There is one thing about the first race of the season - it will usually be a surprise. It could be a surprise that you just aren't in the shape you though you were, and that Xmas fat is still dragging you down -or- it cold be a surprise that you are in better shape than you thought you were. Despite thinking that I was in the first category, my experience at Dirty Duo seemed to indicate that I was actually in the latter. That doesn't mean to say that there weren't a couple of moments out there on the trail where I was thinking those "I suck" thoughts (yah, you know the ones) but they were pretty infrequent and blessedly brief.
My race went well overall, and I was very pleased with the result. I knew I wasn't going to be in contention for any top places - I calculated that after six weeks of being sick at the beginning of the year, I only logged about 200km of training runs in the past three weeks of being healthy again prior to the race. Big whoop. All I can say is, thank
I headed out easyish, paying no attention to the speedsters fleeing into the distance. I had a chance to chat to the ever-cheery Ellie Greenwood from Team Montrail Canada until we hit the first bit of climb, and then I watched her rapidly scoot away still chatting to a now absent me (Ellie would "chick" all of the field but one, finishing second overall in a tight race with third-placed NUUN teammate Jen Segger-Gigg. Do ultra-girls rule or what?) After that quick reinforcement that I wasn't going to be keeping pace with anyone, I calmed down and settled into my own pace. There was the occasional steep section over the first 6km or so, and I really had to hold back and not push, knowing there were many more hills and kilometres left to go. I found that I started a back-and forth with "yellow hat", a guy who was strong on the hills and would pass me on the ups, but was weak on the downhills where I would scoot by him again.
The Dirty Duo proved to be a bit of a coming-out party for a lot of local ultrarunners, or maybe more accurately, a wake-up from hibernation. There's also a bit of casual evaluation of who has been training in the off-season and who has been relying on base (ahem). But really, it is a great opportunity to reconnect with friends you haven't seen since that 50k last fall: how are things going, what's new, what races are you shooting for this year, etc, etc.
And so it was that I came up alongside Magnus and had a chance to catch up with him as we went through a few kilometres together. I like Magnus, we first met going head-to-head through an entire 50k back in '04 vying for 5th place overall (he took me by two minutes on the last downhill). I haven't seen him for while, but apparently three new kids will keep a guy busy. Magnus and yellow-hat pulled ahead of me on a longer climb, but I passed Magnus once we levelled out.
I filled up with nuun and grabbed a gel at the aid station, and started the main grunt up Old Buck to the high point of the course. I finally felt warmed up by now, and churned in my diesel style up the slope. Yellow-hat wasn't too far ahead, I dropped Magnus, and started catching up to Clarence, another guy I hadn't seen for a while. It ended up that Clarence and I stuck together for another 8km or so until the race mid-point. I didn't see him much last year, so it was great to see what was going on with him. He was doing the actual Duo, and thus was on just one 25km run loop, following up with a mtn bike loop after that. Still, for a guy who said he wasn't in shape, he was cruising well, and he pushed me to keep up to him once we capped out and started the rocking downhill of Ned's Atomic Dustbin, a wild downhill mtn bike trail with lots of ledges, ramps, loose rocks and steepness. We passed yellow hat not far into the downhill, as we kept up a fast pace and hammered down. I was a bit worried about hammering too hard and not having any legs left for the second loop, but it was fun sticking with Clarence and flying downhill.
Once we reached the bottom, I capped up my nuun at the AS, and we cruised a flat bit before turning up again on the other side of the river valley. Despite dropping the dude like a rock, yellow-hat caught up to us at the top of the climb. We all came into the mid-point AS together, Clarence went left to go back to his bike, I grabbed a couple of CarbBooms and hit the road off to the left. I was feeling pretty jazzed at this point, cruising a slight downhill, slowly pulling away from yellow-hat, and apparently, going a bit too shade past my AT.
Yellow-hat caught up to me again once we started up the climb on the second loop, and we had a chance to chat a bit. I expressed my admiration for his steady pace and climbing skills, while he thought I was very smooth and flowing on the downhills. Aren't ultrarunners great? He asked if we would break five hours. I looked at my watch and figured that he would probably be OK on the same pace, but I was likely to slow and might be a tad over. He indicated I would probably catch him on the downhill, and I said it was likely we would finish together the way we had been going so far. Then he dropped me on the remaining part of the hill, and I never saw him again.
Like I said, I was apparently getting a little frisky a while back, and was feeling the deficit now. I lost my oopmph and was really flat on the little rises and climbs through the next section. Yes, I momentarily thought "dude, you suck", but it passed quickly and I slurped back another CarbBoom and some more nuun to make sure I was up on energy, fluids and electrolytes before hitting the major Old Buck climb again. It seemed to work (doesn't it always?) and by the time I hit the AS at th bottom of the climb I was feeling better again. I marched up the hill with a steady pace, through the snow at the top, and right though the aid station at the summit. After thanking the great volunteers shivering up there in the snow, I turned down Ned's for the last time and tried to rock it down once more.
I was tiring at this point, but still felt pretty steady. This was the place - about 35k - where I was thinking that my base was pulling through and that I was doing pretty darned well to not crash and burn. I really kept on a nice steady pace through the downhill and following uphill sections. Once I hit the last aid station and the turn towards home, one of the volunteers said I had 6km to go. I looked at my watch: it indicated 4:30 elapsed time on the nose. Damn it, I can do it. I can do 6km under 30 minutes, especially on a slight downhill. Another gel, some more gulps of nuun, and I was off.
The trail still held a few surprises for me, as I don't really know the area well. We did not go on a straight route back the way we had come out, but veered off after a particularly nasty climb up tall stairs into a very winding, muddy, rooty trail that - though excellent as far as a trailrunning route - was not exactly made for speed. I refused to look at my watch and instead just went as hard as I could, over logs, around trees, leaping mud puddles, avoiding off-leash dogs (!!!) and generally going anaerobic. I popped out of the trees onto road that sloped downhill. This was it - about a kilometre to go. I concentrated on leg turnover, wishing I had some speedwork under my belt, and tried to keep my form leaning slightly forward and not flailing. Through the cemetery, out onto the gravel sidewalk, and there are the parked cars ahead. Gasping, blowing spit as I breathed, I rounded the corner off the road into the finish area, crossing the line in......
4:57, and a ninth place overall thank you very much. Suh-weet. What a great way to finish a very pleasant day with friends.
I am really pleased with the way the race went and the result. It was way smoother and faster than I had anticipated, and left me feeling a lot more confident about the 100-miler I have in three weeks (ack!). It was also fantastic to see so many friends again, to share their successes, and discuss the coming year. As it turns out, most of them will be down at the Chuckanut 50k in two weeks as well, so we can all celebrate the trails again soon.
I never did see yellow-hat at the finish to congratulate him.
(thanks to David Crerar for volunteering and taking the shot of me half-way up Old Buck!)