A tale of two hearts: Deception Pass 50k

I roll into the last aid station with about 4 kms to go. I’m angry. My hydration pack wont open, they don’t have the snacks I want. I’m short with the aid station attendees who only deserve abunant thanks for the work that they do for the runners. This is the way my longest runs have been since I started up the Kludahk trail last August. I get irritated. Head full of bees, pukey, thirsty, etc. Although I don’t train as hard as I should, I do run a lot; enough to lend me some ease in these races? The thing that happened is that I’ve just been running with a lot less joy these days than I did when I started and when I was progressing through the Island Race Series a year ago.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s no joy in my running. I’ve had countless blissful runs over the summer, fall, and into this winter. Pure smoothness some days and pure speed (for me) others. But, my state of mind has been eroding overall. Negativity creeping in as I stagnate at work, then come home frustrated day after day of wasting a precious life.

The start of my race was one of those blissful runs and, actually, most of the run was. But the photographs of me en-route show a different heart, a different face. In each picture I could scrounge up of me since the race, there I am with a god aweful grimmace on my face. Brow furrowed and concentration in the extreme. When I first saw the pictures I couldn’t understand them. I had felt pretty good, pretty happy, and pretty chatty during much of the race. I had set out some rules that were similar to my Sun Mountain 50k but a little stiffer in terms of what they would demand of me: heart rate cap of 160, pace of 5:30 kms when on roads, and drinking a lot and eating as much as possible. At Sun Mountian, my HR cap was 140 and I’d hoped for 6:00kms on roads late in the game. For Deception I was hoping for a time around 5 hours 30 minutes.

This is the look that tells the story of my race

At the start all was going according to plan. The race begins by running a couple of kms on road up a short but steep hill followed by a fun taste of the trails to come near the Deception Pass campground. I caught my friend Chris in there and met her friend Lisa. We watched a beaver swim past on the lake and generally marvelled in the decent weather and how much fun it is starting a long race like this. Each runner holding onto a little ball of energy and enthusiasm and stoicness for what lies ahead. After nearly looping back to the start, the race hooks north to a trail paralleling the shore that makes up the south side of the pass. This trail is rocky and rolly with sime short steep climbs and technical sections interspersed with wide forest paths eventually climbing up to the bridge itself. I was caught up in the moment and had forgot to note that my watch was displaying lap average heart rate rather than instantaneous thus I was peaking well above my target max rate. So, with things looking in check, I powered along and eventually caught a friend of Dave C’s from Vancouver who I knew was fast. So, I slowed to his pace and held on for a while.

The route crosses the bridge from the south side to the north and then ducks off down a “trail” leading into the park and the first in a series of four “lollipops”. These loops are fun because they get longer with each successive one allowing slower runners to say hi to the faster. They are also good places to play trail chicken and keep you alert for head ons when the lead runners race past the trailers on the stem of the pop. In the middle of the second lollipop a runner in front of me twited his ankle and went down. This startled me after watching Liz have to pull out of her race with a badly sprained ankle the day before. After checking in with him, on with the race (he later finished and seemed in good shape)!

After a few lollipops I began to realize that I’d gone out too hard. I was ahead of people I knew to be faster than me and was running in between a couple of fast runners from the Seattle area. So, after the second pass through the first aid I decided to slow it down a little. Until then, I’d been running with others and was kind of racing people despite the early stage. After slowing, Dave Campbell caught up with me and we ran together and chatted for the next few kilometers. I learned that his strategy was to build his heart rate through the race and that he was still in the slowest stage about to kick it into a higher gear. I knew to let him past when he decided to kick it, which he did midway through the 5th lillipop at around 15 kms.

The course in google earth

Lollipops 2 through 4 travel out onto headlands in the Salish Sea and we got beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains, Smith Island, and the shoreline of Deception Pass. Beautiful passageways between rocks, blu-green kelpy waters and eagles calling from trees. These were the prettiest parts of the run and might argue for a reversal of course for next years’ event to give weary runners something nice to look at. Loop 5 climbed up the hill above Pass Lake on old and new logging roads, through a clear cut and down the other side through nice old forest. On that descent I caught Lisa and started chatting with her. In retrospect I wonder if all the chatting was getting on her nerves. Some runners lie to talk, others not. I was in a talkative mode but don’t know if she was. So, I steadily streamed questions at her down Pass Lake hill, back across the bridge, and up Goose Rock. Eventually I had to duck into the woods to pee and we parted ways. All of that was simply gorgeous running with views of water from the Bridge on and a very steep albeit short climb up Goose Rock then back down to the retreat center and onto Cornet Bay road to the second aid station. (access to 3rd through 5th aid opportunities).

After my pee break I started to hit some kind of wall. Up onto Cornet Bay road I caught Chris and then ran with her a little ways. I was feeling pretty run down by then. My early speed was catching up to me and I wasn’t comfortable and I recall moving through a similar tough time at the halfway point of the Sun Mountain 50 k. At the aid station I lingered, getting water in my pack and drinking a lot of water and gu bru and grabbing a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches. Heading out of there I was a fair bit behind Chris and Lisa and again running my own race. This next phase of the race is two loops through a mixed 2nd, 3rd, and minor old growth forests on old roads, connector trails and the like. It’s pretty in an industrial forest way with the odd beautiful patch of trees.

As I ran I slowly munched the PB + J sandwiches I’d grabbed and tried to keep down the food and water as nausea and general discomfort settled right in. I was starting to cramp already which didn’t bode well for the rest of the race. I had strange cramping in my left anterior tibialis that I’d never felt before and very crampy quads. I guess this is when the racing really started. My pace felt really slow, but my GPS revealed that my splits were reasonable. I tried to focus on anything but the pain. I’d recently read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running wherein he describes various pains entering and exiting the body and the eventual freedom from pain that happens when you run long enough. Well, I tried to focus on the leaving or anything besides the pain and wished for an ipod.

Midway through that first loop I caught Chris and Lisa who were running together. I glommed onto them and somehow we together powered each other through that first go-round. We didn’t talk much but I think we were all happy for the company of friends. I wouldn’t have run that fast, but they made it look possible, so I just did it to hang on. Midway through this loop, the leader of the race lapped us. It was none other than Victoria’s Matt Cecil who is a terriffic trail runner. He was pushing well ahead of the nearest trailing runner and wound up finishing about 12 minutes ahead. For myself, I didn’t have any desire to pass Lisa and Chris until the end of the loop where the course drops back down to the aid station. I wanted to get some speed on the down so passed Lisa and Chris and blasted to the road and to the aid station. On this blast, Dave passed on his way back up from aid a good 20 minutes ahead of me and looking really good. His friend was a couple of minutes ahead of him and it turned out that Dave wouldn’t catch him. Those folks are fit from running the north shore of Vancouver.

Foodwise, I’d been eating a GU or two, dates, swedish fish (YUM!), and PB + J at the aid stations with a lot of gu brew at aids and lots of water. I was flying through water at a hydration pack full per aid stop with lots at the aids themselves. Over the whole race I drank around 6 L of fluids and probably not enough salt. For food, in total I ate 3 GUs, a large handful of dates, and a large handful of sedish fish and 1 1/2 PB+J sandwiches. At the current aid stop I dug through my drop bag and dug out the reserve dates and fish and then got back on course. A slow aid stop at almost 4 minutes, but I felt like I needed the rest. While I was there Chris and Lisa breezed through and dashed out leaving me to try to catch them later on. They are saavy, experienced racers and know how to speed through the aid stations.

As I headed out from the station I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that loop again. I took comfort in the fact that I knew how it all went and, like a long boring commute, sometimes familiarity makes the time pass faster. So, I chugged, I cramped, I walked more on the ups and ran not as fast on the flats and downs. Again about midway in the loop, I caught Chris and Lisa but not long after I did Lisa pulled over for a pee break and Chris stopped to wait for her in a very sportswomanly move. I ached past to their encouragement and was mostly alone for the rest of the race.

Of course, by now I was starting to taste the finish and knew that I actually would finish and that always pulls one along. But, I could never, in this race, shake the nagging feeling of “why not just stop”. Maybe that was the concerned look on my face during the race — a sense of forcing myself to do something I didn’t want to do. I wanted to bed down in the ferns and just sleep, I was never sure I could do it, that I wouldn’t twist an ankle, or puke or even pass out. I’d adopted a blister on km 5 or so and it was lively and sloshy by the 20th kilometer let alone the 30th and the 40th and the 50th. My crotchal region started to chafe at km 10 or so and was a world of sting from then on makng me worry that I’d wear a hole down there. So, when I hit the aid station at the end of the last loop and with only a few kms to go, I was in a sour mood. JUST GET ME OFF THIS COURSE. I left aid quickly and walked the first minute on the road and then started to run. Back throuh the retreat center eventually to a mellow climb back up to the highway and an underpass leading to a final descent to the north beach and eventually home. A guy passed me on the climb out of the retreat center and I tried to hold onto him a little, but to no avail. After a walk up the hill, I roled into the final descent. Back on the rolly, beachside trail we swung past Glenn Tachiyama who photographs the races. He snapped my photo and soon I heard him shout encouragement to Chris who still had some cheer and chat in her. Damn. I knew I couldn’t do anything to keep her from passing me if she had the gumption. I had no gas pedal to hit, just maintenance.

finally, the trail climbed away from the beach over to the parkinglot and the 1/2 km of pavement to the finish. My watch hit 50k (3 km longer than sun mountain) and I tried to speed up to finish. I crossed and turned to high 5 Chris who was only 30 seconds behind me. I hugged Liz and then collapsed on the grass in my usual post race crash of cramping and nausea and extreme frazzle.

Blargh! Done! Snarl!

And that was it. 5:47 or so. A steady heart rate that was way too high. A full week of badly lactic acid filled legs. It was great. My disgruntle during the race faded as soon as I had pizza and beer in me. Liz and Brianna were there to cheer me on and care for me and soon my desire to run again returned.

But why all the grumpy faces in the race? Do I take this too seriously now? Was I trying to race instead of challenge myself and myself only? Was it the presence of fast peers that made me try to keep up and be disappointed when I couldn’t? Is there a root in here that is shared with my dysfunction in my workplace?

I don’t know. Since the race I’ve had many excellent runs with my sister who visited for a couple of weeks. A 30 km run from Sidney to Victoria, a 2:45 run in Goldstream up difficult hills at a friendly pace with little food and almost no water. Running with people I love, being social seems to make running into what I want it to be and my life into what I want it to be. Being isolated and alone on trails or at work these days seems to be draining me. Leading to pain both firm and existential. I have another race in a few weeks on Orcas Island. How do I do this one and keep the smile on? Slow down? Not compete? Compete with a smile?

We’ll see.

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