I've been training hard all winter. With the weather being reasonably conducive to running outside (keep in mind I hate cold weather), I've been able to really rack up the miles. In fact, I have more miles this year to date than I ever have since I started keeping a running log, like 8-9 years. Couple all of the running with my strength work at Bomber Athlete, plus weekly speed sessions, and I felt pretty good about where I am so far.
Antelope Canyon 55K was to be where I would be able to gauge where my training was. I checked out the course elevation profile, looked at last year's results and kind of put a goal time in my head. Last year's results showed that the winner of the 50K ran it in 7:38. Now for those that don't know, a 7:38 is really kind of a slow time given the amount of climbing in this race, as in not much climbing. So there had to be another factor that resulted in a slow time. I had heard rumors of copious amounts of sand on the course, but didn't really pay much attention to them. 7:38? For a 55K? Heck, even in my old decrepit state I could run it that fast or faster.
Went down Friday with a couple of friends, stayed at the Lake Powell Resort with a bunch of other HUMR's. I was told the resort was completely full with runners for the race. Given that this is the off season, I imagine they were pretty happy to get the extra business. Had dinner with friends and hit the hay.
|Toby with a nervous smile before her first ultra|
Got up Saturday morning, got ready, and caught a ride to the start. Met up with friends again, said our hi's and all of the sudden we were off. We didn't line up or anything. Matt, the RD said go, and off we went.
|A little bit of prerace action|
I immediately noticed that I was roughly middle of the pack. My usual place. I figured I would move up some as the day went on, with a finish somewhere in the top third. Again, my usual place.
Did I mention I heard rumors of sand? Holy crap, there was sand, and more sand, and more sand, and still more sand. Like miles and miles of sand. Ever tried running in dry, loose ankle deep sand? Yeah, it's slow, it's tough. Nontheless, I adjusted my gait a bit, shortened my stride, didn't push off on my toes, and was able to keep a steady pace without wearing myself out.
|The always happy and upbeat Andrea|
As the miles wore on, I did find myself passing quite a few people, but I really had no idea where I stood in the pack. I did manage to keep a couple of faster runners in site for a few miles, but eventually that ended as they kept pulling further and further away. Meanwhile, I was just having a good time running by myself. No one else around, just keeping the pace a notch above what I usually do.
Shortly after I arrived at the Horseshoe Bend aid station, I met up with a couple of other runners, Kara and Eric, and we kept each other company for the next ten miles or so. Lots of fun, all running at the same pace. This ten miles had no trail for us to follow.
|Horseshoe Bend, yeah, we ran right along the cliff edge|
|Didn't get a chance to suck my gut in before the pic was taken|
|Kara, the women's 55K winner descending into Water Hole Canyon|
After running through Water Hole Canyon for about a mile, we made our way up a steep sand hill and back out into the open countryside.
|Eric's turn for a picture in Water Hole Canyon|
|Got a bit narrow in spots|
|Yeah, we climbed this ladder|
I left the last aid station with 6.9 miles to go and figured 1.5 hours given my current "running" pace. Yeah, I was starting to slow down just a bit. This is the point in a race where I usually just kind of throw in the towel and cruise it in. This time I decided to see just how deep I could dig to keep a run at a decent pace going. It was tough, really tough. My calves were wanting to cramp, the legs were tired and sore, my breathing was kind of ragged. I wanted to walk at every uphill opportunity, no matter how small the uphill. I had to really tell my self to keep running. I think this is what's called the pain cave, that point where you just withdraw into yourself and focus on the task at hand, no matter what you feel like. About two miles before the last aid station, Toby, one of the ladies I traveled down with, passed me. This was her first ultra and she was doing really well. If you knew her story, you would know just how well she was doing. Very tough lady. Anyway, we chatted for a couple fo seconds and she motored on ahead. I was glad to see her doing so well. About a quarter mile out of the last aid station, the lady I was trying to stay ahead of finally caught me. I thought, oh well, I tried. As I came upon the last aid station, I saw that she went into the canopy. I thought here's my chance to get that place back. I filled a water bottle really quick and bolted. I knew that the finish line was less than a mile away and if I could put some distance between the two of us really quick, I might have a chance to stay ahead. I could see the finish line in the distance, so I took off as fast as I could, in other words, not very fast. I dropped off the mesa we had been running around and ran as fast as I could. I did manage to hold her off for that last 0.7 miles.
I managed to cross the finish line with a time of 6:13. Not quite my goal time, I did want a sub 6-hour time, but I was happy with it. I had pretty much laid it on the line to run that fast and I was spent. As I was standing there, I asked the timers what my placing was. I figured somewhere in the top 20-25. When they told me I was 10th, I didn't believe them. I don't ever place that high in the standings, at least I haven't in several years. So yeah, that made the effort all that much sweeter. 7th place male. Really happy with that. No one who finished ahead of me was older than 42. Yep, grandpa kinda took it to the kids today.
So the final result show me with an 8th place finish, 6th place male out of about 90 starters. No one over the age of 42 finished in front of me, so yeah, I'm really happy with my time and certainly my placing. I certainly wasn't expecting that at all. This bodes well for my upcoming season provided I can keep up the training, and indeed bump it up substantially.
So what did I do differently to get there? Well, like I mentioned, specific strength training, specific running, and a different metal attitude. One where I left most everything out on the course. It felt really good to push hard. It was uncomfortable for most of the race, but we're always told, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I certainly was this time.
I got the chance to see plenty of friends running the race as well, and cheer them on. I always enjoy the social aspect of these races.
Basically I didn't fuel the entire race. I ate one gel, about four cups of coke, and a bottle of Tailwind drink. I intentionally did that for a reason. I figure that when I run a marathon, I don't fuel much, why should I treat a race that's just a bit longer any different. Not fueling as much certainly gets me through the aid stations quicker. I probably drank 60-70 oz. of water as well. My stomach was fine. It did start to get just a bit queasy the last few miles, but nothing worth slowing down about. The only change I would have made would have been to take some electrolytes and maybe one more gel late in the race. I think that's why my calves wanted to cramp up the last few miles and that bit of energy would have been nice to have.
I wore my Altra Olympus, no gaiters, and I had very little sand in my shoes. I attribute this to the slight change in my gait when I was running in the sand, more of a flat footed gait. Seemed to work for me. Plus I never seem to get much dirt and sand in my shoes.
The weather was perfect for this race. High's in the low 60's, cloudy most of the day, no breeze. I wore shorts, compression shorts, a short sleeve t and a long sleeve t. I had light gloves on most of the day as my hands can get cold when it's in the 70's. That choice was perfect.
Race critique -
Did I mention anything about the insane amounts of sand on the course? Yeah, there was a lot. For the most part I enjoyed the course. The first few miles weren't anything to write home about, running on sandy atv roads, trash strewn about, but once we headed for Horseshoe Bend, things got a lot better. That section coupled with Water Hole Canyon were my favorite parts by far. The trek around Page on the rim trail was also pretty nice. Very runnable, scenic views of Lake Powell, the surrounding desert, and just a nice trail. I would recommend this race for anyone who likes desert running. Matt Gunn does a great job with any of his races, and this one was no exception. Aid stations were very well stocked with everything you could want during an ultra. The volunteers were great, very helpful. The Navajo tacos at the finish line were good and a nice change of pace for post race fare. Plus Matt had plenty of good beer at the finish line. Hard to beat that.
|The completely awesome finisher's coffee mug|