Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Wait, is this still a thing?

Salomon OutdoorFest start/finish
Forgot I had a blog, didn't you?  I don't blame you, I almost forgot myself.  There were a few times in May and June where I had the fleeting thought "I should probably post something," which was almost immediately forgotten.  By July I had basically decided to mothball the thing.  The podcast consumes most of my blog-centric time and energy these days; I wasn't sure I needed to keep doing both.  Plus, there just wasn't much to blog about.  As I intimated in April, I spend the late spring/early summer period trying to build up fitness, dial in the podcast, and working on my proposal for a sports medicine/research facility.  It didn't seem there was much news to report on any of those fronts, so I kind of just let things slide.

In reality my training was actually progressing, though rather slowly and in fits and starts.  Once I committed to the idea of running Leadville I had to get over my paralyzing fear of the idea of a high-altitude 100-miler and start figuring out how to do it; this took a bit of time but once I put a plan in place I started to see some progress.  I secured the promise of a tent from Hypoxico Altitude Training and targeted 6-8 weeks of "sleep-high, train-low".  I built my weekly mileage up to the mid-90s by late April and started mixing some quality stuff back in.  Crucially, I found a new training partner willing to crush some harder stuff, having lost Dr. Mike to injury and Laura to Syracuse (Phil and Brian, with their commutes to NYC, aren't available consistently enough during the week to rely on for regular high-intensity work).  Kevin Borden started to join me for track, tempo, and hill work; his energy and enthusiasm were really the key to forcing me back into fitness.  Without that element I'm not sure I could've done the necessary work to find my rhythm again.

I served on the race committee for the Rock the Ridge 50-mile this year, which takes place in May, and was planning on running that with Ben Nephew and James McCowan as my main buildup race for Leadville.  (Cayuga Trails, which would've been my natural choice in early May, was moved this year to July to accommodate Ian Golden's congressional campaign, so was too close to LT100 to allow for adequate recovery.)  However, two weeks before race day, finally feeling fit, I came down with an upper respiratory infection--sore throat, fever, chills, the works--and had to pull the plug on RTR.  This was yet another frustrating setback in a spring season full of them, and an unexpected one; I rarely get sick.  Casting about for a plan B, I settled on the Salomon OutdoorFest Ultra, a new timed event on Staten Island the first weekend in June.

The logistics were less than ideal.  I worked the overnight shift on Friday, leaving work at 7am and driving home for a 30-minute nap before getting back into the car for the trip down to "the City," arriving about an hour before the 1pm start time.  The weather wasn't about to cooperate either; it was the first really hot day of the season, temperatures reaching 88 degrees within the first couple of hours, with the infamous #beastcoast humidity in full effect (thunderstorms threatened all day, but we were denied the relief of any real rain throughout). The course was blessedly shaded for the most part, but managing the heat was the primary task on the day.

The race was enthusiastically if haphazardly run.  The course was well-marked, a challenging but runnable mix of single- and doubletrack with some nice, varied terrain; however, nobody, including the RDs, seemed to know how long the loop was.  We were initially told 7K, which was corrected at the start to 3.5 miles.  In reality it was probably shorter; I think the results assume a 5k loop, but this remained unclear throughout the duration of the race.  There was one well-stocked aid station at the start/finish, where I mostly focused on putting ice in my cap, my bandanna, my shorts, and anywhere else I could get it.  Both the solo and relay divisions started together, so it was unclear immediately where we all stood place-wise, and I focused mostly on getting a good "time-on-feet" day in despite the heat and my fatigue.  I had initially hoped to run around 40 miles, but after seeing the weather and experiencing the first couple of laps revised that to 10-11 laps, which I figured was around 35 miles given what we'd been told regarding the course length.

Despite repeating to myself that this was a training run, and assiduously not caring about place, I eventually got caught up in the racing aspect of it, finding myself in the top 3-4 after about 4 hours.  Somewhere on lap 8 or so I moved into what I was pretty sure was second place, feeling pretty solid. I had settled into about 35-37 minutes per lap with about a minute in the aid station.  I finished lap 8 in around 4:22 and was listening as I replenished my ice and water to a conversation between one of the RDs and another racer who was trying to figure out how the race would end.  This had been made pretty clear at the start--only full laps would be counted (which made sense; there was no reliable way to count part laps on a 3+ mile trail loop).  The RD reiterated this to the runner--after the 5-hour mark, no one would be allowed to start another lap they were unlikely to finish.  I knew I would finish lap nine right around 5 hours, and made sure to inform the RD that I planned on starting a 10th lap probably just past the 5-hour mark, and that I'd have no problem finishing it within the six-hour time frame.  She thanked me and sent me on my way.

Cool finisher's patch.
I didn't get one of these either.
Lap nine proceeded without any issues and I set off for lap 10 at 5:02, comfortably settled into second place and feeling happy with the day's effort; I stuck to about the same splits I'd been running and finished lap 10 in second place in 5:38.  Only now, a different RD was encouraging folks to head back out for another lap.  Any lap started before the 6-hour time limit would be counted, he said, no matter how long it took to complete.  Clearly this made no sense--it's a six-hour race, not a six-plus-whatever-hour race--and I certainly didn't care enough to head back out for another loop after I had been mentally committed to the idea of 10 laps for, I don't know, the past four hours or so.  So I surrendered a couple of spots in the standings to folks who I beat.  Which, of course, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't mean much.  But RDs really need to make rules and stick to them.  Changing the rules of the game mid-race is really unfair, even when there's not all that much on the line.  (And you know what? This stupid little thing cost me second overall AND the masters' win; I think I was actually entitled to a free pair of shoes.  So it wasn't nothing on the line after all.  I didn't make a stink about it, but this type of thing bugs the shit out of me.)

Regardless, it was a good, long, hot effort in my sleep-deprived state, and it did help me transition into some more serious Leadville prep for the summer.  Little else to report on that front, as a couple of other possible prep races fell through.  Three week later I went to Squaw to pace the great Brian Oestrike, and undertook altitude training, so you'll have to sit through a post on that too before I get around to writing a Leadville recap.