I've been dedicating some mental energy to this race the last few days trying to figure out how I'm going to do better than last year and each time I go through a whole spectrum of feelings about it entirely. I go from thinking I'm in better shape than last year and that I'll do better to thinking this is the worst race ever and to think I can do any better is stupid.
Thinking I can't do any better is usually the result of remembering how hard parts of the course were last year. I'll give it my best and I hope I can at least gain a little bit of time over last year.
So going forward and regardless if at this point I think that I'm going to do poorly, I'm still going into the race with some strategies to improve over last year. In no particular order here they are:
- Get to the top of Hidden Peak the first time in about the same time as last year. No logic tells me that going out faster here is going to yield positive results overall.
- Go from Hidden Peak the first time to Pacific Mine slightly faster than last year. My hope is that I'm more prepared for technical downhill now more than I was last year. I feel as much.
- Go from Pacific Mine to Mineral Basin faster than last year. I think my biggest failure of last year was not moving faster across this section and doing so this year will help me get done sooner.
- From Mineral Basin to the Tunnel aid station is going to be a gamble for me here. I'd like to clear this distance in one hour if at all possible.
- Go from Tunnel to Hidden Peak as efficiently as I can. There's no doubt that at this elevation and point in the course I'm going to be knackered. All I can plan to do is move and not stop.
- From Hidden Peak to the Finish I just need to focus and move.
- Don't linger at aid stations and drink and eat a lot.
Well, I sort of don't like that these tips for myself are a little non-specific, but it's what I have right now. I have my splits from last year and I have some target splits for this year.
It really can't be understated how hard this course is. The majority of participants are walking within the first mile. Sure maybe they are saving their legs for later but on average it couldn't be ran in the first place. Then just getting to the very top the first time is just excruciating and even more so for those who came from sea level to run this race. Then after you're trashed going up you go down and down. And then there's a lovely road that can only be described as a rocky river bottom with rocks up on rocks the size of footballs. There is absolutely no smooth shoulder and no easy way down. It's a few miles of ankle busting awesomeness.
Then you get to the half way aid station. Wow! Half way! Then you look at your watch and double the time and feel pretty good about yourself and you're projected finish time. Then you leave that aid station benefiting from a smooth road and a few calories in your stomach and just about the time you think "this race isn't so bad" the road turns - and doesn't get rocky or technical, it just gets steep. You're forced to walk probably 90% of the time it takes to get to the next aid station because all it does is go up at a very steep grade. Up and up and up. The next aid station is basking in the sun and it is here you think, well, I made it this far and the next section is just up to the top of the tram, so I guess I'll go for it.
You get back on the trail and again, you're just walking because who can run up 20% grades at 10,000 feet? The trail turns a few times and now you're just confused about where the course is going. You're on the course because you can see the flagging and other runners but you think you should be going a different direction. Then after you burn your legs and lungs some more going straight up a ski slope you get a road for about 100 yards and then the trail gets even worse. It goes straight up an even steeper grade and now your reaching 11,000 feet and you wish you were dead. Well, you look at your watch and think, the finish is now less than 10 miles away. You can do that, you do that distance often you just have to keep going. But why?
Well, you did it. You got to the Tunnel aid station. and feeling pretty beat up but ready to head down to the finish just as soon as you get to Hidden Peak for the second time. All you have to do is go through the tunnel and do a mile or two. Easy. It can't be that hard. You don't remember the course profile being that bad between these aid stations. Then you go through the tunnel and go down a nice road. Just about the time you are okay the trail turns of the road and you enjoy a decent section of single track before the trail goes up again at another gruelingly steep grade. Your lungs are done. Your legs are done. Your feet can't clear the rocks any more. But I guess maybe it's the delirium setting in or maybe it's the energy from a fellow runner but you try to press on. But you think about the climbing you've done this far and how rough it's been and you don't really want to keep going.
After a struggle with yourself that, for better or worse, took a while because your mind can't function very quickly. During that time you were able to clear another half mile or so you finally realize that the top is the only good idea. Good? Did you just think that?
Well after you suffer through the sun exposed ridge and get to the next aid station the only thing keeping you in the race is the knowledge that the course is down to the finish. You are so convinced of this that you don't even need to ask anyone or question anything. It's down all the way to the finish. Only 5 more miles. You can do that in 40 minutes on a good day so how about an hour on a bad day? You leave the aid station and the trail is rocky and it's tricky but you manage. Then the trail takes a turn and starts going up.
What?! Up? There is no up here. There is only down. What is up doing here? I can't do it. I don't want to do it. But I have to. There's no one else around me right now. I don't even know where else to go but to follow these stupid blue flags. You keep going the trail goes up. You die some more. Your water is almost gone and your last gel is going to kill you it tastes so bad. Finally the trail starts going flat then down again. But your body can't do either. It's done, remember. You push, you dig, you suffer, you count steps, you keep looking at your watch as the minutes tick by very, very slowly. Finally there's signs of life and an end. It's still farther than you want it to be but you're still upright and moving forward.
You cross the finish line and vow to never do it again. Then a few months pass and you sing up as soon as the registration opens.