In order to gauge performance one must “put out” at a high level in each race or competition. This means having the guts to suffer and know that the suffering will come at some point. This was on my mind a lot during the Mt Taylor 50k on Saturday.
First off, what an amazing course. Great singletrack, runnable jeep roads, mountain summits, smooth downhills, semi-technical sections, excellent aid stations, you name it, RD Ken Gordon provided it.
About a week and a half ago I had reservations about running this race. The Heartland 100 is only two short weeks after and the “don’t do too much” warning light was starting to become more prevalent. You see, when I race, I do the best I can, period. I crave competition, the green light to put the hammer down and leave it all on the trail. Could I use this race simply as a training run?
Knowing this, and knowing that I would indeed line-up to race on Saturday, I told myself not to push hard the first 16 miles. There was one “big” climb at the beginning to over 11,000 feet and the race leaders were sure to push a solid pace up that climb, as well as the ensuing 10 mile, mostly downhill section after the initial climb.
I settled into a comfortable pace, focusing on my breathing and running relaxed. I had done only 2 mountainous runs since Mt. Werner on August 4th, thus was not expecting to be totally relaxed on the first climb or decent.
At mile 10 there is a rather welcoming aid station, full of support and screaming efficiency. I was in and out quickly, grabbing two gels and filling my water bottle, as I did at each aid station along the course. Through the next 6-mile section I kept the strategy going and could feel myself becoming more and more comfortable. Thoughts were now turning to, “do I want to push it?” At the Rock Tank aid station, mile 16, I was again in and out quickly, dropping my jacket off as I left. The next 4 miles were ran alone. Coming up on the aid station at mile 20 I was told that the next runner in front had about 3-4 minutes on me. Based on how I ran the first half of the race I knew that catching him was possible. The next section was a 3.5 mile climb to the summit of Mt. Taylor. This section was mostly power hiking, mixed with bursts of running when possible. I was now eating a gel about every 20-25 minutes and taking two saltstick capsules per hour. My calves were tight from all of the climbing, but my body felt strong. I spotted Jason Taylor in the distance, and one other runner just ahead of him. Summiting Mt Taylor we embarked on a steady downhill of probably close to 3 miles. On this downhill section I blew past the two runners that had led me up the previous climb and put a nice gap in them as the trail turned back uphill, the final uphill section. On this section I came up Andrew Hahn and Garret Smith, passing both of them before the last aid station and feeling super strong. Two miles to go and I was off and running, thinking a lot about Heartland in two short weeks, and about how well my fueling had been that day. I must have really spaced out because I missed the right turn to go down the mountain by a lot…. I ran a mile past it, back up to 10,800 feet, when I should have been descending… realizing my mistake I was immediately deflated. Having worked so hard on to pass 4 runners only to give it back to them by a stupid lapse in clear thinking was upsetting to say the least. Needless I bombed back down the jeep trail and finally saw the turn I missed. I hammered as hard as I could to the finish, which wasn’t in the plan, but I now just wanted it to be over. About 100 meters before the finish I spotted Smith and came right up on him as we finished. Looking at my watch and finishing time, I had lost 16-17 minutes on that blunder. Amazing. All in a race I wasn’t planning on “racing”, ha.
As Prefontaine famously coined, “we run to see who has the most guts”. This is ultrarunning, pure and simple. Strategy mixed with the willingness to expose all limitations, and break through previous barriers whether physical, or mental.
Onward. Heartland 100, now 12 days away. The Hay is in the Barn.