Saturday, May 03, 2014

Diablo 50k

One of my goals for the spring was finishing a hard 50k.  My original plans had one lined up in March, to separate it from the Big Sur marathon, but family plans intervened.  After running a training run on Mt Diablo a couple months ago, I made up for it with Brazen and Save Mt Diablo’s Diablo Trails Challenge.  As a constraint, I decided not to run it too fast, since putting two long races on back to back weekends is a new endurance challenge for myself.  And a big part of running this race was to cover a lot of ground on land I’ve never been on, so I wanted to enjoy it.  

It’s a point-to-point course, starting in Round Valley Regional Park.  We took a shuttle that left before sunrise from the finish to get there.  After a slightly late start, the course followed a slight uphill grade through Round Valley.  Somewhere in here, I decided to slow down even more than planned, since my feet were complaining after only a couple miles, and before the real climbing began.  

Photo by Brazen.

So experiment number two in pre-long-race weeks didn’t work (a short hard effort earlier in the week).  I keep researching this for better ideas, but I think I’ve hit a point where my speed gains haven’t kept up at all with my endurance.  The short hard effort earlier in the week hadn’t worked itself out.  But it was a good week to experiment, since I didn’t want to beat myself up too much in this race, and it kept me from pushing too hard.

Taking an early hill easy.  Photo by Brazen.  
The course crossed into Los Vaqueros Watershed, and started a long climb that went up into the Morgan Territory hills.  Near the top of this climb, my legs were really tired, and I backed off my pace even more to let things loosen up for a while.  After making it to the first aid station, at 8 miles, things really opened up on the ridge lines of Morgan Territory, and I managed to pick up the pace quite a bit.  I still felt like I was running slow, but I ran most of the uphills over the next 7 miles and hit decent downhill paces as well.  The views here were amazing.  

Los Vaqueros Reservoir from the first climb. 

After dropping into a valley, the course followed a short out-and-back section to the second aid station, which everyone seemed to think was really over mile 16.  Heading back out, the course switched to single track in the woods with a lot of poison oak, and it went back uphill.  Somewhere in here is where all the early leg stiffness came back, and I stopped for a stretch break near the top.  The run back down hill was also quite the pounding.  After this I backed off more and started walking anything that wasn’t mildly downhill, since I really didn’t want to go home in pain.  I’ve done that when running a new distance or difficulty too many times; it’s not worth it.  

The next climb brought the course into the sandy fire trails that really remind me of Diablo, on the southwest hills.  At the third aid station, and I think the first that overlapped with the shorter courses, a volunteer asked me how much climbing was on the course, and her jaw dropped a bit at the answer.  After fishing two 50ks, I really appreciate how helpful the volunteers are later in the run when they enthusiastically refill hydration packs and make sure you’re ok.  

Now on the other side of the mountain.

Somewhere here I zoned out, counting miles until the last aid station.  The course here was single track through long grass and wildflowers.  Runners were sitting a lot at the last aid station, which I didn’t even contemplate.  I like to keep that as a finishing reward.  The end of the course dropped into a valley that returned us to Castle Rock.  After letting a few people pass me on the descent into the valley, I picked up the pace the last couple miles.  Finally, I picked up the pace to 6:30/7:00 per mile near the end, passing 3 or 4 people who had been close in speed to me.  In hide sight, I should have done so sooner, since I felt better running faster on the flattish ground.

I know this was about mile 20 something.  I know the was an enthusiastic uphill run that I staged solely for the photographer hanging out there.  

I finished in 8:09, far from my best trail race effort, but that wasn’t the goal on this one.  Checking the distribution of times, it’s actually a relative improvement over my first 50k, which surprised me.

After running a year of monthly half marathons, mostly on trails (2013), I realized it took 6 or 7 races before I felt like I understood how to run the distance and also that many races for my body to adapt to tackling it comfortably enough to start pushing speed well.  As my second 50k, I feel like I’m pretty early in learning to understand this distance, but learning a lot.  Chabot was about the psychology of continuing and making it through pain points.  This was more about strategizing when to back off speed and when to pick it up to keep my body from taking too much of a beating so I could keep going.  I don’t think I understand that well yet for long distances, since I feel like I was very conservative in terms of engaging with discomfort.   

Lessons learned, some of which only apply to me:  Really really back off the pace in the week leading up to one of these.  Calf endurance over multiple days is really lagging behind everything else and I need to keep that in mind, maybe as my weakest point right now.  Taking extra salt, deliberately more than I thought I needed, at aid stations was a great idea; I only needed to mildly replenish electrolytes later at home.  Slow hand has awesome bbq.  More sunscreen.  Run faster more of the last few miles; it feels better than running slower.  Don't forget your drop bag.  :-)  

Overall, this might be my favorite trail race so far with its epic views, difficulty, point to point course, variety of environments, and great organization.  I should run it again, with a better (i.e. any) plan .  Despite the slow and difficult day, finishing this has me excited for and planning more carefully for my next 50k, which will likely be in June.   

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