Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Desert Solstice 2017

Going into this race, my main goal was to run smart. Of course, I was also hoping I could put in a magical performance and hit 155 miles.

The worst part of Desert Solstice was that it actually went so smoothly. I know that sounds crazy, but if there really isn’t anything obvious to fix, how do I improve my performance. I can’t really point my finger at anything that got in my way. Sure, the weather could have been 10 degrees cooler and cloudy, and I could have been 5 pounds lighter, etc. But in the end, how much of a difference could those little changes have made? I hope that I have even better performances in my future, but what will it take to get there?

Early Fall feels like the peak of my running calendar. Before that, it’s too early to get the miles and the fitness up to where it needs to be. Afterwards, daylight shortens, motivation is difficult to maintain, and all the holidays make a healthy weight nearly impossible. Well, this year I did much better than usual. I kept up the mileage, but I was only partially successful in eating smart - actually I was pretty unsuccessful. The only thing that kept me from being recruited as a fat bellied santa claus was that the consistent mileage burned off some of the caloric intake.

I was probably about 5 pounds over my “ideal” race weight going into Desert Solstice. Then again, I’ve only hit this magic weight a couple of times in my life, usually in late summer, and never for more than a week or so. Anyway, I tried to focus on the positives. Though I made some mistakes, I had a decent performance at Javelina and that gave me a much needed morale boost. Javelina and Belfast were the only two halfway decent races I had all year.

As usual, the lineup at Desert Solstice was intimidating. My first appearance here in 2015 was was quite humbling. I got to watch Pete Kostelnick sprint 163+ miles as I struggled to complete 100, while recovering from a nasty case of Achilles tendonitis. Going into that race, I viewed it as 19 elite runners, plus Adrian. I was far from cocky this year, but at least I felt like I belonged there as much as many others. Sure, I couldn't keep up with the likes of Zach or Camille for even 1 lap, but I felt like I should be able to hold my own with most 24 hour runners.

Anyone that knows me knows that pacing is my biggest obsession when it comes to running. As much as that may be, there have been only a handful of races that I can look back upon and feel proud of my pacing performance. It is so incredibly tough to execute the right pacing strategy on an ultra. You always feel so damn good in the beginning, and then there are all of these “slower”, less experienced runners just flying by. How are you supposed to resist? It’s tough. It’s tough on a trail ultra where you only catch a single glimpse of these runners (until you pass them later). It is exponentially harder on a looped race, especially a 400m track, where you’re being lapped mercilessly.

The first third of the race was all about self control. The next 8 hours were about the sobering realization that I couldn’t really run much faster even if I wanted to. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until the second half of the race, when I started to very, very slowly reel back some of the endless laps that the front runners had gained on me that I finally started to feel good about things. I was far from celebrating, since victory was not assured until the very end, but at least I felt good about executing a smart race plan.

Isaiah Janzen had gotten off to a great start, and even when small kinks in his armour started to show through, he had built up so much of a cushion that it was difficult to imagine him losing the lead. Jeremy Hughes, from Canada was also putting in a really solid performance with no signs of slowing down. And then there was this Teage O’Conner guy running barefoot. He had great form and a super steady pace. And here I was, way down in the pack watching all these guys (and gals) putting up these incredible performances. Even after 70 ultras, It was hard to maintain my cool and not just call it quits.

Well, maturity is one of the few benefits of old age, and though I rarely exhibit it, I quietly and patiently plodded along, hoping that things would change. As I’m always telling my daughters “You can’t control what anyone else does. All you can do is put up the best possible performance that is inside of you. If that’s good enough for a win, great. If it’s not, you should be no less proud.” Let’s be honest, winning is pretty darn nice, but I truly rate my performances on how well I feel that I did, not whether everyone did worse than me.

I really did run my own race. I didn’t race against anyone until the last third of the race, as I was trying to catch Isaiah and Jeremy. As I did start to finally narrow the gap to these guys, I have to admit that I played a little game with them, as much for my mental benefit as for their detriment (I’m so evil). Anytime I would be close to lapping one of them, I would ease up just a little, collect myself, then put in a little extra speed as I went by. I hoped this would do one of two things; first, it might convince them of my physical superiority and they would just choose to surrender rather than continuing their futile attempts, or secondly, they might attempt to match my pace and in their weakened state destroy any chances they might have had to recover. Can you just picture me twirling my waxed mustache and petting my cat as you read this? And here you thought that ultrarunning was such a collegial, feel-good sport.

Even after so many ultras, I still experiment and make modifications. This time, I cut the toes off my shoes ala Joe Fejes. This seemed to work quite well. I ended up with a single, large and unsightly blister, but it did not affect my performance. The sock on my right foot merely rubbed and snagged the top of a toenail. Secondly, over the last 8 hours, I took almost all of my calories from Coke. The few cookies and chips I had were merely to keep my empty stomach from gnawing on itself. Though I had to make 2 pit stops in the last third of the race, I never had stomach issues.

Though my 155 goal disappeared pretty early on, I thought I had an outside chance of beating Jon Olsen’s 153 from Belfast. As that one slipped away, I was still on track to go over 151 and regain my 4th place position that Greg Armstrong had taken over just a week before. Unfortunately, that one slipped away also. I was running such a tight game that with a whole 90 minutes left on the clock I realized that 151 wasn’t going to happen. I was even worried about breaking 150. I have to say that I probably pushed my body harder than I ever have before. Not just the legs, but my entire body. My guts. My bladder, etc.

I really must thank John and Senovia for their awesome crewing. I had never met these two before, but through a mutual friend, they agreed to help me out and they did an amazing job. They even put up with my mood/focus over the last few hours when the smiles wore out. And, as usual, Aravaipa did an amazing job in putting on this great race.

I missed some of my goals, but I’m quite proud of my performance. Winning is great, but running such a well executed, steadily paced race is what really makes me happy.

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