My escape from Folsom (Race Report)

Post Update & Spoiler Alert! Final race results below:

TBF 10 miler

I can see a path to a 1:17 finish, would would put me in 6th place with this field.  Getting down into the 1:13 range is possible, I think, to get into a top three finish, with major training, luck, and my body holding up – with requires both of the former…

I wrote last night that I’d be happy with a 1:30 time. Maybe I I should have more confidence in myself, because I absolutely killed it today at the TBF “Escape from Folsom” 10-miler. Here’s my race report.

I was tentative going into the race for a few reasons:

  1. My stuffy left knee. Since before Thanksgiving, I’ve had weirdness in my left knee. I can’t recollect what caused it, and it was bad enough between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that I couldn’t run at all. This was a huge bummer over Thanksgiving when we visited Boise for a week and I couldn’t run the endless trails behind my family’s house.
  2. My training runs consisted only of 6-mile flat runs, twice a week over the past six weeks. I ran the same route near the farms and airfield near my house – mostly on Saturday mornings and once during the week.
  3. I was relying heavily on 1-3 CrossFit workouts per week for core strength. There’s lots of good evidence building that CrossFit is a huge boost for endurance athletes, and I was hoping the time I’ve put in the past 2-3 months make up for the lack of miles.

2014-02-15 07.12.31

Pre-Race: Arrived about an hour before the start and Mother Nature made it easy to appreciate my decision to run today. I love the trails and the venue at Granite Bay State Park.

Running races are far less stressful and much easier for which to prepare – no bike, no wetsuit, no number marking.  I brought my roller and a lacrosse ball, and had a really nice, peaceful stretch.  The weather was perfect – about 50 degrees and cloudy. I wore my thin ski cap, running gloves, short-sleeved short, running tights, and Dirty Girl gaiters over my shoes. I didn’t expect too much slop, and figured the insurance policy against pebbles and twigs was well worth it. I charged my Garmin last night and today it wouldn’t stay on. I don’t know if I left it on all night by accident or if it’s just plain dead. In some sense, I was happy to be running “naked” because I could just run, not worry about pace, and use my intuition about my heart rate and effort.

The bathroom line built up just before the race, as two of the three port-o-johns were locked, and no one was coming out. I left the line to tell the race organizer. He came over, and it they were empty so he unjammed the door. Problem solved.

Mile 1: I started pretty quickly. Short, quick strides. After the first 100 yards or so, I counted ahead to get a relative sense of position. I went into the race considering any finish would be a good finish, and the moment the race started, that changed. I felt limber and ready, and immediately thought that with a good day, I could aim for a top 10% or 20% finish – say somewhere between 13th-20th overall. (I estimated ~125 racers.) The pack thinned quickly and I settled into an early group of 4-5 runners around me: a 55-year old woman with an IM tattoo, a 40-year old women with red shorts taking very fast, short strides, a 45-50 year-old-guy with a Sacramento Triathlon T-shirt, and an erratic 30-something guy that ran erratically and breathed heavily.

Mile 2: The erratic guy made me pretty nervous on a few descents and I let him run ahead. I was pretty sure I’d be away from him sometime soon – there was no way he could continue working that hard and inefficiently for the full 10 miles. By the third mile, I left the small group, with only the 40-year-old quick strider significantly ahead, though still within eyeshot.

The biggest hill was early in the race, and I used it to walk the first time. It still surprises how many racers chose to run up steep hills, because my walk pace was just as fast (or slow…) as their “run” pace, with a significantly lower energy usage and the chance to stretch my legs.

Mile 3: This was a welcome mile marker – the first one on the course, and the feeling that the first chunk of the race, including the biggest hill, was behind me.

Mile 3.5: A long straightaway in the open along a fire trail. From here, I could see the 40-something red-shorted woman, and I tried to push a little to gain ground with little success. After the straightaway, the IM-tattooed woman caught me and went ahead for a short time.

Mile 4: The second marker on the course. The course was heavy in the woods and trail, and I was able to leave IM Tattoo comfortably behind. By now, I had settled into a rhythm and took the flats and downhill parts of the course to rest.  I wanted to keep around 60-65% effort most of the way – pushing up to 75% on gradual uphills and downhills.

(“Resting” means slowing your pace just a touch – say 10-15 seconds per mile for those strides and taking long, slow, deep breathes. I used the flats to check-in with myself on heart rate and fatigue. I’m a strong finisher based on my past races, and I wanted to have the legs for a good kick in the last two miles.)

Mile 4-7: I kept Red Shorts in my sights around the bends. This accomplished a few things:

  1. Kept me at a consistent pace. The crowd had thinned and without my Garmin, I had no way to judge relative speed. I knew she was an experienced and strong runner that knew how to keep a pace, so I just her do that work for me.
  2. Forecasted the course undulations and turns. With someone 10-50 yards ahead, I didn’t have to think about course navigation as much and I could just focus on where to run the tangents, pick lines across rocky terrain, and know a few seconds ahead of where I’d find a climb or descent.
  3. Gave me a “rabbit” to track. Over this three mile stretch, there were spots when I crept within 5-10 yards, then on my rests and uphill walks, she would stretch out her lead. When I was close, I could hear her breathing, and considering how hard she was working relative to me, I was sure I would pass her eventually.

The 5-mile marker was a nice psychological boost, knowing that I was now halfway finished. I generally knew the rest of the course, as the second half was the same as a half marathon race I did about three years ago – not every twist and turn, but I knew about an open area near the water and away from the trees that would be the last big turn towards home in a couple miles.

At the 6-mile marker, I definitely to feel muscular fatigue in my thighs. I ran without any of my own nutrition. While there were aid stations almost every mile, the cups of electrolytes where diluted and the cups were only 1/3 to 1/2-way filled. I wished I had brought salt pills with me, or at least remembered to take couple before the race. I thought that maybe my general lack of training and complete lack of hill training might catch up to me shortly. Then I thought – “Heck – there’s only four miles left. Keep going.”

Just after the 7-mile marker, I saw a second racer ahead about 50 yards ahead of Red Shorts. She and I were gaining quickly on him, and then at an open part of the course, I saw another racer – a bearded dude about 200 yards ahead. With a good push, I thought I could pick off all three of them.

I did pass Red Shorts, then then the next racer ahead. My next goal was to prevent myself from kicking too soon in trying to catch the last runner within site.

Mile 8: I caught the bearded dude. He and I chatted for short time. He congratulated me on keeping my pace. He looked to me like he was barely trying – he had very light strides. To my surprise, he told me he was fizzling. I asked if he knew of any other racers up ahead. He said they were a good two minutes ahead, which he thought was the lead pack. I knew there was no chance of me catching them, and at the next wide part of the trail, I passed him and pushed just enough to put space between the two of us just in case he was sandbagging me about how he felt.

Mile 9: Home free. The course sloped downward and I started to push pretty hard –  80%, then 85%, then 90% effort. I took a last electrolyte drink at the final aid station and looked well ahead to identify any landmarks for the home stretch. I remembered this is where I out-kicked three runners at the half marathon race a few years ago, and was feeling really, really strong and really, really happy with how my body held up today.

Mile 9.75: A few last turns and I could see the parking lot and finish through the trees, and I began my final burst.

Mile 10: Crossed the finish and asked if there was a race timer. The volunteer pointed to my right and I saw 1:21:17. Wow – almost nine minutes faster than goal pace, and I admit that for a moment I thought – “Damn – maybe if I pushed harder sooner, I could have slipped under an eight-mile pace…” That’s me for you…

2014-02-15 09.36.06Post-Race: I caught my breathe really quickly, cooled down, and waited nearly two minutes past the finish line for Red Shorts and Beard to finish. We all had a pleasant chat for a few minutes about the course and pace. It’s the kind of positive camaraderie I like after a race. I found some chili and took a few photos, headed to the car to stretch and escaped for home, just in time to catch Lena and Benjamin at the Davis farmer’s market. (Yes, that’s a selfie above…)

This was a proud day for me. Just taking time to myself in between the craziness of work and life felt like a big accomplishment. Then to have an excellent race added to its sweetness. I’m still waiting for the final results and standings.  I’m estimating I finished ~12th overall.

As always, I need to thank my awesome wife, Lena, for giving me her full support for these races and for introducing me to CrossFit. Both she and T-bone (my sister-in-law) gave me lots of ideas for exercises and strength training over the past few months, and without these workouts, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to compete today.


2 responses to “My escape from Folsom (Race Report)

  1. Pingback: Examples: My CrossFit workouts | Life without a day job

  2. Pingback: Today’s hotel workout was a good one | Life without a day job

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