March 03, 2007

My 1st Solo Victory! (D.D. Race Report)

Dirty Duo, 50km ultra marathon, first place overall!
I didn't get any pictures at the event, but hopefully there will be some on the race website in the coming days.

Heading into the event on the weekend I was actually feeling surprisingly sore. I really dropped down my training hours heading into it yet found that my legs were not nearly as fresh as I would have liked. I slept fine the night before but wondered during the 6am drive to the event if my body was ready to battle it out over a 50km course.

The Dirty Duo ultra is the first in the Montrail B.C. Ultra Trail Running Series and although I do not have specifics on the elevation gains for this event, I can tell you that the climbs were endless and the descents technical and steep...exactly what I love!

The race began at 8am sharp and I kept telling myself that I had to race smart and play to my own strengths. I eased into it and let the leaders go about getting their heart rates up early. I hung back for the first 1/2 hour, while running some rooty (I don't think this is actually a word, but if there was a picture of 'rooty running' in the dictionary, it surely would have a picture from the North Shore), undulating single track through the forest. After the first thirty minutes or so we ran past a Gazebo that would be our bag drop area for the race (you are able to pass along, before the race starts, a drop bag of supplies including food, fluid, clothes, whatever you need, at the approximate half way point of the race. There were also four aid stations stocked with food and fluids that everyone in the ultra run would pass twice each for a total of eight aid stations).Immediately after passing the Gazebo the course takes a lengthy dip down a forest service road to a large bridge across a river.

My strength is my downhill running and I waited until this first sizable downhill to really start to run. I was surprised that I only caught up to one other runner, but did not stress over it as I realized there was still a hell of a lot of climbing and descending to go.

The course goes flat for about 1km after the bridge, and then the real race begins. The climb from here is virtually endless, lasting upwards of 30-40 minutes. With every turn you think the climb has to be over, only to discover it is leading up yet another side track to gain even more elevation. We were in the snow for the top portion of this climb and I knew that the higher we climbed the better off I'd fare on the down side of the trail.
Very few ultra runners will actually run up steep sections of trail like this. It is not that we can not, but just that verses a high paced hike, you will only gain a minimum amount of time, if any, and end up dispersing twice as much energy in the process. Some of the top ultra runners in the world will not run up hills at all in a race with serious elevation changes. I was a hiker long before I was a runner and I went about power hiking up this entire section. I managed to close the gap on the group in front of me, most of whom were actually trying to run it out.

As soon as the trail crested, I was off! I LOVE DOWNHILL RUNNING, and although I have met plenty of runners who are much more talented than myself, I have met very few who are able to run faster down technical, rooty, slick, steep descents. It's like free momentum if you are confident enough to lean into it and trust that you can react to the terrain quick enough. Heading up the last section of the climb I was told that the leaders were a few minutes ahead of me, yet after just 10 minutes of downhill running I had not only taken the lead for the race, but I was actually passing many relay runners (running 25km before tagging their partners to ride 30km).
By the time we emerged back onto the flats before the bridge I had a full minute over the rest of the ultra field.

They slowly chipped away at this as we ran a few kilometers of flat terrain before heading up a different set of trails back towards the Gazebo and our drop bags. I came into the half way point with about a 30 second lead and jumped into the Gazebo to grab my drop bag and change my shirts. It was misty rain and after 2hrs of running I was needing more than just a vest over a long sleeve. As I tried valiantly to switch layers as quickly as possible, I just managed to catch a view of two runners passing me.
The race started with a group of runners who were competing in three different events (The 50km ultra run, the relay and the solo event where they run 25k then bike 30km)so it was actually tough to keep tabs on who your exact competitors were in the first 1/2 of the race.

I thought that I had been passed by two runners in the ultra category, and after getting my dry clothes on I shot off after them. They were just out of sight but I knew which way they had didn't seem like the right direction, so just as I was running past some volunteers I shouted,
"No 50 is back that way!"

I turned back around, and headed off down a side road that lead to more single track trails. As I approached the next volley, a few kilometers later, I asked him,
"There two guys in front of me?"
"Nope, your first!"

Instead of being elated I was left wondering if my fellow competitors had taken a wrong turn or not? You always size up your competition before an event and I kinda knew what one of the runners looked like...maybe it wasn't him? Maybe he was doing the 25km course today? Maybe he's right behind me?
After about ten minutes I figured out that they must have gone wrong but I could not for the life of me figure out how. This guy was a local, had gotten lost the year before in this exact race and had somehow managed to do it again? I didn't even know the trails in the area, yet got a pretty good idea of where the course would go from the map they handed out in the pre-race package. (trail races are flagged courses, but when you cover 50km of trails through the forest, there are inevitably people who take wrong turns at every event. I've done it plenty of times myself and as much as it sucks, it is a part of trail running)

Now I was left wondering where my competitors might be. Did they discover their mistake early and recover from it or did they go all the way back to the start finish area and drop? Were they right behind me again, or gone? I was now leading the race and in the unenviable position of never knowing where the rest of the pack is. Whoever was behind me could check in at every aid station and find out exactly how far ahead I was. Even if the two people who took a wrong turn did not recover, there were still some solid athletes left in the pack, so I simply put my head down and tried to keep my lead.

I do not run with music, although I find that I always have a song in my head...generally one song for my entire run, no matter how long of a run it may be.
For this race I had recently listened to an old 'EverClear' album and had "We could live beside the ocean, leave the world behind..." going through my head for 4+hrs. It's never continuous, just in between thoughts that I fill the void by singing to myself. I am always surprised at how when when I stop moving I seem to find it amazingly quiet around me, because I stop thinking as soon as my feet stop turning. I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere that I am missing right now...

Anyways, it's no easy task to run solo in a race. Generally you have other people to feed off of and work with throughout an event, and every runner knows that you will undoubtedly be faster while tracking someone else rather than running on your own. I tried my best to stay as focused as I could, and at every straight patch of trail I made sure to hustle my way through it in case there were others tracking me closely. Nothing will speed up a runner more than when they spot the leader of the race just in front of them. There are a lot more mind games involved in this sport than most people realize.

I was really starting to suffer once we hit the steep technical downhill section of the course for the second time. I was nowhere near as fast as my first time through, but I did manage a steady pace in which I was confident that I was not loosing time to any of my competitors.

Once the downhill was behind me I knew that I was closing in on the home stretch. My first victory was within reach, but there was still plenty of course left for someone to catch me and I put an end to my finish line dreams as quickly as I could. I had to stay focused, for my legs were starting to cramp up on me and I needed to work within myself to keep moving as efficiently as possible. There was one big climb left and I power hiked through it as best I could, continuously shoulder checking as I ascended the route.

I made it to the top of the climb without spotting another runner and passed by the Gazebo for the last time. I did my closest impersonation of a smile and thanked the volleys as I hit the 4km home stretch.

My legs were screaming at me, but I could not hear them over the sound of the finish line racing through my head. I practically stumbled over every fallen tree, and hiked bow legged up the final 50+ stairs that ascended once again from the river.
It was out onto a trail next to the road and the final km to the end of the race. I could hear the finish line announcer on the loud speaker and after one final shoulder check I knew the race was mine...I accelerated through the pain and screamed for joy as I crossed the finish line!

50km, 4hr25m of suffering, my first ever trail race victory, pure elation!!!

My good friend, training partner and co-worker Jen Segger-Gigg managed to finish 3rd overall, easily winning the women's ultra, and my adventure racing teammate Megan Rose raced to a 3rd place finish in the solo (duathlon) category. All in all a very solid weekend of racing!

(some people have asked about the Club Fat Ass events and although they can be very competitive, they are not 'official racing events' but rather low key group runs with friends. They are always great training, but I have yet to try and beat someone outright in one of these events, for that's not what it's all about. I generally pair up with a lead group and run hard for whatever distance the event is scheduled to cover. Club Fat Ass is more about the camaraderie, pure love of the sport, and testing your limits if you so choose, and for that reason I do not consider a 1st at a CFA event as qualifying as my first official racing win.)

I ran the entire 50km on just one bottle of Carbo-Pro 1200(diluted into two bottles), one gel, and a 1/4 slice of orange. I have had the best running results of my life since I discovered Carbo Pro in early September.
My Injinji socks kept my feet blister free and my Helly Hansen Mars Jacket (the lightest jacket in the world) kept me warm on my second lap and allowed my body to utilize it's fuel for running rather than generating body heat.

The best part about the whole experience is the knowledge that just one year ago my body would have cramped up and fallen apart on me not 35km into the 50 with the pace I ran on Saturday. My training is going great and it is really rewarding to have noticeable improvements from all the hard work I am putting into everything. It certainly makes it all seem worthwhile, and Saturday's Dirty Duo is one race that I will never, ever forget!

Thanks to the race director Heather Macdonald and all the staff and volleys for putting on another incredible event!



Anonymous said...

Your a busy man Gary!! Glad you're doing what you've always wanted!! I'm enjoying your entries. You're a funny guy!! Take care! Sherri

Anonymous said...

Congrat's Gary, good to see you are doing well! As a a premier couch athlete I am very proud. You skinny punk.


Turtlepace said...

Congratulations, Gary. You are turning into a lean, mean fighting machine ;-) Jackson, watch out!

The Jackal said...

Gary, well done.
Nice medal.
Roxy must be very proud of you...

Brady Campbell Anderson said...

I have no idea what kind of torture you put yourself through to win this thing but I'm proud of ya.

Anonymous said...

Great race report. Congratulations on the win.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Gary,
The Pemby Pogsons are proud of you! Great write up on the event. :)

Anonymous said...

way to go gary. doesnt suprise me in the least. you have a lot of talent and when you combine that with your attitude and drive, you're gonna bag a few. see you soon. Greg Mac