Wednesday, September 29, 2010

USATF 50k Trail Championships: Flagline 50k

This past Saturday September 25th I unexpectedly toed the line in the inaugural race held in the Mt. Bachelor area just outside of beautiful Bend, Oregon.  The quick trip gave Erica, Farah, and I an opportunity to venture out from our home a little, see some friends, and for me to get my "trail fix".  I missed the trails for pretty much six weeks around our pregnancy and as I was training for Portland I was kind of yearning for some trail time.  I'm so thankful for my awesome wife Erica who knows me so well and for her offering to come with me. Also, it was Farah's first time being at a race....I may have set a record for youngest baby at an ultra! (one month old!) Overall we had a great time but it was also a learning experience in many ways.  Having a newborn baby is a lot of work and I think we'll wait at least a couple months before we try that again!

We rolled into Bend Friday night and crashed at the Browning's who so graciously opened their cozy home to us.  6 a.m. rolled around very quickly and Jeff made his way to the start with us as he was planning on getting a little trail footage on his mountain bike and helmet cam.  It was chilly up at 6,000 feet early in the morning but I was amped up and ready to run with some fast guys on these epic central Oregon trails.  I noticed Erik Skaggs, Max King, Hal Koerner, William Emerson, Josh Nordell huddling around before the start. Then I ran into a couple of Inov-8 teammates Dave James and Scott Dunlap and showed off my new red X talon 190's. All of these guys would be contenders not to mention some other fast guys who flew in under the radar.

(Josh Nordell, Max King, and me (freezing!) just before the Scott Dunlap)

RD Dave Thomason gave us his spiel about the trails, aid stations, and general race information.  The course sounded fun and I was excited.  It was supposed to warm up into the seventies and the description of the race and terrain sounded like it was going to be a fast one.  I was predicting somewhere around 3:45 or so if I ran well.  OK....on your mark.....get set....GO!

Here is a little video by Richard Bolt of us being sent off from the start.  We ran down the highway for about 1/8th of a mile before we turned into the trails.

Dave James darted out in front and before long pulled away from the pack.  Skaggs and I ran together for a few miles and I would occasionally look around for Max King who I knew would be gunning for the win. I felt really...really good.  The pace was effortless and I was stoked to be running in the new 7oz Talon 190's.  They were perfect for the terrain in central Oregon too. It wasn't long before Max caught up and about the same time Erik started pulling away from me.  Max and I ran together for a couple miles and he was ok just tucking in behind me.  We were also joined by Hal and Jeremy Tolman from Eugene for a while as the miles ticked by.  The weather was ideal and the trails were super soft as we bounced over blankets of pine needles.
(Hal, Jeremy, Max, and me about thirty seconds behind James and Skaggs...Photo by Shahid Ali)

Before long we started hitting some little climbs that separated our rhythmic foursome.  Max pulled ahead and Jeremy dropped off the back a little while Hal and I leap frogged a couple times.  Eventually on some downhills around mile 15 I started really turning it on and put some distance between Hal and I.  Probably around mile 20 I caught a glimpse of Dave James and continued to reel him in.  I eventually passed him and tried to bury him but was unable to do so.  I was really surprised how well he ran given that he ran just over 100 miles in 24 hours the weekend before.

We hit a 1000 foot climb at around mile 22 and this was one of the only places I power hiked briefly.  Dave and I motored on as fatigue started setting in.  Also, I was having some issues with a recalcitrant hip.  Nothing major but just a little discomfort that made my running a little less enjoyable.  Around mile 29 with Dave hot on my heels and Erik and Max about 5 to 10 minutes ahead the race was on for third place.  I was saving a little for the end to hopefully out kick Dave.  We came to a "Y" in the trail with an older man standing there directing us down.  There were also flags lined up down the trail and we thanked him as we rolled past him at a gravity assisted 7-minute pace.  About a mile later we came to a highway....uh oh...something doesn't seem right here....we continued onward on the trail across the highway and then immediately saw Erik Skaggs and Jeff Browning walking towards us.  Jeff says, "You were directed the wrong way by the volunteer...Sorry guys...he made a mistake!"  Initially I was bummed out for obvious reasons but we all decided to head up the highway to the finish area which was very close.  I was baffled..."How did...uh...but....the flags...I don't get it!"  I knew the course and studied it and I am confident that if there weren't any markings there that I would have been able to deduce the correct way.  But with a person standing there pointing you down and the markings reassuring you it wasn't even thought about twice.

When we made it to the finish line area we saw Max King standing there waiting for us (as seen in the picture below) and we told him what happened.  Apparently the same thing happened to him as well but he knew the area and went up the highway instead of continuing down the trail.
(Max King waiting for Tolman, James, Skaggs, and myself...Photo:  Erica Wagner)

We all tried to be good sports about the whole situation and handle it the best way we could in the moment.  We decided that Erik was on fire all day and deserved the win.  Max said that he was feeling horrible and that he didn't think he would have been able to catch him.  There was no way that I would have caught Max... and Dave James admitted that he didn't think he would have been able to out kick me.  Jeremy was a little ways behind Dave and I so there wasn't any confusion there either.  We all agreed on the order and finished together.  I really didn't care that much to be honest. I was and am still open to whatever works for everyone. I was kind of deflated after it happened and was content with my experience out there.  The whole point of me going out there was to race and enjoy the trails of this stunning part of the country.  Yeah, of course I was competitive but I raced for 95% of the race and had a lot of fun out there on Saturday.  In situations like this you just have to accept the circumstances.  I was talking to Kami Semick briefly afterward about the whole UTMB situation too and we agreed that acceptance was just the best and really the only choice.

I have done a lot of races and I must say that I never experienced something like that.  But....I also can tell a quality race when I see one.  Dave Thomason and his crew put on a great event.  The course...the volunteers...aid stations, overall vibe, etc. were awesome.  Thank you all very much!!!!  I wanted to hang out longer but with the newborn baby we had to get back on the road fairly quickly.  It was really nice seeing some familiar faces and meeting new ones.  

Congrats to everyone who ran the inaugural Flagline 50k!

Full results are HERE

(I was touched to see Erica and Farah holding this sign when I came into the finish! photo: Erica)

(Jason Moyer, Me, Dave James, Max King, Jeremy Tolman...Photo by Erica Wagner)

My next Race:  Portland Marathon on 10-10-10 :-)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catching My Breath...(and catching up)

("look hands!")

Whoooooosh.....the last few weeks have been a wild ride filled with new and unexpected experiences which has caused the time to fly by so quickly.  It has also sapped some energy levels in me in a way that I've never's all worth it...and's good ultra training!

I feel compelled to give a quick recap of the last few weeks while baby Farah sleeps peacefully next to me (it won't be too long before she wakes up and demands food and/or a diaper change!).

About four days after Farah's birth (which was an emergency C-section due to the baby being backwards and possible umbilical cord complications) Erica's mother arrived from the east coast to assist us in this new chapter of our lives.  Within 30 minutes of her arrival at our home and visiting with her first grandchild, Erica started shivering uncontrollably, and then spiked a high fever.  Something was just not right.  Long story short it got worse really quickly and I had to pack up the baby and rush Erica to the ER.  When we got there she had a 105 degree fever!  She would spend the next week in the hospital as they tried to figure out what was the matter. Finally, they zeroed in on the issue which turned out to be a severe uterine infection that involved internal bleeding.  Not fun!  What was even more difficult was that Farah could not be with her mother that first very important week except for a few hours per day when I would bring her up to the hospital.  It also meant that I was pretty much the sole caretaker of this little seven pound bundle of joy, although Erica's mother was a huge help in many ways.

Erica got released from the hospital but couldn't do a whole lot because she was still weak and recuperating from all the drama.  My mother spent the next week with us relieving us in so many ways.  Both of our mothers cooked meals, cleaned, waited on us hand and foot, and allowed me to sneak away for some runs.  We are forever grateful for your help GrandMo and Me'me' and loved visiting with you despite the ups and downs.  I would like to thank all of our friends and family that extended assistance and encouragement through messages and/or phone calls.  It was really nice to have all the support and we feel very blessed.  I also wanted to say that Erica was so extremely brave, patient, and strong throughout everything and I admire her greatly for what she endured...(and thanks for cooking one cute little baby in there!)

We are now parents on our own and it is a liberating and often terrifying feeling.  We are back at home and trying to find our groove with our new little addition.  We learned a lot about ourselves over the past few weeks in many ways.  One thing I learned about myself is in the area of my running.

After White River 50 I declared that I was going to take a break from ultras for a little while and run some roads for a couple different reasons.  One...I could stay closer to runs wouldn't take as long...Three...I like to mix things up a little every once in a while.  Thankfully I only had to curtail my running very minimally despite the roller coaster ride, and was able to get in some really solid runs on the roads around Portland.  I could tell I was getting some really good speed back and feeling confident for a sub 2:40 Portland Marathon in October.  Then just about ten days ago as my body was feeling the exponential pounding from the pavement (and definitely... some added fatigue from parenting) I hit this "wall" that I have never experienced before with running.  I didn't feel excited to go out and run like I normally do and was lacking major motivation.  I can see this sometimes happening in the dead of the winter but we were having some phenomenal days out here and I couldn't bring myself to get out there.  When I did push myself out the door I seemed to just slog through some of the run.

So with the inaugural Pine to Palm 100 approaching on Sept. 18th and many of my friends participating in the event I found myself living vicariously through them and trying to track them all day and night.  I skipped my runs on Saturday which was going to be 10 miles in the morning and another 10 in the evening, and then I ended up skipping my 20-miler on Sunday!  I found myself looking at all these trail ultras for next year in my free time and had all these enthusiastic goals.

Then on Sunday I suggested to Erica that we spontaneously go back to the east coast to be closer to family.  Initially she liked the idea and we started looking into it.  I also realized that Virgil Crest Ultras (formerly Iroquois Trails) were happening the following weekend and remembered I had a free entry into the race because of winning in 2008.  I called my buddy and RD Ian Golden and asked if I could sneak in and he assured me no problem.  I was so amped!  Well...after further looking into all the details of traveling with an infant, money, logistics, etc. we decided that it wasn't in the cards and we decided to stay in Portland.

Later that evening it hit me like a ton of bricks.  What got me so excited earlier that day was getting back out on the trails!  That's it!...I need to get back out on the the the mountains!  I happened to stumble upon a race that was happening around Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon on Sept. 25th that is serving as the USATF 50k trail championships called The Flagline 50k.  I made a few calls...did a little research, and before long I was registered for the race!  The next day I went for a trail run up and down Council's Crest and had that pop in my step.  I realized something about myself...I am a trail runner!  I love running and I am not one of those people that avoids roads at all costs.  In fact I am still going to run Portland Marathon but I realized that being out on the trails is something I need on a regular basis in order to feel connected.

So this Saturday Farah turns one month old...the perfect age to introduce her to the ultra community here in Oregon and for her to attend her first race! :-) It looks like a fun course, beautiful weather, and some familiar faces (and fast runners!).  I'm really glad I re-kindled that fire...Time to get back out on those trails!....
("I'm ready for that diaper change now dad!")