Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9/8,9/07 The Mountains and Flat Double

I am mad at Indianapolis.

On Saturday, I ran the MidMountain Marathon in Park City, Utah. This was a very challenging trail run that, in retrospect, I had no business attempting five days after the triple. But I was there because the original race I wanted to do, the new Indy Classic Marathon, got moved three weeks before the event. That was mean (and disrespectful and stupid) of the organizers, and I lost some travel money on that deal. Plus I had to scramble to find a replacement race - and MidMountain was there. However, I did not realize in advance how hard it would be. On Sunday, I ran the Skagit Flats Marathon. Ah, back in my comfort zone.

Side by side, these two races couldn't be more different. MidMountain is a point-to-point trail marathon. It goes between the various ski resorts near Park City (Deer Valley to Park City to The Canyons). Most of it is at 8,000 feet, 25 miles of it is single track, and it has lots of climbing and scary descents. Meanwhile, Skagit Flats is a completely pancake flat out-and-back course run on farmland roads about an hour north of Seattle. On its own, this makes for a very nice double because the courses are so very different. The weekend after the quad-killing triple was a different story altogether.

I got to Park City on Friday afternoon, which gave me enough time to figure out how to find the start at "Silver Lake Village". This was a very good thing because it would have been hard to find in the early morning darkness. It turns out that Silver Lake is a little resort area about halfway up Deer Valley's mountain. As I checked out the starting area under a ski lift, I began to have a bad feeling that perhaps I was in over my head. I kind of was. Check out the course.

Saturday morning showed up with perfect weather. The race organization before the start was phenomenal, and we had access to the resort's shiny and spacious bathrooms. Then we got a pre-race briefing that was basically "look for the blue chalk", and off we went. The first half mile circled Silver Lake on the road, and then we jumped onto the Mid-mountain trail, which is how the race got its name. This is a well-maintained single track hiking trail between all the resorts that had been closed for the previous three months. In fact, it was opened specifically for our race. Cool.

That first half mile on the road allowed us to spread out a little, but things were still pretty tight as we started on the trail. This is a good place for me to restate my proficiency with trail running: I have none. Seriously, I am a terrible trail runner. The idea of trail running always sounds nice to me, and when I re-read my description of the MidMountain Marathon's course, it seems fun. But when I'm actually doing it, this type of running isn't always so fun. And it is always slow. For one, I am a tripper. This trail is rocky in places, and it has lots of roots in other places. Running a trail like this in a pack of other runners is a weird experience for me, and it is frustrating because I can't really see in front of my feet to pick a non-trippy path. That was exactly the situation in the first miles of this race. I was completely paranoid in the middle of a small pack. Slowly, people passed me, and the pack... which looked like a little human choo choo train... pulled away.

Up I went. Down I went. Around I went. I should have tried to walk some of the climbs in the early miles, but I didn't. I certainly did later :-). The first two aid stations came and went. There was a section where I had to climb over some pipelines. The blue chalk marking the course was helpful, but it wasn't marked quite as frequently as I'd like. I read reports for various races from real trail runners where they mention getting lost because of an unmarked turn. This is one of my two biggest fears. This race was marked ok, but several points weren't ("when in doubt, go straight"), and as the miles wore on and my brain got fuzzier, it got a little more frustrating.

My other biggest fear? Plunging to my death. The Mid-mountain trail offers some incredibly scenic vistas... views that would be hard to match. It is a trail that winds up and down the sides of mountains. It also crosses many ski runs, including black diamond runs. It was interesting getting the perspective of the pitch of these runs from the middle of them. Unfortunately, the views came with a price. Any time I tripped on a rock or a root, which was a lot of times, I got scared that I might tumble over the side. This fear built up. And the altitude brain-mush built up too. By about M10, I was running mostly by myself. I was getting cranky and somewhat petrified. For the first race since Leadville, I thought about bagging it. But just like Leadville, I knew there was no easy place to drop... so I continued. My pace had become snail slow, and on the descents, it was clear that I was abusing my knees and my quads. I am amazed by trail runners who can blow through trails like this. I can't.

Anyway. More up and down. The aid stations weren't very frequent given the terrain, but that was ok. I saw four mile markers in the race: 5, 10, 20, and 25. There was probably also a 15, but that was the zenith of my panic attack and I missed it. Every time I came to an aid station, I'd ask them where I was mile-wise. Every time, every time, I was not as far along as I had guessed. This frustrated me. I really wanted to enjoy this race, but I was not in the right frame of mind. So I really wanted to be done... but at each checkpoint, I was not as close to done as I thought. Argh. The aid station volunteers were all very encouraging. Again, just great race organization.

I could tell from my watch that I was really having a hard time. I didn't list a race goal at the top of this report because I had no idea what to expect. I knew I wouldn't be faster than 4:30, but I was hoping to beat their cut-off of 5:30. As I saw my projected finish time drift closer and closer to 5:30, I got more depressed. It was kind of a chicken-and-egg thing regarding my mental state. Was the altitude-inspired brain mush making everything else worse? Or was the tremendous difficulty of the course and my low emotional state making my brain mushier? It didn't really matter.

There was lots of very steep downhill in the last six miles. I wanted to run these miles like I run the downhill at Haulin Aspen, but I couldn't. This was a very different trail and my legs were shot. If I wasn't crashing my toes into rocks and tripping, I was slipping on top of them. I learned how dangerous switchbacks can be while running. The little u-turns were hard to negotiate with gravity assisting me downward.

5 hours came and went. Then 5:15. At 5:30, the trail came out into a clearing (maybe a ski bowl, I'm not sure) and switchbacked all the way down to The Canyons resort. I did the best I could.


They were still set up, passing out awards, taking times, and giving out water. I got an official finish, even though I was over the cut-off. A friend had been waiting for me at the end. For a very long time. Sorry about that.

It became clear to me how far back I was when I went to get my drop bag. It was one of the last 10 drop bags left. Officially, I finished 107th... but out of how many, I don't know. The paper said that "about 200" had registered, but I have a very hard time believing I was right in the middle. It is more likely that "about 200" was overstated and that quite a few people either didn't start or dropped.

I wasn't expecting to win... I am not about winning... but it is weird to be so very far out of my element. I am just a poor trail runner. I didn't die. I also didn't have a lot of fun, which is sad. This was/is a supremely well organized trail run, the trail was/is well maintained, and it provides some of the best scenery you could possibly imagine. But on this day, it wasn't my cup of tea. Or Kona coffee.

My friend was nice enough to give me a ride back to my rental car, but I had been so slow that we didn't have time to eat before my plane. Thanks again, friend. I flew back to Seattle.

The next morning, after getting up at 4a, I drove north to Burlington for the Skagit Flats Marathon. Despite all the gloom and doom I wrote about the previous race, and despite completely clobbering my toes and feet on that trail, I felt spectacular on Sunday.

The Skagit Flats Marathon is organized by a fellow maniac and his running club. The course is ok; the big draw is the word "flat". For runners in the Seattle area, this is a rarity - Skagit Flats is about the only opportunity to run a flat local half or full. The organization is great, and the weather has always been quite good (though windy) in the years I've done the race.

I didn't do any rocket science for a race goal. This race is a great go-fast opportunity, but that would not be a reasonable goal for my fifth race in nine days. And even though I felt great, I knew that MidMountain had taken something out of me. Though hopefully not my soul. I decided to just relax, go out easy, and if I felt ok after the first few miles, I'd go for "about 3:50". If I didn't feel ok, it would be an intentional "about 4:15" kind of day.

Off we went, and I actually felt pretty good. Lots of maniacs showed up, so I talked to some people. Best Running Buddy (BRB) had recently completed a 100 miler. She was spectating, so I saw her a few times too. As we headed out, we had a stiff headwind that got worse as the miles passed. Towards the turnaround, I saw the lead woman coming back the other way. It was Annie, so I crossed the road and we slapped five. Go Annie. She would go on to win the race. In fact, maniacs cleaned up - a maniac won the men's race too.

Around the turnaround. The headwind became mostly a tailwind. On the way back, I was passed by a few people. I passed others. Played leapfrog with many. One guy commented on my squeaky orthotic every time we changed places. Another guy recognized my pink from other races and gave me some kind words. That was nice.

Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington, running his 130th marathon.

Cool. 3:52. When I say that I wanted to finish "about 3:50", this fits my definition. I could have pushed it a little harder, but not much, and I didn't really realize this until the end anyway. I felt completely normal afterwards, which was more important to me. It was good day, and a nice way to readjust after the previous day.

And I won a random drawing gift certificate from a deli!

Skagit Flats was my 40th marathon+ultra in 2007. I'm very happy to have gotten here healthy.

Next up? Another double. The Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday. The Lewis & Clark Marathon in St Charles Missouri (suburb of St Louis) on Sunday. My training right now is going a little better than it did in June and July... my focus through the quadzilla at the end of the month is mileage. After that I will work on getting faster and pick a goal race. I'll probably try a go-fast one more time before February's National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer... which IS my ultimate goal race.

See you after Lewis & Clark!

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