Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mad City 100k Race Report

USATF Road 100k National Championship - Madison, WI

Me with race director Timo.

There comes a time in some races — some, not all — when you just want to quit.  I mean, quit the sport, not just the race.  You wonder why you repeatedly enter these events where you purposely push your body and mind to such miserable depths.   I would argue that if you've never felt this way, then you've never truly raced.  You've never pushed yourself to your absolute breaking point, the limit of your abilities.

It happens in 5k's and 10k's as well as marathons and ultras, but it's different in ultras.  The pain is short and intense in a 5k; a stabbing pain you must endure for only a few minutes.  The pain is much less intense in an ultra.  It slowly creeps in and gradually drags you down.  The problem with ultras is that you have a lot of time to think about it.  When fatigue sets in and you still have hours left to run, the feeling of despair is nearly overwhelming.  You think, "Why do I continually subject my body to this type of punishment?"  There is no logical answer in that moment.

Splitting 3:26 for 50k, but not feeling as good as I would have liked.

This was the state of mind I found myself in approaching the 50k mark at the Mad City 100k.  While not disastrously fast, I had allowed myself to be pulled through laps 2, 3 and 4 several minutes faster than I had intended.  I was surprised that the pack of leaders went out relatively conservatively, and after running a relaxed first 10k loop, I was lured into staying within sight of a group of contenders.   I had just passed a slowing Zach Gingerich and moved into 4th place when the first signs of trouble appeared.

My crew (dad) and aid station.
As I was coming into view of the start/finish line at 50k, I began feeling a twinge of nausea and a little light headed.  "Whoa, that's not good.  Especially this early."  I could never remember feeling that way in any race so low in intensity.  My dad was there crewing for me and reminded me that I was 4 minutes ahead of goal pace with a 3:26 50k split.  I decided I could afford to burn a minute to stop and use the porta-potty.  I had been avoiding nature's call for a couple laps, but I had apparently underestimated how badly I needed to go.  I spent a good 30 seconds to a minute taking care of business.  It was only after I returned to the course that I realized that I needed to use the bathroom so bad that I was making myself sick to my stomach.

Gingerich had passed me back and put some distance on me, but I felt much better.  I was upset that I had let the situation get that out of hand, and the legs were still feeling more fatigued than I had expected.  Even with thick, low clouds and temps in the 40s, my calves were threatening to cramp very early.  I backed off the pace a little more in an attempt to collect myself.  I also increased my S!Cap salt tablet intake to 2 per 10k loop.  I knew it was important to continue taking a GU energy gel every hour and suck down as much GU Brew electrolyte drink as my stomach could handle.

I spent the remainder of the 6th lap pouting and feeling sorry for myself.  This is where I wanted to quit.  I didn't know why I was running anymore.  I tried to convince myself the self-doubt wasn't rational.  I had been able to repass a struggling Gingerich, was in 4th place, and still ahead of goal pace.  I would just finish the 6th loop, I bargained with my mind.

By the time I finished the that loop I had moved into third place and was only 3 minutes out of 2nd place.  And my pace was still respectable.  "Might as well do another lap," I thought.  The pace correction served me well and the body started to feel much better.  I maintained a good pace and mentally got my head back in the game.  If I could make it to 80k, I knew I would be able to survive the final 12 miles.  Then I started hoping that the leaders went out too fast and would come back to me.  So I just kept moving.

Andrew Henshaw killing it.  He must have been sub 5:20 at 50 miles.

At 80km, I was told that the leader, Andrew Henshaw, had 16 minutes on me.  I knew he was out of reach barring a catastrophic meltdown on his part.  But 2nd place was still only 3 minutes ahead and looking weaker.  I hit the 50 mile mark somewhere around 5:35 and got a little boost from knowing I was 18 minutes faster than my time at the JFK 50 miler.  I put my head down and kept running.  The calves were cramping in spurts now, mostly on the uphills.  I'm glad I chose to wear my Nike Pegasus road shoes.  I brought my marathon shoes (Saucony Fastwitch 2), but ultimately decided to go with comfort and efficiency over the lightweight and low profile option.  At 6:45 pace, I just feel more smooth and comfortable in my regular trainers.  I think my calf cramps would have been even worse had I been wearing racing flats.

With less than a mile to go before 90km, I was able to see 2nd place for the first time since 50km, and he was fading fast.  I caught up to Todd Braje, three time national champion and two time US 100km team member, just as he entered the start/finish aid station.  I don't think he even knew I was coming, so it must have surprised him as I passed when he briefly stopped at the aid station table.   But I also don't think he could have done anything about it if he had known I was closing.  His fight appeared to be gone.  I crossed the timing mats, picked up my last bottle from my dad and began my final loop without stopping. 

I continued to fight cramps in my calves on the uphill sections, but was still moving well for the most part.  My confidence was building that I would be able to maintain my pace and finish as I entered my favorite part of the course; a slightly rolling 2.5 mile section that cut through the University of Wisconsin's arboretum.  For the first time I briefly stopped at the "backside" aid station grabbed an orange slice and a cup of coke.  I think the coke gave me an instant boost.  Looking back, maybe I should have hit the soda more often.  Or maybe I just knew I was almost done.  

With 1.2 miles to go, I realized that I still had a chance to break 7 hrs.  I don't remember my last mile split, but it was quite possibly my fastest mile of the day.  All the pain was temporarily forgotten as I crossed the finish line in 6:59:12.  Second place overall, making me the runner-up to the 2011 US 100km national champion.  

All smiles now as I cross the finish line.

The USATF representative informed me a short time later that my time would qualify me for the US 100km team that will be competing in the Netherlands this fall.  The team won't be officially announced until June, but there aren't any more qualifying opportunities so it's all but certain I've made the team.

And then I remembered why I race.  Why I compete.  Why I put my body and mind through the trials that I do.  Because the harder something is to achieve, the more satisfying it is when you actually accomplish your goal.  That was my goal.  To make the US 100km team.  It would have been so easy to quit at 60km.  I'm so proud I didn't.

Race Results
My Splits
GPS data for a loop I ran the day before (GPS not allowed during the race) 

Couldn't have done it without my dad.

Love the USATF logo.  Can't wait to wear it and the US flag.

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