May 26, 2010

Back On My Feet - Racing Squamish MOMAR

Well I guess I should start by addressing the obvious gap in my blog posts here. Last real post I had was about my DNF at Miwok, followed briefly by a slight update that I wasn't doing anything and my blood work results had confirmed the serious fatigue I was fighting. I will attempt to back track those updates in my next few write ups, but for now I'd like to simply recap my racing experience at this past weekend's Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race up in my old hometown of Squamish.

The Monday before the race was exactly seventeen days since I'd realized that I neededg some serious down time. In those 17 days I had run only once for exactly thirty minutes, and I hiked once for ninety minutes. Neither of those felt great and I gave serious consideration to telling my teammate Todd Nowack that I might have to give the race a miss. When I awoke on Tues morning however I was feeling distinctly more AWAKE than I had in quite sometime.This pattern managed to repeat itself throughout the week and by race morning on Saturday I thought I might actually be ready to tackle a 4+hr effort.

After numerous 5am ultras this season the 9am start thankfully felt like sleeping in. The 200+ racers were rounded up and at precisely 9am we were off on a

1km 'Le Mans' style running start

To our mountain bikes. Todd bolted to the front and by the time we hit our bikes we had a few hundred meter lead. Our transition wasn't smooth though and we departed on our bikes in third.

Bryan Tasaka is the creator of the MOMAR. He's been a great friend over the years and has been kind enough to lend me his sweet Berg mountain bike for the last two races. I sold my mountain bike in 2008 to fully pursue the endurance running. In 2009 I mountain biked twice, once at the Squamish MOMAR and once at the Cumberland MOMAR. After two and a half years without a bike I'd managed to hold my own up until this point in worst fears were about to be realized however, for I was about to be dragged through 'the pain cave' kicking and screaming by my once slower than me teammate Todd Nowack.

We were five minutes into the biking stage and just over ten minutes into the race itself. Todd and I had passed second and could see Markez just up ahead leading away. There was a slight cross ditch in the forest service road and all of a sudden I just saw Todd go down HARD in front of me. I have no idea if I got caught watching him crash, or if I simply underestimated the cross ditch myself, but as I popped up out of the thing I was riding my front wheel. I ended up slamming my entire body onto the left side, culminating by the distinct feeling of my head breaking my fall and the thought of 'wow, I'm glad I tightened the chin strap on my helmet this morning'. I was completed stunned and everything hurt. Bart Jarmula was right behind us and he watched the whole thing unfold. I remember hearing his voice,

"ARE YOU OK? How's your head? Don't move your back. Lay down. Are you ok?"

I wasn't connecting at that moment that Bart is a Dr and he went straight into 1st Aid mode.

All I kept thinking was, "Oh God. I have to get back on this thing again don't I"

Team, after team, after team, were whizzing past us as we were still so early into the race. I told Bart I was fine and for him to get moving again. I peeled myself up and found that Todd actually looked worse than I did with blood streaming down his arm. We looked at each other, didn't say much, and then hopped back on, and got back to work again.

The timing could not have been worse though as the trail filtered into single track just a few hundred meters further along. The trail was technical with a slight continual climb. Todd, who's been riding strong for quite some time now, seemed to use his adrenaline to power past people who were on and off their bikes. I on the other hand was falling apart. I was on and off my bike and I even managed a second fall which didn't hurt but had now shattered my fragile biking confidence. Todd had already passed five riders and disappeared up ahead. The mental struggles were already upon me. I glanced at my watch to see how long we'd actually been racing favorite $500 Garmin 310xt GPS watch...


The screen had been smashed in my fall from the bike. On top of that I was carrying three bottles mixed with 1200 with me for the entire race. One had vanished in the fall, one cracked and was now leaking fluid all over me, and I had but one remaining source of fluid and calories for the next few hours of racing.

I was already having mental dialogue the likes of which I don't think I will ever fully appreciate.

One side of my brain was calling uncle and asking for another DNF

'Let Todd go. Who cares if he'll be un-ranked, you're only slowing him down. You've already crashed, your quad is killing you and you have a headache...those are perfect excuses to drop out. You don't really want to suffer today anyways. If you hurt yourself any further you might not be able to run for the next few weeks. Everyone said don't ride a bike. Don't crash your bike. Don't break anything out there!'

I was quickly searching for something deeper to counteract this completely deflating thought process. Something I couldn't find just three weeks prior in San Francisco.

'It's early, you'll get it back. Stop thinking, just ride. You can still ride Gary, you just got off to a bad start. Ten more minutes and I know you'll find your flow. You're teammate might be faster than you but he's still your teammate and he'll be un-ranked if you quit on him. Quitting is easy, and you didn't come here for easy today. Just stop thinking and ride already dammit!

Todd was waiting for me when we were spit out onto another short FSR. My only real contribution of the day was that Todd slightly missed the turn back into the forest to our right.

There was no doubt now that Todd and I were on different levels with our biking, the guilt of slowing down my teammate was getting to me and still preventing me from 'just riding my bike' and not thinking my way back off the thing and into another crash.

We came around a corner and could see Bart and Adrian Lasalle-Lowe just up ahead. At least my pace was sustaining us. A short walking section ensued and once we were riding again I spotted an elevated up and down style bridge in the trail just up ahead. My first thought was to get off and walk it, followed by, "RIDE IT DAMMIT!"

If you happened to stall at the top there would be an unavoidable five foot fall to either side. I needed to clear this. I knew I did. These are the types of obstacles I don't even question when I'm on. I jumped on the pedals and barely made it over without falling, my second guessing nearly cost me another crash, but I was over it and I could feel my confidence starting to return.

Shortly after this were some of my favorite trails in Squamish, the Pseudo Psuga's. They were recently buffed out and for the first time in the race I was starting to enjoy myself and riding just behind Todd.

After departing the Pseudo's we had another FSR connector climb that would lead us into the newly constructed and highly touted 'Half Nelson'. We could see Bart and Adrian just up ahead, but I I simply possessed zero climbing ability on my bike. I just couldn't spin my legs fast enough to make the damn thing move at a decent pace. Todd started pushing me from behind and then I grabbed his backpack as a tow whenever the trail allowed. We managed to close the gap and launch into Half Nelson just ahead of them.

Half Nelson was A BLAST and again the race felt like fun for a few minutes! At the bottom we were spit out onto a brief FSR before dropping into a secondary trail I had not seen before. It was a short technical drop and my confidence took another slight boost as both Todd and Bart briefly came off their bikes while I cleared it. This lasted all of sixty seconds until we were climbing again and Todd disappeared.


I would have previously stated that this was Todd's strongest suit, but he's just strong in everything now! Todd took care of the Orienteering course like clock work with numerous very efficient bush whacks. There was but one hiccup that cost us a few minutes in the 45min we were on foot and he still managed the fastest time for the stage. We started the nav in third, exactly seven minutes back of Markez, yet we now found ourselves in first as we departed.

As we rode away in the lead we were heading into one of the more famous trails in Squamish, The Powerhouse Plunge. I was surprised to find my biking confidence still in a fragile state and all I kept saying to myself as we approached the descent was,

"You love this trail! This was always once of your favorites. You've ridden this more than any other person in this race Gary. Just relax. Just ride. Don't think."

It wasn't the cleanest or fastest I've ever ridden it but for the most part it was a successful descent. We hit the water station at the bottom of the trail still in first, and there was a nice surprise as both Tamsin and Roxy were standing there while out on their own run! I simply had to get fluids into my now depleted body and as I was chugging and filling my singular bottle we were quickly caught by both Markez and Norm Thibault. (just for the record I always carry an empty 2Lt bladder in my bike pockets to cover the mandatory gear requirements)

There was now a ten minute ride to the base of The Chief and Markez being the great guy that he is actually pushed me for a second as he caught and passed us. I managed to find some biking legs on the flats, mostly due to my guilty conscience, and Todd and I altered the lead a few times as we approached the trek.


We caught sight of Markez departing towards The Chief as we came off of our bikes in unison with Thibault. We ran to the base and I initially lead out the first portion of the climb. This lasted all of three minutes as my legs were now completely fried. A combo of not enough bike time, and a depletion in calories and fluid early in the race had now caught up to me and my legs felt like they were detached from my entire body. I probably could have gone faster on my hands and knees at that point. Todd easily hiked on ahead, and although we managed to drop Norm, Bart quickly caught up to and passed me. He and Todd hiked on ahead for awhile before Todd was forced to let him go.

We eclipsed the first peak of The Chief and I was too destroyed to even enjoy it. Todd grabbed the CP and I simply turned around and headed towards the repel sight. The repel sight is amazing and I had fun while bouncing on and off the rock while trying to get to the bottom as quickly as possible.

Once we were back into the grunt of the descent I felt like I could actually lead for a bit and try to make up some of the time I'd cost us on the climb. Again, it just wasn't my day and having done The Chief dozens of times before I had my first ever serious fall. The way it unfolded I managed to slam my bad ankle into a rock and it left me unable to even walk it off. I couldn't move my foot at all and at that moment I started regretting my decision to race, thinking I may have done further damage to an already weakened ankle that constantly concerns me. I know one day this ankle will kill my ultra running 'career' and the last thing I wanted to do was to exacerbate this issue any further. I was cringing back and forth just waiting for the pain to subside enough for me to start walking again. Time evaporated before I managed to get back to my feet and we both knew at that point that the race was all but over. In the end I was twelve full minutes slower than on that exact same stage just one year prior. The biking had killed me, and to my dismay we still had one short bike leg to go.

Back onto the bikes and now my legs were truly shot. They cramped so much that I was pedaling one leg at a time just trying to get the lactic acid to flush. Off the bikes for a river crossing, which actually felt good, back onto the bikes which definitely did not feel good. A small climb, which was tortuous, a descent through the Smoke Bluffs which was fun. Into downtown Squamish, a quick urban run and across the finish line in 4h26m for third overall.


It wasn't what we came for and I know Todd was disheartened when we exposed our bike discrepancies, however, on a personal level, other than slowing Todd down, I am actually happy with my race. It's been a tough month for me and this was the first real positive thing I've been able to draw from in quite sometime. I came out for a hard effort and had to dig deep. I had what I needed when I went searching for it and for a few minutes early on I thought I might still be missing the necessary drive and determination to get through the thing. Racing is NEVER easy, if you're pushing, it hurts...and it actually felt really good to HURT again!

Even better is that a few days after the race, outside of some lingering soreness from the crashes, my energy levels have sustained themselves. I only have a few more weeks to get myself ready for the biggie in California, and thankfully I'm feeling more confident than I have in the last month that I can actually pull that one off now.

Congrats to Markez, no one deserved it more than him as he's been right at the front for years now but this was his first clean race. Thanks so much to Bryan Tasaka for organizing such top notch events and to Jenn Segger for designing such a painful race course!

I have also refused to let Todd race with me in Cumberland. The guy is quite simply a beast right now and he has to be've all been warned!




Deanna Stoppler said...

Man, you tore it up! I'm happy for you.

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Gary! Sorry to hear about your Garmin... At least it was only the watch being broken and not you!!!!

All Day!

garobbins said...

Thanks guys, best news was Garmin warrantied the watch for me!