Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Dam 15 Miler Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 13th Edition 
160.4 miles run in 2015 races
Race: The Dam 15 Miler
Place: Deer Creek Reservoir, UT
Miles from home: 810
Weather: High 70s; sunny; hot

I was in the greater Salt Lake City area to work with one of my sponsors, ASEA, this past weekend. I know there are a dozen races every weekend in the valley and its surrounding neighborhoods, so I figured I could find one I hadn't run which would be unique. The Dam 15 Miler, starting at 6 p.m., fit that bill.  As I am a person who thrives on activities that take place at night, this seemed to be right up my alley. Well, up my alley with regards to the time of the race. A trail race, at elevation, where one has to be responsible for their own aid is not up my alley.

This last portion, where races have gone "cupless" is a tad annoying. I am all for being green and like the sustainability of races but have done a few of these cupless races and they are not always being genuine. They taut their saving the environment mentality when it is really a "we are giving you less as we don't have volunteers or manpower or supplies." Runners are not dumb. We are fine with a race not giving everyone a sherpa at all events. But don't do so in the name of the environment. To a point, as I have mentioned in other recaps, I tend to like a frill here and there. When I am racing, I am working hard.  I don't want to have to also be responsible for some ice and water as well. Call me pampered.  Just don't call me late for dinner.

Besides the evening nature of this race, what drew me to it was the fact that the out-and-back course was the exact same course upon which I had done my first ever triathlon, back in 2008. I had won that race and was hoping, after two 2nd place finishes in races last weekend (which irked me to no end) that perhaps this would be some sweet redemption.

As the race would be without any real aid (there was supposed to be a cooler at the turn-around for the 10k and then some at our turn-around) we knew we had to carry our own water. I opted to test run the Camelbak Circuit hydration pack with a 1.5L bladder.  I had worn it once on a run in Rio last month but this would be my first racing test. Wearing some Thorlo trail socks and Karhu Flow3 Trail shoes, I would be all geared up.

Arriving earlier than I needed I grabbed an empty parking spot.  It ended up that it was literally next to where we would start the race.  If I had not been in the portapotty continually as I tried to stay hydrated, I could have rolled out my passenger door and onto the starting line. As the countdown to the race came near, I looked around and tried to size up the competition. I didn't recognize anyone. On one hand that meant I saw no one I knew was faster than me. On the other hand, that simply meant someone new might beat me again.

Out portion: 7.5 miles in 1:02

As we headed out of the cattle guard gate and onto the oddly named Provo-Jordan River Parkway (it was neither close to Provo, nor the Jordan River, or even remotely resembling a parkway) no one immediately ran with me. Determined not to be the pace-setter for this race and then have others feed off of me, I immediately slowed my pace. Almost immediately the race begins climbing from 5400 feet to 5600 feet in less than half of a mile. Two hundred feet of elevation gain is not a ton, and in this era of everyone bragging about all the "vert" in their race, won't get noticed much at all.  But my sea-level lungs noticed it a whole bunch.

I felt like an anaconda was tightening around my chest. Not being a good uphill runner to begin with and then starting a race a run with an uphill climb definitely did not play to my strengths. Right before the top of this first climb, I said screw it and started walking. I know what I am good at and it is all much better when I can breathe. I took about 10 steps and tried to get my breathing under control. Right when I was about to start running again, I heard footsteps behind me. I saw a grey-haired gentleman in the blue shirt coming up beside me. Rather than take off again right when he was next to me, I let him pass me. I figured I could at least run with someone else for a bit and see what sort of pace he had in mind.

For the next 1.5 miles we ran fairly in lockstep and as the course undulated up and down with small rises here and there and twists and turns, I learned that this runner was a decent downhill runner but a not-so-great uphill runner. Around the 2nd mile, as we hit another decent climb, I decided to once again take a short powerhike break. I knew another runner was not too far behind me and I thought I would let him pass me too. It would be best to see what my competition had in their legs early on. This salt-and-pepper-haired chap in the bright orange shirt was the opposite of the runner in front of us: strong on the up hills and only so-so on the downs.  I figured this would make for an interesting race.

For the next 3 miles or so, we stayed in close contact. Occasionally the blue and orange shirted runners would change positions in the front but I simply stayed a few yards behind them both. While I was not feeling especially winded here, I wasn't exactly feeling like I could push the pace just yet. What was pleasing, however, was that my powerhiking method had me losing no ground whatsoever to the guys in front of me. As they ran up the hill and I walked, it would only take me a few seconds to make up the distance lost once I started running again. This is a method I have used to my advantage in many runs. I know some feel that it is a badge of honor to "run" an entire race but I don't think they have a podium just for those who only run every step.

At one point around the 5th mile I turned around to see if any other runners had closed the gap on the rest of us. I noticed a fella about my age in a grey shirt had done just that. I hadn't really looked behind me prior to this to see if he was gaining or losing ground. Nonetheless, I wasn't too happy about a third interloper in the mix. I had figured out the runners in front of me, or so I thought.  This guy was a wild card. But one runs against those who show up and grey shirt guy was showing up.

With about a mile to go to the turn around, the course went from its rolling upward course to a long steady downhill.  As the blue shirted runner pulled away, I found myself on the heels of the orange shirted one. I wasn't quite ready to show my hand but I did not wish for the blue-shirted runner to get away from me. So I had to go with how my legs felt and I poured on the speed.

As I accelerated and passed Orange he said : "Good job."  I replied "Long way yet to go!" and he nodded. I was curious if he would try and stay with me, but I felt no resistance on his part.  I pulled way from him and was now between the runners. Before long I was behind blue and we skirted the reservoir finally in the shadows.  Even though the race had started at 6 p.m., the vast majority of it was run with the sun baking us in the 78 degree weather. I forgot how dry Utah is and realized here I had emptied the entire 1.5L bladder of the Camelbak Circuit. I could only hope that the "aid station" at the turn-around would have some ice. I figured my $70 entry fee might have purchased a few cubes.

I pulled my dry Camelbak off my back, and asked the two nice young ladies at the aid station if they had any ice. Alas, they did not. So I filled my pack with the cool water and figured I only had 7.5 miles to go.

And back again... 1:03

I spent a few more seconds at this aid station than blue shirt as he only had a handheld to refill. I, quite masterfully if I say so myself, refilled my pack, closed it and re-holstered it. This Circuit pack was working out quite stellarly. As I left the parking lot and headed back to the trail, orange shirt and grey shirt came in almost simultaneously.  Looked like grey shirt might be someone to contend with in this second half.

Within a few hundred yards, I was in blue's back pocket. In addition, for the first time in the race I felt like I could breathe as well. I had no real intention of taking the lead again at this point but one rule I live by in racing is to run hard when you feel good- chances are it won't last long. So, right before the trail began to climb again, I passed blue shirt. I knew, being a seemingly better uphill runner than he, if I just put a little effort into these hills, I would be able to create some distance between us.

I had a conversation with a fellow runner about whether this course was runnable or not. I had to think about my answer a bit I did not know which definition I thought "runnable" fell under. I finally decided that runnability has everything to do with the terrain of the course. Sure, the grade of the hills and the altitude at which the race it is run will have an impact on how fast or hard you can run it, but whether the footing is solid determines whether you can run it at all. Given that agreed-upon definition, this course is completely runnable. Whether it is soft-pack dirt, hard pack-dirt or a mixture of both and just a smidgen of gravel, the footing for the course was about as nice as one can hope for in a dry desert trail race. Only rarely did I send a few rocks here and there. Now, of course, I say this knowing full well I actually stopped at one point to shake a rock out of my shoe. But that could happen anywhere. Would some sort of gaiter have helped to keep the rocks out? Sure. But the Karhu Trail shoes were performing excellently, as they have every time I have worn them.  By the by, if you haven't heard of Karhu (and it shocks me how often I am the first person telling runners about this Finnish shoe company which pre-dates just about every shoe company in the world) you owe it to yourself to check them out. I have been running in them for close to three years now and I thoroughly recommend them. But I digress.

As I climbed the hills, more and more of the runners were headed in the opposite direction on their way to the turn around.  In between gasped breaths I wished them all good luck and even high-fived a few. I recognized a few friendly Salt Lake City running faces but didn't have much energy to do more than smile and give a thumbs-up. I knew this hill I was running would come to a summit around the 9th mile. Then it would scream downhill for a bit and begin another quick climb. When I got to the top of that hill, an assessment would be made of what my competition would be for the rest of the race.

I topped the first hill and felt quite good. I cut loose on the down to take advantage of what I knew lay ahead. Other people might care about scenery. I pay attention to the road or trail I am running on for this very reason. When the hill began to climb again I took a ten-second powerhike before continuing my jog.  I looked behind me, which was really to the side given the twisting nature of the trail and saw blue shirt was a ways back  I breathed a sigh of relief. This should be a rather easy second half. Just as I turned my head and would have begun a possibly slower pace, I caught glimpse of the grey shirted runner.  He had passed blue and was between us, much closer to me than I would have ever expected.  I guess my work wasn't done yet.

Fortunately, over the next two plus miles, I felt fantastic. I laid into any downhill as hard as I could and ran the uphills virtually as hard.  The thing about winning a race is that it is not really all that special, in the grand scheme of things. Someone has to win it after all. In fact, the number of races to the number of winners is an exact 1:1 ratio. Moreover, those winners are rarely, if ever, you and me. Yet here, even in an event with only approximately 50 finishers, winning is important. It is special. There has to be a winner but, as I just said, it usually isn't you or me. So while it is just a footrace and doesn't change the course of human events, winning is fantastic. Even more, not winning, when you have a chance, is so awful that it almost supersedes the wonderfulness for a victory. Having tasted the bittersweet second overall twice just last weekend, I wasn't about to let that happen a 3rd time in a week.

With about three miles to go, I looked over my shoulder. I couldn't see anyone. For a long ways behind me, no shirt of any color presented itself. I looked and looked and saw no one. Finally, in the distance the grey shirt appeared. I realized this race was mine to lose. The remaining 20 minutes or so of this race would be about not dying of a sudden heart attack, not rolling down the hill into the reservoir, not getting run over by cattle, and just running hard to the finish. If I did that, I would win.

The sun had gone behind the mountains now and the shade felt wonderful. A tailwind added a little more of a breeze even if it was hot air being pushed around. Because of the footing being solid, I could actually enjoy the view. What a view it was. Interrupted by not one single butt in front of me, this meant I was in first place. I liked what I saw.

As I approached the last half of a mile, I was hoping to break two hours for the race. Having paid virtually no attention to my overall time until now, I could see that wouldn't happen. Instead, I flew down the trail and into one of the most unceremonious finishes ever. I nearly bowled over two young girls who I didn't realize were essentially the finishline. They tried to hand me a finisher's medal and an envelope saying "First Overall" all while I was still in mid-stride. I didn't even realize I was done until a few steps passed them. I clicked my watch. I was the winner. My time of 2:05:22 will serve as a course record for at least a year. That's a pretty neat feeling.

I stayed at the finishline just long enough to congratulate the guys who had been in my view all day. The first female finisher came in just a brief  period after orange shirted  guy. (Their order was grey, blue and orange shirts, for those scoring at home. I also won by over 5 minutes which was a nice feather in my cap as well.) Grey shirt was named Justin and we spoke for a few minutes.  Real nice guy. Blue (Kris) and Orange (Curtis) and I did not speak as much which was unfortunate as I wanted to thank them for pulling me along. They were either winded or didn't like me. When you win you don't have to care, really. (I am kidding. Sorta.) I waited a bit to see if any other runners might come in so I could cheer for them. When one did, I realized I was actually quite chilled and quite hungry.  With this race happening in the evening, I had only had one meal during the day (around noon) and was quite famished. I wanted to be out of my dripping wet clothing and into a cheeseburger.

As I got into my car and started to drive away I realized I have now run on this trail in two races. I have won both of them. The Deer Creek Triathlon no longer seems to be run. I own the course record on this race.

I might just have to retire running here.

No comments: