Sunday, November 18, 2007

Death March

What's that you say? "Don't take off too fast in the beginning; run your own race". Sorry, I didn't quite get that. "Stay focused on your objective", "Take it easy on the down hills" .... "blah blah blah" ... I've heard it all before. Heck, I've said it all before; but for some reason, I ignored the universal truths of racing and took off way too fast on the "Rails to Trails" 11 mile trail race in Prescott Valley, Arizona on Saturday.

I screamed down the big 2 mile hill in the beginning, dropping 500' to the valley below, started fading early (why wait), got passed by what seem to be 90% of the field and dragged my sorry butt to the finish line (see picture to the left) some 97 minutes after the starting gun.

The race is a point to point course starting on top of a hill 500' feet above and 2 miles from the Peavine trail; heads east past Watson Lake for 4 miles; joins up with the Iron King Trail; continues east for another 3 miles and veers into residential streets of Prescott Valley. The course continues for another 2 miles through the streets before ending up at the Prescott Valley Convention center. The course is simply beautiful. Both trails are former narrow gauge railroad beds converted into hiking/biking trails. The trails are compact dirt and are well maintained. There are no loose rocks, branches or other crap to slow you down, nor does the trail cross over any roads, so there is no traffic to dodge along the way. It is essentially perfect running conditions. Of course Prescott Valley is at 5100'; not exactly Immigrant Pass, but high enough for a flat-lander like me to be feel the effects.

I didn't mean to race this weekend, in fact, until I ran into one of my trimmer friends (read: one of my faster / leaner friends - pictured to the left) on Wednesday afternoon, I didn't even know there was an 11 mile race in Prescott Valley this weekend. Anyway, who ever heard of an 11 mile race. Friday night, I decided to take him up on his offer and we left at 5:30 AM the next morning for the 90 minute drive up to Prescott Valley. The temperature dropped from from 65F to 45F on the way up the hill and I was happy to see that the race organizers had convinced a local car dealership to let them use the inside of the show room for registration. It was the only time I've used an indoor rest room with flush toilets, marble counter tops, fancy soap dispensers and hot water prior to a race start.

Immediately after leaving the parking lot at the start, the race heads down hill, and I mean down hill. My buddy is a lot leaner than I am and a much better runner, but for some reason, bone-head-Phil ran with him all the way to the bottom. Even though my lungs were screaming that I was going tooooooo fast (down hill mind you), Mr. Macho just kept right on running and yapping as if I could do this all day long. Once we hit the bottom of the hill and entered the trail head, it was painfully obvious that I'd blown it big time and I bade him fair well. No sense on killing myself, besides, I had the car keys, so there was little risk that I'd be left at the finish line.

I still wasn't too worried, I had two miles under my belt and although there weren't any mile markers on the first 5 miles of the course, I figured I had slowed down enough and locked onto the next runner in front of me for what seem to be an easy 8:30ish pace. However, after only a mile or so of running together, we hit an up hill grade and for the second time in 3 miles I had to let a runner go.

Immediately, 10 or 12 runners passed me so I picked up the pace again to hold on to the last guy in the group. We ran by Watson Lake and the group of 12 dwindled to 4 as the faster runners continued to motor on down the trail. 3 guys and 1 women running along with me holding onto the back for dear life.

This is a very small race, with only 140 or so runners. It was so small that I envisioned that the entire field had passed me back on mile three and I was now in sole possession of last place. Now there is nothing wrong with last place; by definition, someone has to finish last, but the thought that it was me wasn't particularly appealing. Finally, somewhere near mile 6, at the start of the second up-hill grade, I could hear huffing and puffing and heavy foot-falls behind me. I wasn't alone and I wasn't in last place, yet.

At the top of the hill, the woman that had been chasing me down caught up to me. I wasn't wearing my Garmin nor where there regular mile markers on the course, but there was a sign indicating Mile 6 near the bottom of the hill and another one at the top marked Mile 7. My time between the two was 8:48. I told the huffing and puffing lady that we had just done a heck of a lot of work to run an 8:48 mile, hoping that I'd found someone interested in running with me and pushing me along. Unfortunately, she took the news of our pace rather badly and after exchanging a few other pleasantries, she dropped back again. Oh well, I still had the small pack of four directly in front of me.

Actually, the pack of four in front of me had been reduced to a pack of one as the three faster runners had broken away from the 4th on the hill and continued along the course. There was now only me and a 30 something looking guy. I pulled up next to him and started chatting about running and races (what else do we ever talk about during a race). He was from Chicago and hadn't run the Chicago Marathon, but did have some idea that the race was halted due to poor contingency planning on the part of the race organizers. As we continued to talk about races he told me that this was the longest he had ever run; not his longest race, his LONGEST run.

This info hit me like a brick as I realized I was hanging onto someone who had never run 11 miles in his short life. I'm trashed and I can barely keep up with a guy that doesn't have an 11 miler under his belt. That was just too much information. I somehow screwed on some courage and picked up my pace and dropped the newbie. He was about at his limit anyway and dropped back quickly, leaving me totally by myself.

I struggled for the last 2 miles, somehow willing my legs to continue. I could tell I was slowing down again. My right foot had gone numb a few miles back, but the feeling had returned and I knew I was getting close to the finish. I could do this. It wasn't going to be pretty, but I could hang in there. Then two runners (one pictured to the left) blew by me. 800 meters to go and I dropped two more places in the overall standings. Worse, I thought I remembered that Mr. 91 was 54, so I'd just dropped to last place in my age group, or, at best, dropped one more position in the M50-54 age group. At this point, you could have stopped me with a feather.

I knew I'd started out too fast, I trashed my legs on the big down hill early on and now I was getting passed by my peers who had run a much smarter race. Oh well ... it was still a fun run. Somewhere on those last 800 meters as I watched 91 continue to open the gap between us and totally unable to respond, I remembered something Steve Walker had said on his pod cast after the Bay State Marathon earlier this year. He was talking to someone at the end of the race, describing how great he felt and how much he had enjoyed the race; all-the-while describing his experience with hitting the wall in a marathon for the 16th consecutive time in some graphic detail including the associated dizziness and nausea. It occurred to me that we runners really do somehow block out all the negatives and keep racing over over and over again for the love of the sport, for the camaraderie it brings us and for the extreme highs we get at the end of the race.

I limped through an 8 mile recover run this afternoon (temperatures were considerably higher than 45F .. closer to 85F), but I loved every inch of it. I'm taking a working vacation this week, so I should be able to get in several good runs. For those of you living in the USA, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving week. For the rest of you, I certainly hope your week goes well and that you continue to run strong.

Take care.


Lana said...

I think we all have to do this every now and then to keep us humble. We have some good races and start to ignore a lot of the things that actually help us have the good races. I do it in about 1 out of every 4! haha! But you are right, as soon as we cross that line - it's all good. And we're ready for more.

I have VOWED, this time, though, that if I don't break hours at Rocket City it will be for some other reason than going out too fast. I am going to force myself to run over marathon pace for the first 3 miles at least.

DawnB said...

Phil, I do run an 11 miler every year.

Nice race report. Yes we all make those race mistakes every now and then.

you still should have challenged him in that 800 though :)

Love2Run said...

Nice race Phil. Going out too fast on a downhill course of 'only' 11 miles is a lot less dangerous than for 26. Call it a great tempo run!

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a race. I can't even imagine running hills these days as chicago is flat as all get out. Even though you started out too fast it sounds like you did well.
Happy Thanksgiving as well.

J~mom said...

Whew, that sounds like quite a race!!! Nice job! Thanks for the race report! Happy Thanksgiving!

Sub said...

Nice race even though it was kind of rough. I've learnt to respect downhills the hard way ;) Unlike uphills you end up paying for them after the race :)

Have a good holiday and thanksgiving.

Addy said...

wow...what a race!

Seriously, where you live must have ridiculously fast runners. An 8:48 pace is the back of the pack?!? I'd be picked up by sweeps :P

Sometimes its nice to try out a fast start and see how it goes, if only to remind you how nice a negative split will be for next time.

Glad you had such a good recovery run. Enjoy the week off and have a great thanksgiving!

Gotta Run said...

You amaze me. Time and time again you plan, you run, and then you just take off. Coming out of the gate is running 101 but it is so true how fast our body takes over and our fine tuned plan get thrown to the side.

You did great so ...cheers!!

I love the smaller races. i just feel more like I am a part of something great!!

Anne said...

I'm just now catching up on your blog after a hectic couple of weeks. Looks like you've been busy, Phil! I love running on rail trails, and despite the fast start, I think you finished far faster and better than I ever would. By the way, Carlsbad's about to sell out, according to In-Motion -- both the half and the full.

mindy said...

Great race Phil even if you didn't "follow your rules". Sometimes it's just so exciting to be out there you have to push it and just see if the body will follow. Oh, well - you dropped the newbie, right!? Happy Thanksgiving!

Laufenweg said...

you screamed, you struggled, you limped, and it was still a fun run! awesome!

happy thanksgiving!

Dusty said...

Great race report. I can't believe you were in the "back of the pack" with those times. Way to push through your struggle! You did great - always a good feeling to pull through a race that isn't going the way you hoped.. now THAT is an accomplishment!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Ewen said...

Phil, it does you good to run like that occasionally. Sounds like you learned more than if you'd run a 'sensible' race.

As we gain experience it becomes ever harder to run with such inhibition. Seems like the fun beginning was worth the death march finish. Hey, you still ran a PB for 11 miles!

I remember Prescott fondly - beautiful country around there.

Anonymous said...

Hey - it was a spontaneous run, right? - then unruly behaviors are allowed. No need to tame yourself if you are having fun:-)

Deene said...

an excellent race. i say you're ready to do a trail run in Boulder.

Ann Ewbank said...

Hey Phil, That guy that passed you is Ron! I used to do speed workouts with him with AZTECH!

He's a great guy. We used to flip each other the bird as we passed each other on the track as motivation (we have a weird sense of humor).

Okay. This really makes me want to get back to racing regularly. I miss the camaraderie.