Thursday, June 30, 2011

Newfound Confidence

As I mentioned in my last post, I found out I'd be running the San Juan Solstice 50 miler on short notice. This being the case, my expectations - along with my training - were not very impressive. I had just barely started breaking the 50 miles per week barrier in training again after my long post-Collegiate Peaks hiatus, and this isn't exactly the mileage necessary to succeed at a mountain 50 that many tout as the hardest in North America.

This made for an interesting attitude and dynamic going into last weekend...
Basically, I was planning on participating in a gorgeous 50 mile "fun-run" with no time goals whatsoever (sub-12 was all I really hoped for in the back of my mind) that would ultimately serve as good Leadville training. Also because of not planning on running this one, I had no transportation or lodging arrangements going into the week of the race. Here, I have to thank Andy Wooten and his girlfriend Melissa for letting me tag along on the ride down and back, and for providing me a roll-out bed to sleep on in their cabin - not sleeping on the floor goes a long way to a succesful race!

 Friday was filled with traveling down to Lake City, eating as much as possible, and attending the pre-race meeting and packet pick up. Having only gotten a couple hours of sleep the night before, I had no problem calling it an early night after the necessary pre-race prep. Speaking of which, check out the real secret to my newfound speed:

(Feel fast. Be fast. Thanks, Holly)

Before I get to the race recap itself, here's a link to the race website, as well my very loose synapsis of the SJS 50 - solely based on personal perception after hearing two years' worth of musings by other runners.
San Juan: Run to 13000 ft. Descend to 9000 ft. Repeat. Run through a river. Run through some snow. Start to dry off. Repeat. Run along the Continental Divide and pray you don't get struck by lightning. Basically, just plan on suffering. ALL DAY. This is the only 50 miler I've encountered which requires a 16 hour cut-off time, thus the reason for the late-June race date on the Saturday nearest the summer solstice on June 21st. Generally, if you talk to the experienced mountain runners in the U.S. they will almost invariably say the toughest 50 they've run is either San Juan, Jemez, or Zane Grey.

This year however, due to record snow and runoff levels, a new "alternate-alternate" course had to be used. The route that was decided upon actually had slightly more vertical over more climbs - 13000+ ft of gain spread amongst 4 ascents - but lacked the river crossings, and the same amount of mileage on the Continental Divide. When all was said and done, it sounds like this was an equally difficult course, just for different reasons.
(Heading out to suffer all day. Fun.)

To the race...

Climb #1 of 4 starts about 1.5 miles into the race and is the "baby" of the 4. This is good, as it primes you for the real hell that comes later. On this first ascent, I started about 15 people back from the leaders and went down from there. I wasn't having any problems, I just didn't want to burn out my calves early, so I hiked it at a moderate pace, even stopping twice to answer natures call(s). This climb up Vickers Ranch was crested about 1:30 into the race and we then began the descent to the mile 11 aid station.

Side note: Neither the climbs, nor the descents are pleasant at San Juan. They are uncomfortably steep in both directions, thus the reason it has earned the nickname Hardrock Jr. or Hardrock Lite.

Anyway, on this descent, I along with about 50 other runners got off course at various times and points. Thankfully, I was only misguided for a half mile or so, and soon ran into another group who was just getting back on track. Here I was surprised to see Karl Meltzer just ahead and ended up running with him into the Silver Coin aid station. I stocked up on GU's and fluid and prepared for the first 'real' climb of the day.

I now relaxed and told myself I didn't have to push climb #2 since there needed to be something left in the tank for later. This caused me to power hike most of the climb with a little running interspersed here and there. Surprisingly, without spending much effort, I began passing runner after runner on this section, finally cresting after almost an hour and a half of climbing right as Karl came back into my sights (he had left me in his dust at the previous aid station). There was some confusion while running the high ridges before the descent, and thankfully another runner saw me and yelled in order to keep me on course. Looking back, had I taken the wrong turn to my left, I would have missed out on an extra 1/2 mile of suffering that I would have regretted in the end... masochistic, I know.

On this first LONG descent which eventually took us to the mile 22 aid station, I started to have my first major issues of the day, and they came in bunches:
  1. Knees and quads started hurting
  2. Bowel problems - Poo #2
  3. Vomitting ensued.
The puking was due to choking on a salt tablet, so it was no big deal as long as I was able to replenish fluids at the next aid station. I was more concerned with self-preservation than placement at this point, so I gladly allowed a handful of runners to overtake me as I approached the aid station. Once there, I took my shoes and socks off and made my one long pit-stop of the day. Rather than worrying about the lost time, I deemed it necessary if I was going to finish the race at all.

After attending to my fuel, fluid, and foot issues (I taped some toes), I hit what had to be the worst part of the course, the seemingly never ending gravel treadmill of death. I had flashbacks of the long road sections at Leadville that seem so easy, but quickly defeat and crush you. I was reduced to the point where I was walking some gradual uphill sections when I ran into Ben (Diana Finkels' husband) and began talking with him. This seemed to greatly increase both of our spirits, and we were able to sustain a run together for the majority of this 5-ish mile section.

Climb #3 was a welcome change of scenery from the road, despite it seeming like a never-ending haul up to the Yurt Aid Station. It was tough not knowing when or where the aid station would be; all they told us in the pre-race briefing was that it would depend on how bad the jeep roads were (snow and mud), and that it would be somewhere between miles 31 and 34. I hadn't seen a soul in over an hour and had no idea what place I was in overall, when I caught my first glimpse of another runner near the top. It ended up being my buddy Mike Patrizi, and it was nice to both see a familiar face, and also realize I was making up ground on other runners. This was the first time all day that I started to smell blood and get my competitive juices flowing. After this I overtook two more runners as we ran on the Continental Divide, despite having bowel movement #3 somewhere around mile 33.

At the aid station I wasted no time in filling up my water bottles and slamming down some Coke since I was really looking forward to the long downhill that was coming. After a couple hours of labored breathing, I looked forward to switching to the pain of downhill running... at least it would be my knees hurting and not my lungs. Right before leaving the aid station, I asked what position I was in and how far behind the previous runner I was. To my surprise, they said I was in 6th and that Duncan Callahan had gone through about 5 minutes earlier.

Game on.

After another mile or so on the Divide, there was an open uphill section that afforded me a view for about a half mile ahead of me, and this was when I caught my first glimpse of Duncan. I soon hit the long, steep, and rocky downhill jeep road to the Slum Gullion aid station and started to really open it up with hopes of gaining on the Leadville 100 champ.

About 2 miles from the aid station I was bombing down the mountain, keeping my eyes focused on the technical trail in front of me, when I happened to briefly look up and see a giant kitty cat dart in front of me and up the hill to my right. Yep; that just happened.

Seeing a 120lb (+/-) mountain lion less than 30 yards away has a startling affect on an unarmed and depleted runner who has been on his feet for almost 8 hours. At first it didn't really sink in, but once I fully realized what I just saw, I proceeded to find a gear I never knew I had. Mix this reckless abandon with all the grunting and growling and arm-flailing I was doing, and I must have been a sight to see. Thankfully, this was the last I saw of Mr. Catamount, and I soon was at the aid station telling my story. Here I also got a huge surge of adrenalin after hearing I was still only about 5 minutes behind Duncan, and from getting cheered through by Dakota Jones and Scott Jurek.

Quickly it was back to the trail, and within 5 minutes I was beginning the final climb of the day. Before sacrificing all the energy left in my tank, I decided to lighten my load one last time in the bushes. This made it a total of 4 bowel movements on the day, not to mention a vomit break, and 3 or 4 pee breaks...
Anyway, I knew that it wasn't going to be a fun climb, but at least the hard work would be over after I crested. Finally, about 1/2 mile from the top, I entered the meadow at the top of Vickers and not only saw Duncan only 2 minutes ahead, but another runner far off in the distance: Karl Meltzer.

At this point I was confident I could overtake Duncan on the climb, but the doubtful part was whether or not I could fend him off over the 5 mile descent to the finish line. Karl was probably 7 minutes ahead right here and I realized catching him was out of the question. Duncan and I crossed the top at the same time and after regaining our breath and chatting for a second, I decided it was time to run as hard as I possibly could until I finished or collapsed - whichever came first.

After several miles of running downhill with reckless abandon, I hit the final paved mile to the finish line, constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting to get reeled in, but it was not to be.

I cruised through the finish line 9 hours and 48 minutes, 13,000+ ft, 18 GU's, and 51.5 miles after starting my little jaunt through the mountains. I ended up 6th overall, about 4 minutes behind Karl. (Clearly the Yurt aid station had mis-quoted when they said I was in 6th at that point.)

(It was a good day for the C-Springs contingent.)

(El Conquistador and his booty.)

So back to the title of my post: Confidence.

I don't know if something is physically changing for me, or if I was just lucky on that particular Saturday, but I'm starting to consistently run with the lead pack guys, and I really can't process it yet. Regardless, I have a newfound confidence and predatory instinct going into the home stretch before Leadville. I'll have one more test before then when I race White River in about a month. Hopefully this will help to increase my confidence further as I hunt for a sub-19 hour Leadville 100.


Jim P. said...

Really nice job out there, Brooks. Glad you didn't crap when you saw the mountain lion (instead, you ran faster...wait, aren't you supposed to stop and try and look like something other than a skinny morsel of meat?) As I was coming down to Slum, the RD drove by asking if I'd seen the mountain lion. That gave me something to think about other than my aching quads! Enjoy the weeks pre-Leadville!

Anton said...

Alright, dude, what's the White River goal? I'm throwing 7:15 out there as what I think you could it up!


Sean O'Day said...

You did work.

GZ said...

Obviously this has nothing to do with confidence, or ability or improvement in the sport.


Keep that in mind for White River.

P.S. (nice work)

dug deep said...

Apparently, mountain lions do not like the smell of human feces.
I'll make a mental note.

PatrickGarcia said...

The hunt is on indeed!

Natalee said...

Sub-19 for PB100 = plenty of hours at the Scarlet. I know that's your true motivation.