Gorge Waterfalls build-up week 4: Night time delight, Thursday morning exploration, and the shortest race I’ve run in months.
Mid-Week Nighttime Trail Run
It’s not often that I’m able to get on the trails during the week, unless I wake up super early to do so. But Tuesday night was a treat when a couple of friends (@ultra_trail_runner_ & @andrewisadrummer) decided to join me for an evening tour of the Verdugo Mountains. Since my focus was on relaxing and recovering this week, I wanted to make sure I kept my heart rate low and backed off the pace when my legs started aching. Turns out, this was the perfect group for me as we were all able to get what we wanted to get out of this run: Me – recovery, Rhea – Motivation, Andrew – cool pictures to manipulate in Photoshop.
There wasn’t anything terribly notable about the run. No animals stalking us, no lost hikers to rescue, nothing really. Except for some amazing views of L.A. from the coastline around to the San Gabriel Mountains. It was seriously beautiful that night.
Rhea and Andrew’s headlamps starting pooping out on them, but I was able to light up the trail with my Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp (which I’ll write a review of soon) that blasted the trail with 215 lumens and saved the day (night). A glorious evening run culminated in delicious burritos from Poquito Mas, but someone needs to tell them to double wrap those fuckers.
Thursday with the Yotes
Joined the So Cal Coyotes again last week for a run starting from the Westridge Trail, just a couple miles off of Sunset Blvd. in West L.A. I’ve done this trail before, so I was familiar with the route up to the NIKE Missile Silo. Again, I kept the effort pretty easy the whole way up, climbing about 1,000 ft. in 3.5 miles. At the turn around, I ran back with my friend Andrew and some of the people he knew from the group, one of who’s name is Pedro. Pedro had just run a 100 mile race the weekend before. Pedro was recovering in preparation to run the Sean O’Brien 100k this weekend (2/6/16). Pedro is a little crazy, but Pedro is also a total badass.
We decided to take the single track on the way back which added a bit of elevation to what would have been a steady descent home. It was fun to mix up the terrain a little while the sun climbed into the morning sky. Pedro and I separated ourselves a bit from the rest of the group as they stopped to snap photos. We waited for the gang to catch up to us at what turned out to be a trail junction (I could have sworn that trail to the left was just some stomped down weeds where someone took a piss), and once everyone was present, decided to take said piss trail instead of the more obvious choice (Walt Whitman would be proud).
Well, this fuckin’ piss path ended up dropping the floor out from under us, and we bombed down a snaking single track under a low canopy of stick-trees. Andrew, the poor bastard, must have had a hell of a time on that trail as it felt like I was nearly decapitated by an idle brand on more than one occasion, and he’s almost a foot taller than I. At some point during my perceived free-fall it dawned on me that we were descending much more than we ascended on the way out, and sure enough, we had.
While breaking out of stick-tree alley, we turned a corner into a meadow on the canyon floor and the houses we had started the run beside were staring down at us tauntingly. I wasn’t necessarily pleased about the climb out of this canyon, but I also didn’t really care since I had time before I needed to be at work. The rest of the group seemed less excited that I was. The climb out was steep, but short. Hands on knees, we shuffled up the straight-shot-trail to the fire road junction that led us back home.
Not so quick, buck-o. They insisted on taking the single track ALL the way back to the start, which meant another short climb to the peak above the trail head parking area.
Typically I opt for the easier route that allows me to run at a better pace and get back quicker, but running with new folks is teaching me that there is a lot more out there to explore, experience, and enjoy when you chose “the road less traveled.” Which is really what this is all about.
Perspective From the Podium?
Saturday was the Bandit Ultra Runs, which consisted of 6k, 15k, 30k, and 50k races. I ran the 15k and had a number of friends that ran that and other distances, too. Fleet Feet Burbank was well represented at this race, with 7 of us toeing the line, aiming to dominate challenging race courses.
The 15-50k courses waste no time getting to the ball-busting climbs on these tough and technical trails. Within a mile or two (depending on the races), you find yourself scrambling up punishing switchbacks and single track trail that most would describe as a “dry waterfall.” The second mile climbs over 660 ft. up a hard sandstone trail, which at some points feels more like bouldering than running.
From the gun, I found myself in 3rd place overall climbing this section of trail. Most everyone was reduced to a power-hike at this point, and while I knew the key to this course was not about charging the uphills but bombing the flats and downs, I still felt the very real panic of being chased by those behind me. I was passed by 2 high school kids at about 1.5 miles, which kind of got in my head a little bit. Do I chase them? Do I sit tight and wait? Should I be running this section or is hiking OK? Lots of self-doubt with 8 miles to go…
As we hit the fire road and the incline decreased to a manageable 300-500 ft. per mile, I was able to find my climb rhythm and start running again. About a mile later I caught up to the high schoolers (who were walking at this point) and trotted past them saying, “How we doing? Keep it up, guys,” which apparently caught them off-guard and I heard them say to one another “huh? That’s the competition… see you in a while man” with pubescent confidence. Damn foreshadowing…
I continued to chug the long, grinding climb to mile 3.5 where things began to flatten out a bit. “Here,” I thought to myself as I began to open up the stride a bit and drop the pace. I was able to hum along this rolling section of trail towards the aid station turn-around between 6:50 and 7:50 pace, feeling good about my 3rd place position and how my body was feeling.
Opting to run light and minimal that day I left the handheld bottle in my trunk, but by the time I neared the turn-around I was kicking myself a little because my mouth was near-Mojave dry. Thankfully I was able to grab a small cup of electrolyte drink at the aid station to wet the whistle and focus on hammering the second half of the race.
Why is it that what feels like flats on the way out is always a steady climb on the way back? I was really starting to feel the increased effort and pace at this point, but could see I was about 1:30 behind the leader and the same ahead of the high schoolers so decided to focus on maintaining my effort levels and concentration. The climbs were not nearly as strenuous as they looked and I was still feeling pretty strong as I neared the peak of the long descent.
I don’t consider myself a strong downhill runner, especially when the trail is technical. And this rock-strewn and rutted downhill definitely qualified as technical. I concentrated on keeping my eyes at least about 15-20 feet ahead of me to plan for the next move and dodge 30 and 50kers that were still making their ascent. After a mile of hammering downhill my legs were aching and I wanted nothing but to slow down and recover. But this was a race, so I kept pushing. At this point I remembered my secret weapon discovered during the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler: smile.
As I approached the turn to bomb down the most technical and steepest section of the course, the volunteers checking bib numbers must have thought I was a crazy person. Flying into the turn with a smile ear-to-ear, I belted my bib number at them and dropped into the descent. Keeping with my downhill strategy, I kept my eyes up as much as I could to plan for the next step, and after the first hard turn, what was that, another runner? I had managed to make up about a minute of time since the turn around and caught up with second place and with each stride was making up ground. Unfortunately, once all ground was made up there was no room to pass on this trail. I hung tight, nipping at his heels knowing that room would open up in a third of a mile.
As we completed the technical, free-fall section we made the hard right turn into the tunnel under the freeway. And what was that at the end? Another runner? 1st place!
As first place looked back at us entering the tunnel as he was exiting, we all realized at the same time what was happening. This was gonna be a race.
Entering the switchbacks, we were about 10 seconds apart from first to me, in third place still. I was unable to make up more ground on the switchbacks and my legs were screaming at this point. Having done only ultra training for the last 10 months, the rush of lactic acid was an unfamiliar and unwelcome guest in my quads and calves. Coming off the switchbacks and through the picnic area, second place began to pull away from me. Within a matter of seconds he had separated himself from me and was on the heels of first place.
Trying with all my might, I just wasn’t able to make up ground. It seemed that I had reached maximum velocity for this race and I was running flat out. (This is always a strange concept for me because thinking back on race, I’m sure there was an extra gear there, but I just haven’t trained myself to access it yet. This is why speed work is important) As we crossed the bridge and turned left into, what I thought at the time was, the home stretch, I heard footsteps behind me. God damnit, it’s the high school kids.
Without an ounce of remorse, he flew by me (thank God there was only one) and left me in his dust. I was broken. I had been so stoked to maybe finish in the top three and earn my first podium placing since… about 2003. But nope, it wasn’t meant to be. After a few strides of self-pity, I regrouped and kept pressing. And then something crazy happened.
I was still very much in this race, first and second place were still battling no more than 75 meters away from me, with the high schooler closing in, when first place pulled to the side of the trail… and stopped. There was not much time to see what happened to him as I passed by him, all I knew was he was hunched over next to a rock and I was in 3rd place again. It was about this time that I realized that the finished was not the straight-shot I thought it was, but a small loop around the finishing area that added another 300 meters or so.
This is when things get a little blurry for me. I had been redlining since the top of the free-fall trail trying desperately to catch the leaders, but now I was unable to supply enough oxygen to my dome to remember exactly what happened that last 300 meters other than I saw my dad cheering for me and then I was at the finish. In 3rd place.
So, it was a crazy day for the ol’ Steve. I’m really happy with how I raced, I think I raced smart, and I think I was pretty tough when it got down to it. Considering that was the shortest race I’ve run in a while and I’ve been doing zero speed work (just some strides), I was surprised and pleased with how things went.
And in case you’re wondering what happened to the 1st place guy, he cramped up with about a quarter mile to go and had to stop. I’ve been there before… poor bastard.
What’s On Deck?
I have a few goals for next week(s):
- I have some lingering calf tightness from the race that seems to be getting sharper. It’s a familiar issue for me, and I’m know I just need to run it to the point it releases, in addition to aggressive foam rolling. This kind of calf tightness tends to show up after speed training or racing fast. Shouldn’t be a big deal but need to keep an eye on it.
- After last week’s “rest” week of lower mileage, I’m building back into volume this week shooting to hit around 65.
- My office just let us know that they will be providing free yoga and/or Pilates on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this will help me with the strength and flexibility training routine.
Elevation: 7,198 ft.
Run Streak: 29 days