Nothing will get you more prepared to run 31 muddy miles like a full cup of scalding coffee
applied directly to the lap. That’s how my Hagg Lake 50K morning started.
Last year, my two laps around this lake an hour west of Portland proved to be my first real attempt to charge hard, to truly get in the mix. Staying up with front-runners, I channeled my confidence and early-season training for a surprising 3rd place result.
Going into this year, I have reason to be concerned. Aside from the exceptional talent showing up, (Yassine Diboun, Dan Olmstead, Jacob Puzey, Neil Olson, Ryan Bak – 2:14 marathoner. What?), over the past few months I’ve had to nurse some minor injuries and had frequent travel for work. Despite my erratic training and moderate mileage coming into this first race of 2012, I still feel solid in mind and body. Ready to lay it all out.
As my toe itches the starting line with 300+ other anxious souls, cold rain arrives in diagonal sheets. Rain hammered Portland all week so everyone anticipates a slippery ride. Off the line, the pace proves powerful. 5:45 minute/miles. Excuse me? The 3 mile out-and-back spreads out the field: Bak, Puzey and a Cornell road runner in front, while Yassine, an Ironman athlete and myself pushing to keep them in our sights. I am dropped on the downhill return to the lake and the two 14-mile laps begin as I humbly sit in 6th place.
The first lap feels mediocre. Crossing the dam (Mile 7), I catch a glimpse of the front guys pushing hard and looking effortless. My “check engine” light is already blinking, encouraging me to find a more sustainable pace, so I do. Around Mile 10 I catch the Ironman athlete and begin my hunt for the others.
The bipolarity of the day’s weather reflects precisely my mood and physical condition. One moment I am being dumped on by inches of rain. The next, sunshine knifes through trees onto a lake gracefully accepting its warmth with open arms. As it goes, the ultra-rollercoaster. A minute you feel heavy and void of any positive thought. The next, you find strength and grace. Still figuring this ride out.
Coming through the start/finish (Mile 17) right around 2 hours, I blow through without taking aid and in 5th place. A grunt. An exhalation. I reset my mind and body for one more sloppy lap at this quick 7:15 min/mile pace.
On my second crossing of the dam, Trevor drives next to me in his car to deliver words of encouragement. This confirms how solid his presence will be for pacing me at the Big Dance in June. I disappear into the woods and begin the backside slop. It is around Mile 22 that Neil Olsen creeps from behind and passes me. Major power-down. His impeccable form almost seems to mock my efforts, burning past my sluggish pace. I take a significant psychological blow but maintain composure as he slips through my fingers and away into the forest.
Mud is getting thick and slick after 300+ runners have already pummeled through this trail. Reading the muddy tracks, I see remnants of people sliding, bodies falling, runners struggling. I also identify the painted patterns of perseverance, a fierce desire to push through the sticky sections of life for greater insight into one’s potential. I shiver and begin to fight harder.
3 hours, 25 minutes into the race, I come across and pass the Cornell runner, walking with his head down. Supreme bonk. This gave me a boost as I am now sitting in 5th place again with 4 miles left. Just as I pass him, I spot Neil in the distance.
So I engage.
The last road section bends around a corner of the lake and slightly uphill. I am cranking with everything I have to close the gap. He looks behind often to see my status.
Closer. Closer. Closer.
We enter the last two miles of muddy trail for a dog-fight to the finish. Finally, I reach him. His pace has dropped, so I hit turbo and fire past him, not looking back. I clench my teeth, grunt, dig deep and squeeze the fruit until its but a dry rind. I reach the landing pad parking lot signifying the finish and stride out haggardly to the finish. I never look back, to not waste mental energy on anything but finishing as hard as possible. I cross the line in 3 hours, 56 minutes, good enough for 4th.
All things considered, I felt happy with the race. I didn’t feel incredibly sharp going into Hagg, and knew that some highly respected runners were showing up. The fight at the end offered a gift that required me to push my limits late in the race, for which I am thankful.
I also realized that, in the final analysis, you just can’t fake it. Practice. Commitment. Discipline. These are simply a true reflection of performance. I find this consistent on all fronts. The practice of generosity, of compassion. The practice of mindfulness only seems to cultivate a stronger, more authentic character from which the world may benefit. Take the process of your own becoming lightly and your true character hides in the shadows, not fully formed, stunted.
Thanks Todd and others for a race extremely well-done. Glenn and Mike for the photos. As a newly added member of Team Ultraspire, I’d also like to thank Krissy for adding me to the roster. Truly, truly honored. Watch out for this company, they’re taking over the endurance-expedition equipment world. Check out what they have to offer.
Today marks four months until the 2012 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, and I intend to sharpen this practice as best as possible. Here’s a look at my 2012 Race Schedule. I wish to arrive in Squaw Valley and celebrate these four months of practice, of exploration and wilderness pursuit. To celebrate the friendships gained, lessons learned and skills acquired. I will not fake it.