April 23, 2007

Why Do I Continually Do This To Myself? (Gutbuster Race Report)

I have a tendency of competing beyond my limits. I can't go out and do a race at 80%, I can't compete at 90%, no I can't even think about competing at 99%...every time I hear the word go I ramp my body up to 110% and suffer until the finish line. Many a time I have realized that I was doing more harm than good to my own body in a race and yet would never even flinch at the thought of slowing down or listening to my brain screaming at me to stop...and such was my weekend.

I had to make it to Victoria at some point to catch up with my teammate Todd Nowack and get some training in on different terrain. This past weekend worked out perfectly as there was also an 11km Gutbuster trail race on Saturday morning in Duncan, just north of Vic.

I caught the ferry over on Friday night and we headed to the race start for 10am on Saturday. The event had over 200 registrants, and from the starting area you could look up and see the Mt Tzouhalem summit that we would soon be climbing. In typical 'Gut Busting' form, the race would start with a huge 450 meter climb up to a summit with incredible views out over the valley (or so I was told, I was pretty much crying at that point and couldn't clear the tears from my eyes to appreciate the vantage point), we would then run around on flat terrain for all of about 100 feet before bombing back down steep trails and roads back to the finish line. So basically your lungs would scream at you for the entire climb and your legs would curse you for all of the descent...I couldn't wait!

Vancouver Island is full of talented runners, and athletes for that matter. Their climate, terrain and facilities attract many of the top triathletes in Canada, and although I did not recognize any runners, I knew I would be fighting for whatever place I could manage to hold onto out there.

As soon as the race started I went out with the lead pack and hoped for the best...I was in second place for almost a full minute! Once we hit the climb the pack started to spread out. The lead two guys were clearly outpacing the rest of us, although I did manage to keep them in sight for 3/4 of the climb. I slowly dropped back to 6th and then 7th, but 3rd place was always in sight, and 8th was nowhere to be seen, so all I all I was happy with how I was doing. I don't train very much in hill running. We would never consider it in an expedition...you run up a hill with a 25lb backpack, in the middle of a 600km expedition and let me know how it feels, I don't wanna find out for myself. In ultra running I train to speed hike the big ascents and can usually outpace most around me...so this whole running up the trail was for the birds in my mind...and I'm pretty sure I heard them laughing at us out there as well?

Anyways, before we summited the climb I managed to get back into 6th, and had 5th and 4th right ahead of me. 3rd place had managed to drop us and I knew that 1st and 2nd were off on there own for the day having somehow floated up the trail and out of sight.

My downhill is my strength and I was still carrying illusions of a top three finish. I hammered down the first few steep sections and quickly made up the time on the two runners in front of me. I ran past them both and up into 4th...I was in a hell of a lot of pain, but pleasantly surprised at how well I was doing. Once we hit technical sections of the descent I finally managed to gain some breathing room for myself and quietly wondered if 3rd place was anywhere to be seen or not?

At the 45 minute point in the race, and almost exactly to the second, my entire being just lost it's juice. I knew I had slowed, without runners in front of me or directly behind me it became tougher to push through the suffering...so I actually yelled at myself...out loud none the less...

"You'd better f$%king wake up Robbins, less than 20 (minutes) to go, suck it up man!"

Yes I am crazy and I know this.

Having looked at the times from last year I figured I'd be out in just over an hour, but my brain was actually trying to convince me that if I fell, and injured myself...or at least somehow managed to bleed, I could walk to the finish and have a legitimate excuse for pulling up.
The shorter races really are torture for me and I continually have to battle my rational side like an evil devil on my shoulder, no singing to myself in these races, it's more like..."stop, stop, stop already...this hurts, why do you do this to me? Just stop it, I really don't care if you stop running, c'mon, I'll give you ice cream!"

The technical trail opened up into a logging road descent and I could hear a runner closing on me. I turned to see 4th place evaporating, as the runner was outpacing me and there was little I could do about it. I jokingly threw both arms out to the sides to block him from passing...but it didn't slow him at all!

I was now in 5th, and there was only 10 minutes until the suffering would end...and then I heard more footsteps...why wouldn't these guys just leave me alone...I passed you already, no tag backs!

In my mind there was light years of difference between a 5th and 6th place finish. Fifth is top five and sixth is top ten, period! This is all I repeated in my head as I struggled to block out everything else.

The runner caught up to me, but could not seem to pass, in fact he did not even attempt to pass me. I took this to mean that he had just pushed himself hard to 'get back on' and he was most likely looking to catch his breath again before trying to outpace me to the line, we were approaching the last climb, there was but 250 meters of race course left after it...I was not about to give him the time to do so. I dug deep and ran hard down the trail, towards and eventually over the last hill climb and made sure NOT to glance back at all. I know how even a shoulder turn can sometimes be enough to let the guy behind you know that he still has a shot at you (you only check if you are hurting and worried). I hit the flats and just sprinted all out across that line. My dog Roxy had joined me for the weekend. I had left her with a friend when the race started and she managed to jump out on course and run the last 50 meters with me! I thought I was gonna puke...or die, or puke and then die...it hurt!

I managed to hold onto a 5th place finish, just 13 seconds out of 4th and amazingly, I put 22 seconds into the 6th place finisher during my final sprint...which I hardly remember because so many pain sensors were simultaneously erupting within various corners of my body that I had long since forgotten existed.

Todd also had a solid run for himself finishing in 16th, which is incredible when you see how big a guy he is and realise how tough the downhills have to be on his limbs!

So from there we were off to do some kayak pool training...well after a nap and 2 bottles of ibuprofen.
We hit a local pool for 3hr with the boats. Todd was trying to educate me a bit more on the finer points of handling a watercraft...Baja was a bit of a wake up call for all of us and having realized that both of my remaining expedition races this year will have significant ocean paddling, I figured it a good year to practice my water skills and not just my paddle stroke. Within the 3hr I had managed to consume four liters of pool water, tip a surf ski nine times and perform two 'rolls' in the kayak...all in all not a bad night.

Oh yeah, and although I could make this next bit a story in and of itself...I managed to run into a friend from Banff at the Gutbuster...a friend who I had not seen in a full ten years! Thankfully she recognized me and she was even having a party that night, so Todd and I headed over there after the pool session...a complete day to say the least.


Having only consumed minor amounts of the drink the night before I managed to crawl out of bed for 8am and Todd and I were out the door with Roxy for a 9am limp/hike/recovery 'run'. Two and a half hours later and still felt like I had just had surgery on every bone below my waist...oh yeah and my entire left side of my upper body was sore from trying 300 rolls to pull off just two.

It was onto the mountain bikes and amazingly it was like being reborn again. The biking muscles were not feeling too bad and Todd gave me the grand tour of the 'Mt Work' bike area. It was an absolutely perfect spring day to be alive, not to mention being out there enjoying some incredible bike terrain. I was in shorts and a bike jersey and sweating profusely...and I loved it!

We made a quick transition from the bike ride to the car ride and stopped off for some fish n chips before I hopped on the ferry back to the mainland. I was home in Squamish for 9:30pm having felt like I'd been gone a week. All in all, outside of the fact that I slept on my couch last night because I simply could not seem to make it up the stairs to my own bedroom, it was a perfect weekend!

Thanks to The Gutbuster for a great race and Helly Hansen for thier incredible running gear. The Helly Hansen Long Sleeve Lifa Crew kept me warm throughout the run, and surprisingly enough dried so quickly after the race that it allowed me to do even more socializing before having to change out of my running gear. Definitely a priority for me!

Sorry no pics to show. That waterproof camera I had in Baja got smacked up and ended up not so waterproof in the end.

Anyways, I'd like to head to bed in a few hours so I'd better start in on my staircase right away.


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