Way Too Cool for School

Thursday, March 13, 2014

                It’s been quite a while since I last posted and a lot has happened. I ended up running the 30k at the Golden Gate races with Sam, and we basically just treated it like a glorified long run. I was happy to have someone out there to run with because the weather was absolutely miserable and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it solo. And the 30k option was infinitely preferable to the 50k option, both on account of my leg and the weather. While the leg felt pretty good for most of the race, I had to walk a bit on the last climb to keep the pain at bay. However, it healed pretty quickly over the following week with some physical therapy and TLC.

                Once it was feeling better, I was able to get back on the long run horse and knocked out runs of 26 and 28 miles on back to back weekends. At the same time, my workouts were also going really well and I found myself only 2 weeks out from Way Too Cool. I had a pretty rough workout about 10 days before the race, but shook it off due to the great training I’d put in the 2 weeks prior (100+ miles each week, with 2 workouts and a long run in each as well). So, I knew I should be tired, and rightfully was, and just focused on getting rested for Cool. I ran some 200s the Tuesday before the race, tapered probably less than I should have, and headed up to Auburn on Friday afternoon ready to go.

                This was the first race where the Nike Trail Elite team was really going to have a presence, and we kicked it off by joining Trail Runner Nation for a podcast on Friday afternoon. I met 2 teammates, Sally and Chris, our team manager Pat, and saw for a 2nd time a Nike guy who works down in the Bay, Jarrett. The podcast was a ton of fun and the guys at Trail Runner Nation did a great job with asking some good questions. A replay of the podcast can be found here: http://youtu.be/rrZt5BBnlb0. After the podcast was done, I picked up my bib and headed to our lodging for the night. Caitlin, Magda, Mark, and I were all sharing a little cabin behind someone’s house and it worked out perfectly. I went for a shakeout run on Friday night on part of the Western States’ Trail, ate some pasta, drank some Osmo, and we all headed to bed early.


Nike Trail Elite and Trail Runner Nation. Thanks for a great time guys!

                I woke up Saturday feeling pretty good. We got to the race right around 7am. I met up with the Nike folks, went for a quick warmup, and it was time for the race. During the warmup, I noticed that I was burping a lot and my stomach felt a little unsettled. I even had to find a bush to squat behind about 3 minutes before the start. I didn’t think much of it since I’ve had similar experiences before, but once the race started, I realized it was going to be a bigger issue than I had originally thought pretty quickly. Chris and I were in the lead basically from the gun, and had a sizeable gap over the rest of the field a couple miles into it. We came into the race knowing that we would key off one another, since he finished 2nd last year at this race, and I had been running well this year. Sure enough, we just started working together and things were going well, except for my stomach rumbling. Then my stomach really asserted itself about 5-6 miles in and I had to take a quick stop. Mostly false alarm. Dammit. Stomach continued to rumble. Caught back up to Chris, as he had eased off a bit to wait, and we ran together back through the first aid station at the start/finish at mile 8. At this point, I had eaten half of an energy bar and that was because I’d forced myself to eat it, knowing I’d need the fuel later on. As soon as we got through that first aid station, I knew I’d have to stop again. The biggest problem now was finding a suitable place to go that was out of sight of some of the folks who’d started running the course earlier so they’d finish within the cutoffs. So as we passed a couple of people around mile 9, I dropped trou behind a tree and had mostly false alarm #2. Before stopping, I had told Chris just to keep running and not worry about waiting for me. I didn’t know what sort of time I’d take and if the race was to be decided by my bowels 10 miles in, so be it. That’s how racing goes sometimes, especially with the longer stuff. I’ve had really good luck so far, so I couldn’t really complain, even if this was a big race.


Working together. We have eerily similar strides.

                Following false alarm #2/mile 9, the trail turned down towards the American River. I was running at a pretty good pace but was forced to stop for a third time within a mile. However, what was different this time is that I actually had some “success.” With my load slightly lightened (no apologies for puns/innuendo/lack thereof), I continued down towards the river, where I was met with many cheers at Highway 49. Thankfully no one tried to high-five me. Unfortunately, no one was able to tell me how far behind I was, so I just put my head down and ran. I passed another aid station and suddenly saw Chris around a bend. Great, I thought, now we can run together again. But that optimism was quickly wiped out by a wave of need. I stopped for a fourth time behind a picnic table and had considerably more “success” than before. My stomach felt quite a bit better after that, so I hoped the worst had passed, but I had lost more time. I did what I could do – focused on my race, pushing the pace over some rolling terrain, and eventually rejoined Chris about 2-3 miles later.

                From that point on, we were together basically until the finish. We climbed out of the canyon and my legs were definitely tired on the uphills, so he was doing most of the leading at this point. Once we got back on level ground, he continued to lead, but I definitely wanted to go a bit faster. We crossed a lot of streams to the point where it seemed like every time my feet dried out, they got wet again. The trail was in pretty good condition, but there were some decidedly muddy parts that required some more careful navigating. Goat Hill came and went without much of an issue, and once we were back on flatter ground, I moved to the front and pushed the pace a bit. This was partly testing my legs, but mostly I just wanted to run a fast time. Chris stuck with me without much trouble and we entered the 29.5 mile aid station side by side. I put in a surge on that final ¾ mile long climb but was unable to put any distance between us and when we reached the final ridge, I gave it one last go on the uphill, but he matched me and then pulled away on the downhill with maybe 200-300m to go. I was unable to give chase and finished about 15 seconds behind him.


Pretty wiped at the finish.

                I felt pretty awful post-race. Someone even commented that I looked a bit green. I knew I had to take in some fuel, since all I had been able to stomach during the race was 1 bar and 2 gels, but nothing tasted good. I slowly improved throughout the rest of the day, but my stomach still isn’t back to 100% even today. I really don’t know what caused the problems I had on race day, but I definitely view it as a learning experience and have a couple ideas about how to combat it.


Who gave Chris the victory crown?

                All in all, I was pleased with the race. While I had hoped to win, I think my digestive issues took more out of me than I realized. I think this became even more evident towards the end when the lack of fuel compared to what I normally consume probably left me more sapped than I have been in the past at the end of a 50k. The course itself also played a role in that fatigue, although we both ran the same course, so that’s obviously not the reason I finished 2nd, but both of us spent more time navigating puddles, stream crossings, and muddy sections than I would have liked. Chris commented often on how wet it was compared to the previous year, so I think it’s safe to say the course was slower this year, but we still managed to run the 2nd and 3rd fastest times ever on that route. Can’t be too bummed about that.

I wore the Nike Terra Kigers for the race and they were fantastic. They well and dried out very quickly, welcome features with all the stream crossings. Other than the mud, the course itself was fantastic. I was really able to find a good rhythm on a lot of it, which is a new feeling to me since the other 50ks I’ve run have involved significantly more climbing or haven’t been suited to really running fast. This was a nice change and I’m already looking forward to next year.


One of many stream crossings.

               I also had several friends who raced on Saturday. Magda and Caitlin finished 1-2 on the women’s side, pretty good for what they said would be a long run. Brett of SFRC ran a big 50k PR and is coming into great shape for this summer’s longer races. Mark ran really well in his return to the ultra scene. Mario had a fantastic debut at the 50k distance. Harmony and Monica ran really well to round things out. Apologies if I forgot anyone in that quick list. The music is playing…

                Running this week has been a bit slower than normal, but I’m recovering well and the legs feel better each day. My stomach is still a little off, but it’s coming around I think, and I’ll have a couple of long runs to sort things out before Lake Sonoma on April 12. I look forward to starting workouts again next week and getting my legs fully back under me. Next up is the Across the Bay 12k on Sunday. I will be participating, since I think racing is too strong a word to describe what I think will happen, but either way it should be a lot of fun and the course is always beautiful. Not sure when I’ll post next, but I will definitely try to have something up before Lake Sonoma. Until then, keep going!


A little help, please.

About afvarner

Runner. Donuts. Sneakerhead. Not necessarily in that order. Nike Trail Elite. Picky Bars. Gu. Vicory Sportdesign.
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5 Responses to Way Too Cool for School

  1. Billy Yang says:

    Great race man, especially considering the conditions and your stomach. Looking forward to meeting at LS50! (will be there filming)

  2. afvarner says:

    Thanks! And yes! Can’t wait til LS50!

  3. sgarboden89 says:

    Legit! Keep up the good work.

  4. Sally McRae says:

    Fantastic write up Alex…way to hunker down and get er done despite the “dump” issues! =) You ran a fantastic race…onward and up! (also your parents are the absolute sweetest!!!)

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