Last Saturday, I joined yet another sold-out PCTR event, the Pirates Cove races. Lining up for my preferred distance, the 50k, I felt very confident about this race. A recent series of tough workouts had me feeling as strong as ever, and I knew the course very well on top of that. Feeling that a sub-4:30 was within my abilities, my goal was to run aggressive from the start while leaving plenty in the tank for the second loop.
This strategy worked out well at the beginning. The challenging climb up and over Wolf Ridge went smooth, and I cruised into Tennessee Valley (TV) after just 37 minutes. Next up was the easiest climb of the day up Miwok and Coastal Fireroad. However, something happened. What should have been a pretty relaxing climb felt unusually hard. Uh oh! I immediately let up on the pace, but knew quickly that this was going to be a looong day. We’re only at 5 miles into the race here.
I tried my best to recover on this (orange) loop trying to leverage my downhill running strength into a recovering my legs. Didn’t work. The climb out of Pirates Cove was much more arduous for me than usual. On my way back to TV, I readjusted my goals (“finish-lucky to get under 5”) and tried to assess why my legs felt so heavy. It wasn’t nutrition or water intake. Everything was on pace here. Then I realized the following:
- I had increased my mileage (previous week was the most miles I have ever run in a week – 70 – when 45-55 mpw is normal for me)
- I had increased the intensity of the workout (see 8 recent Wildcat Peak summits)
- I had shortened my taper
The above is also known as “recipe for disaster” or “stupid” or “testing my current limits”. Whichever you prefer.
My race goal was adjusted once more: whatever it takes, just finish. After laboring up Monticello, I arrived at Conzelman, the approximate half-way point, in 2:32. Not that bad…yet. The descent back to Rodeo was hard and I actually had to start walking some of the flat sections. Ouch!
Time to hit the steepest climb of the course once more: Wolf Ridge. That was a tough, tough climb for me. People were flying by me like I was standing still. Based on the race results and the number of people who passed me on this loop, I now know that I was actually in 4th or 5th overall at the 30k mark.
This section to TV, which took me 37 minutes earlier, took almost an hour this time around. Four miles in an hour. Ooof! A friend of a friend, whom I had met once at a party, was running her first 50k. She dusted me going up Monticello and would later finish 12th overall (strong!).
For part of this climb, I hooked up with my fellow Deutschlander Jochen. He’s a very experienced ultra-runner and had just finished C2M 100M (37% or so finish rate) two weekends ago. It was good to pace with someone for a while as I tried my best to hold on.
At this point, it felt like I was running on match-sticks rather than legs – as in there was seemingly no muscle power I could coax out of my legs. I would let gravity do its thing on the downhills, but my legs were tough to control and I would actually walk away with bruises on the inside of each ankle from inadvertently kicking them as I was running (does that even make sense?).
For those of you who know the course: you know that the little, teeny climb right after you pass the Golden Gate Bridge? You know the one that’s maybe 100 ft vertical at best? I stopped not once but twice just to gather myself. That “climb” is little more than a speed bump compared to the rest of the course, but it took me almost 5 minutes to climb that. Ooof!
More and more people passed before I eventually crossed the finish line in 5:22. That’s not the worst time in the world, but, frankly, that was the hardest finish out of any race I have ever done. No question. I was stupid (see above) It just wasn’t my day, and so I’m happy with finishing and (hopefully) getting stronger.
My thanks to all the volunteers and PCTR who make these events possible for us. Also, congratulations to Karen on her very, very strong finish in her first 50k.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with my couch.