Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mesquite Canyon 30K, 2013 Edition

I ran the 2012 Mesquite Canyon 30k last year and it kicked my ass. The climb totally surprised me and I ended up pretty much walking the last few miles. This was a day of reckoning for me: my climbing and downhill skills weren't just bad, they sucked. 

Fast forward one year to Mesquite Canyon 30k 2013. After getting up at 4:15AM and driving to the White Tank Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix, here I am standing at the start. I haven't raced since Leadville. I'm not sure I want to be there. I'm afraid of what's going to happen. I was pretty confident last year. My training volume was way up and although I didn't admit it, I was hoping for a solid race. That didn't happen. What if the same thing happens again? My training is going well, but I'm not running as much although I'm running faster. I know my trail skills have improved. The times for my various training run courses have been going down dramatically in the last few months. I feel good. I felt good last year, too. Gulp.

The weather is perfect, around 65F and the temperature should go above 75. It's sunny, as usual. My goals for this race are: one, try not to fall and two, try to finish under 3h30. That's a 23 minutes improvement over last year. On the exact same course. I haven't PR'd at ANYTHING in years. Why do I think that I can shave almost a minute per km for the whole 30k? I'm not sure but I just feel like I should be able to run this course un 3h30. Which would make it  a huge blow if I fail.

The gun goes off and I start running. I'm wearing my Garmin, my Nathan hydration vest and my new-ish Cascadia 7. I mis-seeded myself and I have to pass a few people. I don't want to start too slow. I remember running the first 10k, which is all runnable, pretty hard last year. To beat my time by such a big margin, I need to run it faster and then I need not to bonk. I run the downhills as fearlessly as I dare, I power up the uphills. After the fact, I'll find out that my pace varies between 5 and 6 minutes per km for the first 9 km, depending on the incline. Then the climbing starts. I settle into a more conservative climbing pace. I know that this will get progressively worse until I get to the top at km 14, after climbing 1800 vertical feet. After a while, probably around 11 km, I have to stop running. I power hike up the hill. I get passed by three people but that's it. I climb as fast as I can so that I don't have to stop. I only stop every 30 minutes to open a gel and stow away the garbage. Walking without looking down is not a good adea when you're on a two feet wide trail on the edge of a cliff.

I keep going up, running the few less steep sections. I'm tired but I feel ok. I get to the first false summit, take a quick look around and start running. I have a bit of a side stitch. The next few kms are rolling, all of it runnable. I pass the 15km mark at almost 2h00. I can't remember what I did last year. This gives me 90 minutes to come back down. That sounds short! I see one of the guys who passed me, not too far ahead, hiking up the next climb. Ah, ah! That one was pretty much my age and he wore COMPRESSION SOCKS! God, I hate compression socks. I keep running and after 30 minutes, a bit longer than expected, I pass him. He knew I was coming and resisted a bit but you can only push so hard with almost 10k to go. We've merged with the half-marathon course and that gives me a few rabbits to chase. 

I start coming down. I remember being a bit freaked out last year. I remember the course as being crazy-rocky and impossible to run fast. This time, I'm powering down at a decent clip. For me. At least, I'm not breaking much so my quads are feeling good. I blow through the aid station without refilling. The trail is getting steeper and more rocky but I go as fast as I dare. I get to a switchback section where I remember last year I was afraid that my quads were going to fail. I'm feeling great. Down, down, down. Then, it's flat and gravity reasserts itself. Arrrggghh. It's also much hotter down here. Quickly, the trail starts going ever slightly up. Not a lot of downhills, but a lot of slight upward inclines. I've been passing quite a few people but I'm pretty sure none of them are running the 30k. I don't dare turn around and look at their bib because that's a sure way to fall on my face. And yes, that's true, I haven't fallen. At least not yet. I get to the last aid station, which is not really for my race distance and I know I have a bit over 2 miles to go. I'm at a shade past 3 hours. Add 2 miles at 10 minutes per mile... Holy shit! I have an excellent shot at beating my A goal!
I keep running. In the last 10-15 minutes, I'm hot, tired, I want this to be over. It seems that the course keeps veering away from where I think the finish line should be. I refuse to walk. I don't remember walking since I crested the summit (except to eat). I think I hear music. I turn a corner at the top of a small incline and YES, I see the finish about 300m ahead. I cross the line and I'm done in 3h23min and change. Holy smoke, this is 30 minutes faster than last year! I'm totally wiped out, but then again, why wouldn't I be? 

So here we go. Mission accomplished. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I've improved my trail running skills substantially over the last few months. We're going back to Toronto in 3 weeks and hopefully, I'll be able to build on top of this. I've signed up for the 50k at Sulphur Springs, the 50 miler at Bear Mountain and, of course, Leadville 100. I'll probably sprinkle a few 50k races in July.

See you on the trails.