Sunday, May 27, 2012

Quad Rock 50...err 25

Oh man, talk about a late race report. The end of my first year in grad school was absolutely insane - a combination of some very hard coursework, making an hour-long presentation to the climate dynamics research group, and managing the design of a weather calendar. And then there was this whole running thing.

Well, some days you just need to take what you can get. I was originally entered in the 50 mile, but dropped down to the 25 mile after the first lap. I started tweaking my IT-band around mile 15, and it got progressively tighter especially on the Timber trail downhill. While it didn’t get very painful, I didn’t want to keep pushing it - I could have finished, yes, but my IT-band would have gotten stressed enough that I would not be able to run at Bighorn, one of my goal races this year. As it stands, this is something I can fix in one to two weeks with aggressive physical therapy and massage.

How did the race go, injury aside? Really awesome!

Minutes before the race start, the foothills emerged from the twilight with their peaks covered in a thick cloud not 500ft from the base. The air was humid and cool, just a little above freezing – perfect weather for racing. 

I joined the front pack as it raced out of the start and onto the meandering East Valley and Shoreline trails. There was a solid pack of 10 runners out front as we hit the first climb up Sawmill, Stout, and Towers. At this point, the pack settled out as some of the 25-milers pulled ahead with the lead 50-mile runners. I hooked onto the heels of Jason Koop up Towers and then followed Cory up to the Towers aid station.
Given the cool temperatures, I had barely touched my water and jumped right into the first downhill on Spring Creek. Man, was I feeling good here – I kept Cory in sight and fluidly cruised over rocks and around the turns. If I had to guess, I’d say we were keeping a sub-6:00 minute pace over some of the open stretches. I stopped to pee and was immediately passed by Jason again; this was a very tight group of runners out front, with a handful of runners always just behind you.

I basically ran through the Horsetooth aid station and climbed up South Ridge and most of the Horsetooth Rock Trail with Jason, letting him power ahead towards the top. I decided to throttle back a bit on Westridge and get myself prepped for the Mill Creek descent. There was a layer of snow and frost on the evergreen bushes at the top of the mountain, with views over the edge of the ridge obscured by the cloud. The whole race was like a scene out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I grabbed some water at Towers and eased into Mill Creek’s winding and drawn-out descent into Arthur’s aid station. It was here that I started to feel that familiar tightness in my glutes and IT-band, so I took it a little easier to see if that would help. I ran with Jacob for half of the descent and we stayed together for about a mile after Arthur’s. He pulled ahead on Howard but I kept chugging, ceding no ground to the runners in close pursuit. I actually pulled ahead a bit on the really technical portions and was done with the climb before I knew it.

The rolling mile on the dirt road to Timber was a nice break after Howard and allowed me to collect myself and assess whether or not I’d drop at 25 miles. My right glute was excessively tight and I could feel the IT-band tugging on my knee even on the gentle hills; while it wasn’t hurting yet I knew that I’d have to weigh continuing on and risking a blowout, or cutting my losses and having a shot at being ready for Bighorn. I decided to make it to the turnaround, try to get it stretched, and then make my decision.

No matter how you feel, Timber is always a fun trail. I thoroughly enjoyed the steep switchbacks and sketchy trails in the forest and opened up my stride on the long, flowing contour trails into Soldier Canyon.
At the aid station, one of the 25-mile finishers offered to help me out and taught me a few new stretches. He did some work on the right glute and my hips to loosen things up, but I could feel the IT-band tightening the more I hung around. I decided to just call it a day. For pacing myself for 50 miles, an 8th place finish in the 25 miler wasn’t terrible. 

I stuck around the rest of the morning and into the late afternoon to volunteer, which was really illuminating. Managing a race like this is, to use a cliché, a logistical nightmare. Major props to Nick and Pete for pulling off such a successful inaugural race. I don’t doubt that most runners will return next year because of the professional level of organization, if not for the course difficulty.

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