I had wanted to write this race report sooner, but I have to admit that I lost a bit of my mojo. Six days after the race I rolled my ankle pretty hard, and so I went from riding the high of my best raced ultra, to feeling a bit like a lame duck.
|Straight from Bag End - I did this AFTER the race on a training run|
DV50K was undoubtedly the strongest I have felt in an ultra, and my most satisfying racing win, particularly because I was so diligent in my buildup. I wrote a post last week summarizing my training and lead up to the race. You can find it here.
This report gets a
bit lot lengthy, but as I said, this
was a really big victory for me. I finally
got an ultra right. It was the first time, and so I want to give this milestone
in my running career the attention it deserves.
As to why my previous ultras have not quite hit the mark.
Kneeknacker 2011 – My first ultra; A fantastic experience but plagued by cramps and immaturity. 19th Place.
Frosty Mountain 2011 – DNF @ 30k; Apparently racing the Mt Robson Marathon 7 days earlier was a dumb idea.
Squamish 50M 2012 – My first 50 miler. All things considered, not bad, and again a great experience. After holding 4th place, I blew up hard around 65-70k where I was passed by Ellie Greenwood. I started cramping before 30k into this race! Finished in 6th.
Whistler 50M 2012 – I got the win but it wasn’t pretty. I had placed 8th at the Victoria Marathon 13 days earlier, and apparently I wasn’t as recovered as I thought. I went out at well under 6 hour pace and blew up hard (6:23 finish!). And cramped bad. A week after I had a horrible knee injury that took me completely out of running for months.
Kneeknacker 2013 – Improved my 2011 time by almost 30 minutes, but again cramped wretchedly around the ¾ mark and struggled to finish. I knew I was undertrained, and it showed. But it was Kneeknacer (the greatest ultra in Canada!! So I had to give it a go since the lottery gods smiled.
Meet Your Maker 2013 – DNF @ 50k; I actually felt fit and ready to roll for this race, but I had picked up Giardia drinking untreated water in Jasper weeks earlier, and it really messed up my race bad.
Chuckanut 2014 – Finished in 21st overall… after maintain top 10 until the FLAT gravel towpath with 10k to go. I was sick for a month leading up, and even starting was dumb, but I was stubborn. CRAMPED bad. Oh, and got passed by Ellie with maybe 7k to go. Again.
So you can probably see a theme here! Cramps have been the bane of my ultra running existence. I’ve always felt in my heart that I can compete at a high level, but just have never been able to put it all together.
And so starting in Sept 2014 I began training in an even more disciplined manner than ever.
Shit – 500 words and I haven’t talked about the race yet!
With a recent 1:12 half marathon under my belt, and a bundle of 15+ hour training weeks and gobs of vert and specificity in the legs, I didn’t think I was crazy to think that I might be able to both 1) challenge BC ultra badass Mike Murphy for the win and 2) possibly challenge for the Course Record of 4:00:57 set by Ed McCarthy a year earlier. I don’t think anyone else outside my ego this possible, but fuck it. I believed it.
I had recce’d the course with my good buddy Jason Wright at the end of Feb, where we hobby jogged for the most part, and then after leaving Jason around the 23k mark, I ran some good effort on the back half essentially matching CR pace for the last hour. Finished in 5:10 which included a lot of goofing off, taking in views, washroom breaks etc. The most important piece was checking out the highly technical Diez Vista downhill ridge. Based on that training run, I worked on a lot of specific downhill technical running for the following weeks leading up to the race, as I knew I had to have my quads prepped for a pounding, and still able to roll some fast miles for the rest of the run.
|Running 50K in BC in February - and I ended with dry feet! wtf|
Planning & Race Strategy
I knew if I was going to beat Mike, I had to be smart about it, really smart. Mike Murphy is possibly the grittiest toughest guy I have had the pleasure of meeting. Just check out his race reports on his blog, particularly his recent experience at the Coastal Challenge!
I felt like to beat Mike, I had to race a smarter race. For all that Mike has in grit, I think to his own admission in previous race reports, his stubbornness has led him astray in the past. I wondered how I might possibly use this to my advantage.
I also knew that Mike had run the fastest final split ever on the Kneeknacker course last year when he bested his own master’s record, and nearly set a new overall course record there. I knew he is fearless on the downs, and so the section of the DV course that worried me most was the long very technical downhill section of the Diez Vista ridge. Hence the hard work I did in training to bring my skills up. I am not a bad downhill runner, but it is not my strength either. Footspeed and uphills tend to be where I like to excel.
Ed McCarthy had been generous enough to share his Garmin file from his course record, and so I had done the work analysing a bunch of split times. I assumed Mike would want to be getting after that record too, and so I wanted some benchmarks to watch for during the race.
I went back and forth a lot in the weeks leading up to the race, but I basically had two ideas on race strategy.
Option 1 – Use my climbing legs right from the get go, and try to put a bit of time on Mike leading to the high point on the course. There were a couple responses I predicted; Mike might try to hang with me, which was fine with me, because I figured the effort he would need to do so might create a deficit that could bite him later in the race. Or, he would let me go, which would give me a bit of a buffer – my idea being that I expected him to catch back up on the DV ridge where he would excel. Then we would hit AS2, and with him having had to work to catch me, I would be ready to use my leg speed on the flats to try and run away from him.
Option 2 – Let Mike lead the race. Hang on his shoulder and let him set the pace. I figured he would be working harder than me on the ups, and so I figured when we hit the downhill DV ridge, I would just do my best not to let him get too much of a gap on me. Under either option, I knew it was critical for me not to cook my legs on the ridge lest my leg speed be obviated later in the race. I would be willing to let him get a few minutes on me here. This is the plan I settled on.
Under either option, I also wanted to go after the course record, and assumed Mike would as well. So my goals in order of importance were:
- Course Record
I knew it would take the greatest effort of my racing career, perfect execution, and a
bit lot of luck. And even then my goals
might have been a bit unrealistic. But I felt hungry, and more prepared from
training than I ever have. I felt it was possible.
CHANGE OF PLANS – A few days out from the race we got the news. The course had to be modified due to rain. About 3km and another few hundred meters of vert would be added. This meant that the course record was off the table. This simplified tactics somewhat – race for the win, not for time. I also was hoping to run a negative split, as this would be good training for the 2015 Trail Running World Championships I am attending in May. That race is 85k with ± 5,300m vert!
The pace started easy. I jogged along behind/beside Mike as planned. The pace was so easy that I found it hard to stay behind Mike, and I wondered what was going on. It felt like we must be too slow to be hitting course record splits. But I stuck to the plan. God knows I’ve started WAY too many races too fast, so I figured a slow start just meant more in the tank for later.
As soon as we started climbing, I knew something wasn’t right with Mike. He had a tough go in Costa Rica, and I wondered if maybe he was still suffering the lingering effects (it turned out to be Asthma from allergies).
As we climbed up the hydro lines, there were sections where Mike was running, and I was casually hiking along behind him. I pretty much knew at that point that the race was probably mine for the taking, but I also knew that Mike is not someone to underestimate. So I continued to stick to the plan.
We took a left under the hydro lines, and I checked my watch. We were already 2 mins off CR pace, and only 20 mins into the race! We continued along towards AS1 and even though I knew I could have easily upped my pace, I stuck with the plan. Mike slipped on a wet rock face, and for the first time I pulled ahead slightly. I put a very small surge here (like for 10 seconds) just to let him know I had lots more. He probably knew this, but I wanted to try and further shake his confidence a bit. Strategy.
By the time we hit AS1, I had maybe 30 seconds, and continued to keep my effort light. There was a lot of race still ahead of us. I soon hit the high point on course, and knew the next downhill technical section would be critical. I completely expected Mike to catch back up here, and planned to just try and hang out with him until AS2.
So I kept my effort honest on this section, but I wasn’t killing myself either. Again, wanting to save more for later in the race. Once I hit the open road part on the way to AS2 I kept looking back, expecting to see Mike but it didn’t happen. I passed through AS2 uneventfully, and as I continued, I waited to hear the cheers as he hit the AS, but it never happened. So I figured I must have at least a minute or two. This pleased me, as my effort was still very controlled and I was feeling good.
I just kept my effort steady. Not crazy, but not slacking, and I came into AS3 feeling good. As I approached the aid I was overcome with emotion – my wife and kids had come out to support me, and the combination of seeing them for the first time, and leading the race had me welling up a bit! But there was work to do, so with some quick hellos I kept on. Jason let me know that I had had 2:24 on Mike at AS2.
Continuing the theme of honest effort, I worked my way to the turnaround at the end of the lake, and then started the return to AS4. AS4 was where I planned to really turn up the heat, and just hammer as hard as possible to the finish. Having kept my run controlled, I was perfectly set up for this.
As I hit AS4, Jason told me that I had increased my lead to 3:35 at AS3 – but much more critically, Mike had dropped at AS3 due to his asthma, and I had 15 minutes on the next runner. I was REALLY bummed for Mike. But the race was basically mine, all I had to do was not screw it up. Knowing my proclivity to cramping, I still didn’t want to take anything for granted!
I made a really big tactical decision here. You see, with the World Champs in France just 7 weeks after DV, it made the timing of DV a bit awkward. I would need to recover a week or two after the race, and that wouldn’t leave me much time for a last bit of peak training for France before starting the taper. With the win essentially secured, I decided to dial the effort right back, and just run in comfortably for the win. I figured by dialing the effort back, my recovery would be much quicker, and I could squeeze in more training for France.
And that is what I did. After the turnaround at AS5, when I finally saw the “chase pack”, I knew I was up by closer to 30 minutes, and was secured to win. After AS6, I actually walked most of the last climb, just because I could. It was a nice break, and let me reflect on the race. At the top of the climb, I pushed the effort back up a little to prove to myself how much more was in the tank, and I ran the last 20 minutes only about 1 minute of CR pace.
The last km or so along the lake was very emotional. I was very pleased with how my race had gone. This was my first ultra where I didn’t have cramping troubles, and also one of the first times where I feel I ran a really smart race. And of course winning is pretty cool too.
I truly was bummed out when I heard Mike had dropped. I had been relishing the opportunity to push myself to challenge a runner of his calibre, and to go to that dark scary pain hole.
But at the same time, in terms of my upcoming race in France, the easier effort was perfect. In fact, just to evidence that, this is what my 7 days of training looked like following the race (up until the Friday when I ruined my ankle that is!). I am sure it would have looked very different if Mike and I had beat each other senseless to the end.
|My training log from the 7 days that *started* with the DV50K|
Below is an analysis of my splits compared to Ed’s course record from 2014.
As I said, the first two splits were slow, as I stuck to my plan of just following Mike and letting him set the pace. I was REALLY pleased to see how close to CR I was from AS1 to AS2, especially considering that I was not at top effort on this section.
It is impossible to compare my split to AS3 due to the course change. And then the remaining splits as I said reflect the fact that I shut down my effort after learning that Mike dropped.
Things that were awesome
- Executed strategy to a T
- Almost matched CR on the DV ridge despite restrained effort
- Nutrition went great
- DIDN’T CRAMP
- Was strong throughout the race
- Did a huge training week after the race
- Got to meet trail friends from the lower mainland running scene
- EVERYTHING about the race organization and volunteers; AWESOME!
Things that were sub-optimal
- REALLY bummed that Mike had to drop. We will meet again though at Kneeknacker and Squamish 50 this summer. I am sure he will be wanting to pick me apart!
- I was hoping for this to be a “statement” race, to get some respect of the big dogs in the BC ultra running scene by at least keeping up with (if not beating) Mike when he was having a good day. Ultimately my finish time of 4:37 isn’t very noteworthy, even with the lengthened course. Still chances for me to do that this summer!
- Wrecking my ankle 6 days later!
Nutrition and Technicals
I used the new Salomon race vest and LOVED it. It is insanely light weight and comfortable. I wore Inov-8 X-Talon 212. I had 1 emergency gel in the pack, that I had no plans of using. I hope to never use gels again.
I tried a new nutrition strategy (again more for a separate blog post). The short of it is this; Maple Syrup and Salt mixed into my water. My crew (family, and Jason) just gave me a bottle at each aid station. The mix resulted in about 250 calories per 500ml soft flask. I set a timer on my watch to drink every 10 minutes to try and avoid the typical boost/crash of eating gels. I planned to drain 4 bottles over the course of the race, for a total of about 1,000 calories. But by mid race, I was stopping to pee every 20-30 mins, so I reduced the intake a bit. I would estimate over the course of the race I drank 1,300 mls which had about 700 calories.
Thanks for reading!