|About halfway through stage 1.|
I don't recall why exactly, but it seemed I always had something else on my running schedule ever since the Grand Viduta Stage Races were created a couple of years ago. As a result, I had only ever run one of the Saturday stages a while back. So this year, and as a result of my goal to run races I hadn't done before, I decided to sign up as soon as registration opened for the 2017 Grand Viduta Stage Races. Early commitment and signup also ensured that I got to benefit from the ridiculously low "early bird" registration fee (so keep that in mind for 2018 as you don't want to miss this event).
|Paul and I at the finish line. We'll be running Fat Dog 120 together later this year.|
The first stage with a distance of 14 mile takes place Friday morning and falls kind of between the other two stages in regards to difficulty. Don't get me wrong, all three stages are on the technical Monte Sano trails we all know and love, but some stages have more climbing and/or more rocks than others. Other than a 5 day 150 mile desert stage race 5 years ago this was the only stage race I had ever done and just like 5 years ago, I ran the first stage way harder than I should have. How do I know, you ask? Well, I was still able to see Will running ahead of me at the bottom of Waterline Trail, that's how I knew. I slowly backed off and continued to run with the small group of runners (Wesley Ormond, who pulled ahead rather quickly, Justin Quackenbush and my Fleet Feet Racing teammate Craig Smith), all of whom would eventually pass me and leave me in their dust.
I continued to run strong and within myself until I entered the Old Railroad Bed Trail after running down my favorite downhill trail, Tollgate Trail. I'm not sure what happened, but I just imploded both physically and mentally when I realized I still have 1.5 miles to go. I started walking on a flat section of trail with less than 2 miles to go. I ended up getting passed by both Craig, who I had sneakily passed on High Trail (?) after he had dropped his hat and Emily Ansick, who eventually finished 4th overall for the day and first female for the entire stage race. I continued to run walk across the finish line still happy to have finished in the time I did. After that, it was off to work and hoping for a fast recovery for the next two stages.
I arrived at the race start on Saturday morning feeling pretty good mentally, but having no idea how my body would perform. As it turned out, even my mental game wasn't what I needed it to be. After another fast and furious start, I had to back off my pace less than 2 miles into the race, letting everyone go way earlier than I had anticipated. I ended up running by myself for most of the race with the exception of the couple of times I was passed by fellow runners. I continued to struggle all day. The heat and apparent level of dehydration added to my struggles. I continued to slow and my heartrate continued to remain way too high.
When I got to Kieth Trail, I ran into one of the RDs, Will Rodgers, who was checking the trail markings along the way. He ended up keeping me company for the remaining miles, who seemed endless at this point. I had started to walk very single bump in the trail. I was exhausted. I got passed and wished them luck. I had no desire nor energy to chase anyone or to hold anyone off. I just wanted to make it to the finish line and hit the rest button. Sadly, stage two is considered the easy stage by many and that meant much more suffering was in store for me for the final stage on Sunday. I just wanted to get done and refuel, rehydrate and recover from this misery. I listened to my body and started shoving down tons of salty foods and fluids as I worked to replenish my energy. I did not want a repeat of stage 2 on the final stage.
As a result, I also adjusted my goals. Instead of chasing any kind of pace, I decided to only watch my heartrate during the final stage and to completely ignore pace and distance. That should ensure that I would not have another implosion or blowup. At the start of the race, I still lined up at the front, because I wanted to enter and run the single track trail at my own pace and without being "pulled or pushed along" by anyone else. This approach seemed to work out perfectly as I only followed Craig for the first mile or so. When I felt my heartrate rising, I immediately put on the brakes. I slowed down until I felt like I was running at a truly comfortable pace. I did hear the two or three lead ladies behind me, but I wasn't deterred to stick to my plan. In fact, I was waiting for them to pass me at any time. At every switchback I would hear their voices echoing from below or behind, so I kept wondering when they would finally pass me. I stuck to my guns. Every time my HR climbed above my "threshold", I woul;d back off. That did mean walking in a couple of instances, but generally, it was enough to just back off the pace. As a result, I felt great all day. What a change from the day before.
As I approached "Death Trail" (MacKay Hollow Trail climb that leads to the picnic pavilion), the final climb towards the finish, I spotted runners ahead of me for the first time all day. Craig and Justin had just started their final ascent to the finish line and it looked like I may be able to pass them. I settled in just behind them to get an idea of how well they were still moving. I felt pretty good still, so I passed them a quarter mile into the climb. I knew there was really no way I could possibly make up the three or four minutes Craig had put on me over the previous two stages to challenge him for the overall Masters win, but I wanted to close the gap just a little. I kept pushing and was rewarded with a third overall finish for the stage, and closing the gap to Craig to just under 3 minutes for the three stages. Craig raced strong all three days and I had a great time chasing him around all weekend. Justin took third overall as he had put quite a margin between himself and both Craig and me over the previous two days. Will and his wife Emily were untouchable over the weekend, taking the overall male and female titles but Wesley (on the men's side) and Liz and Sarah (on the women's side) certainly kept interesting until the last day.
I'd like to extend a huge thanks to "Running Lane", Brandon, Justyna, Will and Sean and the many many volunteers who made this event so memorable and enjoyable. The courses are tough and technical but runnable, the post race food was fantastic and the atmosphere with Sean providing just the right playlist as always was great. I did not hear anything other than praise by every participant I spoke to. Hopefully, I will be able to run this event again next year. Put it on your calendar, you won't regret it.
|Some of my training buddies after an awesome weekend of trail running.|