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Monday, December 11, 2017

Deception Pass 50K

Friday we headed up to Oak Harbor, Washington for the Deception Pass 50K.  I was a very late entrant to the race and am very thankful that the crew at Rainshadow Running let me run the race!

This fall I strained my hip flexor which was a very similar injury to this spring.  This was very frustrating, but the last few weeks I was feeling pretty good wanted to run a race.  Partly I wanted to race, partly I longed for the awesome community surrounding ultra running.  So with about 4 weeks of healthy running I toed the start-line Saturday with minimal expectations.

The race started out on a gently rolling paved road as we quickly spread out.  Once we turned onto the trail about 1 mile in I was running in second place a few seconds behind Jesse Lang.  The short trail descent took us back by the start where I saw my parents and all the other folks who were still hanging out.

The trail became a bit more technical as we made our way along the water and up to the Deception Pass Bridge.  Jesse would pull a few seconds ahead on the ups and I would come back on the downhills.

We crossed the bridge and continued the pattern on some steeper trails as we weaved around the peninsulas.  There was very little rhythm to the running as we would take off on a minute long uphill, drop down the same distance, and continue on some slightly rolling trails before the next short hill.

The first 7 or 8 miles consists of a few short lollipop loops so we soon started to hit two way traffic.  Two way traffic definitely slowed things down, but fortunately the sections were relatively short and passing was usually easy.  Plus, all the runners were doing there best to avoid each other....I only ran into one person!  Haha, but seriously it was a bit unlucky.  We both moved to the same side to get out of each other's way.

With the the coastline section behind us, Jesse and I took off up the first sustained climb of the day.  I lead for the first part of the climb before he pulled away at the top.  It took me a little bit to catch up, but soon I reeled him in on the downhill.

We cruised along some rolling trails, crossed the Deception Pass Bridge, and then to a couple more climbs.  Jesse got away from me pretty quickly on the first climb.  He had been gaining on the short climbs all day, but when I hit the switchbacked descent he was completely out of sight which was quite demoralizing.  He had really pulled away at that point.

After that downhill I hit a steeper ascent which was about twice as long as the first one.  I started running the climb, but as the trail grew steeper I almost switched to a hike.  Then I realized, its just 50K.  While running this in a hundred miler would be silly, this race was going to take 1/4 as long.  I pushed hard up the whole hill and by the top had gained just a little ground on Jesse.  I saw him disappear over the top on the hill probably about 20 seconds ahead of me.

I ran the downhill fast and caught up with him as we hit the bottom of the descent.  From there the trail pops out on a mile long section of paved road.  I was running slightly behind Jesse at a relatively comfortable pace, when I decided to overtake him.

I realized that outside of a few hard uphills I was running at a fairly comfortable pace all day.  I started to pick up the pace and soon pulled into the lead.  I wasn't trying to make a definitive pass, but was able to slowly pull away.

I came to Cornet aid station at mile 14 with perhaps a 10 seconds lead.  Thanks to my excellent crew, I probably left with 20 seconds in the bank.

The road leaving Cornet quickly gave way to some smooth rolling trails.  I pushed a bit on all the ups, but kept running strong on the down and flats.  Earlier we were backing off once we crested the climbs, but now that I was alone I fell into my own rhythm.

After a couple miles of smooth trail, I made a hard right onto a steep climb.  James Varner was at the junction to point me in the right direction.  He said I was ahead on course record pace which was nice to hear, but I didn't fully trust that.  I wanted to get back to Cornet and work through the number in my head to see if it would all add up.

The steep climb was a straightaway, so atop the climb I looked back to see if anyone was coming form behind.  Not a soul.  That meant I had at least a 1 minute lead.  A quick down then some rolling trails which felt a bit slow.  The trail was level, but with enough undulations and turns that I wasn't moving as quick as earlier.

Soon the course turned off on another trail which quickly made a steep climb up to a logging road.  After just a few minutes on the logging road, I made a hard right onto some a nice trail.  Looking back up the road, I knew I still had at least 30 seconds, but was optimistic it was a bit more.

The trails rolled along, slowly losing elevation as I made my way back to Cornet aid station.  I felt like I had a slight side stitch, so I backed of the pace ever so slightly as I continued down to the aid station.  I wasn't all that concerned.  I've had a couple side stitches before and for me they are worst on the downhills, but OK once I start climbing again.  I figured once I reached the aid station I'd have 3-4 miles to things sorted out before I made a push to the finish.

I popped out on the paved road and ran the 1/4 mile into Cornet aid station.  I made a quick water bottle exchange with my parents and turned around to head back up the road and onto loop two.  Checking my watch as I left the aid station I figured that I had a 1:50 lead on Jesse Lang.

I was happy with that, especially since I was still feeling pretty darn good.  I pushed through the gentle rollers feeling strong.  The stitch in my side was still there, but wasn't much of an issue.  Still, I wanted to it go away so I could put the pedal to the metal and finish the race fast.  At the aid station I figured I was on pace to break 3:50, so that gave me a good target to shoot for.

I hit the hard right, and began the short steep climb that followed.  My legs didn't feel quite as fresh as loop 1, but I still had no problem running the climb.  I looked back to make sure I still had at least a 1 minute lead.  Yep.

I ran down the backside of the hill, passing a couple runners who were on their first loop.  Soon I turned onto the twisting turning trail and passed another runner.  I felt good and when I left the twisting trail and turned on to the steep climb to the road.  I made sure to run hard the whole way.  No point saving anything now.

I hit logging road and started to pick up the pace, but by the time I left the logging road, my side stitch was a bit worse.  Uh oh, it didn't go away on the ups and now it was worse that last loop.

So I resigned myself to running as quickly as I could while maintaining smooth easy breathing to try and rid myself of the stitch.  I was hoping to run hard through this section, especially since I calculated I will still on 3:50 pace leaving the logging road.

The trails rolled along and I made good time for the first half of the descent to Cornet.  Then things started getting quite a bit worse, my breathing was becoming pretty ragged and I was started to have a hard time sucking down enough air to keep going.  When I get a side stitch, I can't take a full breath, and as time goes on I'm forced to take progressively smaller breaths.

Knowing that trend, I realized this was really bad.  I might have to jog it in.  3:50, the course record, winning, those might all pass me by, and I wouldn't be able to do a thing about it.

About a half mile before Cornet aid station, Jesse caught up.  We ran side by side for a little as the trail was wide, then I tried to hang with him for a bit as I let him pass.  Nope, I needed to be able to get a full breath.  I could barely wheeze my way along so I stopped to walk.

I hoped 20-30 seconds of walking while taking deep breaths would be enough to get my wind back.  I felt that I had plenty of gas left in the tank to catch up and retake the lead, but I needed to be able to run!

No luck.  I managed to run into Cornet aid station probably 30 seconds behind Jesse.  The road section allowed me to see if he was pulling away or not.  I felt crappy, but as best as I could tell, I was hanging with him.

Still, something needed to change for me to make up ground and as my side stitch got worse, I stopped to walk.  20-30 seconds.  I massaged my left diaphragm.  Back to running.

I felt a little better, but soon was back to the painful reality that nothing had improved.  Soon my breathing became shorter and shorter.  I timed a section on the road and saw I was now over a minute behind.  Crap.

Another walk break, then back to running to the end of the road.  Perhaps the hill would help.  One last trail uphill to get things straightened out.  I was shuffling into the trailhead, but decided to try to push up the hill, hopefully things would improve.

Nope.  That was that.  I kept shuffling onward at a pace I could sustain without having to walk.  My race was done.  The hill ended soon enough and then I was on the final downhill.  I made my way down the hill and shuffled along the rolling, rocky trail along shore.  And finally into the finish chute.  I was sure happy to see that!

All in all, not quite the run I was hoping for, but I was happy none the less.  Given where I was just a few weeks ago, Saturday's run was as good as I could hope for.

While I complained a lot in this write up about not being able to run well at the end the race, that should not take anything from Jesse Lang's run.  He set the course record, he ran hard all 31 miles.  I had the lead and was on record pace with 5 miles to go, but its a 50K, not a marathon.

I got to catch up with Jesse after the race and we talked for a while.  He's a great guy as well as a great runner!  Sounds like he'll be looking for a Golden Ticket to Western States this year, so he's certainly a fast guy to watch up for.

I didn't get a chance to talk with Kathryn Drew after the race, but as top woman, she finished fourth overall and knocked 17+ minutes of the course record!  What a run!

As fun as the race itself was, hanging out afterword was probably even more fun.  Ultrarunners are such great people it was truly a blast to just hangout and talk.  I'm very thankful to be part of such a great community.


Here's what I used on race day:

Clothes:
TNF Better Than Naked 3.5" shorts
TNF Better Than Naked shirt
TNF ETIP gloves
Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-crew socks

Fuel:
VFuel: Salted Carmel Apple, Fudge Brownie, Mountain Berry, and Cool Citrus gels

Lube: Squirrel's Nut Butter

Thursday, December 7, 2017

November in the Grand Canyon

This year Mom, Dad, and I met Jacob in Jacob Lake, AZ to go backpacking along the Bill Hall Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  After and early flight to Las Vegas and a long drive through the Arizona Strip, we were happy to get out of the car and head into the Grand Canyon.

Last year we went on the same backpacking trip, but this year was a bit different.  Last year we drove through old snow to get to the rim, this year was probably the hottest weather we've had in the Canyon around Thanksgiving.  This year, Jacob was the only one in Flagstaff, so three of us were excited to see him.  And this year, we started into the Canyon on Thanksgiving.  We usually spend Thanksgiving below the rim, but this year Thanksgiving was on Mom's birthday which made it extra special!

We spent 3 night below the rim this year as we hiked the Thunder River/Deer Creek loop.  The lollipop loop drops off the North Rim and splits about 5 miles in.  We spent the first night on the Esplanade before the junction.  We were planning to go a bit further, but ran out of time because of our late start and the approaching darkness.

After the junction the trail turns down the Thunder River drainage to the Colorado River.  The trail follows the Colorado River for about 5 miles taking before arriving at the Deer Creek drainage.  We spend our second night here.

After Deer Creek the trail climbs up out of the Deer Creek drainage before rejoining the main Bill Hall trail.  Then the trail climbs back up the Esplanade and continues out of the canyon.  We spent our third night on the Esplanade not far from we're we camped on day 1.

The loop is around 30 miles, but over rough terrain.  With short winter days and a few side trips, we ended up hiking for nearly all of the daylight hours.

Starting into the Canyon on a sunny afternoon

A bit of smoky haze over the Canyon

Mom hiking down to the Esplanade

Almost down to the Esplanade

Mom and Dad traversing some cool slick rock

All the slick rock makes me think of Moab



Jacob in the dying light

Sometime the slick rock just changes color


Looking back up the second day's first descent


Looking down the Thunder River drainage

Mom on the trail, far below

Thunder River coming right out of the wall


Truly an oasis in the desert



The Colorado



Mom starting the walk along the river

Dad and Jacob


We didn't see anybody from about here out.  Yup, that's well over 1.5 days with no one but ourselves



Jacob on the climb into Deer Creek


Hiking along the river doesn't necessarily mean flat


Deer Creek



A dry lakebed above Deer Creek.  This was really cool

At the lake



Deer Creek Canyon, we headed down this to get to the Colorado.  There's a trail the whole way.


Almost to the River


Deer Creek Falls

You may be able to spot a fish here....or it might just look like water.  I can't see the fish in the picture, but there were few swimming around shortly before Deer Creek met the Colorado




Climbing back up from the river

Climbing with packs, always more fun

Steep climbing with packs, even more fun


Looking back toward Deer Creek drainage

Well, this hill was a little slower going up that coming down


Dad's last view of the Colorado


Back to the slick rock


Another sunset...pretty cool for us Oregonians


Heavy clouds for AZ, we call this sunny back home


Well, it was another great trip in the canyon.  The rugged beauty of the Southwest is truly amazing.  I love the wet Pacific Northwest, but there's nothing like a trip the Grand Canyon in November.  In my opinion its the best time to go.  Dry weather and moderate temperatures in the canyon.

And sorry its taken me a while to get these photos up.  When we got back to Oregon after our Thanksgiving trip, I had these pesky things called finals to deal with.  You have to study for them and it takes an amazing amount of your time.  Fortunately I finished up my three finals yesterday so now I have a few weeks off.