I never was really looking forward to this race. I couldn't figure out why but for some reason, I was not feeling good about going into the race. Was it a lack of motivation. No. Was it my current training schedule and how I had been set back a bit over the past week. Maybe a bit but I still was able to get out on three solid runs on Monday through Thursday and felt really good on my feet. So, what was it about this race.
I arrived at my friend Magnus's place in North Vancouver on Friday night (a good orienteering friend who is integral in the Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club). We had some good discussions about orienteering and event organization and then managed to pull out a North Van map and check out the area where the race was going to be held. I now realized what was bugging me so much about this race; I had virtually no idea of what the course was.
Going into Chuckanut, I had studied the course maps, knew many of the twist and turns, knew where the aid stations were to plan out my nutrition, and knew when and where to expect the climbs and decents. For the Diez Vista 50km... I knew that I was signed up for a hilly 50km trail run; that's about it. No maps for the course are provided by the race and I could find nothing by searching through Google. While some people tried to give me some concept of what to expect, including Gary Robbins (who ended up going out too hard and blowing up two years prior), it really didn't help to prepare me for the event. I was going in blind.
Gary picked me up in the early morning and we headed out to Port Moody and more specifically, Lake Sassamat where the race start and finish was located. I say early because the start was at 7:30am which for a 50km race, seemed way too early for the both of us. Everything went fine on arrival and before we knew it, the race was on.
I was feeling really good but tried not to push it too hard, especially on the uphills. Gary and I were running around the same pace but once we hit the switchbacks up on the Diez Vista trail, he took off with his great power hiking.
The Diez Vista trail was absolutely awesome! Extremely rugged, lots of open rock, swishy organic soil, and more roots than you'd want at times. I was loving this section! Maybe I was pushing it a bit too hard this early in the the race but man did these trails feel good. I was eating it up. After passing several people, I lost my concentration for a split second, slid down a root, tweaked my ankle and slammed my right quad into a rock. I got up quickly, and kept running hoping that my quad would hold up fine. I thought that my ankle was fine...
The course unfolded with lots of hills and decents, lots of good single track, but a bit too much power line access road running for me. These roads were typcial for the area; rocky with lots of cobbles, and always going either up or down. I thought I was getting somewhat close to end of the race but really had no idea of how far I had ran. I had been hanging in 10th place for quite some time and maybe pushed myself a little too hard to stay in this spot. My legs started to slow. The flats (when there were any) were fine, and the slight downhills were good as well but the anything else, and my quads and hamstrings started to complain. I was well hydrated, kept up my calorie intake with some Carbo-Pro, and had a steady supply of electrolytes coming in via my Thermolyte tablets.
When I started up the last big switchback section of the course (as I found out later), my body reduced me to a crawl. Even when it nearly flattened out, I physically could not run any grade at all. This trail led out to yet another power line section that was again either a climb or descent. At this point, I knew that all I could do was to power hike up the hills, and run the downhills. Trying just to hold on to my race, I saw a runner coming toward me and I now remembered something about a powerline out-and-back and something about a long downhill followed by a long reverse uphill. Then came Gary! With a big peace sign signifying that he was in 2nd place, Gary looked strong and had a big smile on his face! I knew that he was in good shape and being not too far behind the leader, I knew that he had a chance at taking 1st!
I continued to struggle on the road and suddenly my quads completely gave up on me. I could no longer run downhill. With my legs trashed, and knowing that I had a ways to go on the course including a long downhill to the finish, I had no choice but to walk. My mind was all go but my body was at the end. I had pushed too hard, cracked, and my only option to finish was to suffer for the next two hours and walk the rest of the course in pain. While there might be some kind of macho, have to finish mentality to walking in and finishing, I just could not do it. If I couldn't run, my race was over. My race was over.
I walked down the final hill into the aid station and I think all of the volunteers knew what was coming.
"I'm done", I said.
"Are you sure you don't want to sit down for a bit, relax and maybe go out again?", said one of the volunteers.
"No, there's just no way. I cannot run anymore."
At this point, they could tell that physically I couldn't go on and then helped me out by wrapping me in blankets as the rain and snow that we faced on the course had soaked me and as I was not exerting myself any longer, I was starting to shiver.
It didn't even bother me to watch as competitors would come and go out of the aid station as I knew that physically I was shot, could do nothing about it, and would use this as a good learning experience to draw upon in the future. This would be my first ever Did Not Finish (DNF). I will remember this one for a long time.
As I got extremely cold, one of the volunteers drove me back to the start line with some good heat blasting and I was fortunate enough to see the first racers finish. While Gary didn't come in first, he closed what was once a huge gap on 1st place and ecstatically came in 2nd place (just a couple of minutes behind the leader who broke the course record!). A very big congrats to Gary as he had probably his best running performance ever.
It was weird being on such a low while Gary was on such a high. It was hard to really congratulate him and at the same time, it was hard for Gary to feel for me. On top of this, my ankle that I had tweeked coming down the Diez Vista trail turned from fine, to sore, to swollen, to extremely painful. I knew that it was getting bad when I started to get the blood pumping feeling in my foot, but when I got out of the car in Port Moody to get some sushi with Gary, I could barely walk. I ended up getting a tensor bandage and my mood turned from being down, to being worried about my ankle and what it might mean for the weeks to come.
I was going to take the bus back to Tsawwassen to the ferry but with my ankle as bad as it was, this was going to be a nightmare as I had too bags full of gear and a heavy resupply of Carbo-Pro product. Luckily, Gary tracked down Carlos for me who was kind enough to not only give me a ride to the ferry terminal, but to drop me off right at home in Victoria! Thank you so much!
Writing this post the day after the race, I can luckily say that my ankle is much better. By doing a lot of elevating and icing, I can now put weight on it and it doesn't hurt at all when I'm just lying down. It seems like it was just one of those weird tweeks you get that hurt like crazy, but go away quickly. On any other day it might have been fine but when you run for another 25km on it after you tweek it, it wasn't very happy.
In hindsight, I learned a lot from this race which was my main goal although I obviously wasn't planning on DNF'ing. My main lesson was this:
I will NEVER EVER run an ultra EVER again that does not provide a course map! Running blind for that kind of distance is completely stupid if you actually want to race. I went in racing a similar race to Chuckanut but since this race is tougher (yes, I think it is quite a big more difficult), it was just too much for my pace, and cost me finishing the race. Lesson learned.