Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Silver State 50k recap and under 3 weeks 'til States!

By Stephen

I tried to cuss my way out of the situation, cursing the snow and mountains surrounding me, but all I could do was laugh. Maggie and her mom had not lied when they described the soul-crushing Reno mud. The clay latched on to your shoes without warning, indifferent to the 3 mile climb to the Peavine summit that lay ahead. I had moved into second place around mile 14 and was running scared, still confident that I could catch first place. But for now, I was cursing the mud.

I ran Silver State for the first time last year, where I mistakenly took a very obvious wrong turn, costing me the chance for a top-10 finish in the 50 mile. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the experience and planned to return the following year, and as serendipity would have it, I got into Western States this year and the timing of SS50 fit perfectly into my training. 

Maggie and I drove up Friday before the race to pick up my bib and prepare some tasty lentils and vegan banana muffins for the post-race BBQ. After a quick soak in her mom's hot tub (which, along with baking the muffins, I now deem tradition), we headed to bed. The civil start time of 7am made for a great night's rest and a relaxing morning of coffee and Picky Bars. For being such a low-key race, there was a buzz of excitement at the starting line while we waited for John to count us down...3-2-1-Go! 

I settled into a relaxed pace with 4 or 5 other guys, as we picked our way up the single track. After only a few miles in, a runner from Montana put in a small effort and now lead the race. I, along with local Reno runner, Ben, jumped on board, and together we climbed. They pulled away on one of the more sustained climbs, but they only had around a 30-45 second gap, so I hung back and tried to play it cool. In reality, I was questioning my every step. Should I increase my effort and catch them? They're making this look effortless. Am I burning my matches too soon? With still 6 or 7 miles of climbing to the Peavine summit, and plenty of racing left in the day, I committed to trusting my instincts, knowing that I could make up time on the long descents. It was around mile 8 that Ben put in a solid push and took the lead up Peavine, fading quickly out of sight. I figured a ballsy move like that would either get him the win or be unsustainable and cost him time in the later miles. I forgot about him for the time being, and instead focused my energy on staying smooth and efficient. I fed off the energy of seeing my friends Loren and Erica, and before long I heard the cheering from the Peavine aid station, mile 12. After a quick GU Brew refill, I blasted down the rocky descent towards the 50k/50m split. (Fun fact! I averaged 5:50/mile for the 2.4 mile section between the summit and the split.)

Photo cred: Erica Teicheira
Not long after starting the descent, I came upon my friend and accomplished runner, Mike Holmes, who said that the second place 50k runner had just passed him. This is good, I thought; I'm in a great position. I caught him a few minutes later and pushed towards the Sandy Hill a/s, mile 17. It was on this section last year that I had not only gotten lost, but also that Erik Skaden had given me this useful advice: you're either the predator or the prey; you decide. Choosing the latter, I put my head down and hoped that Ben was just around the corner. 

The fire road wound along the side of the mountain, where I caught a glimpse of him about 5 minutes ahead. After a quick refill at the aptly named Sandy Hill a/s, I began hiking up the steep climb until it popped out onto a more runnable fire road. Then the mud started. And to make matters worse, it came on such a runnable section! I skated across the ground with 3-inch thick mud pies caked on my feet, and finally resorted to walking, while simultaneously flailing and kicking my feet to release the mud. It worked for a few feet until the mud reattached. I knew that I was losing time, but as frustrating as it was, I reminded myself that every runner was dealing with this same annoyance, and that all I could do was adapt and keep moving. After the muddy meadow, the climb kicked up for about 1.25 miles on the same rocky, rutted fire road that we had descended not long before. (Thanks to whoever gave me the shoesnbrews shout-out on this section! It was the perfect motivation to bring my spirits around.) I did a mix of power-hiking and running and hit the summit quicker than I had planned.

Photo cred: Erica Teicheira
I knew the mud must have slowed Ben down at least a little, so I resolved to pushing the 11 mile descent to the finish as hard as possible. Again, I saw him as the trail weaved along the ridge, and by my guesstimation, he had around 3 minutes on me. My quads were still in great shape by this point, and I knew I'd have to run outside of my comfort zone if I wanted to catch him. It wasn't long before I rolled into the Ridge View a/s, and after some motivation from Chaz (Canyons RD and super nice guy), I sprinted back onto the trail and resumed the chase. By mile 28, I had first place within 45 seconds of me, and not wanting to waste time, I skipped the final a/s, pushing up a small, but steep climb to the radio towers. I opened up my stride on the following descent, and realizing that this was my opportunity, I charged past Ben on the final small ascent, around mile 29. We exchanged a high-five and few words, but I knew I still had to hang on for 2 more fast, runnable miles. I ran scared and as hard as possible, not knowing if he still had the legs to catch me. After what seemed an eternity, I made a right turn under the freeway and onto the park path from which we had come earlier that morning. I rounded the last bend and was greeted by my parents, Maggie, lots of smiling spectators and volunteers, and a hug from John Trent, the RD.

I absolutely love this race. John, Jill, and the volunteers put so much into making this a special experience for everyone, and it truly shows. Thank you to everyone who sacrificed their time to make it happen, and a huge shout-out to all of the runners, especially in the highly competitive (and not to mention REALLY HARD) 50 mile field!

Finishing time of 4:18, 6th fastest time on the course. Here's the Strava data for those interested: Silver State 50k

Maggie is a bomb photographer :)
So, what did I learn? Lots of stuff!

1) Eat! Eat early and eat often. By my count, I had 11 gels, about 40 ounces GU Brew (+ addl. water), and a can of Coke. This was the steadiest energy that I've had during a race, and I owe it to the calories!

2) Run your own race. Do it! I hear this all the time, but I rarely ever listen. You should know whether or not you're pushing too hard too early. Listen to your body, and you'll be rewarded later in the race. This was my 29th ultra, and besides Miwok 100k last year, the only time that I've truly run my own race. And, what do you know, they're probably my two best performances. :)

3) Be adaptable. That mud and snow really sucked, but some things are out of your control. Focus on moving forward and taking care of yourself and the things that you can change, like your attitude, your mental space, your fueling, etc...

4) Have fun! At times I put too much pressure on myself and forget this crucial component of running. We have the opportunity to be on the trails and in nature and to do what we are so passionate about, so why not have a good time?

With less than 3 weeks until States (gasp!), these are lessons that I hope will carry me to the finish. #seeyouinsquaw

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