That was a tough one! My first Dirty 30 (50K) trail race is in the books. What a day it was: beautiful weather, perfect trail conditions, great competition, and a massive supporting cast of race volunteers, parents & friends spectating, and tons of familiar faces stepping up to the grueling challenge of both the 50K and 12-mile races.
At the start I felt fluid and confident. Through the first 12 miles, I was leap frogging with some stellar runner dudes (Cody Lind & Brent Kocis), conserving my strength on the uphills and trying to gain some ground on the downhills. It was a rolling course with a mix between forested single track criss-crossing over a stream and exposed fire roads.
The kicker for me came on the Bear Trail between Aid Stations 2 and 3. This section of trail included two rocky climbs over a span of three miles followed by a challenging 2-miles of technical descending. By the time I made it to AS 3 (mile 17), I was fatigued and not enthused by the amount of climbing still to be had.
Of the 7,500 feet of climbing covered in the 31.5 mile race course, I power hiked about 85% of the uphill sections. At first it was a means to conserve energy, however in the second half of the race, the deferral to hiking was simply to keep myself moving when I did not feel up to it. This was the sort of malaise that ruled my day. I was never quite “ON,” but then again I was pleased with my overall result.
Climbing To-Do’s: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I need to do calf raises to prepare for hill climbing. My body geometry… I dunno… size 13 feet & long femurs, lends to increased strain on my calves. After a while they started to feel like jello, like I’d used up all their strength. I mentioned my desires to utilize different training “stimuli” in preparation for this race, attacking an inclined treadmill and exercising a daily calf raise and jump rope regimen. Well that never happened. I never quite got back into training mode post Wings For Life World Run. It is clear though that despite avoiding my weak point training, I’m still running pretty darn well. It feels good to know where I can focus my attention to seek bigger gains in running efficiency.
FIRSTS: I experienced a few racing “firsts” including a painfully tight mid-section, burning eyes, and, oh yes, the storied mid-race vomit. Running and racing should be a learning experience, so it’s good to gain lessons from The Trail, be humbled by The Trail, and in the end be completely satisfied and revved up for another shot against The Trail.
- Stitch: All I can think is that I neglected rolling out my mid-section with the lacrosse ball during my day-before-race stretching session. I usually lay flat on the floor and gently maneuver the ball from my belly button and around to loosen up the psoas and accompanying abdominal and oblique muscles. Basically, whenever I was climbing, I felt like I was flexing my abs like Brogan in a yearbook photo.
- Sweaty vision: There were a few minutes of utter discomfort as my forehead sweat leaked into my eyes. The burning was awful as I tried blinking, shutting, & rubbing my eyes. I rendered myself useless, though continued walking uphill, as I struggled to subside the stinging pain.
- Puke & Rally: More on my vomit experience in the Mixing segment below.
While the negatives are flipped into learning experiences, it is the positives that continue to invigorate and excite me toward future trail running and trail racing.
- I enjoyed many pleasantries on the race course. There is nothing I enjoy more than passing the early morning miles with energetic “Good Mornings” to the course marshals, aid station volunteers, and ambitious spectators.
- Rocky Mountain Runners (RMR) at Aid Station 4: You guys rock! I’ve written time and again in race recaps, that most of my anxiety is not in my personal performance on race day, but rather toward the out-of -my-control elements, like aid station fill-ups. The RMR squad at AS 4 grabbed my empty bottle 100 feet from the AS tent so that I could dig in to the AS treats. They were so quick with my bottle, that I barely came to a stop, grabbed a gel, and too off towards the final climb of the day up Windy Peak.
- The Finish Line. Always. Humbling.
Nutrition: Nothing changed nutritionally in this race, well, except for losing my lunch in mile 29. I’d taken a Honey Stinger gel every half hour. In previous events I’ve taken them every 20-minutes, though with a calorie dense Tailwind in my hand-held bottle, and a general feeling of adaptation to needing fewer carbs during runs, I trusted my fueling plan. It worked out that every half hour, I found myself at the base of yet another climb, so it was good to get the energy boost before the uphill.
I filled my bottle with Tailwind at every aid station. I thought I’d be able to skip the first aid 5 miles in and make it another 7 miles on a single bottle, but as I arrived to AS 1 at Forgotten Valley, I topped off my bottle, not wanting to risk running out of fluids at any point in the race. The sun came up shortly after the 7AM race start and quickly warmed the canyon. It was hot all day, but there was relief in the shaded single track trail and a light breeze that seemed to appear when I needed it the most.
Peaking: I’d done my one training run up Windy Peak, so thankfully I knew what to expect from miles 24-32. Racers embark on a relentless 2-mile, 1,000 vertical feet climb to the summit of Windy Peak. With about a quarter mile to go to the turnaround point, the lead guys flew by me with a rejuvenated spiritual on the downhill. I was relieved to finally reach the summit, grateful that the trail would be “mostly” downhill for the final 4 miles. It wasn’t an easy downhill and with the fatigue in my calves it took extreme concentration to stay upright. I passed a handful of November Project peops who were in the midst of the 12-mile race. Despite my downhill trajectory, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm as all attention was paid to the rocky trail beneath my feet.
Mixing: I made it to mile 29.5 aid station with yet another empty water bottle. With just 2.5 miles to the finish many racers skip by this station, not me! After 8 gels and 5 bottles of Tailwind, there was nothing I wanted more than plain, cold water. I made it about another quarter mile before my stomach rejected my race day nutrition, in its entirety!
With my stomach, full of liquids and gels, sloshed up and down on the speedy downhill, I came to a complete stop and had 4 heaves of highlighter-colored, liquid vomit. I was stunned afterward, not knowing how to react. With 2 miles to go, I considered just walking to the finish. I took a few steps forward and washed my mouth out with the refreshing Rocky Mountain water in my bottle. After a bit more movement, my systems were in check and I continued running, as if nothing had happened. It was a relief that this happened so late in the race, because I wasn’t worried about needing to replace those calories before the finish. No more gels!
Spent: In all I had a pretty damn good race, despite not feeling “great” past mile 12. Given the malaise and lethargy felt most of the day, I am stoked to have finished in the top 5, right around 5-hours, and just 12-minutes shy of 1st place. This is by far the closest contended 50K that I’ve competed in, with such a tight group up front.
I find myself at a cross roads now in my running. As much as I love trail running for the vistas, the challenge, and the escapism, I cultivate a comparable energy from road running and it’s consistency, efficiency, and transcendent mental state.
Comparing my race efforts between Wings for Life and the Dirty 30 is night and day. Racing WFL was wayyyy easier than Dirty 30. However, the preparation and focus on each race was vastly different. Three months of specific preparation for WFL versus three weeks of attempted transformation into a trail animal. It just doesn’t compare.
I’ve got fitness, health, and a drive to continue to improve.
Endurance Changes Times,