Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Eiger Ultra Trail 51km race report

Thursday of race week: 

Really, Alicia?  Months and months of training, careful shoe and gear selection, lots of course studying, and then you forget to bring your race food to Switzerland?  Not a great start.  Fortunately I was saved by an East Asian market selling sticky rice flour.  Big cheer for globalization!

With the crisis averted, Divesh and I took the tourist train up to Schynige Platte to scope out support zone location and do some sightseeing.  Quality relaxation time!

Friday of race week:

The weather forecast has been confident all week that it will be raining and/or thunderstorming all day on Saturday.  Eeep.

Saturday, race day:

It's intensely sunny and in the high 80s.  *Slight* difference to the prediction!  The race started off with about a mile uphill on the road.  My stretch goal had been to try to win, but when I saw another girl take off up the road at about 6:30 pace whilst looking like she was going for a casual jog, I realized it would be suicide to follow, so I stayed back and did my own thing.

The first climb is not too steep and it's on very non-technical terrain, so you end up on the undulating section above Grosse Scheidegg (8km) relatively quickly.  Shortly thereafter, I ran into a roadblock:  cows.  There was a mother cow blocking most of the left side of the trail, a calf blocking most of the right, and not much room to go around on either side.  I stood around, considering my options and losing time rapidly, until I was saved by two friendly guys who told me to follow them.  "He's an animal doctor!" one of them announced, pointing to the other one.  It was an ideal little train to get behind, since we soon passed through several more cow sections and these guys definitely had their cow-dispersal technique mastered.

This whole section was very runnable and absolutely gorgeous.

The main issue here though was that starting around 14km, we were catching up to the 100k runners and had to overtake maybe half of the 800-person field.  This wasn't so bad while we were on the easy wide trails, but around 18km we got onto narrow singletrack that would continue for most of the rest of the race.  The options for overtaking were either to lose loads of time waiting for a wide spot in the trail or to leap around the 100k'ers on the rocky edges of the trail.  I started off with the latter but after several close calls with my bad ankle, I ended up going more and more for the former.  It was demoralizing though, and I fought with myself (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep the negative thoughts from forming.  I settled on the strategy of giving myself the goal of saying "good job" to each of the 100k people that I passed, but given the altitude and my effort level, I think all I really said to them was "ggghhhhhh."

We passed the summit of the Faulhorn, with absolutely amazing views, and went down a much more technical way than we had come up.  There were two spots for glissading, though!!

From about kilometer 30 on, the race became really only about heat survival.  It was SO hot.  I don't think I thought about anything other than how thirsty I was for maybe 15 kilometers.  I ran by Divesh at 35k and got my sports drink refill, which did provide a bit of an energy boost, but shortly after this the trail went into the woods and turned into a steep, technical, and tree rooty affair.  The trees were trapping the humidity and it was like being stuck in the jungle.  Back to thinking only about how thirsty I was...

With 6km to go, we finally reached the valley floor and started the easy section back to Grindelwald.  This part is a very gradually uphill combination of bike path and road, so my main goal for the race was to put in a solid effort here, and I mostly achieved that.  I passed three naked men (not runners!), stuck my head in a cow trough of cold water, and tried to decide if I had heat stroke.  Just your average day at an ultra, basically.

The little mini vertical wall that you have to climb up to get to Grindelwald was especially brutal in the midday sun, but once that was done, it was just a fun downhill 400 meters to the finish.  I ended up in 2nd place, about 20 minutes slower than I was hoping to go, but the descent sections had been much more technical than I was expecting, and the heat had a definite impact.  It's a beautiful area and I would come back for sure, but for avoidance of traffic jam stress, I think the 100k, not the 50k, is the race to do here!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Coastal Trail Series Sussex 55km race report

After every race I make myself notes of what went well and what I should have done differently. Sometimes the should-have-done-differentlys are on the ridiculous side ("don't, on a whim, triple the amount of coffee in your sports drink") and sometimes they're more substantial ("I needed more hill training for this course"). After the Coastal Trail Series Sussex 55km, I am, for the first time, completely at a loss for what I could write in the errors section of the notes. I've spent the better part of the plane ride home thinking about it and the best I could come up with is that I should have taken only half a water bottle instead of a full one at mile 15, since it was only three miles from there to my next support stop. Not exactly a disastrous mistake!!

prerace sightseeing along the course

Most of my prerace concerns had to do with weather. The race is over exposed ground right on the coastal cliffs, and it was supposed to be around 30mph winds with gusts up to 50mph. It was freezing cold at packet pickup just before the race start. The guy manning the t-shirt desk wordlessly handed me a size medium. When I asked for a small instead, he gave me an incredulous look and asked if I had seen what the small size was like. I was confused for a second, then realized I was wearing 8 layers of clothing and was not looking particularly small at that moment.

Actually I guess I spent most of the prerace period looking ridiculous. While every other runner wandered around stretching and jogging and generally looking professional and prepared, I was the one wearing overly short pink children's sweatpants and scraping hard caked mud out of my shoe treads with a hotel room key card. One day I will nail the not-looking-ridiculous part of racing, but that day was not yesterday.

After the world's longest briefing, we finally started running. The first section of the race is straight into the wind, over the Seven Sisters hills on the coast. It's beautiful but it was like trying to run into a giant hair dryer--there were a lot of runners chasing after lost hats! Fortunately I had been out here for a training run so I knew what I was in for. I took it pretty easy on this section, then sped up to race effort after 5km when we turned inland and briefly got a bit of shelter. And the reward for surviving each headwind section was an amazing tailwind section, or at least amazing until a sudden tailwind gust nearly blew me off a cliff.

we ran past the Long Man.  it was very long.

People were friendly at this race, and getting to talk to a few people made the first third go by quickly. Divesh, my support crew extraordinare, met me at several places for water bottle exchanges, and never being far from one of those also made the miles fly by. I also had a nice half mile or so with Alice, who won the accompanying half marathon.

My first 25 miles were basically spent in suspense, wondering if and when I was going to hit a wall or bonk or possibly go insane from the uncomfortably loud roaring of the wind in my ears. But by mile 25, none of those things had happened. I felt oddly... good. Like really good. I was running up hills I would have thought I would have had to walk. I never got nauseated. The math changed from wondering if I had a shot at the course record to knowing that, absent some sudden injury, I was going to get it by a decent margin. 

And that was it really! Nothing dramatic to report, just a nice steady race with possibly my most even splits ever. I feel like a completely different runner from my pre-injury year.  So what's different than in the past? First, I've sorted out better training through coaching from David Roche. Second, I've put in hundreds of hours of nutrition research and have finally reached what seems like the right answers. Conclusion: it's definitely still possible to get faster when you're old and missing foot parts!