Confidence was high for this race. I had put in some good miles in the leadup. I had completed some focused training. I had tried to repeat things that had led to past successes in this race. This was Firetrails after all. My first 50 mile race. I have completed this race the last two consecutive years and had done well. 7th in 2011 and got the Dick Collin's award, which is awarded to the fastest rookie 50 mile competitor. 5th last year with a time that was significantly improved from 2012. I had no reason to believe that I couldn't do any better this year and that success would find me again.
As we started off in the pre-dawn darkness on the bike-paths around lake chabot, I did what I always do. Pay no attention to the competition. Run my own race. Run easy. Pay attention to my breathing. Just chill. Couldn't care less who was running by me on the easy first flat miles. We hit the first climbs on the firetrails that lead up into the hills. Again, just take it easy, hike when it's steep, concentrate on nice even effort. During this climb I catch up to Bree from our club and have a little chat. She informs me that a lady named Roxanne had taken off fast. They were good friends who compete against each-other often in these PA races. She also said she expected to catch her later. As we parted ways I told her I would try and play some mental games with the other women as I caught them, see if I could get her a little help...
As always I was running the downhills aggressively. This time, however, things were a little different. There seemed to me more guys around running just as tough as me and even passing me. I just figured there were some overly ambitious guys that I would reel in later. I covered the wide open firetrails with ease and thought that I was feeling better at this point that last year. At some point during those miles a lady named Shawn had passed me on a climb. We had a little bit of small talk. She probed me about how fast I was expecting to go, past performances etc... She was definitely trying to gauge how she was pacing herself for the race. There is a steep downhill section before we hit the single track where I went flying past her. I guess all of our cards were on the table at that point. It was just up to who had the better hand.
As we climbed the wind-y single track she passed me again, and then when we hit the technical descent, she actually heard my big plomping size 13s flapping against the trail as I was bombing down and she stepped to the side for me...
This was a repeated pattern for the next 10 or so miles and we had a pretty predictable convo going with the typical banter of "nice" trail racers. Why I mention Shawn and not some of the guys that I passed was because she actually talked to me. There were a couple of guys in the mix during these miles, but it seemed as if they were totally absorbed into their own world and were not interested at all in socializing, or whatever. Shawn and I were hiking some steep single track and we caught another woman. We were catching women before this point, but those women were the early starters - the ones who were allowed to start at 5:30 a.m. and who were probably looking at 11-13 hour finish times. When I first saw this lady hiking as Shawn and I were catching her (while also, just walking up a hill), I assumed she might have been one of the early starters. I got no indication that this lady was an elite woman runner. But out of curiosity I asked her her name, and she replied "Roxanne". So this was her. The tough woman that I had heard stories of before. Roxanne is 50 and is usually in contention in these races. She was huffing and puffing and I couldn't imagine her keeping up what seemed like an obviously painful, excessively fatiguing, pace for another 35 miles. The three of us were passing along pleasantries and I was bugging Roxanne about Bree coming for her, etc. But I was pretty sure this woman was toast at this point. Shawn was the first to start to open a gap on Roxanne and I followed. Then we hit a downhill and I put a gap on both of them. I felt so good that I decided to go ahead and stretch the legs a little bit and opened up a nice lead. I was pretty sure I would not see either of them again until after the turnaround when I was already climbing the "big hill". After I passed the last aid station before the descent down the "big hill" to the turnaround, I heard a huffing and puffing behind me. I thought to myself: "no way". I turned around, and sure enough, Roxanne was hammering this last hill before the big drop and was looking strong. She passed me with ease and talked a little smack along the way. I was like, ok, just wait until the down and I will put her away for good. Much to my dismay she destroyed the downhill and actually put a gap on me. She was definitely in beast mode.
I had started dealing a little bit with cramping in my calves at this point and was a little tentative on the downhill, trying to regain my composure. I had even taken a salt capsule at each of the last two aid stations. I thought I was doing everything I could to control the cramping for this race, but nonetheless, it was still affecting me. As I was going down the hill I was counting the guys coming back up to gauge where I was in the race. Oddly I was seeing the guys coming back up in pairs. At some point I even realized that one of the runners in each of the pairs didn't have a race bib. I was pretty sure that they didn't allow pacers at the halfway point in this race so this confused me a little bit. I messed up my count because I couldn't resolve this weirdness in my head for some reason. Whatever was going on, it seemed like I was farther behind than I usually am in this race at this point. But no matter. Just keep doing my thing. I grinded out the climb while fighting the cramping and was feeling good about myself when I finally got back to the downhills.
The next miles did not go easy for me though. I was really fighting the cramps. Every time I tried opening up me stride a little bit my legs wanted to seize up on me. I was acutely aware of what might happen to me if I pushed things, with the memories of TRT still fairly fresh in my mind. Basically I was slowing, and there was nothing I could do about it. People started passing me. Shawn caught me with about 10 miles to go, and then things got really tough. Basically about five miles out my legs were toast. I couldn't even run the downhills. One time I forced myself to try, and with every stride, pain shooting up through my legs brought me to the edge of my resolve. I walked it in from here. Got passed by lots of people, which is generally how these things play out when someone "blows up" at the end of a long race like this.
About a quarter mile from the finish Joanne and the kids were out on the bike-path looking for me. I was happy to see them. We exchanged high fives and then I determined to let the girls pace me in at that point and put together a little jog to finish out the race. I finished 41st in 8 hours and 48 minutes.
I've tried to diagnose what went wrong with my race, but it has stumped me. I have no idea. In fact, this year of racing has been strange to me. I had had two good years of racing before this year where everything was clicking well for me. And then this year has been disappointment after disappointment. My effort has not been in vain though. I would have to say that this year of running has also been one of the most fulfilling with a mix of adventures and new experiences and good, disciplined training, that I enjoy. A bad year of racing is not the end of the world. For now though, I am planning on backing off of the racing (and the focused training that racing requires) and chill and have fun with the family. It is time to re-balance.