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The Coastal Challenge: The Racing

uphill+grinder

Ok gang, this is a long one… Grab a coffee and be prepared to take a few extra minutes to get through this long-winded race recap. I have broken my TCC experience into 2 parts: ‘The Racing’ and ‘The Damage’. I’ll upload ‘The Damage’ as a separate post to this one.

I flew down to Costa Rica four days ahead of the race start. My plan was to stay near where Stage 1 started, relax a little bit, and to acclimatize to the heat and humidity.  I rented a room in Manuel Antonio (also a National Park), and had access to an amazing beach. I managed to get in the workouts that I had planned, and I knew I was in great shape. I have to admit that I was struggling with boredom though. Tapering is tough enough, let alone when you’re away from family and friends.

I felt quite acclimated by the time I headed back to San Jose to sign in for the race and meet up with the rest of the athletes, and I planned to go full-gas on stage 1 the next morning.

The beach just down from my pre-race stay

The beach just down from my pre-race stay

When I arrived at the race hotel (in San Jose) that afternoon, I quickly spotted Karl Meltzer (Speedgoat)  and  Ian Corless. I had never met either of them before, but from listening to Ian’s TalkUltra podcast, I kinda felt like I knew them. It was nice to feel like part of the gang, and I wasn’t feeling as lonely as I had the previous days.

On the morning of Stage 1, we all hopped on a bus at 4am and headed to the start. I had a great visit with Joe Grant for the 3 hr trip. The two of us may approach things bit differently, but both of us have a real passion for running, and the bus ride just flew by. I’m sure everyone thought I was a bit nuts, but I did a warm up before the stage start. I always do one, regardless of the race length: I like both the physiological effects, and the psychological familiarity.

STAGE 1

Right off the gun I headed to the front. Everyone seemed very cautious, and I certainly wasn’t pushing it, but I slowly opened up a gap on the rest of the field. By about the 1 hr mark, I had 2-3 minutes on second place (Iain Don-Wauchope). After that point, the route got more technical and was getting excited…too excited.

I had my head down as we passed through some farmland, and I missed a critical right hand turn. I knew the route was supposed to hit a climb around then, and the wrong turn I took put me onto a climb. In hind sight, I so obviously should have turned around after a couple minutes….but I didn’t. I kept going until near the top of the climb, and until the local Zip-line Guide was motioning to me that I was off course.

CRAP…I turned around and absolutely pinned it. As I got close to what would turn out to be the correct route, I had lost about 10:00 minutes. But then I made mistake #2. Another racer had missed the same turn and was coming towards me. Between his broken English and my panicked, broken Spanish, we decided that the correct route was in fact the way I had just come down….so I hammered back up the hill…right to the top this time.

Midway stage 1: back on the correct route

Midway stage 1: back on the correct route

When the reality hit me, my heart felt crushed. I knew I had to turn back again and fully retrace my steps to the last flagging. When I found the correct route, I could see that I just threw away approx. 25 minutes… and the lead. I had been pushing hard for that lost 25:00, and I kept pushing hard (mostly out of anger) all the way to the finish. I managed to claw my way back through most of field, and limited my damage to about 14 minutes behind Iain (the stage winner).

The biggest mistake that I made on the day came next though. I didn’t have a real plan for recovering. I was hot and tired and thirsty, but I kinda just wandered around the camp area for a couple hours before I managed to get in  some fluids and have something to eat. What I expected at the finish that day, as far as camping and amenities, was totally different than reality. I didn’t adapt very well to the camp situation…which is a pattern I repeated many times again.

On the bright side though, camp 1 was where I got to meet a lot of the other athletes (and race staff). We were all going to be suffering together, and it was nice to meet AnnaSamantha, Nikki, Ashur, Cheryl, Chris, Fidel…

STAGE 2

After a sleepless, sweaty, uncomfortable night in my tent, I was surprisingly ready to pin it on stage 2. From the course profile I knew that there were a pair of good climbs at the start, and a 5-6km long beach section at the end. I was excited to see how the beach stretch would play out.

I took the lead from the get-go, with Joe and Iain on my heels. I felt strong and decided to push the pace a bit after about 10 minutes. To my surprise, Joe and I put a small gap on Iain. We crested the first climb and stuck together for most of the descent, but by the bottom I had pulled away just a bit. (At the time I didn’t know it, but Joe unfortunately rolled his ankle).

Joe and I cresting climb 1

Joe and I cresting climb 1

When I realized that I had some time on the those two guys, I decided that I needed to take advantage of the situation; I pushed hard, hoping to open up as much time as possible. By the time I hit the long beach I was feeling really good, and the last 5km (beach) didn’t bother me at all. I knew that I was feeling good, but that most others would be hating this last section.

I managed to win the stage (set a new CR) and put 30 minutes in to Joe and Iain. I had taken the over-all lead by about 16 minutes, but I was really worried about how I would recover again at night. I didn’t kill myself on the day, but I absolutely needed to take better care of myself than yesterday…which was a lot easier said than done! (It turned out that Joe rolled his ankle bad enough that it took him out of contention for an over-all placing. He just dealt with it, without any complaining, and kept trucking through the remaining stages).

That night I managed just under 2 hours of sleep, but I felt like I did a better job on my food and fluids…plus, much less sun exposure during the afternoon.

STAGE 3

This one began with a river section, one that everyone had been warning us about. After 3km on the gravel road, we hit about 7km worth of river. It was rocky, wet, VERY slippery, and it had many side to side crossings in order to follow the most efficient route. My plan was to just stick with Iain and to protect my lead. But Iain’s experience on this terrain really showed that morning. I swear that I was putting out 20-30% more energy than him as we made our way through the river. My mistakes were almost always choosing to cross at the wrong spots. If I had just stayed behind and followed, I would have been much better off by the end of the river.

To compound my River problems, I fell (multiple times actually) and smashed my waist pack bottles on a rock. I didn’t fully realize the consequences until about the 1:30 mark, but I had lost 1100 of my race Calories in the river…..almost everything I had for the stage!

refueling with what I could grab at AS2

refueling with what I could grab at AS2

I have to admit that I was battling with bonking for the rest of the stage. Iain was strong, and I couldn’t follow him. It was no longer about ‘protecting’ my lead, but rather ‘damage control’ now. Without the fuel I was used to, I struggled with my stomach, but I managed to run a very respectable stage….just that Iain crushed it!

We both came in under the previous CR, but Iain had put 18 minutes in to me. That meant he had the over-all lead by just under 2 minutes: essentially even-steven at the mid way point of TCC.

That afternoon and evening were not good. I had ‘gone to the well’ for the last couple hours that morning, and my body wasn’t happy. I was really sore from several falls in the river, my stomach was a mess so I wasn’t really eating, and once again…I slept like crap.

mens results after stage 3

mens results after stage 3

STAGE 4 (the derailment)

Iain and I began the stage together, and for about 15 minutes I was bluffing quite well. I wanted to see how he was feeling, and more importantly give the appearance that I was strong. Well….that didn’t work at all! As soon as the climb got steeper, Iain effortlessly moved away from me as I slowed and struggled. My stomach was so bad that I had to stick to water for the first few hours…anything else and the nausea was really bad. Jeffrey (from CR) caught me and dropped me up the climb too. He was looking strong… and I felt like I was going through a grinder.

The train was definitely off the tracks here

The train was definitely off the tracks here

We spent a lot of the stage up high in the mountains, and I actually managed to take in some of the beautiful scenery. Trying to focus more externally was my way of coping with the hell that my body was going through.

When we finally got done with all the climbing, I had moved back ahead of Jeffrey (he maybe put a bit too much effort in on the climb), but Iain was long gone. I was able to get a few gels into my stomach, and that really helped my ability to safely tackle the 10km (or so) worth of technical descending back down to  sea-level. I was broken and battered when I finished the stage, and felt like I had the beginnings of heat stroke. Iain had been strong all day and put almost 40 minutes in to me (3:58:41 vs 4:37:07 for me). The over-all race was essentially out of my reach.

For the first time in the race, I actually got some real sleep that night. Four hours felt good, but I needed way more to balance out my account. Unfortunately, the rain began overnight, and everyone had to scramble in the dark to put the waterproofing on their tents. The general outlook for an early/dark start was grim.

STAGE 5 (in the ditch and on fire)

Wow! I did not want to start this stage. I was tired, bloated, nauseous , and really sore…especially my arm. We had to take  a short boat ride across the river to get to the start, followed by some standing around, but I was glad to have the cool rain falling.

I had joked the night before with Joe (and Karl I think), that the only way I could make up 40+ minutes on Iain would be if the skies opened up and turned the course into a slip-and-slide. Well, I got what I wanted. I usually love the mud…and maybe I would fare better than Iain?? If only I wasn’t feeling like a bag of death.

Iain was strong and confident at the start, and dropped Joe and myself in no time. I just couldn’t get the engine going. Curling up at the side of the road was much more appealing….but i pushed on. By AS1, Iain had 15 minutes on me, but thats when the route turned really muddy. I had a little talk with myself at that point:

“This is it Mike…there will be no other opportunity to claw back time…give everything you have right now, even if it means going down in flames”

I ran hard for the next hour. It really hurt, but somehow I had pulled back 5 minutes on Iain….he was only 10 ahead. But then things got really bad for me. The rain had stopped, the sun was out, and it was hot…but I wasn’t sweating. I was cooking hot, with a crazy headache…and unable to physically keep my eyes open at times. My CNS system was fucked right up, so I made sure to stop at every single water crossing, and lay down in the water to cool off.

My problems only got worse, as it was obvious I was retaining a LOT of water. My hands were swollen up like sausages, and my fingers were all numb. It had to be Hyponatremia, and I needed electrolytes really badly. I got lucky…an athlete doing the adventure course (I feel like a jerk for not knowing his name) gave me a tube of electrolytes. I did my best to choke some down, but it was obviously too little too late.

The last couple hours of the stage  were a total blur to me. All I really remember is falling down A LOT, and that the finish line was NEVER coming. The minute I crossed the line, Luke (from X Sport Medic, the race medical team) saw how bad I was. He took amazing care of me, focussing on getting my temperature/Heat stroke under control, and slowly pulling me out of the horrible fog I was in.

mid-way stage 5: my eyes are telling the story

mid-way stage 5: my eyes are telling the story

I’d like to say that things turned around for me that afternoon in Drake Bay….but it didn’t. I was still retaining a ton of water, and I just couldn’t shake the Heat Stroke. Plus, I was becoming more and more aware at how much my right arm hurt. I was pretty sure it was broken, but there was more going on….an infection had taken hold too.

I din’t want to give up on Stage 6 at that point, and I still had around an hour and a half lead on third over-all, so I toughed it through one of the worst nights of my life. I had delusions of being able to walk the last stage and still manage second place over-all.

Once morning rolled around though, It was painfully obvious that I would be putting myself in major trouble if I attempted to tackle Stage 6. With Luke (doctor) as my voice of reason, the decision was made to pull the plug. AND, I needed to get on the first flight back to San Jose, so that I could get medical attention at the hospital. It was actually a relief when I packed my backpack and headed to the airport with Luke. Getting to the hospital ASAP was the right move.

Iain dominated the second half of The Coastal Challenge, and ended up with a wide margin of victory (even if I had been abler to finish, he had me beat). With my DNS on stage 6 though, it opened up a battle for 2nd and 3rd. Those spots ended up going to a pair of Costa Rican athletes who raced hard and deserved the podium: Ashuf and Roiny.

As for me, just as I thought it was over, I began a new 6 day stretch of hell.

 

To be Continued in the next post, ‘The Damage’…

Thanks to Ian Corless for all the amazing photos. You can see his complete TCC galleries here

Laying it all out there…Knee Knacker 2013

Ok, It’s 2:15am, just over 15 hours since i crossed the finish line at the Knee Knacker. I have slept for a couple hours, but my aching body, and the hamster spinning the wheel in my head, won’t let me lay in bed any longer. Might as well get this race report done…

As a fairly experienced athlete and competitor, I have come to truly understand that the satisfaction i get from an event is directly proportional to the honesty of my output (during that event). I can’t control my competitors. I can only control what i do and how i perform. My performance at the Knee Knacker was about as good as it gets; there just happened to be one competitor who was faster across the line…nothing i can do about that.

In the days leading up to the race, the (potential) starters list was looking absolutely stacked. The deepest field to date, (at the pointy end of the mens field anyway). Gary, Nick, Adam, Shaun, Graeme, Nathan, Ed, Jeremy, and myself; just to name a few. Even with injuries keeping a few from starting, we still ended up with a ‘top 5 contenders’ list that had some serious weight. Add in the amazing course conditions, and we had all the ingredients for a kick-ass race.

For the past three months i have been focusing on the knacker. Whenever i was in Vancouver, which averaged out to a couple times a week, i trained on a section of the course. I love to break a course down and to really learn it’s intricacies. The BP is such an amazing trail, and i enjoyed every training run on it. Over time i was able to establish what i thought were three tough, bold, but attainable goals for my knee knacker debut. They were based on how i saw the course, and how i felt the course should be run to get the absolute best out of myself. With only a few clicks, anyone can pull up the past Knacker results and see how the best performances have been broken down. From that history, and from what i learned in training, i formed three goals for my race:

1.   Even split the first and second half (or even a slight negative split)
2.   Finish the last quarter faster than anyone else ever has (…ever)
3.   Absolutely empty my tank out there. Nothing left at the end

So here is the play by play… (how i saw it anyway)

Right off the start, Gary, Nick, Shaun, Graeme, and myself formed the lead group. I was fully prepared to just let them all go when the trail kicked up a notch though, and that’s exactly what happened. I had a plan, and a key component of it was to not cook myself up Black mountain. My strengths are my technical and downhill running, and i needed to be able to use my abilities later in the race. You can’t run technical trails when you’re blown…period!   *[That’s important for later…]*

I could see and hear them up ahead now and again, so i knew i wasn’t too far behind. I put in a bit more effort down off Black and into the Cypress check-point, and i only conceded around 2 minutes to the guys (a bit more to Shaun). I fully expected to bring some of that back on leg 2 though, especially on the Hollyburn chute. My support crew, Will, had my nutrition ready on-the-fly, and i was reloaded (Honey Stinger gels and water, the entire race) without missing a step.

I kept controlled across the next technical bit, and then really opened it up on the ski-run section. That’s when i got a bit complacent for a second though, and wiped out HARD. The combination of my speed, the angle of the sun, and taking my eyes off the trail for a split second, and i was cartwheeling through the rocks. I dismounted my cartwheel with a wicked finish too; the back of my head onto a rock!

Now, i am no stranger to hitting the deck on the trails. (Years of hard mtb riding, and me and the dirt know each other well). I picked myself up pretty quickly, but right away i knew the wipe-out was a good (bad) one. I had dinged by hip and my knee on rocks. I must have hit a nerve or trigger point, because my right leg was numb and totally powerless. I couldn’t put any weight on it

OH ****!! …

Walk it off Mike…walk it off…it’s a long day, don’t panic!

It took a good minute, but then the feeling started to come back. I kept it at a slow jog for the next little bit, and eventually i built back up to a solid clip. My head was kinda sore too, but i was running again.

Get back on the game plan Mike…problems are just part of the day….work through it

As i came through the section right before the Dam (the half way point), i caught Shaun. He was struggling a bit on the downhill stuff, and i got past him. We came in to the dam pretty much together, about two minutes down on the guys. I could hear my girls cheering. They have the absolute best ‘Go Daddy Go’ cheer, and it definitely got me motivated to keep grinding it out. Once again, Will was on point, and i was re-stocked in no time.

I was putting in a solid effort climbing up Nancy Green Way (up to Grouse), when Shaun went flying past me. The guy climbs like a billy-goat, and he motored right past me. Once we hit the trail again, he was gone and out of sight. I knew i was moving pretty good though, so i didn’t panic. With that said, my earlier crash was starting to show its teeth. The climb up from Grouse really hurt…i was getting little electric pains on my right leg every step. I don’t want to make too much of it though. Everyone has their own issues in a race like this, and I was prepared to have to deal with something like this. I reminded myself to enjoy the day. This was exactly what i signed up for.

Shut up leg…you have along way to go yet!

It was nice to crest the climb on Fromme and cruise the flowing technical sections down to Mountain Highway. I caught and passed Shaun again, and this time i was pretty sure it would stick. As i popped out on to Lynn Valley Rd., i caught sight of Graeme. I didn’t surge to catch him, but i passed him near the beginning of the Varley trail. At that point i started prepping myself for the last quarter of this race:

All or nothing from the Gazebo to Deep Cove.

Once again, i was really happy to hear my cheering family, and to grab a refill from Will. I was really present at that moment, and just enjoying the process. I was excited about the challenge i had set for myself on the last leg. I was told that Gary was about 3:00 ahead at that point. Obviously, knowing he was within range gave me a bit of a boost.

I left the Gazebo at FULL GAS.

Dig deep! Suffer! This is why i’m out here!

Pretty quickly, i knew i was making time on both Nick and Gary. I could hear ahead as they went through the crowds every now and again, and i knew i was moving fast. When i hit the bottom of the Seymour grind, it was nice to see Adam Campbell on the trail. He was genuinely excited to be watching the front of the race be so close, and he confirmed that Gary and Nick were just ahead.

My electric leg flared up a bit again on the last climb, but i didn’t at all panic. At this point in the race, it was all about fuel, not pain management. Going full tilt means that i burn glycogen at a scary pace, but i had to take the chance…all or nothing. As i turned right onto Mushroom trail, looking down the rocky decent, i caught sight of Nick! I was pinning it, and came up on him pretty quickly. I could see that he was struggling a bit, so i went past him with a surge.

Then i tripped and hit the dirt…again (uggghhhh, that hurt), and dropped my last gel.

Back up in a flash, re-pass Nick, and pedal to the metal again.  I crossed the Mt Seymour Rd. and was surprised to see Will waiting for me. It wasn’t in the plan to have him there, but it was a total bonus for me. I needed calories badly!!

I grabbed a small flask of cola from him and he let me know Gary was 30 seconds ahead. I guzzled the cola and pinned it. No guts, no glory!

It’s a short trail section before getting kicked out onto Indian River Road, and i had Gary in my sights. I knew i was pretty screwed for fuel though, and the coke i just had was barely covering the deficit i had been in. So, here’s the plan I came up with…

Absolutely pin it on Indian River Rd and catch Gary. Then, bluff him, and go past him as hard as i can for a good 30-60 seconds. Then, hang on for dear life, and hopefully he cracks.

BUT….i got within 10m of him before he turned off the road and into the trail. He saw me coming, and he kicked it into another gear. I tried to respond, but i was totally blown. I pin-balled off a couple trees, tripped and almost bailed again, and Gary peeled away from me. You just can’t run technical stuff fast when you’re blown! I still had to try to hold it together though, Nick was right behind me.

It was ugly, but i managed to stay upright, and to hold off Nick. As i hit the home stretch, with 200m or so to go, i looked at my watch…4:42. At that point, somewhere in the back of my foggy brain, i remembered seeing that Kevin Titus held the masters course record: 4:42 something. I don’t know where i got the energy from, but i kicked…and i kicked hard. I crossed the line with absolutely nothing left. It was quite surreal for a quick moment: everything dimmed, time slowed, and the world went silent. Thankfully Gary was right there, because as he hugged me he pretty much stopped me from blacking out and going down.

I was pretty out of it for the next few minutes. Lots of people talking to me and congratulating me. Family and friends all around me, asking questions. I’m sure i wasn’t making much sense though. It took me a while to focus in and get my bearing again, but it was a great feeling having all that support around me. The next couple hours were really fun. The atmosphere was amazing, and i was on a high. I really enjoyed just being at the finish and soaking it all in.

Unfortunately, by around 1pm, my wounds started to over-power my endorphins. I was hobbling pretty badly, and a solid headache had set in. My wife Jodi let me know that it was probably from the bloody bump on the back of head…ouch. My girls had put in a big day cheering and playing, and they were shutting down too. They needed to get home, and i needed a bit of time alone. We packed up the kids (both fell asleep within about 2 minutes) and headed back the race start to grab my car. After sending them all home, i was happy to have a bit of down time by myself. I had time to kill before the awards, so i grabbed something to eat and set up a lawn chair in the shade to chill out. It was fun to talk with so many people at the banquet. I heard so many great race stories; everyone had to battle their own demons out there.

On the drive home i had time to really reflect on how my race went. It was pretty much perfect. I was tough as nails, and i accomplished all three of my goals. My process was flawless. To top things off, there were a few surprising outcomes from my effort: I had the best KK debut on file, ran the 3rd fastest time ever, and set a new master’s record.

Now, some of you may say, “but you didn’t win”.

But winning was not one of my goals. I ran my perfect race…period. I can’t control what my competitors do. Gary was the faster man out there. I’m content to take second place in a full-throttle, tank emptying, battle to the end. I have no regrets whatsoever.

I definitely have my fingers crossed that i get in the lottery again next year. I learned a lot racing it this year, and i have new goals on the BP.
Thanks to my buddy Will for crewing for me (again), and thanks to all the volunteers and the organizers. You guys put on one hell of an event. Absolutely top notch.

Next up for me is a few days rest, then back at it. I need to get in some big mileage days. The Squamish50 is only 4 weeks away. Nick and I (along with several others) will be fighting it out in the 50 miler!

XTerra – North Vancouver!

April 24th, 2012 By Mike Murphy

Sunday was just about a perfect day to get out and do a race, and the Xterra North Shore Duathlon was my choice for the day. It’s one of the events in the Run the North Shore Series, and it took place in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR). The atmosphere was very casual and low stress, and Keith (from North Shore Athletics) had a fun race route planned out that athletes of all abilities could challenge themselves on. By the 9am start time, the temperature had already cracked into double digits and the sun had come out. A few minutes before the start, I began to think that I might even have to worry about hydration while out there.

On paper, the route was a 4-20-4 duathlon, but in reality it turned to be a bit longer….which was totally fine by me. My game plan pretty much had me putting out a hard steady effort the whole way, and not worrying about what any other competitors were doing. My legs felt light and snappy, which is a great pre-race feeling, and i went to the front right from the gun. The run course left transition (near the Gazebo) and headed out to Rice Lake for a quick loop (where there was a slight route mix-up on the first run), along the path to Lynn Headwaters, across the bridge, onto the Varley Trail, then back across the pipe bridge and up to the transition area. I felt strong the whole loop, and came in to transition ready for a hard bike ride.
The bike loop had a bit of everything on it. We did 2 laps of a figure-8: a bit of a technical section, a false flat climb up the berm, a super fast decent to twin bridges, then a grinder climb up Homestead. Do that loop twice, with hardly any break after the climb before hitting the transition. It took about 20 minutes for my legs to really come around, which was right before i got to the Homestead climb. I hammered up that hill, but as I crested the top I thought to myself that the second time up it, I would need to back it off if I had any hopes of running quick out of transition. I pretty much even split the ride, and rolled in to T2 ready to crank out a solid second run.
As I ran out of transition I knew that I had a lead, and I assumed that I wouldn’t get caught. Sometimes though, knowing/thinking that someone is just behind you is great motivation to keep the pedal to the metal. In my case, I had to keep fighting the urge to back it off a notch and cruise it in. My race plan was to push hard right to the end, and I worked hard to put out a consistent effort. With about 10 minutes to go I could feel that I was a bit light on fuel, but that was even more reason to keep mentally tough and pin it to the end.
I did win the race, but more importantly, I stuck to the plan and worked hard right to the end. Plus, my girls were at the finish line to cross with me…couldn’t be better. Keith put on a great event, and hopefully it gave a few rookies a taste of how fun the Xterra Whistler off-road Triathlon will feel in a couple months. And as a total bonus, the Icebreaker race shirt included in everyones race package, was (by far) the best race shirt i have ever received. Icebreaker sure makes a great product.
 After cheering on other finishers, and picking up some awesome Vega Recovery mix as a prize, the Murphy’s all headed over to visit some friends in East Van. 3/4 of the Steed family also came (Kim was feeling pretty sick, so he didn’t make it), and we all enjoyed some lunch and relaxing in the sun.
Without a doubt, another great Sunday.

Dirty Duo 2012 :: Mike Murphy Files

March 13th, 2012
By: Mike Murphy

For anyone out there who isn’t familiar with the North Shore Dirty Duo, it’s one of the toughest ways that you could come up with to test your early season fitness. It’s an amazing race through some of North Vancouver’s best technical running and mountain bike trails. The original ‘Duo’ is a solo effort of a 25km trail run, followed by a 30km mtb (the core loop of both legs being Bridle-Old Buck-BP-Neds, with significant chunks on both ends). Most racers are quite thankful though that doing the Duo Solo event isn’t the only option. You can also do the whole thing as a relay, or you can break it up and do either just a run (15km, 25km, 50km) or just the ride.

In my case, the solo duo event is the only way to go. There’s nothing like more than 2 hrs of technical hilly trail running, before you hop onto your bike for another couple hours, to make you take an honest look deep inside yourself and push both your physical and mental limits. Besides the obvious aerobic fitness needed to get through the day, nutrition and weather are big factors too. With all the hills, you can easily burn through your energy stores and be reduced to a crawl. Having a nutrition plan, and a back-up nutrition plan, is mandatory. Along those same lines, i had both a plan A clothing change in transition, and a plan B; it all depended on how wet and cold i was going to be after the run. Thankfully, mother nature was kind to us this year, and race day was relatively dry.

Solo racers, relay runners, and the 50km gang all started at 8am, with the other events being staggered later in the morning. Right off the start i went to the front and settled into a comfortable steady pace. My plan was to do a building effort for 2 hrs, and then a slightly easier effort into transition to absorb some extra calories. I had some company for the first bit of the run, as Chuck ran with me to the Gazebo check point. That’s sort of where i upped my effort a notch and pulled away a bit on the downhill to twin bridges. As i worked my way up and through to Bridle, i was careful to hold back a bit. I absolutely love nasty, muddy, hilly technical running, and i kept my feet light and quick on Bridle to the base of Old Buck. From past experience, i know that the climb up Old Buck is not the place to make a move. I kept it at a steady effort all the way up to Ned’s, and i was surprised at how muscularly strong i felt. That’s where the fun begins for me…like i said, i absolutely love nasty, slippery, rocky, technical running. I went down Ned’s at full tilt. If gravity is handing out free speed, why not use it !!

When i popped out of Bottle Top onto Fisherman’s, i checked my watch to see that i was actually a couple minutes ahead of pace, and i still felt great. The next climb up Homestead is usually a leg (and morale) killer though. I definitely had to work hard to keep my positive mental focus up the climb, but my body was up for the challenge and i stayed just under my red-line the whole way up. After Homestead I started to do my internal checks to see just where my energy was at, and how beat up i felt. I didn’t feel too bad, but definitely needed a few calories. A steady effort back from the Gazebo, almost losing a shoe in the mud on Diamond, and i came in to transition in relatively good shape.

The DD transition is not like the typical triathlon transition, at least not for me. Frozen hands always turn my clothing efforts into a fumbling mess. This year i planned ahead though; little hot-shot hand warmers  in my mitts on the run meant i could actually feel my fingers and put on my mtb shoes with ease. Within a couple minutes i had on my cycling gear (and an extra layer of clothing) and i was off on my bike leg.

“My legs feel like two bags of S**T….how the F**k am i going to get through this?”

was pretty much my first thought on the bike. I’m betting that anyone else who did the solo (or has done) had the exact same thought. This was definitely the starting point in the race where i needed to be mentally strong. I like to break the bike leg down in to small segments, and completely focus on what’s happening in the moment. At this point, thinking of how hard the next couple hours will be is not what you need running through your head. Just get to Gazebo…just get down circuit 8…just get to Hyannis…just get through Bridle….you get the point…

Anyone who says that their bike legs eventually ‘came around’ on this part of the solo event is lying. Take your usual, fresh, snappy cycling legs and half your power output; that’s more like it. Every little hill is a grind. Parts of the trail that i usually fly through were a struggle….Just get to the bottom of Old Buck…

Soon after i started up Old Buck, the inevitable happened….Arthur. Arthur being the cyclist for the lead/winning relay team. (last year the inevitable was named Kim Steed). I swear Arthur was riding uphill in his 44/12, while i was struggling to just not come to a stop. Thankfully, at this stage of the day, there were athletes in the later events on course. Seeing them all pushing hard, kept my effort honest and steady to the top of Ned’s. Now, the only thing i love as much as running fast down nasty technical trails, is riding fast down nasty technical trails. Ned’s (and Bottle-Top) wouldn’t normally qualify as ‘nasty, technical’, but on an XC bike several hours into the DD its a bit more of a ‘keep your head in the game, don’t over-brake, and look ahead’ trail than usual. I even managed to catch and pass a group of riders (non-racers) on big bikes on my descent…that’s one for all the XC riders out there.

When i hit Twin Bridges again, and was looking at the last big climb, I had to have one more talk with myself. It was along the lines of;  ‘Last climb. Keep it together. Steady tempo all the way up. All that matters is getting to the top’. Somehow, convincing myself that the race ended at the top (it doesn’t really), worked. Both mentally and physically I kept it together, and i knew that i was into the home stretch. From the Gazebo back to the finish is a super fast segment. It was motivating to be going at a good clip (thanks again to gravity), and i even had it in me to attack the small hills on the last section and finish strong.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 12 minutes and change, thoroughly satisfied with my race. I laid everything i had out there.  I was faster on both the run and the ride than last year, and i feel like my mental game on race day was rock solid. After a short cool down, a change of clothes, and some food, i was able to pull my head out of my own little world and began noticing all the other athletes crossing the finish line. Lots of mud, a little blood, a few grimaces, and tons of smiles were the order of the day. I swear that half the fun is comparing stories after the event. I may have crossed the line first, but everyone i talked to had their own battles out there and came out on top. No better way to spend a Saturday.

-Mike

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