Saturday’s race started off tough a few weeks ago when I previewed the course and apparently overextended myself to the point of becoming ill. I tried to shake off the less-than-great impression of the course, but still felt some lingering dread even through Friday’s (heavy-legged) shakeout run. I knew the course was exceptionally tough, and I feared that my relatively low endurance level would turn the majority of the race into a heavy-legged slog.
Luckily, I received two unexpected confidence boosters for this race that stemmed from my decision to join the Oiselle Volee. First, upon arriving home on tired, achy legs and feet on Friday night I discovered a mysterious brown envelope that turned out to be the Oiselle Volee welcome mailer! I immediately added the enclosed ‘I run for Oiselle’ sticker to my water bottle sticker collection and savored the cheerful surprise while downing some pasta and spending some quality time with my foam roller.
On race morning I received another needed boost in the form of a Oiselle singlet flashing by during my warmup. I ended up stretching next to the singlet’s wearer (Rachel) and asked if she was with the local Oiselle group. It turned out she was from a few towns West and was returning to the trail series after a year or so off for a back injury. We happily chatted as we walked to the start and lined up together on the line. As the wave of racers took off onto the short dirt road stretch before the single track I tucked in behind her and we climbed the first hill together. The feeling of having a teammate and a singlet to keep an eye on in the crowd of runners brought me back to my high school and college days and provided reassurance during the heart-pounding uphill sprint to the single track.
The quick course narrowing meant spending time in trains, trailing slower runners and then sprinting past groups of 1 or 2 on the turns or slightly wider sections. I was fortunate to be in almost exactly the same shape as my new-found teammate, and we spent the first 1.5 miles within a few runners, alternating between settling in and popping out wide to surge ahead in the line of runners.
At around the 1.5 mile mark I felt good and pushed ahead a bit, passing Rachel and another woman. I kept climbing, feeling pretty good until 2.5 miles. After 2.5 things started to get tough since we’d been climbing steadily since the start and it was beginning to warm up as the sun rose higher overhead. I focused on keeping the doubts quiet and impatiently looked for the 2nd aid station, which signaled the switch to downhill running.
Up, up, up, doooooown
The 2nd aid station finally appeared out of the sagebrush and I happily grabbed some water, choked on it, and started my descent. I hadn’t gone more than half a mile when I heard two runners thundering down the windy, steep singletrack behind me, feet moving at least twice as fast as mine. I couldn’t match their speed so pulled to the side and let them pass. Happily, one was a buddy from running club and one was an extremely long-legged dude, so I didn’t feel too bad letting them wiz by at breakneck speed.
However, I really struggle with the downhill speed, especially on tired legs, and I was soon passed by another woman. The day had started to get truly hot and I was beginning to drag. Getting passed was discouraging, but luckily balanced out by the opportunity to pass several younger men/boys who had apparently gone wayyyy too hard in the first 3 miles. Around mile 5 I realized I only had 2 miles left and briefly pushed the pace. However, the heat and my own exhaustion fought back, and I paused briefly on the side of the trail as an unpleasant combination of despair in ever being done and hyperventilation overcame me. A woman’s voice from behind yelled ‘Are you ok?’ and snapped me out of my little pity party. I yelled back that I was fine and began running again to try to stay ahead of this concerned rival. We ran together over the last mile, with me focusing intently on matching her (much smoother) stride in an effort to stick with her.
With 400m left I knew I wasn’t going to catch her, so I just focused on pushing through the last (paved & flat, hallelujah!) little bit to keep anyone from sneaking by behind me.
Pace/elevation profile. Windy trails do not make for steady running 😛
In the end, Rachel finished just 40 seconds back and we ended up placing 1-2 in our 20-29 age group. Go birds! I was happily surprised by the placing, and with my overall 8th place in the Women’s category, considering the relatively deep field of local ultra stars and serious trail racers. I finished in just under an hour – decent considering the course record of 51:08 and my complete inability to ride the downhill rather than clomping down it like an overly-cautious draft horse.
The after party was excellent (yogurt, pasta, salad, and a gear raffle) and any disappointment with my race (like the stopping and downhill struggle) was alleviated by the great atmosphere and post-race talk with the many friends from running and cycling club, plus my newly-met Volee teammate, who’d joined in the fun.
The two lessons I took away from today’s race:
- Team helps soooo much. I’d almost forgotten this with all the decent runs alone lately, but it really does help to have the moral support and team mentality mid-race.
- I am in desperate need of some downhill form work and downhill strides to help with my speed. It’s free velocity so I really shouldn’t turn it down.