Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 Collegiate Peaks 50

I'm a little bummed that I didn't get to writing this sooner - since the memories aren't burned as intensely into my brain as they were early in the week - but regardless, this years' edition of Collegiate Peaks was a memorable race and I had a completely full weekend with good friends.

My buddy Sean, who was going to be taking his first stab at the 50 mile distance, and I hit the road in the early afternoon on Friday with prospects of great weather all weekend. As I look back, it was really almost too nice, in that mother nature really cranked up the thermostat for the race on Saturday, and left me with a sunburn that would make a snake jealous. I'm still leaving a trail of dead skin everywhere I go almost a week later! Oops. When you're dumb in the head, your whole body suffers.

Friday evening consisted of checking into our hotel, having a minor-freakout when I realized I didn't bring my salt tablets (thanks for saving my bacon on that one, JT), and then meeting our friends Marc and Amanda - who were also racing on Saturday - for some food and beer at Eddyline Brewery. Marc was also planning to attempt the 50 mile distance for the first time.

(The pre-fight weigh-in between Sean and myself.)

In the weeks and months leading up to this race, thanks to Sean and Marc, I was reminiscently able to get small doses of the excitement and fear of the unknown that goes with taking ones first plunge into ultra-distance running. It was infectious and great to see that fire again. This went a long way to motivating me as well, because, even though running is a huge passion in my life, I do unintentionally find myself viewing races as just another day at the office from time-to-time. Being around these two, training with them, and being able to mentor - when needed or wanted - served to reignite the fire in me and remind me just how great it is to push our bodies to the limit and see where our personal boundaries lie. Thanks, guys.

Getting back to the story, Saturday morning arrived quickly after some surprisingly restful sleep, and the morning routine began. Marc and I decided to arrive at the race a little later than the rest of the gang and had about 30 minutes to lay out our drop bags, mingle, take potty breaks, and get mentally ready to suffer all day in the heat. When it's almost 50 degrees out at 6:00am at 8,000ft elevation, you know you're in for a doozy...

I lined up in front with the fast guys (Ryan Burch, Duncan Callahan, Dylan Bowman, Corey Hanson, etc.), took a deep breathe, and then began the routine... left foot, right foot, water, sugar, salt, repeat. This was my first attempt at the 50 mile distance this season, and I honestly was looking forward to the dull pain that comes with running for the equivalent of a normal work day, vs. the intense pain of pushing at your body's redline for a short period (ie: a road marathon, ie: Boston, ie: a 5k, ie: the Incline).

Within ten minutes the gloves and armsleeves were already gone, and it was time to suffer. I was running at a steady, relaxed pace for the first 8 miles and was still within eyesight of the leaders for about 6 of them. Once obligatory bowel movement #1 took me into the trees around mile 8, I rejoined the pack after losing about 10 positions and was quickly in my element. I really begin actually racing if I'm a ways behind in the pack and always do better playing the hunter, and not the hunted.

Sean caught me shortly thereafter and made the first pass of what would turn into many in our all day game of cat and mouse. This lead was short lived though as he had to stop for his first pit stop shortly thereafter. I held on for another mile or two, and then when I began walking to eat a GU, Sean quickly passed. This was during the long sustained uphill section leading to the mile 17 aid station, and knowing this ascent can take a lot out of a guy, I was content hanging back about 200-300 meters as long as I kept him in my sight. We crested this climb together and then after some strategic talk, we began our long descent to the turn around with the plan of sticking close together and letting gravity do the work while we saved our legs for later in the day. We had no idea where we were in relation to the rest of the pack, but looking at our watches, it seemed that we were on pace for about a 3:30-3:35 first lap, which I'd assumed would have put us only about 10-15 minutes back from the leader.


I was soon in for a surprise when I crossed paths with Ryan (who was on his second lap which goes the opposite direction and allows you to see where you are in relation to all the other runners) at the same spot as I saw Andy last year. The difference this time was that I was 10 minutes faster than the year before and yet I was just as far back in the field. It was obvious that if he held it together for the next 24 miles or so, that he had a Course Record in the bag. (That was exactly what happened, too, as he won with a time of 6:37, after a 3:09 first lap.)

I hit the Start/Finish area at 3:29 - about 1-2 minutes ahead of Sean - and made quick work of getting in and out. It ended up being only a 3 minute break, due in part to the fact there was no water to cross this year, which meant no shoe/sock changing. By the time I got out of there I had about a 3 minute lead on Sean, with several other 50 mile runners within 2-5 minutes of us.

On the long climb after the turnaround, I was quickly made aware of the price I'd be paying for the rest of the afternoon... 1) It was HOT. 2) My legs were heavy and feeling cramp-ish. 3) It had only been 3 days since my strep-throat symptoms had begun to subside, and I was feeling extremely fatigued. It had taken a lot more energy than normal to turn a 3:30-ish first lap.

After enduring about an hour of this misery and (surprisingly) being able to run almost every step, the heat finally caught up with me and in classic Brooks fashion, I started projectile vomitting all over the place. Projectile. Everywhere. I was still crossing paths with 25 mile runners at this point and a few of them were lucky enough to get a show and see why it's just plain stupid to run 50 miles. Unlike similar past situations though, I felt remarkably good after purging and never considered quitting or dropping out. No matter how awful you feel during a race, you just have to remind yourself that 'this too shall pass' and that you'll bounce back and feel human again at some point.

Once I crested at mile 32 and had several downhill recovery miles to eat, drink and relax the legs, I was determined to beat my '10 time and, was ready for the long grind to the finish. Despite not feeling great, having familiarity with a race course helps tremendously from a psychological standpoint, until...

... I glanced over my shoulder and saw a pursuer closing the gap quickly. It was none other than Mr. O'Day (again). I felt defeated since I'd been pushing a pretty hard and consistent pace for a couple hours and assumed I was putting a gap on the competition. Rather than pushing my already gassed and cramping legs any harder, I opted for Plan B: Pull off into the bushes and take a dump while Sean runs by. If nothing else, I was going to make him lead and do the hard work now, because I was done.

We ended up running/hiking about 1-2 miles together and decided that we would tag-team the rest of the race and finish together. We both arrived and left the mile 44 aid station together and hit the final descent back into Buena Vista. What I didn't realize was just how much energy Sean had spent trying to catch me all afternoon, and I soon found myself running alone after his tank hit empty.

From here until the finish, it was just a matter of racing the clock. I say this because I hadn't seen another runner (besides Sean) since the 25 mile mark, when I saw Duncan and Corey in 3rd and 4th. Having run the entire 2nd lap alone I really had no idea of where everyone else was and therefore lacked motivation to really push it. The only update I received was at the second to last aid station, where I was informed I was about 15-20 minutes behind 3rd and 4th. Regardless, I was able to run a consistent clip to the finish, arriving 7 hours and 38 minutes after starting. This time was 8 minutes off my 2010 time, and good for 5th place despite the various issues I was dealing with. I was less than five minutes behind 3rd and 4th, and got a huge confidence boost being closely behind some big name guys! Shortly thereafter Sean came through, clinching a 6th place finish in his first ultra, with a time of 7:45. Rounding out the hugely successful day for the Colorado Springs contingent, JT ran a 50 mile PR of 8:06, and Marc finished no worse for wear in just over 10 hours.
(Rounding the last corner.)

(Marc finishing. 10:09)
(3rd place age groupers get bananas.)
  Nap time followed, and a few adult beverages were in order to numb the pain!

(Seemed like a fitting backdrop!)

On a side note, my running streak ended last week after 90+ days without a break and I've only run 3 out of 8 days since the race, but my body has been begging for rest for a while and with no races in my imminent future, I'm surprisingly okay with this time off!

June is still up in the air as far as racing goes, since I'm still quite a ways back on the waitlist for San Juan. This leaves me with some options, which include Bighorn, or possibly just no racing whatsover. I'm all about being smarter this summer and making Leadville the one that counts, so we'll see what happens.

For todays musical selection that JT can make fun of: 'Portugal. The Man'. I just saw these guys play an incredible show last week in C-Springs... enjoy.


BLOS said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sean O'Day said...

You captured it quite well.

Pain is bliss. Thanks for helping me get my fix.

GZ said...

Great run, great write up and great to meet you. Next time I hope to give ya a fair fight.

Marc said...

Good, but almost as long as one of Sean's posts... Next year I'm going to double my training mileage, kick both your skinny asses, and then start blogging.

Jim P. said...

Very nice race, Brooks! Congrats. And, way to keep your membership in the Projectile Vomiting Club current.

Natalee said...

Time off? What is this amateur hour?