I've been pretty quiet on the blog front recently. In the end what makes you a better runner is running, not writing about running, and there is not really a better time of year to be logging some serious mileage than right now. Then there was the thought of my next endeavor, which seemed like such a good idea when I signed up for it in March, the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty. The thought of training for and running my first 50k over some seriously rough terrain had me mentally passing the buck for over a month. For the first time in a long time the question of whether I could actually FINISH a race loomed larger than the thought of how to run my fastest.
My training plan was simple enough: log as many miles as possible on the road to base build right up to the half marathon in April. Then after the half marathon, continue logging weekly miles while adding long trail runs on the weekend. For my trail runs I chose Mt. Falcon, a trail which I felt closely resembled the altitude and terrain of the race course, and Deer Creek Canyon, one with slightly less severe climbing but longer mileage and total altitude gain. These runs, coupled with their back-to-back road runs and cycling counterparts, made up the backbone of my endurance training.
By the beginning of the two week taper I had experienced everything I felt I needed: lung-burning ascents, quad-busting descents, runs that I never wanted to end, and runs that could not end soon enough. The only thing that remained was the x-factor, the unknown of running past the brink of what you feel are your physical capabilities and returning from "the dead" to carry on.
I arrived the morning of the race with a single goal in mind, to finish the whole distance still feeling like I was having fun. The first climb felt impossibly easy, we were moving quickly but I didn't feel out of breath at all. After a fast descent into the first aid station we climbed again, slow and steady to the high point of the course, panorama point, at just over 9500 feet. I still felt good and was able to make ground up on other racers on the downhills, but I tried to save myself for the two brutal climbs that I knew lay ahead. I had been ignoring my watch and mile markers to this point, but after the first of these two climbs I caught sight of the 13 mile mark and doubt entered my mind, I wasn't even halfway done yet! I finished the second of the two technical sections and arrived at the third aid station feeling fairly strong. That was all about to change.
The day was beginning to heat up, with temperatures heading into the upper 70s and the high-altitude sun beating down. Between the first two aid stations I had finished one 20-ounce bottle, but between aid station 2 and 3 I had downed both of them. I went through my drop bag, reapplied sunscreen and replenished my chews, and grabbed a handful of trailmix before starting the climb back up to Fraser meadows. One mile into the climb I was hurting pretty badly, my stomach was in knots and I was feeling very queasy. I was forced to walk almost all of the 5 miles to the next aid station, thankfully there were few downhills through this section as I had problems moving at all but the slowest of speeds. Despite this I forced myself to keep drinking fluids which I'm sure kept me in the game.
I finally reached the last aid station, and the thought of only 8 miles to go plus a gel that I managed to keep down had my spirits rebounding. I had made it through my low point and though it was still tough to keep going I knew I was going to finish. The long climb up Windy Peak was all that stood in my way. The journey through where I had just been mentally was somewhat humorously personified by the string of runners winding their way up the switchbacks on the side of the mountain; our own little death march. By the time we reached the top I was physically hurting, but my mind was back in it and I was able to joke with the other runners and volunteers again. Each step of the descent hurt, but I could see the finish line tucked away in the valley and it kept me going. Glancing at my watch for one of the few times of the day I now saw that I was close to 7 hours, so I made it my goal to finish with a 6 in front. With that final adrenaline kick I ran across the finish line in 6:55, both the longest mileage and longest time I have ever run before!
Despite the tough times I really enjoyed this race. Golden Gate Canyon State Park has some of the most beautiful trails I have seen and it was a pleasure to take a seven hour tour of its gems. All in all the 31 mile course boasts not a single scrap of pavement, and almost all of it is singletrack. I cannot think of a better place to experience my trip to the brink and back again.