Monday, August 22, 2011

Stevens Creek 50k

I would much prefer to just put this race out of my mind (which I've been trying to do), but figure it is my best interest to write up a race report for my records.  Once again, I will probably keep this short and sweet, as I think I am finally moving on from what transpired last Sunday.

I ran the Stevens Creek 50k last summer, just a few weeks after my first 50 miler.  It is a small event, with typically only 70 or so runners toeing the line because of permit issues.  The unique thing about this race is that it is essentially free.  The race used to be held in March as a birthday celebration for the race director, Steve Patt, but has since been moved to March because of unsafe trail conditions due to the weather.  Steve puts on a wonderful event.  Beautiful, well marked course, fully stocked aid stations, great volunteers, and sandwiches and snacks post-race.  All he asks is for donations, with all proceeds going towards the Santa Clara Audubon Society.  It didn't take much twisting of my arm to sign up for this race for the second year in a row.

Expectations were a little higher heading into this year.  Last year I ran won the race with a 4:24 and even struggled mightily in the last 5 or 6 miles.  Considering my training has been a lot more focused this year, and I didn't run a 50 miler 3 weeks earlier, I thought that a 4:15 wouldn't be out of the question.  Boy was I wrong!

Waking up that morning my stomach just wasn't feeling right.  No matter how many times I "emptied" things out, I just never felt "empty".  It was race time though, so there wasn't much I could do about it.  I just had to hope things worked themselves out in those first few miles.  As with most ultra events, it was a low key start.  I lead the charge off the initial downhill and held the lead up the first ascent.  After that ascent the next 2.5 miles were all downhill to the creek.  It was Jean Pommier (Skyline 50k winner the previous weekend), Juan De Oliva (2nd place last year), and myself pushing a pretty aggressive pace on this downhill stretch.  A couple 6:30 miles later we were at the creek and on the beginning of a 6 mile, ~1,400 foot ascent on the way to the first aid station.  It was in these next few miles when I was already beginning to wonder if it was going to be a long day.  Despite the climbing, my breathing just felt way too heavy for this early in the race.

Coming out of the initial climb around mile 2 (All photos: Peter Hargreaves)
All three of us stayed in a pretty tight pack in the beginning of the climb, with myself bringing up the rear.  There were a couple times I backed off, whether it be to choke down a gel, or just gather myself on the climb, but I usually caught up pretty quick.  A couple miles into the climb Jean began to create a little gap, while Juan and I ran together all the way into the first aid station at 10.9 miles.  Jean entered the aid station with a minute lead, but I was also 3 minutes ahead of last years pace, which what was the most important to me.  At this point my stomach was feeling fine.  I made quick work of filling my water bottles, grabbed a couple GUs, and got back on the trail just ahead of Juan.

Heading down into the first aid station.
I felt way better on the next section, and thought I ran it a lot better than I did the previous year.  I handled most of the climbs pretty well and managed to open up maybe a 50-100 foot gap on Juan.  Unfortunately there was one point where I could see Jean way ahead and he was absolutely crushing it.  Looking at the splits he managed to open up a 5 minute lead on me through the aid station at mile 19.3.  The worst part of this section though was there were some very exposed sections of the trail and the temps were quickly rising.  This would begin to play a major factor shortly leaving the next aid station.  I came into the aid station 25 seconds ahead of Juan, but we both left together after getting our bottles refilled, a couple glasses GU Brew, and a little watermelon.  I was still 3-4 minutes ahead of last years pace which was a good thing considering how much time I gave back in the final miles last year.

Unfortunately my race would take a drastic turn for the worst on the initial climb out of the aid station.  My legs just shut down and did not want to climb anymore.  I was done for and I fully knew it.  I really, really wanted to just call it quits and walk back to the aid station, but just couldn't bring myself to do it.  So there isn't much to report for the next 10 miles.  I basically hiked all the uphills and slowly ran the downhills.  My white flag was raised high.  Not sure what happened because I felt really good on the section leading up to the second aid station.  It took me just under an hour to go the 5.2 miles to the next aid station.  Once there I took my sweet ass time, dumped a bunch of water over my head, enjoyed the cold watermelon, and even took a seat for a little while.  I knew the toughest part of the course was ahead and that it was going to take a good effort to get myself to the finish.

A lot of hiking and an hour and twelve minutes later I finally made it.  I somehow managed to hold onto 3rd place, but came in 23 minutes slower than the previous year with a 4:47.  That would also be a full minute per mile slower than my intended goal pace.  What led to this craptastic race you might ask?  First off, I know the pace wasn't too aggressive through the first 20 miles.  I've had quicker training runs than this, on equally challenging terrain.  There was probably a few things that could have led to my breakdown, but I think the worst of it was a general lack of sleep in the week leading up to the race.  My sleeping pattern was absolutely f#%ked in the days before the race.  On top of that my mind just hasn't been in the game 100% the past few weeks.  The weeks leading up to the race haven't been my best, training-wise, and I think I just began to lose focus there for a while.  And of course you can't forget about the heat.  It just zapped me.  I'm just not used to running in that weather, and with most of the last part of the course being exposed, it absolutely fried me.

I know I am in better shape than last year when I ran this race.  I know I can run 4:15.  Unfortunately last Sunday just wasn't my day.  It stung all day Sunday and for a couple days after, but I'm over it now.  I was just really hoping for a confidence boosting race heading into the final weeks of training for Vermont, but as a friend said, sometimes it is good to run a little scared.  A coupe days recovery seemed to do the trick for my mind and now I will be hammering out 3 more weeks before it is taper time for Vermont.  You better believe there will be a boatload of hills included in my training these final weeks.  It's crunch time, baby!!

Big props to Jean Pommier for running a heck of a race!  He killed it out there last Sunday, running a 4:15 which is actually the 2nd fastest time ever on this course.  Jean is on absolute fire right now!

And of course more big props headed towards Steve Patt for putting on another great run on!  I hope to be back next year to make it three in a row.

The top 3 men: Jean, Juan, and myself.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that could've been the report for MY first ultra. We've all been there, Jay. You're a fantastic runner, and will surely redeem yourself in Vermont. Rest up, friend!