I’ll say one thing about ultras – when things don’t go as planned, you generally have a long time to think about it before getting to the finish line.
I went out with the leaders yesterday at the (North Face Challenge 50mile championships. Or the North Face 50. Or the San Francisco 50 North Face Challenge. What the hell are we calling this thing? TNF50?) TNF50 (redundancy noted). There was talk that the lead pack went out too fast. Even some annoyance at the leaders that were setting the blistering pace.
But, a. when there’s $10,000 on the line, of course it’s gonna go out fast and b. two or three people didn’t think it was too fast because they maintained the pace all the way through and made some money in the end.
I was not one of those people. I finished 34th which, like I said, gave me some time to reflect.
I knew what I was getting in to with this race. I knew that the best competition in the States would be present. I knew that it would go out fast. I knew that it would be won in a blistering fast time (okay… I didn’t think it would be run in 6:19!). I knew that it would hurt and, still, I thought I could win it. There, I said it. I thought I could win. I didn't sign on a 10k car on friday but, in the weeks leading up to the race, I did meditate on the later stages when I would need to suffer.
Running with Mike, Geoff, Dakota, Galen, Adam Campbell and several others in the pre-dawn morning, chatting about later stages of the race, each of us wondering what a few hours might bring, it seemed clear that most of them thought there might be a chance that I’d still be fighting for position near the finish.
As Geoff passed me, Dakota, Adam and finally Galen - the sun hadn’t even risen - I realized that that was why my legs were filling with lactic acid. That was the root of my fatigue. That was why I would continue to drop from the top five to top ten to top twenty and finally 34th.
I wanted it too much.
I wanted this race so much that I didn’t waste any time in October with resting. I remained positive through Muir Beach(12m), Cardiac(18m) and even McKenna Gulch(23m) when I was over three minutes behind the lead pack, thinking I might be able to reel them back in, but my legs just wouldn’t cooperate. By Stinson Beach(28m) I knew I was done. I traded my hand held bottles for my small pack and prepared myself for a 22mile death march.
Anna Frost passed me shortly after. She was flying. 1,400 vert from Stinson up to Cardiac. Anna was “giving this hill a bit of hell” as she said when she passed me. She saw me suffering. She told me to join the pace, which I did for about 20seconds before sending her off. People’ll be thinking she pulled me through Trans Rockies, I thought, but then didn’t care what people thought. Ellie Grenwood passed me on the other side of Cardiac. She was also giving it hell.
I learned that my season ended three weeks ago. It just didn’t occur to me until 20miles into a 50miler.
Finishing 34th is just as painful as finishing 1st, I concluded. It just takes longer.
I’m happy to not be running for a little bit. I got on my bike today and rode from the city, over the bridge, into the headlands and back into the city. I love my bike.
My season is over. I did what I wanted and dabbled in distances that I wasn’t familiar with. I had success and failure.
What I really want, though, is for some Ultra Runners to step up to the same challenge and try out some short races. Not just try them out, but train for them. Work hard for them. What I saw at TNF50, for the first time in US ultra running, was a field of runners as talented as the Mount Washington field. That alone, made my 34th place finish a great success. I’m not saying this because I want to beat a bunch of people that just beat me. In fact, I’m saying it because I think just the opposite. I think they might be able to win it. Hell, Matt Carpenter won both! Maybe somebody will do it in the same year….
Am I ranting again?
Anyway. Prove me wrong. Mount Washington is slated to be the selection race of the 2012 US Mountain Running Team. In the past six years I’ve seen the team grow from a middle of the pack crowd to podium. The women have taken the win and will again. The men have placed third and second. First is not out of reach.