Being back in Oregon means all the races I meant to fit in last time I was here are now back on my to-do list. That meant I was able to squeeze in Waldo 100k through the Cascades in Central Oregon and see some of the lakes from the Cascade Lakes Relay from high up. Supposedly 11,000ft of climbing in 100k, but several people claim it's more like 13,000ft and, given Miwok 100k is around 10,000ft, this one feels way steeper. Mind you, still a lot less than the UTMB races in a week - the CCC 100k there is over 20,000ft of ascent.
A lack of air-con at home has meant that getting to sleep at a reasonable hour is very difficult right now so I wasn't able to pre-adjust myself for the 5am start but drove down to Willamette Ski Pass the night before to sleep in the car then wake up in a complete daze about five hours too early for my body.
Being the first race of the 2011/12 Montrail Ultracup (which finishes with Western States), it meant runners were attracted by being part of the cup, by the decent prize money to the top finishers overall and by the lure of qualification spots for WS100 for the top two men and women (dropping down to third if any of the top two had already qualified). Given Dave Mackey was the clear favorite (CR holder at Bandera and Miwok 100ks as well as winning both of those this year) and had a WS100 entry already, plus I already had my WS100 place too, that meant it would be very likely that top three in the men would be enough to get that coveted spot. Ditto for the women since Aliza Lapierre was running as the favorite and already had her spot too.
Many of the guys I'd met at Mt Hood 50 and the run around Mt Hood shortly afterwards were there, plus a whole host of other Oregonian and Californian ultrarunners whose names many would recognize. Yassine Diboun in particular was gunning for a WS100 qualifier and looked like he had a great chance to get it...I knew I'd be looking out for him along the whole way and hoping to stay ahead.
The course went up the ski run from the lodge, climbing steeply enough to make me walk before the top of the approx 1,200ft climb. It was pitch black and my headlamp was dying so I had to focus very hard through the trees (no moonlight to help out) to not fall and to spot the lights ahead of me so I wouldn't miss a turn on the single-track.
By the first aid station at 7.4 miles, Dave had zoomed off but the next six or so guys were all together and we could finally turn off the lights. Time to make the ascent from under 5,000ft (lowest point on the course) to around 7,200ft on top of Mt Fuji. Hopefully I'll see its namesake next year in Japan for TNF Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji but this one was mainly runnable and in the last few steps we were given a sudden and spectacular view out over Waldo Lake and a large chunk of the Cascades.
|Waldo, photo courtesy of Craig Thornley.|
|Fuji view from a random Flickr account online.|
Unfortunately we then headed straight back the way we came so the view was only for a few seconds. I'd have loved to stay longer but the heat was on and I was only in about fifth with Dave already about 10 minutes ahead, judging by the out-and-back to the summit. I at least wanted a chance of winning.
Lots of fast downhill followed and I moved past Yassine into fourth, trying to conserve energy and reduce pounding on the thighs given I was only about 15 miles into the race. Nick put some distance on me but I felt I was going fast enough and looked at the splits I'd written on my arm for the CR and saw I ran that section below CR pace, albeit still five minutes too slow overall.
Annoyingly, I still haven't felt fresh and good in a race since about March, just before I ran way too many races and overtrained. I'd hoped to be back to normal by now but the legs still had that heavy feeling and, relatively, a distinct lack of pace compared to five months ago. I've accepted that I need to do a hell of a lot more proper hill training to improve running in races like Waldo, but Bend is the perfect place to do that. I've already started, with runs around Mt Hood and up to the top of Mt Bachelor a week ago (can hardly call it a run, but 'crawl' would be fairer). It's funny that I went an entire winter with no snow in Cali but now it's summer in Oregon I'm getting in a couple of snow runs every week by going up high.
The day heated up on the way through to the third climb up to the Twins and I kept discipline to run where possible, even if just for 50 yards, and power-walk any harder gradients. I could see how Dave was going so fast since the course was almost all runnable, but not yet for me. I went over the top of the first Twin and reached the 32 mile aid station on the way down, still in fourth and having run solo for quite a while.
I eventually caught up to third after the bottom of the descent and managed to overtake since he had stomach problems and later dropped. Then the climb up started again, but it was fairly easy at first and a slow jog was possible. It did gradually get steeper, but I jogged maybe half the time and on every section that I could.
By about 40 miles the power-hike/jog combo put me in sight of Nick Triolo in second, who was having a great race in his first 100k. I met Nick at Mt Hood 50, where he was third, then again running round that mountain where he carried one of my water bottles after my big fall left too much blood on my right hand to carry anything with it. We pushed up and up, maybe jogging half the time as we hit the snow. It's very rare for this course to have snow as it's in late August, but luckily the last few weeks of melting after a monster winter had meant we never had more than about 200 yards of snow and trail-finding was very easy with the pink surveyor's markers.
At 42 miles I felt slightly fresher after not having run much in the last few miles so I started running more than Nick and soon left him behind near the top of the climb. Just two more downhills left and one evil bitch of an ascent in-between.
I kept stuffing food and gels into me whenever possible but I was knackered and had lost my uphill legs, or whatever I had of them in the first place. Luckily I still felt fine on downhills and was cruising those through the single-track (almost the entire race is single-track and, if not tired, really enjoyable running).
The final climb started and was gentle at first so I hit the 49.9 mile aid station looking hot and bothered and really not looking forward to the steepest and greatest climb of the day up to Maiden Peak at over 7,800ft. However, I'd been told by Jeff Browning (who at that exact point was en route to a solid fifth at Leadville Trail 100 - nice work, mate!) that the gradient changes a lot so there are plenty of short runnable bits. Maybe for him, but after a third of the climb I was stuck in a power-walk. Well, not even that - more of a determined tip-toeing gradually uphill. I was working so hard, even at a very slow pace that I couldn't take on any food - I literally didn't have enough breath or saliva to swallow and didn't want to stop to eat. That's a new sensation, but reflects that I'd hammered through the day on legs that hadn't had any taper whatsoever (not smart, but I need the hill training and miles to get ready for UROC 100k and TNFEC Championship Final).
When I finally got to the top, the view was just amazing, but I was paranoid about losing my position and was sure that at least one of the guys behind me wouldn't have been so slow on that climb. I did stop for a few seconds to take it in, but then headed straight back downhill and didn't see anyone on the out-and-back final section to the peak so knew I had at least six minutes on third.
|Maiden Peak summit view, courtesy of a random Flickr account.|
Down, down, down and very steeply at first. Now I could feel it a bit in the legs but knowing it was only 7.5 miles to go from the next and final aid station, I didn't mind. I ate, drank and was generally incoherent while the aid station volunteers were very helpful. Now I just wanted it over and it felt more like closing out a 100-miler than a 100k.
Theoretically it was great running to the end, with three miles of gentle rolling trails then a gentle downhill for the final 750ft descent. Normally this would have been the type of trail to make me smile like a lunatic, especially with the few sections along the edges of the turquoise mountain lakes. But I was running with the fear of being caught by third, who I assumed would be able to chase me down after such a slow section previously.
Eventually I saw Lake Odell and the Ski Lodge and ran in for second in 9:42:51, exactly 36 minutes behind Dave. He crushed the CR by over four minutes and was on a massage table looking much better than when I last saw him post-race at WS100 where it looked like he was on a drip. He'd led from start to finish and run a very solid race, but I still posted the sixth fastest time in the race's history and only Dave has run the final section faster (so I probably wasn't in danger of being caught, in hindsight). A tough day which didn't go to plan and felt pretty awful 90% of the time, but it should make future races feel better and this was one I'm glad I got the chance to do.
It's a fantastic race course and was a chance to catch up with many of the non-Ashland-based Oregonian speedsters who either ran, paced or just showed up to chill out with a beer. Nick held on for third in 10:08 so has his spot at WS100 booked, which is great for him, but unfortunate for Yassine who really had his heart set on it (he ended up fifth after a hard day with a very respectable 10:28). Aliza won but just missed the women's CR by 10 minutes and finished in sixth overall in 10:33. Full results here.
Going to the Bend Brewfest afterwards was also a slight endurance feat, but in a town with so many breweries, this is something I couldn't miss.
Next up is a trip to the Alps to crew for a TNF athlete at UTMB, probably Hal from how things seem to be headed. I fly in two days and once I feel less exhausted I'll have enough adrenaline to get really pumped up about this instead. But I'm very glad I didn't enter it this year since I'm clearly not ready for it yet. One year of training should be enough so I can at least get through it ok without completely breaking myself.
What a busy weekend of races it's been and congratulations to all the finishers at all of them, especially the friends I've got running these: Pike's Peak Ascent/Marathon, Leadville Trail 100, Trans Rockies.