Today (soon to be yesterday) I raced the No Name 15k. I was ranked high going into the race, 4th overall I think. I Ultrasignup stalked, athlinks stalked, strava stalked as much as I could and thought, “yeah, I belong up there. In fact, I think I could win this race…”
We departed Burbank at 5:20, ran into some construction traffic on the way there, and arrived at the starting line by 6:10. By 6:15 I was checked in.
We found the other Fleet Feet Burbank crew, dropped our race packets and bags, and chatted for a bit. After hitting the bathroom, a check of the watch showed 6:28, time to warm up for my race.
I chose to run the starting portion of the race, shooting for 2+ miles of running. My legs felt like lead as I started the slight incline and rutted path. I was breathing heavily. A quick glance at the watch showed a 8:20 mile pace – far slower than I’m used to.
“I’m probably just feeling heavy from Wednesday. Maybe I should have had a shake out yesterday…” I ran on. Pushing, desperately trying to feel comfortable at a 7:30 pace… I hit 7:40 and my breath was gone. Heaving, I pushed on. A glance at the watch and I was at 1.2 miles and 6:40am. The race was set to go off at 7.
I turned around and jogged back as the the 50k & 50 milers passed by, I shouted the best encouragement as best I could at the start of an ultra…
The return trip was no more encouraging as I was only able to muster a 7:10 pace on the downhill back to the start. Shake it off, McQuaide.
Back at camp, I saw the 15k & 30k lining up at the starting line. I rushed to get my tights off, singlet on, water bottle filled enough, and heading to the start line. After some instructions from the RD we were off. Shit, forgot to lube up.
From the gun I was trailing the top 2 guys. I was ranked high, this is where I belong, right? We passed over the first slight incline, into the gully, back up and hit a flat section. I had positioned myself slightly behind them, trailing just enough to see the rocks and ruts that were coming up. Once we hit the flat, I dropped into gear and surged between them into the lead. Flat(ish) ground led to 6:20 pace. I took the lead, which is something I have not done in a race in years, and pushed the group for the next mile. By the first major junction, I was already feeling it. Granted it was my back that was beginning to tighten, but in any race, you should definitely not feet ill effects by the 20% point. I had fucked up already… time to dial it back.
By mile 2.5 my back had completely spasmed and I could barely lift my knees without feeling steady discomfort. This back issue was something I dealt with during college cross country when I was unprepared to run the pace I’d been running.
As I watched the leaders pull away from me, I felt the panic of being overtaken. “If I’m not gonna win, I should at least podium” I thought to myself.
As the inclines grew steeper and more technical, I was eventually reduced to a hike in order to navigate boulders and keep pushing forward. For the next 1.5 miles I pushed on as best as I could, with back locked up, lower back muscles in a knot, desperately trying to prevent being overtaken.
Just before the first water stop, an older gentleman in a blue tank top passed me, but as we approach the water stop, he peeled off to get fluids and I turned uphill, following the course and bypassing the aid station (I have a hand held bottle).
At this point I say to myself, “enough of the bullshitting and pity, let’s start running,” and I push up the deeply rutted single-track. Navigating my foot placement in the deep groove of erosion and MTB tires, I muster a fair pace heading up the first hill.
A brief respite on flats and turn around a corner reveals a longggggg and visible uphill. This is where I broke. I couldn’t keep pushing hills with my back locked so I walked. And I was passed. And passed again. And again.
I was planning for a climb from 4.5 to 5.5, but the course elevation chart made it seem like a steady climb. This was no steady climb. It was steep. And there was no end in sight.
Broken mentally from a spasmed back and unexpected climb, I told myself, “just hike aggressively and run when you can, you’ll make distance up on the downhill.”
Relieved at the summit, I was able to see the route downhill – and none of my direct competitors. You see, I realized after the first aid station that 50k runners had different colored bibs than I, so I only need to focus on my own bib color. Alas, those gents were well gone at this point.
It was the downhill, and there was not much ground to be made up with no one in sight – but I pushed anyway. A mile later I caught a 50ker, kept pushing.
Once the downhill hit the flats, I pretty much knew my fate was sealed – you’re not gonna crack the top 3. Nevertheless, I pushed on – back spasmed and running form contorted. Just a few more miles and I would be done.
Then that god forsaken last climb hit – and I stalled. “Not worth it” I thought. Hiked up the hills – though not terribly steep, and ran the flats and downs, gritting through this discomfort of a locked up back. One more peak, and then a long downhill to the finish.
The photos from that finish might suggest a relaxed runner, free of care about his placing – but that wasn’t me. I finished 5th, and while not a placing one should be disappointed about – I was.
5th overall, 4th male, 3rd in my age group.
Sure it didn’t go how I wanted. I had a back issue that I haven’t had since college. But as I looked back at my Strava training log – it makes sense. I had trained really hard over the summer and then kind of let up in the 4 weeks preceding NoName. I was basically out of shape to be running as hard as I started. I was a bit fat. In fact, the guys that finished top 2 asked “what happened to the stocky guy that was with us the first 4 miles?” #FatSteve
Welp, you live and you learn. I know I’m faster than this but that is completely dependent on the training I put in. Looking back at Bandit I had put in 46 days of training in a row. It makes a difference.