My goal for El Scorcho was simply to have a good solid training run. A run under race conditions that was hot, humid and through the night…all conditions I will face at Lean Horse 32 days from today. I knew the weather conditions I was looking for would be there and the race started at 12:01 so running through the night was not going to be a problem. What I couldn’t decide upon is how to approach the race to get the most out of it as a training run.
On the one hand I considered just running continuously until I finished or couldn’t run any more. It is said that you shouldn’t plan on doing much more running during an ultra than you have been able to run continuously during training. I don’t know exactly how true that is because I know you can squeeze a lot of extra miles of running into your race if you use a run/walk strategy and race smart but there is a certain logic to the idea with regard to straight up leg strength building. On the other hand I have an iron-distance triathlon 11 days from now and while I’m not looking for a PR at that race I am also not looking for a 16 hour suffer fest. This caused me to think that maybe I should exactly mimic my Lean Horse race pace and plan. This approach simply would not satisfy my competitive nature and I knew it. I have slogged through several training runs at that pace using that strategy and it is not something that will lead to a decent 50K time.
What to do?
The GeekGrl and I left Albuquerque on Friday after I got off work and we drove as far as Lubbock, TX and stayed in our favorite hotel in the entire world. This is a story in itself because there is absolutely nothing special about the customer service, they are friendly and they allow you to stay the night as long as you are paying. The interior of the hotel, as far as I can tell, is comprised of the materials and architectural ideas of the most hard core 1970’s ideals that any Disco dancing, bell bottom wearing, silk shirt having Trans AM driving guy could ever hope for but the room as HUGE…HUGE I tell you. I honestly believe they are twice the size of today’s hotel rooms and they all come with a large sitting area. Anyway, if you ever come and race the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon you must stay here…oh, and you must race the BSLT 70.3, it’s a classic.
Anyway, the GeekGrl and I were then able to roll into Ft. Worth early afternoon on Saturday and we spent the remainder of the day napping and just laying around quietly in our dark and cool hotel room. We woke at 10:00 p.m. and headed to the race site at Trinity Park. We got our timing chips and mingled and got to meet up with a bunch of other Marathon Maniacs and we took a group photo.
We all lined up for the start and the RD said “GO!” and we were off and I still had no plan for how to run the race. We took off and it seemed like a pretty fast pace for a 50K and people were puling away from me but I figured there were far more people behind me and these were just the leaders and a few inexperienced runners that were surging ahead. I ran about a mile and checked my pace and it was about 9:30 min/mile, way too fast so I started easing back and more people passed. We hit our first out and back section where the course folded over on itself and much to my surprise there was hardly anyone behind me. “Geeze people, this isn’t a frickin’ 10K!” I thought. I knew that I was either going to be passing a lot of people late in the race or only really fast people enter night runs.
The El Scorcho is a 50K race that takes place on a 5K loop so you just go round and round for 10 laps. It was also the kind of tedium I was looking for in a race and surprisingly I didn’t get bored at all. When I hit the mid point aid station at lap two I figured it was about time to take a gel and so I decided that every other lap would be a gel lap, which helped to break the run into larged but manageable chunks. Basically I had he run broken down into small bits per lap, I had five distinct sections to run, then it was broken down by lap and then by gel lap. This all made it very easy to think about what I needed to do next and before I knew it I was finishing up lap four and heading into lap five and best of all I had a race strategy.
I decided that I would run continuously to the end of lap seven, so through about mile 22, and monitor the deterioration of my pace, which I knew would happen because I had already decided that I was going to keep my HR in the upper 140’s pretty much the entire race whereas in a marathon I will allow my HR to head upward in order to hold my pace. Once I finished lap seven I was going to start in with the un/walk strategy and monitor how long it took me to recover and start running well again. I figured it would take an easy lap eight and nine and then I would be ready to get a strong final lap. I ultimately chose this strategy because I have come to believe that it is critical to become confident in the fact that you can save yourself when your race begins to come apart. I think that too many people enter a downward spiral when things start to go south and they end up pushing against whatever it is that is going wrong, fighting the pain, fighting the fatigue, the dizziness, nausea whatever and that just compounds problems.
So, with my plan in mind I ran on though lap 5 then 6 and lap seven. It was impossible to tell how I was doing relative to others because there were the small laps and the course was also full of people running a 25K at the same time. I would pass people, people would pass me and the night wore on. My pace continued to slow but I held steady on my HR. By the end of lap seven my legs were feeling fatigued and it felt like I was flying at an 11 minute pace. You can really see the slowing in my mile splits.
After completing lap seven I immediately went into a walk/run and really just took that by feel because the course seemed so flat but I knew it had some gentle roll in it but only one identifiable “hill” that was little more than a big speed bump. Much to my surprise my legs started coming back pretty quickly and I was running well between my walk breaks even toward the end of lap 8. I was starting to get excited about lap 10 when I would finally be able to look around and see who I would get to be racing against for the final stretch.
I entered lap 10 and started looking for people. I had been passing a lot of people beginning in lap 8 and by that time all the 25kers were off the course. I spotted one person after another and thought they would be a good target but I passed one after another and they were toasted so I pressed onward looking for someone to race. Finally I spied one guy who was about 200 yards ahead of me and we had about a mile and a half to go. I recognized this guy as someone who I had gone back and forth with a bit and he looked like a pretty strong runner. I began working on closing the gap and was gaining ground when I realized that there may well be others behind me who were also looking to take a few people out before the end of the race so I took a quick glance back and sure enough there were two, no three guys behind me. One guy had a dim red light and two others were like me, in stealth mode, no running lights so we could not be seen in the shadows. I began to pick up the pace and quickly passed they guy I had my sights on but now I was running from the shadowy figures behind me. I ran on a bit after passing the guy and then took a walk break at a quick pace. I thought this would be my last walk and would provide me with the strength necessary for a fight at the finish if it became necessary. Almost as soon as I started walking one of the guys from behind passed me but I just sucked it up and continued walking to the point on the course where I told myself I would begin running for the home stretch.
I hit that final turn where I decided to run estimating that I had almost exactly one mile to go. The guy who had passed me was maybe 50 yards ahead. I began running and began building speed. No more looking back, only forward. I passed the guy and pressed on but then I kept having this terrible paranoia that he, or someone, was pressing right at my back getting ready for a last minute sprint. I started pushing the pace harder but the feeling didn’t leave me and I could swear that I heard footsteps right at my back. This was B.S., I needed someone to chase. I finally saw someone maybe two or three hundred yards ahead of me and there was only a half mile or so left so I broke into a full on sprint. My legs were burning but it felt so much better to be on the chase than to suffer through the paranoia of having someone at my back. If someone was going to catch me they were going to work their guts out to do so.
Maybe 20 yards from the finish I caught full view of the guy I had started to chase and he was obviously hurting. I knew I could close the gap just in time if I could find just a little more speed so I dug in and squeezed out the past of what I had. I blew past the buy maybe 5 yards before the finish. It was an ample finish line so it’s not like I had to shoulder him out of the way. Turns out he was just heading into his 10th lap so still had 3.1 miles to go. It also turns out that there was nobody behind me for maybe 200 or more yards, I had left my imagined foes well behind.
At the end of the race I felt fantastic, still had lots of strength and could have gone much further even at the pace I had been holding the past 6 or so miles. While I do not have official results as yet my Garmin got my finish time as 5:41:53 for 30.83 miles. I’m not sure if the course was actually short or if Garmin missed some distance when I was running under bridges but the time is a PR none the less.
Now it’s on to Vineman.