Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pacifica Trail Run 30k

I knew I wanted this to be a year of firsts for me. Run my first trail marathon and 50 miler. Run a sub 6 hour 50k and a sub 4 hour marathon for the first time. What I didn't know was that this would end up being the first time I didn't finish the race that I had entered, which was the 50k.

Pacifica Trail Run 30k - 3:34:11 (11:33 pace; 20/39)

I knew, of all the 50k's that I wanted to run this year, that this would be the one that would present the most difficulty. It has the highest amount of elevation gain by over a 1,000 feet, the closest being the Rodeo Beach 50k last December. And since I don't run hills too well I wasn't to confident about this one. That being said, as I said in my last post, I had the confidence in being able to finish the distance. So what happened?

It all started a week ago when I came down with a cold and a ton of congestion. I slowly got better throughout the week but I still was feeling the lingering remnants of it, such as some congestion and a runny nose and cough. Add to this my energy level not entirely recovered also. Through all this I was still confident I could finish the distance. Of course I sabotaged myself when I stayed up late reading and watching television, getting less than 6 hours of sleep.

All this did not bode well.

Start to 12k Aid Station - 1:13

The race started and it went straight to a hill that went up to the highest point in the whole area. 3.5 miles straight up the mountain with no break. It wasn't too bad but as you are going up you can see the trail that wasn't too friendly. Half the trail was on rock, and the other half was dirt with sharp, jagged rocks and boulders. It was tough enough going up at a much slower pace, but how would it be going down it? A very technical section that could easily result in twisting your ankle or tripping and falling on the rocks.

I got to the top and turned around, feeling strong. Had a runny nose and a hacking cough, but otherwise doing good. And this turned out to be the most fun I have ever had running downhill. Those sharp, jagged rocks and skinny single track trails proved to be so fun running down. Catapulting yourself from flat surface to flat surface, an obstacle course at a breakneck speed. Oh how fun this was. I passed so many people on this downhill part who were taking it slow and timid, scared to pick their speed up. By the time I reached the bottom I was feeling great and alive, but I knew I had to do that loop again. The course consisted of a 12k loop, then a 9k loop, then same loop counterclockwise, then the 12k loop again and finishing with doing the same 9k loop again. So I knew and dreaded what I had to do all over again.

12k Aid Station to 21k Aid Station - 1:03 (2:16 overall time)

This was an interesting section. It had a steep hill that lasted about a mile and then you get a speedy downhill section of switchbacks, which was fun. But then you are spit out onto a gravel road that goes on for a half a mile at a gentle rise, only to lead to another hill that went straight up for another 3 miles. What is with these long hills? By the time I got to the top and was able to run downhill the last mile I was tired already, and I walked most of the uphill! I came into the aid station feeling a little weary, but optimistic.

21k Aid Station to 30k Finish - 1:18:11 (3:34:11)

But then I knew I had to turn around and do that loop again. I grabbed a few pretzels and took off. This was the biggest mistake that I did. Already low on energy as I recuperated from the cold, I couldn't afford to not eat during the race to replace what was used. But this was exactly what I did and what would jump out and get me later on. I walked the whole uphill portion, which was slow going. I peppered in some jogging when it leveled out some, but that wasn't too often.

I was amazed that I had only been passed by two runners at the very beginning of this loop, the third in the race, and was only passed by one other runner the whole 6 miles despite walking the hills as I did. It was here that I started doubting myself and to think of stopping at the 30k finish. This is one of the beauties of the Pacific Coast Trail Runs, their flexibility. Instead of getting a DNF they would simply put me into the 30k race. Perhaps if I knew I would get a DNF then I would have trudged on, and this is one of the reasons I am not a fan of these types of loop courses. With an out and back you know that the only way back to your car is to finish the race. But with these five loop courses I would have had 4 chances to stop and drop out. And I began contemplating this a lot.

I was getting really tired because of the lack of sleep, and thus the reason I started daydreaming of taking a nap. I was getting really hungry because I wasn't eating too much, and thus the daydreaming of what I could eat for lunch if I stopped. All of this, though, is a direct result of not eating during the race. I was burning so much energy and not replacing it, which lead to a drop in morale, energy and motivation. I didn't recognized this, even though this happened to me before, so when I got to the 30k finish I stopped.

I regret stopping now. If I would have ate more then I would not have stopped, even at the 30k aid station. In fact, comparing my times with the Rodeo Beach 50k, I came into the 30k Aid Station there 2 minutes slower than I did this 30k, which had 600 more feet of elevation gain! Physically, in hindsight, I was running better than I had ever. But no food and energy began playing mind games on me. So for this race my mental will power most certainly let me down, which is a major factor in running ultras.

That being said, I am glad at what I did run. 30k faster than I have ever run it on the trails, and it was the most elevation gain that I have ever ran! I would rather have finished the 50k, and hindsight shows me that I could have easily if I would have eaten more, but you live and you learn. Hopefully I can identify this mental trip that you experience and know how to counter it next time.

This was most certainly a very beautiful run in a beautiful place. But it was most certainly an extremely difficult run.


Bill Carter said...

Hey Brian.

Congrats on such a great accomplishment. You can't always have your A game and judging by your health, you did the best you could on that day.

You've made some great progress in your running and I expect that to continue.

Brian Hawkinson said...

Hiya Bill, thanks for the encouraging words. I've been thinking a lot about why I couldn't finish the 50k. Ultimately you are right, we can't always have our A game. And it helps to have someone else's thoughts echo mine own.