Friday, August 3, 2012

The Evolution of an Ultrarunner

This year I've been trying to get faster. I love going out to the mountains for hours at a time, and especially love racing long distances. For several years, it treated me relatively well, with several solid finishes. Each time, though, I felt that I needed to qualify my performance: that it wasn't a big race; that so and so wasn't there; etc. I've prided myself at running my own race and not worrying about what others on the course were doing; I figured I can't control what everyone else around me does, so there was no reason to stress out about the other competitors. I'm realizing now, however, that was because I didn't have anything else to draw on during those races. If someone passed me on an uphill (which was likely), I didn't have much recourse other than to hope I could catch them on the way back down. In essence, I didn't have control of my race, either. When told to start a race, I went and hoped my single speed legs could go the distance.

Midway through a (gasp) speed workout this spring
There have been numerous times this year when I was out of my comfort zone and thought I should go back to just running races, whether I was actually trained for them or not (the race-to-get-into-shape mentality) and hope that somewhere along the way I'd pick up an extra gear. I was doing workouts like hill sprints and put in a lot of time at the gym using those heavy things called weights. Last weekend's race was a perfect indicator of why I need to do what I'm doing: building strength and racing shorter distances makes you faster. My particular physiology is very slow-twitch-centric. I'm in the right sport, that's for sure. Training my weakness, however (the fast-twitch aspect) broadened my fitness in a way I never thought possible. 

Saturday was the last in the super fun Bellingham Trail Running Series. Candice Burt puts on a great event. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a well-marked, challenging, fun course with great post-race fare. There was a 12k and a 30k. I, of course, wanted to do the 30k, but also knew that the 12k would be better for me in the longterm. The course uses trails that I'm familiar with from the classic northwest ultra, Chuckanut Mt. 50k with the kind of profile I like most: all up, and then all down. I was excited to race these trails on fresh legs, particularly the lovingly nicknamed "Chinscraper," a hands on thighs climb that normally comes at mile 21.

Candice said go, and from the start, people took off! Oh yeah, in short races people run hard. There wouldn't be 10 miles to warm up before hammering up a hill. Luckily, I had Sam with me prior to the race to help me with a warm up, as I'd never done one before (isn't that what the first 10 miles are for?). I was glad I took his advice to take a few minutes to not only get the blood flowing, but also to do some higher intensity running so it wouldn't be a shock to my legs and they wouldn't fill with lactate. I felt nice and controlled as I let several women pass me, figuring it was still quite early and there was a lot of climbing. My game plan was to go moderately hard up the Fragrance Lake trail (quite lovely and perfectly runnable), then really go for it on Chinscraper. I started passing people pretty early on, but there was still one woman ahead of me who was climbing really well. I knew once I made a move I'd have to work to stay ahead of her but also didn't want to settle into a pace when I could go faster. On a flatter switchback I moved around her and almost instantly thought I went too early. I couldn't let her think I was hesitant, though, so I envisioned a hill sprint workout to gap her. It worked, and I was able to let up and recover a little, which my legs and lungs appreciated. I started up Chinscraper and felt really good. It was so fun to know that this was the last bit of the race, since I don't really count the downhills as I love them so much. A guy who was doing the 30k came past me moving really well (they started 2 hours earlier, but had a tough course up to this point) and I was able to latch onto him for a short bit, before getting back to my power hiking. I could tell I was putting time on the girl behind me, but didn't want to let up now: there were guys up ahead I wanted to catch! I hit the road at the top and let it rip. Again, I thought of the girl behind me and didn't want her to be able to see me at the few spots where you could see the trail below, so I booked it. I also love downhill running and wanted to see how many people I could catch. It turned out to be just two people, but I felt really strong and knew I could keep the intensity up. I came into the finish in 1:01, several minutes faster than I thought.

So happy I won!
Because it was the last race of the series, The Blackberry Bushes, one of my favorite bluegrass bands was there, and the food was top notch. Doughnuts and watermelon rock. Don't worry, though, that was just my appetizer. The sandwiches and fermented wheat recovery drink hit the spot also. Sam, Nikki and I proceeded to enjoy a fabulous afternoon laying in the grass, soaking up the sun and listening to good music. Thanks, Candice, for putting on a great race.

Winning a race is always fun, but I think the best thing about this one was that I felt strong. For perhaps the first time ever, I had the ability to make moves and strategize. I was running within my abilities, and I surprised myself. I'm continually amazed at how we can train our bodies to continually get better and better. This was the last short race for the year, and now I'm excited to put the strength and speed I've gained toward my natural abilities at the longer events. Look out!

No comments:

Post a Comment