I finally ran a race in my Oiselle Volee team singlet! So *official*. It turned out to be a bit of a disappointing race for my first race really representing the team, but it was a gorgeous course and a big group of running club people turned out so I had both my more virtual/long-distance team to represent and my local social running club to cheer on.
The race takes place annually and runs around the upper ski resort starting at 10,000 feet and topping out around 11,000 feet altitude. I had run the 5k version last year so knew what to expect as far as the lung-squeezing lack of oxygen and tough uphill start.
In spite of knowing what was coming I wasn’t feeling very nervous pre-race, which is usually not a great sign for me. If I’m not nervous for a race I sometimes have trouble getting into race mode once the gun goes off. I also felt a little off due to taking a few days off the week leading up due to a weird gluteus medius cramp that had pulled my hip out of whack temporarily. Literal pain in the butt…
When the start went off I felt ok but didn’t have much pop. I tried to stay steady and calm in the first mile as we climbed gradually up the dirt road. I passed one woman (BlueShirt) at the 1-mile mark and then climbed onto single track of the second mile. In the second mile I caught another woman (WhiteShirt) who was having a bit of trouble on the more technical trail and waved me and a couple men to pass as she recovered her footing and composure from a near fall. I figured she’d gone out too fast and didn’t really expect to see her for a while. I was now in third and started to think that with a bunch of fast women out of town for Pikes Peak maybe I could *finally* podium one of these races!
Going into the third mile I ran in front of a guy from my local running club, cruising through some nice gradual single track and frosted grass on the shaded backside of the mountain. Going into mile four we hit some tough climbs and technical downhills and he switched me spots and then started to pull away. I knew I probably needed to stay with him if I wanted to keep the women behind me at bay but I found my legs growing heavy and actually had to power hike a few of the climbs as we kept winding through the fourth mile. I didn’t want to have to undergo the pain of a competitive finish, but just couldn’t find the leg power to keep rolling on the uphills.
The downhill going into mile five seemed like a relief at first, and I pushed myself to really turn over on the smooth single track. However, I could tell I was still losing ground and I started to wonder where the runners behind me were. I started seeing WhiteShirt and BlueShirt going into a series of switchbacks at mile 6 and felt a little panic in my stomach. “Shit!” was all I could think – they were coming up strong and I had nothing in me to hold them off. I focused on holding my pace and prayed that I would be at the finish line before they caught me.
However, mile 6 threw in a nasty surprise – a gnarly series of switchbacks, dips, and rocky trail sections on a newly cut route. I heard Blue and White working together to catch me, and couldn’t pick up my pace without flying off the trail. WhiteShirt suddenly appeared right behind me and flew by with a shout of “on your left!!!” I watched her go with a bit of despair but kept telling myself that I could get back up there…
BlueShirt was gaining fast in the last 400m and we were both flying around the switchbacks as fast as we could. BlueShirt slipped by me with maybe 100m to go and in spite of desperately trying to stick to her butt around the last switchback and the final 50m sprint on the dirt road to finish she beat me by 5 seconds.
I cross the line feeling deflated. I had pushed it throughout the race but had never crossed the line into real pain and was now left wondering if I could have held onto third if I’d put myself through more pain in the middle miles and built up a bigger gap to the Shirt gals. I also felt disappointment with myself at failing to practice the fast downhills like I knew I needed to after the very first race. The fear of injury has held me back, as has a general dislike of fast downhill running – I don’t enjoy working on the things I’m not good at, even when the logical way to improve is to address my weaknesses.
This trail season has shown me where a lot of my weaknesses lay. I generally fall back after a strong first half (endurance), I suffer on some of the longer/steeper climbs (leg strength), and I keep getting my ass kicked on technical downhills (agility). At least I know what I need to work on!
On a more positive note, after analyzing my results from this race and past races I realized that I’ve always stayed within 10-12% of the leader’s total time behind the lead woman and actually managed the exact same pace for this race as the first race, which had the same average grade (157 feet/mile). If I consider that this race was 3000 feet higher in elevation that gives me a pace conversion of an extra 25 seconds faster per mile, which would make this recent race a decent improvement over the first race in the series. With that knowledge about the approximate pace conversion and my consistent distance behind the super-fit lead women who’s been winning every race at least I know I’m not regressing, and am probably actually improving in spite of consistently losing spots over the last mile and ending up placing a bit behind where I want to be.
Here’s to working up the courage to work on my weaknesses for these last few trail races and going into next summer’s trail race series!