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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Peacock 100k pt1

Saturday's Peacock 100k wasn't exactly the experience that I'd anticipated, but then, what race ever turns out exactly the way we expect? What makes these races so amazing and interesting are the little surprises. What makes for a successful race is how well we deal with these surprises. In some ways this was a really good race for me and the things that didn't go so well taught me some needed lessons.

The race started out with about 50 runners on an imaginary starting line at the base of the very impressive ridgeline we were about to run up in the predawn light of the Hawaiian west coast. The first mile and a half was walked by almost everyone, as we went from sea level up to 1700 feet in that distance.

Once we hit the more runnable section at the top I found myself near the back of the pack, my usual place. I'm not a particularly fast runner to begin with and HURT is full of amazingly talented ones. I fell in next to a woman I'd never met, though we quickly became running buddies over the next few miles. It probably helped that we were both running our first ultra, though we'd both been admonished for choosing this as our first.

Susan is a much more accomplished athlete than me, running the ironman (if I remember right), though she was less familiar with trails, so our experience balanced out to a mutually agreeable pace. Over my time this year on the HURT trail series there's been a couple of times that I matched paces at what I considered a 'slow' pace. A couple times I got impatient with the speed and pushed on, usually only to blow up later. So when I ran with Susan, feeling a little sluggish, I decided to stick it out with her anyway. This turned out to be a good decision, we were keeping up with my intended pacing in a way that was sustainable for the race.

About an six miles in we came across another runner who was hunched over on the side of the road. He waved us on, said he couldn't keep anything down but that he was ok. Susan, having a fine-tuned female intuition realized he was in worse shape than he was implying so we stopped to assist him.

Apparently he'd eaten something that really screwed up his stomach, he couldn't eat or drink anything without promptly throwing it back up. Susan pulled out her phone and managed to get enough signal to text back and forth with her husband (who was with some of the race directors at the starting point) for advice on getting Brent off the ridge, who reluctantly agreed that he need help. The directors told us that there wasn't any way to get to him until he made it to the first aid station at mile ten, four miles away. We told them we'd stick with him until we reached the station. He thanked us and we set out walking at a pace he could keep up. We made sure he kept drinking water and then waited with him through the inevitable breaks to throw it back up. It took about an hour and a half to make it four miles. At the aid station he collapsed in the shade of a truck and once the worker assured us they'd look after him Susan and I set off on our own.

The aid worker's parting words echoed in my head for the next few miles, 'You guys are only doing one lap, right?' You see, Susan only planned on doing one but I wanted to keep the option open to do a second, depending on how I felt after the first. I planned all my drops for two just for that case. I might not be up for it but if I was I wanted to be ready. We were so far behind the rest of the field though, it'd taken four and a half hours for the first ten miles. At that rate we were perilously close to the cutoffs. If we ran it perfectly there was still a chance though. We made good time to the next aid station around mile twenty and prepared ourselves for 'the long road'.

At that point, my confidence was pretty high that I would set out on a second loop. My legs still felt good, my feet were fine, and though we were closer to the cutoff than I'd planned we were still far enough under that I figured I could at least give it a shot.

Yeah, the long road totally disabused me of the notion. The long road is a bit of a misleading title, though it is in fact a long road it could more accurately be described as the long hill. It's four miles of various graded hill, all down to the aid station and then back up to continue the loop. Almost immediately my feet started killing me on the downhill.

I'd worn my new Cascadias for the race, I was pretty confident in my shoe-choosing abilities so that despite the fact that I hadn't taken them on a decent run yet I wore them for the race. Up until the long road I was totally confident in my choice of footwear. However, once we hit the long, very consistent and awkward decent my feet started sliding forward in the shoe. Now, this happens with any shoe but for the Cascadias it seemed more exaggerated. It might have been that little elastic bit I complained about in my review, not being firm enough to hold the foot tight, or it might have been too loose a fit for the hardcore course. Either way, by the time we made it to the bottom I had silver dollar sized blisters on the balls of my feet.

I'd put a pair of Minimus trails in my drop bag for the turnaround for just this scenario but the damage had already been done. Susan wasn't feeling too much better but it was less feet and more of leg issues for her. My legs felt pretty good after 3500 feet of elevation change but my feet were killing me.

Again, our mutual speed balanced out... to a walk. We made our way, very slowly, through the rest of the loop. At the top of the long hill the male leader passed us going the other direction, Susan and I were both blown away. He was FLYING down the hill, seven hours into the race and he had to have completed at least 45-50 miles to be at that point of the course. We made it to the next branch of the trail an hour later without seeing a second place runner.

We finished in a little over ten hours, 30.15 miles, just under the cutoff. A second loop was out of the question for me, which was a little disappointing. I mean, ideally we could have made it in under nine hours, a good cushion under the cutoff, and if I hadn't messed up my feet on the Long Hill I would definitely have at least tried another. On the other hand, my biggest goal had been to finish 30 miles as my 30th birthday was two days later, and I definitely completed that goal. I definitely had fun, definitely have some new stories to tell, and even though it wasn't 100k I can definitely live with a 50k for my first completed ultramarathon.

There will be a follow up with some of the lessons learned and more info about the race when the results are published. I'm also going to try and include a follow up on Brent and that amazing runner in first.

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