After a pretty mediocre performance at the Peterson Ridge Rumble about a month ago I was determined to come away with a better performance at the Mac Forest 50k. My training went really well leading into this weekend. I had a three week block of 80, 90, then 70 miles that left me feeling pretty good. I tried to run at much hills as possible with my best day being a 25 miler out at Smith Rock national park that included 7000 gain, roughly the same I would face at Mac.
Flash to start line. I found myself awaiting the start with my buddy Aaron Maxwell, both of us rocking yellow Fleet Feet Bend jerseys. I liked even the slightest feeling like we were on a “team”. Someday it would be great to be on a real team and race with other people for a common purpose. I think that would add a fun dynamic.
So there we were, I scanned the crowd, saw the Sunsweet Eugene runners Olmstead and Taylor, a few other decent guys I recognized, but no Max King who was on the ultra signup entry list. That instantly made things a bit more interesting. I knew that a win was a long shot even without Max, but him not being there definitely planted a seed that I would use the entire race.
The gun goes off and about 10 guys shoot out front and me and Aaron trot along at a decent pace, both Sunsweet guys behind us. I kept on telling myself that if they were behind me then I was probably going out a bit too hard. I thought the eventual winner was going to come from behind me and was definitely not in that little pack that went out hard. I really enjoyed those first couple super low key miles running with Aaron, joking around, easy pace, stress free. After a few miles though we hit a climb and Aaron slipped off the pace without a word, we parted company.
I tried to keep my pace and effort pretty conservative but I would get sucked into pissing contests here and there with the guys who went out hard but were coming back to me. I seemed to be climbing better than anyone else but then they would bomb the downhills and reel me back in. I may have pushed a little hard on a few climbs to gap some of those guys, entered into race mode a little prematurely, but whatever.
I continued to feel pretty good but was definitely getting my humility checked on the climbs. This was a certified challenging course. Constantly up and down, the single track hills were very hard, the dirt road ascents looked tough on the elevation profile but were way more mellow than I had expected.
The race really took off when I passed Neil Olsen around mile 16 on a steep singletrack uphill. Just about a minute later we came out on the dirt road climb that peaked out at the top of Dimple Hill. Neil quickly closed the gap on me on this gradual climb and actually passed me, pushing me along. It was interesting how he could run SO tough on the gradual climbs and the descents but then l could gain so much time on him on the steep uphill singletrack stuff. I could instantly hear his breathing labor while I seemed to maintain the same speed with little change in effort on these climbs. I hope this is because I am developing into a good climber!
To add to these little exchanges with Neil, a guy who I later found out was Nick Triolo, came into view up ahead in 1st place. This was my first little adrenaline rush thinking I could potentially get the win. I felt like I could handle Neil, the leader was coming back to me and my only real fear at that point was that I still had a half marathon of trail left to hold off some really tough 100 miler runners in Olmstead and Taylor.
By 19 miles I had taken the lead, Neil was dropped on a steep climb, and we had both reeled in Nick. I hit the aid at 21 miles and saw my girlfriend. I told her I was feeling great and that I would see her again in a few miles. Who would have known that in just a few miles, so much could change. The climb coming off the aid station at 21 miles was BY FAR the hardest climb in my opinion. I’m pretty sure I was able to run the whole thing but the switchbacks just felt like they went on forever! Every once in awhile I could turn around and see Nick a few switchbacks back. Dang! I thought he was toast! Apparently not even close, more like, just getting started. It’s interesting how different runners can have different strengths and weaknesses. I’m beginning to learn that you can never count anyone out and the race is never over until it’s over. I’ve determined that I run the middle half of races really well, then I falter when I start to tire and I am still too far away to feel close to the finish, then I can finish OK once I am within a few miles. Nick seemed to be super spurty, I couldn’t believe how fast he came back to me and Neil but then rebound and hang tough.
After that hard climb, I was no longer feeling very good. I felt like I was doing pretty good on my nutrition; lots of gels, maybe a few too many S caps actually, and I think maybe I could have pounded more water at aid stations while I was getting my water bottle filled. In total, I ate about 10 gels, 10 s caps, and drank about 5 full water bottles. It seems like no matter what I do though I can’t avoid cramping in the legs, mostly quads and inner thighs.
I hit the last aid station at 26.5 miles with maybe a minute lead on Nick. I remember thinking on the next climb before I knew that he was gaining on me, ‘You CANNOT run this slow and expect to win, this is just not going to cut it.’ I just couldn’t get going any quicker up the last climb and my legs were cramped although not enough to lock me up or anything.
Nick passed me at about mile 28. Passed is an understatement…be roared by me. Usually when someone does that they just gap you by a bit and then settle back into their previous pace but he just kept on going and going at that speed. I was super impressed and I think I audibly said “Holy Crap” multiple times as he continued to gap me. And I was NOT running slow! I had a 6:30 mile in there, I’m pretty sure he ran like a 5:30 mile on mile 29’s gradual downhill on dirt road. I learned a lot seeing how he was able to resurrect and then come back and really kill it those last few miles. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed. I could smell the win and I really felt like I could pull it off. BUT! This was a really great learning experience and I was actually right when I thought that I couldn’t win with that slow of last climb.
Looking back I wish I could have got myself to rally and just see if I could have hung with Nick when he went by me. If I could have just switched gears maybe it could have been interesting. But I don’t know, in the moment that was really that last thing I wanted to do. I resigned myself to 2nd and I instantaneously started wondering if he has more mental toughness than me or if I really gave it all I had or if I really have the “stuff” it takes to get really good at this sport. I’m going to have to learn to be even tougher, to learn to dig deeper and deeper, to be able to make that transition, go with ‘him’, and make my own moves.
All in all, I’m still pretty stoked on this race performance. I sort of proved to myself that my 12th place at Chuckanut wasn’t a fluke. I know this is only a 50k but I know with more running and experience I will develop into a really good trail runner if I continue to work hard and push my perceived limits. Ultimately I want to run fast 50 milers, 100k’s, and 100 milers. I feel like I’ve proven myself on a fast 50k course at Chuckanut, now I have a good finish on a hard 50k course (6800 feet gain…I don’t care how fast you are on roads, you can’t run well in these races without being good on hills and trails), and now I’m off to try to prove myself at the 50 mile distance….bring on SOB 50 miler!
Here’s a nice little article with bits of an interview of me and winner Nick Triolo from the Corvallis, Oregon newspaper (there’s supposed to be a video clip so if I find that I’ll post that too along with more pictures from the race): McDonald Forest Gazette Times Article
*Thanks to Long Run Picture Company*