Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Time to Get Back in a Race - Mt. Diablo 50K

My training has been a little aimless lately without a race on the schedule.  The positive of getting my Western States 100 qualifier done in May was that I could do anything I wanted the rest of the year.  The negative has been that with my primary goal for the year out of the way it's been tough to get motivated to keep everything clicking.  While I'm still pretty much getting in my normal miles and hill workouts, I haven't been climbing as much as usual, and more importantly without that goal in mind my diet/nutrition have suffered and I'm carrying 15 more pounds than I was this time last year.

Last year I ran five races in the build up to Pine to Palm 100, with all but the first a trail marathon or longer.  But this year I've had just Way Too Cool 50K in March and then Quicksilver 100K in May, with nothing since.  That's been bothering me lately so I knew, despite not being in great condition, that I needed to get myself back in a race.  I put myself on the waitlist for the Tamalpa 50K a couple of weeks ago, but as of Thursday I knew that wasn't happening.  I had the Coastal Trail Runs Mt. Diablo 50K on Sunday as an alternative, but I honestly didn't commit to it mentally until Saturday afternoon.  I can thank a morning of online tracking of friends and athletes I admire running the UTMB 100M (the de facto world mountain 100M championships in the Alps) on Saturday for giving me that little motivational push to get out there and tackle something tough.

As close to real mountains as we get in the East Bay

With so many people I know racing or spectating at either UTMB or the 50K here in Marin on Saturday I didn't really expect to know anybody at Diablo.  So it was a nice surprise to see a few people I have run with before including Paul, who I finished the Firetrails 50M with two years ago (we pushed each other to get it done just under eleven hours) and Eric and Leah Harold, great people that seems to be at every race around here.  I had never run Mt. Diablo before, I just knew that 100 degree temperatures are pretty normal in August, at 3,848' it is the tallest peak in the East Bay (about 1,300' taller than Mt. Tam East Peak) and judging by the elevation chart it looked to be pretty steep as well.

Two summits = 7,990' of total elevation gain

The race was about what I expected - hot and hard.  We actually got lucky with the weather as I don't think it got above the high 80s - plenty hot but not stifling.  The climbs were as expected - hard and steep, mostly pretty smooth but a few small technical sections, particularly on the trail up to the summit.  I actually climbed pretty well up to the first summit, passing people along the way. At the top is an observatory area, and up the steps we went to the top where I took a moment to take in the view.

View from the highest point in the East Bay 

Watch where you step, one of two tarantulas I saw

We turned back down the hill and the 50K runners veered off on to another trail (there were also 10M, 1/2 marathon, and marathon races).  At just over the 13 mile mark, we hit a section of downhill unlike anything I have ever seen before.  It was a smooth fire road, but it was so steep that it was actually scary -  a drop of over 500' in about .4 miles, with a grade ranging from -20% to -43% according to Strava!  I tried to move my feet as quickly as I could, trying to stay under control, but after a bit I felt like I was going to wipe out so I veered off into the soft side of the fire road to try and slow the momentum, eventually coming to a stop.  I did that one more time on the way down, but that was something that was way out of my comfort zone!  My Hoka Stinson Trails had enough grip to hold on the dirt, but it felt like the soles of my feet were going to shear right off!  Thankfully we didn't have to go this way again at the end of the race, as I don't know how I would've gotten down that again 25 miles in on tired quads.

Exposed single track on a warm day
The climb back up to the top is where things really fell apart for me.  It was heating up, I was working so hard, and just didn't have enough power to even hike well.  This is where the extra weight really hurt, lugging it up 3,800' with 15 miles in my legs already.  It was a brutal slog, and I was actually passed by 4-5 people which doesn't happen very often to me on uphills, but as I pretty much expected I just didn't have my climbing legs. I was so beat up by the time I got to the top that on the way down I had to resort to a run-walk strategy, going downhill!  I was moving ok (miles 27-30 were 9:20, 9:49, 9:20, 10:20), but I should've been able to finish stronger than that.  At least I didn't get caught on the downhill by the several people I had seen just after the turnaround at the summit, but it wasn't the finish I was hoping for, and I finally hit the line at 7:32 and change.  So while this was definitely the toughest 50K I've done, it was my slowest by a full hour.

So really it was about what I expected - I struggled on the climbs in the 2nd half of the race and didn't have enough in me to finish strong.  Two big positives, though.  First, my stomach was largely fine.  I've had trouble in the past after about the six hour mark in the heat, and while I did get a little nauseous at one point right as I hit the peak the second time, a ginger chew settled it right down and it never kept me from eating or drinking.  I stuck with mostly sports drink (Tailwind in my bottles to start, then Cliff Shot electrolyte drink from the Aid Stations), with four gels and then a few cups of Coke at the last couple of aid stations.  The other positive was that my IT bands held up just fine, and with all of that descent there was plenty of opportunity for them not to.  While I haven't been as consistent as I should be with my strengthening routines (band walks, lunges, reverse lunges, etc), I have been doing them and combined with a few focused long downhill sessions the past couple of months and continuing regular maintenance electrostim/laser/Graston, I'm hopefully getting that weakness addressed.

It feels good to have gotten it done, while at the same time reinforcing what I need to do to be able to meet my potential at these things - namely get back to climbing more on long runs and get my weight back down.  I need to increase my power, and losing some weight is like free power I don't even need to train for.  And I'm still not sure what I'm going to do the rest of the year - a couple more 50Ks, or a return to Firetrails 50M on 10/10, or Rio del Lago 100M in November.  This was my eleventh ultra, and I've still got a lot of work to do in figuring these things out - let alone deciding what my twelfth will be.

Props to Wendell and the Coastal Trail Runs volunteers, they always put on a great event.

Strava Data