Thursday, May 5, 2011

Runnin' with the Devil

I got a DNF at Diablo "60k" and I didn't drop.

After years of hearing local runners alternate between complaining and praising the old Diablo 50M, I couldn't wait to test my legs on its climbs and descents. 2011 saw the same race directors returning to Diablo with a shorter course, so I dove in headfirst.
Preparation for this race was a bit of a trip for me, as it was my first race in sometime over 18 months, and first ultra since my underwhelming debut at WTC back in 2009. I was planning on logging big miles all the way up through race day, but my energy levels were very low, leading to a very grouchy (in retrospect, beneficial) half-week taper. The day before the race we got a final instruction email that showed we would actually be running just over 40 miles instead of the advertised 37. Surprising for sure, but not an issue as this was really a test for my upcoming 50M at Silver State, so why not run further?
When Jacob got off work Saturday night I swung by his place and we took a short drive down to his dad's house in the bay area, which was a few minutes away from the starting area. I had a fitful sleep, but woke up refreshed and ready to go. For the first time in several days I felt a sense of calm towards the upcoming race. In light of recent fueling issues, I made a point of getting a ton of "safe" food (I don't usually eat before a run, as it highly increases the likelihood of a mid-run BM) down the hatch. About an hour pre-race I threw down a cliff mojo bar and a belly full of water. The forecast suggest we might see 80 degrees by the end of the race and Jacob and I debated the merits of carrying an extra bottle to be utilized in the later part of the day. He carried an extra empty and I did not, partly due to my recent exposure to much warmer temps on my 2 week southwestern road trip. My shorts and handheld were loaded with 12 gels (thanks to Jacob's seamstress connection I have an un-intrusive pocket that holds about 6) and my electric blue MT 100s were laced up tight, it was time to run!
The appeal of this course is in it's difficulty, amassing nearly 11,000' of elevation gain (More than Silver State 50M) after every bump is counted (more like 8,000' of meaningful gain). Jacob and I took off up front at a comfortable clip, eager to gap the field but knowing that we were gonna need strength later in the day. I followed right behind him for the entirety of the first climb, marveling at the ease of motion and efficiency with which he adapted to the various grades presented to us by the mountain. Every so often I would suddenly be falling behind him and made a point of really using the little transitions to pick up the pace (this was a race after all) and get back in step with him. The unique benefits of my three most recent training climbs became known quickly; The scope of The Grand Canyon trivialized the length or gain that any climb this day could offer at once, while the similar to Diablo but never-flat nature and significantly higher summit altitude of Peavine made some of the rolling and short drops of Diablo great recovery zones. Finally, the incredibly steep and fairly technical grade of K2 but the steeper pitches of Diablo's climbs to shame. About 2/3s of the way up the first climb we were suddenly on an exposed ridge, and the combination of views and sense of strength was a timely reminder of why I love to run in the mountains. We continued along a winding single track on top of the Bay Area for a while and soon enough cruised past 1st aid. It was a short push to the summit from there and I was quite pleased with myself at the general ease of effort it took to get to the top. I was not expecting anyone to be so near to us as Jorge Maravilla was at the turnaround, so I really let things fly as we started to descend. The three of us came through Juniper Creek for aid in no time and I left my shirt there to pick up on my final pass through. The next several miles were fun and challenging, as I pushed myself to remain a competitor in what was looking like a three man race. At around mile 11 or so I had to resign to holding a pace I could maintain through the day and hoping the best for the other two. Watching them gap me lasted another couple of miles it seemed and once they finally disappeared from sight I got a little down, but took solace in my general feeling of well being. At the bottom of a pitch so short and steep that it nearly jarred me into shitting my pants, there was a fork in the trail which was marked to go to the left, but had a pile of unmanned aid station supplies to the right (no ribbons that I saw). My first thought was to go right, but the heavily marked left side left me with the conclusion that the aid would be set up on the right (Why wasn't there a volunteer here? At least 50 people paid the $100 entry fee...) to stop runners from going that way. The rest of the descent was gradual and I slowed down a bit, fearing being off course from time to time but always spotting pink ribbons ahead. Before I knew it The climb I had assumed to be another annoying bump just kept going up and I was entering the unknown second ascent. I was apprehensive that it would chew me up, but my legs just clicked into climbing mode and while I was not cruising in the same fashion as the first ascent, I was running efficiently with relative ease. When told by an aid station volunteer that I was the first runner through, I assumed that he wasn't paying attention or that Jacob and Jorge had come through before he was even there. I was taken off guard upon coming into Juniper Creek to hear them tell me that I was indeed at the front of the 60k race. It does not feel good to think you have taken the lead based on a technicality, and that feeling was compounded by the fact that both leaders were clearly going to outrun me that day and one of them was a friend. I grabbed my shirt and told the RD that the two leaders must have been lost and that there were quite a few turns that were ambiguously marked, then headed up to the summit. At this point my right hamstring was pretty cashed, and I was looking forward to descending to the finish. I had heard horror stories about the difficulty of the last 8 miles without aid, so I was both eager and apprehensive to get after it. What a great trail! It was mainly smooth single track with several brief technical sections, and sure it was swarming with hikers, but everyone quick to step aside and I was not shy about announcing my oncoming presence. Other that a short and steep grunt up to the North Summit, I was treated to some awesome, though over grown switchback sections. My legs held up admirably as I skidded around turns crushed the smooth sections and jumped down the drops. Obviously, I was not at full strength but was running fast and feeling good, so to check my watch and see I was already 1:10 out from the summit (only "8" miles remaining) and still fairly high above the valley floor was a bit annoying. the soon enough I was at the bottom and after walking several of the final bumps came across the finish line just under 5:59 (a 1:30 split for the final "8" downhill? I seriously doubt it and according to my highly scientific, non GPS intuitions would say it was at LEAST 9.5). I told the finish staff about the leaders I assumed were lost and settled in, quite happy about my day. just about 20 minutes later, as I was making my way towards the creek, in came Jorge! He was looking strong and surprised to see me, immediately asking where I had gone off course.
After some discussion it became clear that my left at the fork of what was later to become the Camel Rock aid station should have been a right. Whoops! 8 minutes later Jacob was in and we discussed and were soon laughing over my mistake. I cut out about 5.5 miles ("mostly boring" according to Jacob) of the "60k", but am fairly sure I ran about 35 considering the time, effort, and course info provided by the RD. Don't look for me on a finishers list anywhere, but do expect to see me wearing my funky yellow finisher's shirt without shame. This training race gave me exactly the confidence I was looking for going into Silver State. I am grateful to have finally discovered the trails of Diablo and for the volunteers who devoted their time, but am not so sure I would pay for an event of such caliber again.
1 gel pre-race, 1 every half hour except for @ 5:30 I figured I was just moments out of the finish and didn't really want to eat the final gel. I should have, as my final hour ended up being my worst feeling.
I also had 1 S! cap at hour 1-5.

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