Sunday, March 27, 2016

Giving up or digging in

At some point during every race, if you are pushing the envelope, things inevitably will start to suck.  Sometimes its because you've gone out too hard or maybe you have just outrun your fitness level.  Regardless of the reason, when this happens you are faced with two choices; you can either give up or you can dig in.

I will openly admit that I don't always dig in.  It can be very emotionally and physically draining to go to "the well" too often.  That doesn't mean that I don't always run hard, but when you run 30 or more races a year, taking it to that next level is reserved for just a few races.

At mile 12 of McKay Hollow Madness this year I was faced with this choice.  Do I give up, or do I dig in?

But first, let's rewind to the start of the race.

We rolled out a little fast in the first mile.  Wearing inov-8 x-talon 212's with their substantial lugs while running on pavement makes you feel a little like a pig on roller skates.  But my plan was to be "in position" by the time we hit the trail head.  "In position" meant leading the chase pack behind Josh Whitehead.  The race was for 2nd place and the competition was last years 3rd place finisher, Jon Krichev, who was also my family doctor.  Jon had been running great lately on the roads, having run a sub 5 minute mile earlier in the year.  Then there was Tim Pitt, who had been been logging a lot of miles and beat me at Mountain Mist in January.  I wanted to be leading the pack and setting the pace.  A pace that was aggressive and maybe a little too fast for what they wanted to run.

As we descended down Sinks and onto Logan Point, Jon and I had created some separation.  But when we started to climb Panther Knob, we could see that Tim and Martin Schneekloth were still running very close behind.  After that, it would be a long time before we would see anyone again.  Over the Knob, across Stone Cuts, down Sinks and climbing back up to Mountain Mist.  Jon and I stayed very close together, with me setting the pace.

The pace stayed fairly quick on Mountain Mist heading toward the first aid station and I was feeling good.  Maybe today was my day?  The longer I held the pace, the more confidence I gained.  Jon and I crested War Path together, running through the aid station in mile 5 at O'Shaugnessy Point.  Jon stopped for water, but I stayed on it, trying to flush the acid out of calves after the climb.

I took some quick energy to get me ready for the next section.  I fueled with the new Honey Stinger Organic Energy gel in mango orange flavor!

We dropped off the mountain at the split of the 25k and 12k courses.  Jon joked that if I slowed down that he would have an easier time keeping up.  Bombing down Rest Shelter takes a deranged mind, where you are willing to disregard your personal well being.  The footing is sketchy at best, mixing lose rock and a steep drop down into the hollow.

Slush mile was not that slushy and Arrowhead was less than eventful.  Running hard.  Keeping an eye where I could on Jon.  Wondering where Tim and Martin were.

I did not climb Natural Well very well.  Pun intended.  It was a slow grind to the Well itself, starting to feel the heat of the day bearing down on my shoulders.  Holding back a little on the climb helped to recover quickly after cresting.  The pace dropped back into the 7's heading south on Natural Well.  Jon had closed the gap again and as we approached the intersection with Arrowhead he was in my footsteps.

Here is where things got interesting.  I made the hard right turn onto the new Arrowhead section toward Trough Springs.  Jon followed.  I had looked at the course map in advance and it confirmed that the course was the same as in the last few years.  Arrowhead to Trough, back on Natural Well crossing the ditch.  So we ran on Arrowhead, following the flags that were on the right.  About half way to Trough, flags switched to the left side of the trail and there was orange tape blocking the trail.  It lead us back down toward the ditch.  Jon and I knew that this was not right... it was taking us to the ditch when we knew that we needed to route through Trough for the aid station.  So we stopped and tried to figure out what to do.  Quickly I started bushwhacking up through the briers to find the trail again.  When Jon and I got there, we moved the flags and pulled the tape.  If someone messed with the course, we didn't want everyone else to get confused by their evil!    We ran on to Trough Springs, popping out and confusing the aid station workers.  They said that Josh had come through from the opposite direction.  I grabbed a sip of water from Rachel and we ran on, heading down to Natural Well trail.  Within minutes we saw Tim, Martin and others running toward us.  In dealing with the mismarking, we had lost critical time and the pack had caught up to us.  After crossing the ditch, we ran back up to the intersection of Arrowhead and Natural Well to see that someone had corrected the markings, blocking off the newer Arrowhead trail.  The tape was so low that there was no way that both Jon and I could have run under it.  We would have torn it down taking that path.  We were both confused, but we couldn't let it bother us.  But it was eating away at me.

We tan down Arrowhead and through the Cistern.  We dropped off Big Cat.  Then out of no where, Jon said, "we have company."  I had somehow forgotten the lost time we gave up on the bushwhacking.  Climbing back up to Arrowhead, still running 2nd, but with 3rd, 4th & 5th all in my shadow, I considered giving up.  I had worked so hard to be in this position.  I could just step aside and let the guys pass me up.  I could ease off the pace and finish comfortably.  No one would question a 5th place finish.  After all, I would still be top master's finisher.

I could either give up, or I could dig in.

I chose to dig in.

In the mile and half segment back to the lower intersection (of Natural Well and Arrowhead) I dug in and ran harder in this section than I ever had before.  Despite the never ending mud and slop, I kept pushing the pace, not willing to give up.  I did hear some shouting behind us, which turned out to be whoever was running with Tim had fallen.  Tim would say later that he had fallen too.  I pushed on, not taking my foot off the gas.  I ran down deep into the hollow at an uncomfortable pace.  We crossed the creek, climbed up, crossed the creek, then climbed back up Cry Baby hill.  Gregg Gelmis was there to capture us the moment that we were power hiking the top section.  We joked a little, but pushed on.  I needed to recover quickly, then get ready for the final climb.

Death Trail.

I knew that I needed to have a very good climb to hold off Jon and Tim.  I needed to dig deep.  I had long since committed.  I had already gone to the well.  Now I needed to take it to the next level if I wanted to hold on.

I powered up the climb, never looking back.

With just a few hundred meters to go, I could see the top of the waterfall.  The finish line.  I saw friend Keith Henry taking video.  I could hear the cheering crowd.  I summited the climb, crossed the stream and onto the finish.    I had opted to dig in, and not give up.  I had held off a massive charge from the chase pack. I had finished 2nd overall.

With this finish, I became the only person to have run in all 9 (official) runnings of this race.

My Race History

2007 - 7th (Geno Phillips)
2008 - 4th overall (Rob Youngren)
2009 - 2nd overall (David Riddle)
2010 - 3rd overall (David O'Keefe)
2011 - Rain out
2012 - 2nd overall (Brandon Mader)
2013 - 1st overall
2014 - 1st overall
2015 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)
2016 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)

I was supported today, as I am in all of my other big races; by my lovely wife Rachel.