Just a few moments from a morning on the trails. Or, if I was going for the full click-bait effect, I should've called this post YOU WON'T BELIEVE THESE 11 CRAZY MOMENTS FROM MY LAST RACE!! !!!! But I'm not, so I didn't.
7:50 AM: Parking Lot
Cold weather produces shivers and much deliberation over how many layers to wear. It was pretty cold at the parking lot, and there was discussion all around about whether to dress warm or light. It’s important to remember that climbing produces lots of heat, so dressing a little light is a good idea for winter races. Buffs, gloves, arm warmers and hats are all awesome since they can be easily removed as conditions change.
8:00 am: Before the race
There’s something about competent people. They carry themselves differently, somehow. Whether it is their mannerisms, build, confidence or gear, it’s sometimes just so easy to pick them out of a crowd. I first had this feeling spotting Adam Campbell and Ellie Greenwood at a race a couple years ago. I knew there was an Olympian roaming about somewhere, and as I walked down from the parking lot, I noticed a guy behind me, and immediately picked him out. I was right, and Chris turned out to be an awesome dude - I really enjoyed the (short) time I was able to run with him. Welcome to the trail scene man, we’re glad to have you here.
9:05am: Flat gravel road around Sasamat Lake
I’m so naïve about pacing. Give me a fifty miler and I’ll have some idea (it's easy: any speed is too fast - you'll still be broken by the end), but this was my second 25k race ever. I expected the start of the race to be at a blistering pace, but actually it felt pretty reasonable. I felt like pushing myself early on, so I picked up the speed a bit. Someone commented “early breakaway!” but I was just running! Sometimes I wonder whether race tactics really exist, or whether everyone just runs to their potential. Who knows – certainly not me – my only race tactic is to incessantly chat with (at, more like) people until they get so annoyed that they run faster just to get some peace. Whether I’m doing them a service, or making them push early on so I can catch them later, I’m not quite certain.
9:15: Powerline climb
The lead pack hits the first steep hill, and we start to powerhike, as you do - it’s more efficient at steep enough gradients gradient after all. There is another strategy, which is to not give a crap about the hill and keep running at a swift pace. Chris took option 2. I am usually a fairly strong climber, and it was pretty impressive watching a runner that strong power up some steep grades without breaking stride. Raw strength is sometimes overrated for ultras, but this moment gave me new appreciation for the value of muscle over shorter races. More stair step-ups for me!
9:55 am: Technical trails on Diez Vista ridge
You’re driving a sports car over a really rutted gravel road. The car is low, and fragile, and you really don’t want to break it. It’s hard to get in a rhythm. Steering carefully, you navigate the deep potholes and mud pits, cringing at each scrape and bump. In a blast of splintering branches and spraying detritus, a fully decked-out rally car swings around the turn behind you – no time to react, you just freeze and in a moment it is gone. This is how all technical downhills go for me, especially when someone like Mike Murphy is doing the rally driving. From the top of Diez Vista climb to the end of the technical trail I went from second to seventh. I think. I stopped counting. Sigh.
10:07am: Descent off Diez Vista
A first in a trail race for me – stopping mid-descent to shake the hand of another racer – it was awesome to meet and be able to share the trail with Tom – a super quick runner who I was just about able to keep up with once the trail flattened out a little.
10:33: Lakeview Trail
The trail is steep – hands on knees, powering up stride after stride, it gradually flattens out. Start running just before the steepest section is over, hitting your stride just as it becomes runnable. The trail dips, steepens and you’re gliding over the trail – arms out, cadence a bllluuurrrrr faster faster let it fly until the wind drags you back. The trail is smooth but mind the rock up ahead left-right-leftrightleftright-leap! The next climb looms - carry the momentum, push off harder to compensate for the compression and transition to hiking when the speed runs out. I will never tire of that feeling. Technical trails are fun, and I can see why so many people love them, but not for me. I’ll take an undulating steep trail with relatively reliable footing every time, and Lakeview delivers in spades.
10:55am: Heading towards final climb
It’s amazing how everyone can have so different strengths and weaknesses, and yet most of it tends to balance out somewhat by the end – Tom was massively quick along the flat road by the lake, Mike, Jordan, Nick and Blair monstered the descents, Chris was unbeatable on the climbs. I wondered if it would be possible to put each of these strongest attributes into a single runner, or if everyone plays to their strengths, compromising their stamina elsewhere. I know personally that being slow on the descents definitely allowed me to rest and be prepared to attack the less technical trail sections later on.
11:14 am: Final descent towards finish line
On a rutted gravel access road – been hanging with some quick runners, and they can’t be far behind after that last climb. Keep the feet moving as fast as you can, don’t roll ankles on those rocks and ignore the fact that you can’t really see out of your right eye, which has gone all blurry.
11:28 am: Finish line
Crossing the finish line, happy to see that my dad is already there, having finished the 13k. I love trail race finish lines. I couldn’t be prouder of my dad, or my mountain-unicycling buddy Ryan for crushing the 25k, or any of the other awesome people I’m slowly getting to know in this amazing community. I get a thrill each time I see someone I know finish.
End of day: Finish line
Gary hauls a box of radios from place to place. My dad thanks him for a great day – his very first trail race. Gary is polite and takes a moment, but is busy, as race directors are. Happy, we start to leave, but a moment later Gary - radios safely delivered - returns to say goodbye and how happy he is that my dad enjoyed the day. Everyone knows that Gary Robbins is one of the best race directors around; supremely competent, produces great events, and still finds time to become an amazing athlete and parent, but that moment really made me appreciate how much he cares about people and does everything he possibly can to connect with them. You’re awesome Gary, and we all can’t wait to see you finish Barkley this year.
11:30 behind Chris
I can’t believe my first ever trail race was less than two years ago.
Writing words here and there on adventures running out in the forests and mountains