too fucking high, too fucking steep, too fucking hot and too fucking rocky. Sorry :) One week after racing (er, I should not call that racing really..) Speedgoat 50K I ran White River 50M and finished sub-9 and 3rd female. Running White River was quite exciting because every time I run it I get surprised how much easier it feels comparing to the years before. Good sign, I guess. We spent 10 days in Colorado bouldering at 10,000 feet, sleeping at 8,500 and hiking up to 13,500 two weeks before Wasatch. By the end of our Colorado vacation I felt great at the altitude, running the ridge at 12,000 feet felt not harder than the sea level (well, it might have still been slower, but it didn't feel that way). 

Starting the race on Friday, September 5th I felt super confident. I decided to start somewhere in the middle of the pack because I was sure that I will have enough time to make my way to the front. "It's a 100 mile race, you'll have plenty of time to make up, remember how you negative split Western States with ease?" - that's what I was thinking to myself while slowly moving in the train of middle to back packers. Strategical mistake - it is not possible to negative split Wasatch, unlike Western States it doesn't get easier on the second part, it actually gets harder!

Let's just say that none of the Wasatch climbs were a big trouble for me. I am a good hiker as long as we are talking about very steep, technical climbs nobody can run. Till the most finish I was hiking uphill strong. The problem appeared where I didn't expect it - downhills. I'm used to thinking about myself as of a very strong and fast downhiller. I like to relax and push hard on downhills, I've never experienced "shot quads", and I ran all the downhills at Western States that has 26,000 feet of elevation loss (comparing to just 16,000 feet of gain) NBD.  I also haven't had any "knee problems" since I think 2009 when I trained for my first half marathon, pushed through standard for beginners IT band syndrome, and then it magically disappeared. So, during Wasatch I've got knee pain. It was not the same as IT band, it was something different, not sure how to describe. Like my joints were really tired and painful of overuse. Maybe it was caused by steeper hills, maybe it was caused by colder temps in the morning, maybe it was caused by much more rocky, hard packed and technical trails than what I am used to. I am pretty sure that my training was adequate for the course, just something went wrong, like it supposed to during a 100 mile race. 

I picked up my first pacer (Maxim) at mile 52, Lambs Canyon. I was hardly moving when I arrived to Lambs, but 2 miles of pavement and Maxim who is pretty good in talking in radio entertainment mode (not requiring any response) cured me for some time and we were moving well. We passed a very chatty girl with her pacer (another girl), and later we passed another women with poles who was death marching. Considering that I was 8th female at the Lambs, it meant that I became 6th after I passed her. I was hiking uphills strong, and I was still running flats and downhills. We were well behind sub-24 pace, but we were moving. Up until we reached the paved downhill section to Brighton (mile 85), where my joints decided that I don't want to run anymore. So we walked, or ran-walked, or ran with straight legs (no bending in my knees), not sure how to call this, but it was a pity picture. After reaching Brighton where I got extra warm cloths and changed socks I exchanged my pacers (Maxim to Nikolay) and we started the biggest climb of the course to 10,500 feet. Once again, I had no troubles hiking uphill and I had no altitude problems, so the uphill didn't feel bad at all (wish I could say that about climbs at Squaw Peak and Speedgoat! Altitude acclimation makes a HUGE difference, never underestimate it!). However as soon as we reached the top, we realized that it's going to be a long night. I was not able to run. Neither flats nor downhills. So.. 23 miles were ahead of us and no running perspectives at all. Oopsy. I decided that I just have to keep moving. "It is a hard section, everyone is moving slow" - I remembered the Wasatch veteran advice. I had no troubles with my stomach, but I had troubles eating. Usually I have no problems swallowing Honey Stinger chews, this time the thought of eating them made me sick. I was drinking coke and I had Carbo Pro in my water (though 3 times less than they recommend, I couldn't stand anything sweet anymore, and couldn't risk stop drinking - that's why I only had 1/3 of the recommended dose). Nikolay told me to eat once in an hour, and I made myself eating half a pack of Honey Stingers, leaving the other half for later. I don't think though that I was out of energy, it didn't feel that way anyways. I just felt that my knee joints did not want to run. It wasn't too cold, but I wasn't drinking much. I did not refill my pack once (I had 2 liters bladder) since we left Brighton. Not being dependent on aid station food and water helped us to pass aid stations without a single stop.

Somewhere around mile 90 Nikolay told me that we still had chances for sub-26, but I had to run. I couldn't. I needed a fucking miracle to turn this around.

And it happened. I was passed by men and their pacers here and there and I couldn't care less as long as that was not woman (Nikolay checked to make sure that all the women that passed us had a bib with "PACER" written on it, and I didn't see a single woman who was in the race since I passed that death walking woman to get into 6th position). And at some point just another man and his pacer (a man too) caught up with us. I wouldn't normally care, but they just kept running behind us and they were really noisy. One of the men talked non stop, and it was some annoying rubbish he was talking about. So I sped up to add some distance between us and shut that noise down a little bit. So we started running, not fast, but fast enough to run away from these two. Sometimes I could hear them again, but then they again disappeared. So quite soon we reached the last aid station at mile 94. And here the second miracle happened. A woman walked into the aid station few seconds ahead of us and announced her bib number. She was alone. She was in the race!!!

The terrain after the last aid station is quite flat. Well, it's rolling, but all hills are runable (for sure if you are not past 94 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation gain, if you are - not so much). I did not say a word, I just started running as fast as I could. I had to announce my bib number out loud to aid station volunteers, so I knew that she knew that I was in the race too. It was still dark, but the sunrise was close. We were wearing the headlamps, and I didn't want her to know that I am running scared. I asked Nikolay to check if she was behind, and he confirmed. I kept running. I knew exactly what was awaiting me because I studied the maps, and of course the last and the first stretches is something you remember best. So I knew that the trail must join the paved road, and that road will be just 0.5 miles before the finish line. The trail was running along the lake and every time we approached another turn I hoped to see the pavement, just to see how it continues till another turn. It lasted forever. The sun rose and it was beautiful. First time in my life I was meeting the second sunrise in a row while running. Finally we reached the pavement, and I started seeing the finish line far ahead. It looked really far. Maxim met us. Just few more meters and I was done. 

The finish line of Wasatch is not that big and loud as the one at Western States. They did not even have the timing board. I lied on the ground, Nikolay checked the results online (really fast tracking system at Wasatch!) and announced that I was the 6th women at 25:47:01. WTF, I was sure I must be 5th. Somehow the woman we passed at mile 94 aid station, was the same I passed long time ago while running with Maxim. I have no ideas when she passed me back. Maxim didn't see her too, and Nikolay said she left Brighton ahead of me. Well, it happens. She finished 14 minutes behind.

I was not happy with how I ran first, but I wanted a hard race, and I got it. It would've been disappointing if it was easy :) Women's field this year was very strong, with top 4 being elite level runners and all ran under 24. The 16 years old course record held by Ann Trason was broken by local Bethany Lewis (in 22:21:47 she was the second women ever - after Ann - to run Wasatch under 23 hours).

What's next? I have my Hardrock qualifier now, so I am applying for this one for sure. I am also applying for Western States lottery again (yeah, because I apparently love easy 100s!). If I am not lucky with Hardrock or Western, I am going to run Cascade Crest. It is a local race with easier terrain, I can train on the course and I can really be competitive on it. Yep, that's the plan.

For now I am having my off season, trying to get in shape for bouldering competitions season. It's hard, because I lost muscle mass during the 100 and became weak. Considering that I am a powerful climber (e.g. lack technique, finger strength and flexibility and rely mostly on power ;)), it means that I am now climbing couple of grades worse than in August. Since I am not going to win anything, I don't care - I love boulder comps!

I am not yet sure if I will sign up for Seattle marathon or not. I have a mental trauma after last year's race ;) and I don't want to train hard again to screw it again. I think I am going to sign up and run it though. After all it's just a marathon.