Monday, December 21, 2015

Pigtails Flatass 50K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 26th Edition 
355.3 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Pigtails Flatass 50K
Place: Ravensdale, WA
Miles from home: 172
Weather: 40s; Overcast

I have now run two races with the word "Flat" in their name (the other being the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon.) Both were misleading.

I lightheartedly posted a meme poking fun at this race for having saying it was "completely flat" as it was quite clear that wasn't the case. A discussion erupted on my Facebook page where I was told I was not only wrong but had obviously tried to mislead my readers by using a skewed Y-Axis. Ignoring that it was mostly meant tongue-in-cheek, virtually any review I have given has used the same elevation profile from the same company, RunningAhead.com. I stand by my assertion that while this was hardly a mountain race, it was anything but "completely flat". You know, because words have meanings.

A Snafu that actually mattered, however, had to go with something that really had no personal effect on me. This race was set up so runners could decide around mile 21 if they wanted to run either a 50k or a marathon. If you didn't make it to that point before a certain time, you would be forced to take the marathon route. The website said this time would be "Around 5 hours or MAYBE LESS DEPENDING ON WEATHER."  Both that time limit and the potential change were completely fine with all runners. If the weather was bad, you don't want volunteers needing to stay out there for hours extra for one or two runners. My best friend, however, having reached the turnoff around 4:15, was turned away saying that she hadn't met the cutoff.

Later, only after a series of personal inquiries was it told to me that the cutoff was supposed to be 3.5 hours and there had been a miscommunication between race director and volunteers. The previous year's weather had been harsh, facilitating an earlier closure. With bad weather, this area closing earlier than stated is totally understandable. However, this year, the weather was perfect, no such details of a closing happening early were conveyed to the runners, and as such my friend was robbed of a huge PR in the 50K. This might seem like small potatoes to some, but I think any runner would understand her frustration. If anything, my friend Shannon should rest easy knowing she can run 5 miles after being told her effort was for not and then going for another 2-3 miles on her own post-race to get in the miles she wanted to run that day.  That takes some serious mental toughness.

I had a much easier go.

Race:

I am not sure exactly why I signed up for this race. I knew it would be next to no-frills, as are so many races here in the Pacific Northwest. Not that a race needs to have fireworks and bands but I have run my fair share of races that have the same feel as a training run but with a result people will know more immediately about. I have come to the realization that I like a little frills. But I signed up as it was inexpensive, a short drive from home and I guess I just wanted to get in a long run where I wouldn't stop short if I was tired.

The race was named after the nickname of the RD which is something I always find curious. I know an athletic team that is comprised of any number of athletes who all compete under characteristics that are rather unique to the owner of the team. Like naming a race after yourself, I can't imagine having the hubris to do such a thing. Perhaps no one would be a part of Team SeeDaneRun but I am not about to find out.  I am not saying it is bad or good but it is assuredly something I wouldn't do.

When the morning drew close for the race it showed in spite of a particularly wet and dreary time for us in this neck of the woods, we were going to be blessed with very nice weather. Given this break, I thought about switching to the marathon pre-race.  I hadn't had nice weather for a race in eons and wanted to take advantage of it. One drawback was I was not rested to run a fast marathon. Another drawback was a gentleman I had met last year in another similar low-frills race, Sean Celli, was also running the marathon and I knew his speed would make winning the race a difficulty. I am not going to lie and say I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of a "W."  So, I figured I would simply wait and see how the day unfolded.

A very low-key start with a bunch of people who already seemed to know who everyone else was  awaited me when I arrived. Tons of Marathon Maniacs were on-hand and lots of smiling faces. I recognized some and exchanged pleasantries and wished good luck to all.  Then it was time to start.

The race began with a little halfmile-ish out and back to allow us to put in some extra-distance. Apparently, this was done so that the race at the other end of the long out and back would stay within a certain city limits and only require one permit.  Makes perfect sense to me. I participated in a 70.3 mile triathlon which had a hairpin turn at the Utah-Idaho border for this same reason.   By the time we finished that little jog and got to the Cedar River Trail, Sean had already established a lead on me I assumed would be insurmountable.

For the next five miles, as the trail would bend and twist ever so slightly, I was basically alone. Sean had gotten out of sight and no one was running with me. It was going to be yet another "race" for me where I might as well be doing a solo training run. Fortunately, this trail was quite beautiful and for the time being my mind was on my surroundings.

We crossed over what I was guessing was the Cedar River numerous times and each crossing came with a new bridge. I love bridges. I speak about them often in my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss (now on sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.52!)  So even if I was alone, at least I had something to look forward to crossing.

At the first aid station around mile five, I pulled over for just a quick drink of water. I was wearing my Camelbak Circuit as the aid stations were sparse but didn't mind using the course resources which I had paid for. As I left the aid station, I looked back and was surprised to see two runners not too far behind me. I guess I wasn't going as fast as I was wanting or hoping.

Over the next few miles, the course went from small twists and turns to a long straightaway. I was fairly certain I saw Sean up ahead but man was he waaaay up ahead. soon, thereafter, amidst the traffic on the nearby highway, I could also hear the footsteps of a runner behind me. Eventually, he passed me. However, we were traveling very close to the same speed so he passed me very slowly. In order to make conversation,  I commented on a few things about the race and the day. With his headphones on he didn't hear a thing I said. Or he was ignoring me, which was a possibility as well. I couldn't even figure out if he was running the marathon or the 50k.

Needing a little respite, I pulled over to use the bathroom quickly. I was able to make up the distance lost during my stoppage in no time at all.  However, I then fell into an area where I was the exact same distance behind him no matter what little surge I tried. For about a mile or so we continued locked in this running dance. Finally, as he took the long way around a car blocking the passage (I almost Ferris Buellered myself through the backseat. Don't block intersections, people.) I made up some ground.  Doing so added a little spurt to my running. As we came into the next aid station around the 12th mile, I was just a few feet behind him. He slowed to get some drinks at the aid station and more or less took up the whole area, probably assuming I wasn't right behind him. I had also stopped to get a drink but then decided not to jostle him for space. Instead, I would get it on the way back. Might as well make a move while I could and make it decisive (one of the key rules of racing, by the way.)

Soon thereafter I saw Sean coming back from turning around and knew I had to be close to the turnaround. It felt like it was forever away. Then I remembered that because of the extra mile we had run at the start, it wasn't a 13 mile turnaround but rather one at the 14th mile. This knowledge gave me another huge boost in my step. I had been under the impression I was running way slower than I had wished. There were few sign markings and no mile markers, so unless you knew the trail, you didn't know how far you had run. Granted I was using my Timex OneGPS+ but as per my usual I wasn't displaying the distance run. When Sean said it was just around the corner, I took off.

Heading Back:

In this short distance since the last aid station I had put a surprising gap between me and the guy behind me (David.)  What was extremely impressive about this guy was his size.  If I had to guess he was easily 6'2'' and 215 lbs. There are very few people that size who can run the speed he was running. As he approached me, he seemed to be a little confused as to where the turn around was for the race. Behind me, across the street was a cone. I have no idea what it was there for but there it was nonetheless. He pointed to that cone and asked if that was the turning point. I pointed the direction down the trail I had just come from and said this was where he needed to go. This definitely could have been better marked. If not for Sean telling me earlier where to go, I easily could have made the same mistake.

I quickly passed a few other runners who were close behind me and realized I had a slightly larger cushion than I had thought. I saw Steve Walters, who calls himself the Marathon Freak and he deserves the name. He runs a ton of races every year and in some very good times. How he does so in the longest pair of Michigan Fab Four running shorts baffles me. He had PRd on this course last year, in the supposedly bad weather, so I was surprised he wasn't in front of me.

This time, when I hit the aid station from before, one of the volunteers and owner of The Balanced Athlete in Seattle area, Eric Sach, was kind enough to give me a glass of water from the self-serve aid stations. Leaving, I looked back and saw I had put more ground between me and my pursuers.

About a mile later I saw Shannon for the first time and I could tell she was well on her way to a new PR.  Usually running ultras where there is so much climbing and such bad terrain that a time means nothing, she was treating herself to the rare runnable course. She told me I was only four minutes behind Sean which was a bit surprising. I forgot that four minutes looks like a lifetime on a race course. I bid her adieu and took off.

What to do with this new information? Should I try and pick it up and race Sean for the marathon? Could I catch him?  Even if I did, would it be a decent time for the marathon?  Until this point, 18 miles in, I had been running a 50k.  As such, I was running a 50k pace, not a marathon pace.  I did some math and realized my time would be less than stellar in the marathon. I don't like running less than stellar marathons. I am not here to collect medals and facebook attaboys for jobs not well done. I am here to race.

I began to pick up the pace and the cloudy skies opened up just enough to cover my Julbo sunglasses in droplets. Then just a few minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  It was still a touch chilly which means it was more or less the best race conditions in which I have raced in nearly two years. As I closed in on the aid station mentioned above where one chooses what race they would run, I decided it didn't matter how close I was to Sean.  I had never won a 50k before, had come to run the 50k and damn it, I was going to do both.

I took on this little 2.5 mile out and back with a renewed vigor. It was set on a slightly more graded slope than the previous few miles, and Y-Axis or not, I felt it.  But I was eager to take out this pace as hard as possible and leave no doubt when I headed back that those behind me had no chance to catch me. The day had turned gorgeous and there were plenty of walkers out on this trail. Shrouded by trees and going under more than few underpasses in tunnels, I was feeling my oats. I made the turn around and headed back. I now had at least a 15 minute lead on my next chaser and slapped them all high-five as I passed.

Back down to the final aid station, I grabbed a swig of Coke from one of the volunteers (Matt Hagen) who actually brought all of his own equipment out, including a space heater and a tent. A runner himself, I am sure Matt would have much rather been running than volunteering on such a nice day, so a special thanks to him and the other volunteers for being out there.  Now the only question was what would my time be.

To The Finish: 

I knew the aid station was about 5 miles to the finish but I didn't know which side of "about" that was.  Did I have to run slightly over or under 5 miles? With 42 minutes to cover the distance and get under 4 hours, it was a crapshoot.

I spent the next five miles thinking about what it is like to win a race. I have won a few. Each time it was essentially because no one else had showed up who was faster than me.  I know that seems to make perfect sense but what I mean is I am not elite. I can't look down the line and think "Yeah, I always have a chance."  If some guy shows up who runs a 3:20 50k, I more or less have no shot. So winning overall and age group awards are nice but it is mostly just happenstance.

That said, in order to win, you still have to show up. You still have to cover the distance.  You still have to race. When I got passed earlier in the race I could have said today was not my day. I could have been happy to just run out the string.  But I wasn't pleased with that.  I gathered myself and took back a commanding lead. Here, just a few more minutes (or maybe ten, again, who knows how many miles were left?)  I would win a 50k for the first time ever.

I have read a great deal about what winning feels like. Often winners don't particularly enjoy it. They dislike losing far more than they enjoy winning and that is what drives them. I can sort of relate to that feeling.  Barring a bear attack, I was going to cross the finish line first. If every other race I have won was the template, this victory was going to be done with little to no fanfare, no actually tape to break and just a minute of self-satisfaction before getting in a car and driving away. If there was going to be pleasure derived it was going to be from inside. From my own personal satisfaction.

My spoils. Hope the IRS doesn't come collecting.
As I turned the final bend and saw the clock, I realized I was going to be well under four hours. If I had sprinted it would have been 3:54. Instead it was 3:55 and some change (not quite sure yet because lord forbid there be any way to find the results.) What pleased me most was how easy this 3:55 felt. I ran controlled and within myself. It could not have been any more of a glorified training run if I tried. Aside from the few signs someone had put out in the first few miles (and they were both cute and appreciated), I could have been out here on my own little Saturday morning run.

After a rather atrocious race last weekend in Dallas where I ran 13.1 miles at a 7:08 pace, it sure was nice to run 31.1 miles at a 7:34 pace. Winning the race just added some extra flavor to it.

Hopefully this race will help propel me forward to good things in 2016. I have, as always, lots of plans and after a rather "meh" year of racing in 2015, this was a nice way to end it all. Then again, there are ten days left and I may still find a 5k somewhere or something to remind me how slow I really am.



MAYBE LESS DEPENDING ON WEATHER

1 comment:

Richard Mendez said...

Wow great race. I would have made the same decision. I'm here to race! That medal may not be flashy but it may be more significant that many of the others lol