Monday, April 7, 2014

Hell's Hills 50K

Leading up to Hell's Hills, it dawned on me that it had been about two YEARS since I'd run an organized ultra.  I was just glad that my re-entry into the "scene" would be at Rocky Hill Ranch, one of my favorite places to race for various reasons.  First, the logistics are fairly easy - about an 1:45 drive down I-10 and up Hwy. 71 to a place seemingly built to accommodate 400-500 runners (easy parking, lots of space to spread out, centralized registration/packet pick up/start-finish).  Second, as with all his races, Joe, Joyce & Co. have this one running like a well-oiled machine.  Third, the trails at the Ranch are a lot of fun, with a little bit for everyone.  Hills?  While there's nothing big, there are plenty of nice 50-75 foot rollers & a slew of short, steep drop-ins.  Rocks?  This is my fourth time at this race, and I always underestimate the rockiness on parts of the course.  Doesn't have the consistent rockiness of Bandera, but brief parts of it are nearly as gnarly.  Buffed out singletrack?  Absolutely.  Some really nice stretches of super-runnable smooth trail.  Flowers?  See above. 
Waited too long to find a hotel room and decided to drive up morning of.  This meant a brutal 2:45 wake up, but once the caffeine was flowing, it wasn't that bad. Made it to the Ranch with just enough time to grab my packet, drop it back at the car, and grab a spot toward the back of the pack. The 6:00 a.m. start meant running in the dark for the first hour, and if I had it to do over again, I would have moved up in the starting gate a bit, because I quickly became boxed into a slow conga line for much of the first 4 miles. I decided to just roll with it though, as I had no intention of running hard early.  Made it to the first aid station in a desultory 1:12, and walked out chatting for a bit with Tim B., who I would run into later.  By about mile 6 or so, a familiar pain began to flare in the left foot - the damn neuroma.  Sometimes it fades after a bit, but not on this day. So began 25 miles of hurty foot running.  Sometimes just a dull ache, other times pure, searing misery. While this did not excite me, it was an opportunity to work on my "mental game" for Miwok.  The "mental game" is basically dealing with discomfort for multiple hours.
After circling through the start/finish (and stopping at the car for some Ensure and new gels), I hobbled back out for the second loop.  The foot was pissed and I wasn't in a great mood, but I just focused on running aid station to aid station.  The section between the S/F and first aid station is a jumble of twisted, sometimes rocky trail, that wasn't all that fun the second time around.  Finally made it to the first aid (nearly 10 minutes faster than on loop 1) and ran into Tim B. once again.  This time around we bitched amiably about the stupidity of the whole endeavor, and combined with the cruiser trail between there and the next aid station, I fell into a pretty solid rhythm.  By the time we made it through that last aid (Henry Hobbs's first-rate "Tunnel-o-Pines"), we were all about just getting it done. And that's what we did - running when it felt okay and walking when we needed to. Breaking into the final straightaway, the pain in the foot took a brief backseat to the joy of finishing.  All in all, a pretty satisfying day. 

Shoes:  Altra Olympus.  Not blaming the shoe for the foot pain, as it can happen regardless of what I wear.  And, man, I really like these shoes.  Once I gained a little confidence, I began just blasting right over whatever rocky shit the course laid before me.  No gingerly picking my way through the ball bearing rocks - at times, I seriously felt like it was cheating. 

Hydration:  Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest with Hydrapack bladder.  Kept an empty bottle in a front holster and used it to camel a bit at aid stations, while I sipped from the bladder in between.  Worked pretty well, although the vest is so wispy that the sloshing from the bladder is somewhat pronounced.  It's a light but noisy mofo.  Storage was more than sufficient.

Calories:  5 GUs, 2 PB&J squares, a quarter of a quesadilla, most of an Ensure Plus (slightly watered down), some Coke, and 2 S-Caps.  Ate and drank to taste and it worked just fine.  Miwok will obviously require something more, but this was a start.