I wasn't really sure how it was all going to go down. I spent nearly the entire night before the race awake. On and off throughout the night i would get up to cough up a lung in the bathroom, trying to not wake my fiance with all the hacking. I'd somehow contracted this chest cold and at the worst possible time. It started last week but went away over the weekend and returned after a freezing cold night run in 40mph winds in Thunderbird Park. I woke up the following morning knowing my body wasn't right. Fast forward to last night and my incessent and painful coughing and I was not in any shape to run a 50K trail race.
So I did it anyway.
My friend Matt picked me up at 5am and we drove out to BFE Queen Creek, Arizona. A town of people that thought cheaper and bigger houses in the real estate boom was a good idea despite they are basically in Mexico it's so damn far away from ANYTHING. All savings on the house purchase is eliminated with the 75 mile commute to everything. And I'm sure their house is worth next to nothing as well now...my point is, well, I don't really have a point except living in Queen Creek is just plain dumb. Anyway...
San Tan Regional Park was the host of the inaugural San Tan Scramble 50k. I'd be running my first race of 2011 and my first since the Fat Ox 50 Miler back in late November. I haven't really trained for this race. I ran a 29 mile trail run with the Superstition Wilderness 50K on January 2nd and then proceeded to log less than 20 miles a week for three weeks before putting in a whopping 25 one week before the race. I did put in some fast (for me) 10 mile times but in the scheme of training for an ultra, I'm way behind on the mileage that i need. Excuses aside, I figure I'll just wing it everytime anyway. I have a terrible tendency to just assume I'm always ready to run 30 miles just because I've done it before. Again, I'm just as dumb as living in Queen Creek.
Cold?? I'll show you cold.
Race starting Temperature: 28 degrees. Freezing. 35 or so toed the line and started out at 7am. Matt was set on sticking with the leaders straight from the start and I followed him out front and quickly we were a group of 5 or 6 a couple miles in after we pushed out some sub 8 minute miles to start the race. Far faster than I would typically start out but it was cold and I wanted to get warm. Three miles into the race Matt takes off and jumps farther ahead to make a group of three. I hold back knowing I'm not Ryan Hall and I'm not going to last doing 7 minute miles the first few miles into an ultra. Settling in to a steady 8 minute mile I plodded along the trail as I fought through the routine of "I feel horrible, I don't want to do this" that I always have in my mind at the start of the race. I know that right around 6 miles I start to really feel good and loose and the internal anger of the stupidty of paying to run 31 miles passes.
Six Miles came and Went
My legs are watered down logs floating down the river. Heavy, weak, cold. My breathing is sharp and my heart is beating hard despite a very moderate pace. This chest cold is killing me. I'm still knocking back the miles and the guy tracking me down is keeping me moving which is exactly what I need. Especially after a quick pee break that resulted in a false alarm on the "i'm done peeing." Great, that'll just freeze so I'll have frozen urine on my shorts. Perfect.
I hit the aid station at mile five or so and went straight on through powering out 7:15/miles to keep the guy behind me off my back. No luck and he catches me at the base of the big climb a mile later. The "Big Climb" that was touted as "unrunnable" was definately runnable. Not by me of course but it wasn't that bad. I knew we'd be doing this climb up Goldmine Mountain 3 times by the end of the race so I walked the steep and ran the rest. At the top of the ridge a nice view of the local Queen Creek valley showed itself in all it's medicore glory and the decent down the mountain began.
I'm the Fastest Downhill Runner Ever
Not really. But i must be the fastest downhill runner in this race because everyone runs down mountains like they are worried there are baby bird eggs that could be laying under any rock. Tippy toeing down the mountain like they've never ran a trail before. Not me, I may suck at everything else in ultrarunning (training, speed, nutrition, hydration, training, training, training...) but I can kill it down mountain trails with a reckless abandon. I caught three guys in front of me coming down the mountain and two more after the turnaround point and coming back up and then down the frontside. Of course half of them just passed me right back on the climbs or flats but that's not the point. Point is I should really start taking advantage of that as a stregnth. I'll probably forget all about this by the next race.
I hit the last mile or so at a little over 7 min/miles and felt a little better coming into the end of Lap 1 at the main aid station. Grabbed some food, dropped the long sleeve and gloves and headed back out in 6th place. I was promptly passed by two people in my first two miles.
Let the Meltdown Begin
I hate running in sand. I'm slow, I get discouraged and I get angry. I was also getting really, really tired. I just couldn't muster ANY energy at all. I'm at 12 miles and I'm spent. This isn't right, it can't be right. I try to push it and stay up with the guys that are up front of me and maintain their pace for about a mile more before I have to stop to have a coughing fit that rings my head like a bell. The thoughts of quitting resurface and I start to really doubt my ability to do another full lap plus what I have left of this one. My head is pounding, my chest is wheezing and my body is getting the chills as I plod along like a wounded deer. Strangely, just maintaining a 12min/mile pace keeps me from getting passed through this stretch. I keep turning around wondering when I'll see Jody or Michael Miller or someone. It never comes. So I keep going but never stop thinking about what I'll do when I get to the intersection of the mountain.
Coming up on the aidstation at mile 15 I've nearly made up my mind. I cannot keep doing this or I'll be sick for a month. I need to stop and rest or I'll just make this far worse. Thoughts of embarrassment, shame and anger to even be thinking of this dominate my mind for every step into the aid station. I tell the woman I'm done and can't do another lap without really risking serious illness. They understand but say, "but you only have a few guys in front of you..." Yeah, that makes me feel better. I'm finally running in a position where I can finish with a good time and I'm quitting. Pathetic.
To Quit or Not to Quit?
I leave the aid station with thoughts of going on or turning at the sign and going back and calling it a day. I ran every stitch of this second lap, couldn't I make it one more lap?? I know I can but know I shouldn't. I turn right at the sign and head back.
I ran the last mile in 7:44. I quasi sprinted past two people doing the 25K distance and pulled up at the aid station to Nathan and told him I was done. I hate it.
I spent the next couple hours watching people cross the finish line, coming in at the end of their race. Jason came in from his 25K strong in 6th place or so. Matt was still out there but suddenly came screaming in super fast to WIN the 50k!! We were supposed to take pictures of him but never thought for a second that he was going to roll in at 4:23 to win the entire race. Amazing and adds to the sting just a little more.
It's Not the End of the World
It's just a race. DNF's happen. It was bound to happen eventually. I made it through 2010 without failing to finish and if it wasn't for this chest cold I would have made it without a problem in this race. I was even on pace to run a PR with a sub 5:30 time despite the cold. So if I am to take a positive aspect from this race it's this: I'm faster on downhills and sloping downhills than most runners. I can definately take advantage of this on the very hilly Mesquite Canyon. I'm also in need of some real training or I'm never going to get close to or win a race. I know that if I actually apply myself into some dedicated training I can put out some fast times. With time and energy I know I can do that. Will I do it? Doubt it. But until I do nothing will ever change.
At least I still got the t-shirt.