I’d be lying if I said I went into crow pass crossing 100% confident of running under 3 hours 5 minutes. Between an early season injury and race week sore/flat legs I just didn’t feel like my ducks were in a row for a stellar performance. After Lake Sonoma 50 I suffered set back after set back. It started with some minor arch pain that plagued me through the winter, never stopping me from running, but always there, reminding me of its existence like a car alarm going off miles away. Shortly after LS50 I developed a case a achilles tendonitis that destroyed my plans of racing 4 of the Alaska Mountain Running Grand Prix events and tested my ability to cope with adversity. While most of my friends were competing, I was logging miles on the bike, 150 to 200 miles to be exact (80% road, 20% MTB).
In May I ran a total of 45 miles, which equates to about half of my typical WEEKLY mileage, yikes. June afforded me some reprieve as I began to shift gears and carefully begin to run again, all the while afraid that the slightest pain could send me into a downward spiral and likely derail any of my late season racing plans. PT’s told me I’d be lucky to participate in Mount Marathon and to count Crow Pass out, but I knew better. What I did know was that if I could suffer, primarily due to my lack of training volume, then I could surprise everyone who would be counting me out come “my” race season.
The final week of May I managed to put in 30 miles, so I elected to test the waters a bit and hit my body with a typical easy week. The 60 miles I ran the first week of June were just about what you would expect, pain free but also exhausting. The following week I cut my volume in hopes of getting fully recovered from a “big” training week. After another week of running (and a bit of biking) I felt things were good enough to go ahead and work towards full training, so I began building mileage, with July 25th circled on the calendar. I started with 65, then 80, but I wanted to have a decent showing at Mount Marathon, so I dropped that week to 60 and used it as a recovery week, even though I was trashed after the race. I followed up that week with a 100 mile week the week of July 6th, 3 weeks out from Crow, which was about what I would have done had I not been injured. The next week I injected some short intervals and a 24 min tempo. My legs felt surprisingly good, except I didn’t quite have the turnover I needed, for road racing at least, a race that required an average pace of 8:00 min/mile was right in my wheel house though.
The week of the race I kind of felt like crap. I did my typical pickups on Tuesday and it didn’t feel great. My legs were heavy and my resting heart rate was a bit high, both indicators of an impending poor performance. When Friday rolled around I was feeling better, but I believed it was just the excitement of the race that had me fooled into thinking that I was ready to go. I had elected to go down to the trail head the night before the race with Jim, Amber, Allan and Nina, this would reduce the morning chaos of driving, as well as afford me a bit of extra sleep. So after the pre-race meeting on Friday night I grabbed some salad, fish and rice at Jim and Ambers and we all hopped into the McDonough camper truck for the 1 hour drive to Girdwood.
When we arrived I quickly threw up my tent and got all my gear lined out. It was around 9:30 pm or so by the time I finished fiddling with my gear, at which point we all sat around on the picnic tables and chatted about the course and split times over a beer (or two) for some. I finally crawled into bed around 10:30 or 11pm to catch some much needed sleep.
I was slowing awaken in the morning to the sound of bear bells as some hiker marched through the trail head, as I rolled over I glanced at my watch, 5 am, I had set alarms for 5:30 but I was now awake, so I started to pull on some gear. I stumbled out of my tent and began to pack up unnecessary gear and such before stowing my tent and extra bags in Jim’s camper. Due to the mandatory gear requirements I had fairly tight pack that included my tights and LS shirt, both of which would be tied around my waist, the rain jacket and pants (Salomon Slab Light Jacket and Patagonia Houdini pants) fit snugly along with a hat, in the zippered pouch of my Salomon 3L waist pack. In the rear pouch I positioned my gloves for easy access so I could slip them on at the summit for the descent. I also stowed my 16oz softflask(empty) in the rear, along with an extra VFuel packet. The front of the pack contained my 6 VFuel Gu’s, as well as an 8oz soft flask for sipping on during the initial climb. I had tested this set up numerous times and found it to ride quite smooth for 20 to 30 miles at a time, so I was fairly certain there would be no surprises during the race. After situating my gear I took a short jog down the road and got in one last pit stop in hopes of removing any unnecessary waste. On my return up the road to the parking lot I threw in a couple pickups to warm up my legs a bit, along with some hops, skips and jumps to get the blood flowing.
Crow Pass Crossing
Friess called everyone over for the prerace meeting at around 6:55 or so. He mumbled a few words that nearly no one could hear due to the roaring creek below the bridge, then for some unknown reason started the race, 4 minutes early. We tore through the parking lot and quickly hopped onto the trail, surprising many people who thought they had time to situate themselves to take photos. Scott quickly pushed the climbing pace, with many giving chase, but no one able to match his aggressive climbing speed. After getting through the switch backs things had mostly sorted themselves out, there were about 7 to 8 people that had made the push to keep up with Scott, where as I succumbed, knowing full well that my best chance to catch him would be on the descent and subsequent post river trail. I began to work with Jon Clark on the climb, even passing to him my knowledge that those guy would come back and to let them go and blow up.
Its a 3 mile climb to the pass and by the halfway point we caught up to Sam Tilly, who had blown up and was walking the steep section before the first creek. I power hiked behind him for the next couple hundred feet, but as soon as the trail opened up at the creek and he went to fill his bottle, I dropped the hammer. Barreling through the creek I hit the last pitch up to the pass full bore(possibly even approaching a full on ‘let er buck) and powered up to the lake. Going across the pass I slipped on my light pair of gloves to protect my hands in the event of a fall, but also to allow me to grab brush on the sharp turns that I would face during the descent.
I checked my split at the Pass, 35:30, a PR, but slower than I had hoped to hit it knowing full well that Scott would put down a 31 or 32 min split. I hit the downhill to Raven creek at near terminal velocity. This section of trail is rather nasty, having lots of loose large rocks that make for a bit of a hard time for those not accustomed to them. I quickly caught and passed another racer within the first mile of the descent, then took aim at the next. By Raven Creek I was in 6th. At Raven I took one last split check, 1:48:xx, right about where I had hoped to be. I quickly filled my 16oz flask and moved into 5th place(someone was filling a bottle and taking awhile to cross the creek). At this point I knew who was all in front of me, which was confirmed as I caught a glimpse of Cody and Kenny as they crossed Raven gorge slightly before me. About a half mile or so after Raven gorge I finally managed to catch up to them and form a solid pacing group.
We ticked off a few uneventful miles, dodging rocks and roots while navigating the trail at a moderate pace, even joking a bit about this being the same as last year. At around mile 8 or 9 I slammed my right foot full speed into a root or a rock and fell forward hard, but managed to catch myself and do a semi-bear crawl(According to Cody I also let out a growl, which I can neither confirm nor deny). Right after that I started to get the twitches of an impending calf cramp, possibly due to the shock, but the hammering on the downhill likely contributed as well.
Upon hitting the river bed I started to reach for a Gu and as I was struggling to grab it Kenny made a move slightly picking up the pace. He established a slight gap of 20 or 30 feet, which I promptly closed back down. It was as we were moving along the river bed that I heard cheering at the river crossing, queuing me into the fact that someone was crossing not far ahead. When we reached the river Gary Howe and Dave Johnston were there passing out the bracelets. I checked our split, 1 hour 34 minutes which was about what I was shooting for. We were also given splits of 5 and 2 minutes, giving me hope that I could still track Allan or Scott down before the end.
Kenny and I made quick work of the river crossing, even though it was nearly waist deep. As we hit the opposite bank I made my push. I knew that no one likes to run with their feet nearly frozen, including myself, but I’m more than happy to suffer a bit knowing that everyone else is too. By Thunder Gorge I could barely here anyone behind me, every so often I would hear a stick break, but soon even that disappeared.
Around the ladder on the trail is when things started to take a nasty turn. I had consumed nearly all of my Gu’s, I had been taking them to combat the impeding cramps, but eventually my groin muscles had enough. At the same time both locked up, forcing me to walk. I began to think that I was hosed. I tried to stretch them, but nothing could stop the cramping. While stretching I noticed I in fact had one VFuel left, which I quickly consumed and washed down with water. As my body absorbed the Gu I could feel my quads finally unlatch their death grip. Once I got back to running I focused on efficiency, with hopes of avoiding another lock up. I dialed the pace back and accepted the 3rd place unfortunately.
About 5 miles out I saw Rob Whitney who had run out to meet his wife, Holly Brooks. He gave me an identical split to the leaders that I had heard a dozen times, 6 and 4 minutes. I knew those were set in stone, but as I passed I listened intently to see if I could hear him cheering on the next competitor, but non came. I hoped I was in the clear. I hit The Perch at about 2 hours and 34 min, which was when I realized I also wouldn’t be breaking the elusive 3 hour barrier. I took a quick drink from a bottle and took off to finish off the race. The last few miles passed with nothing noteworthy. The hills were painful, and people seemed to be at all of them, forcing me to run would I would love to walk.
1st Scott Patterson, 2nd Allan Spangler, 3rd AJ Schirack
I came in at 3:04:48, 5 minutes behind Allan and 8 minutes behind Scott. It was surprising to see that I had in fact gained a near 5 minute lead over Kenny and Cody, who hit the finish line at nearly the same time, with Kenny just edging out Cody(who cramped at the finish line quite impressively). Reflecting on the race, I can say with certainty that I can shave a number of minutes off my time. I should be able to shave another minute off my climb time and possibly another 30 seconds on the descent, plus a couple more after the river. As it would turn out, my time would be the 11th fastest time in the race’s history and the 5th fastest person. The four faster? Geoff Roes, Scott Patterson, Eric Strabel and Allan Spangler, I suppose I can’t be too upset. I guess I will have to come back for the race next year and become the 5th person to break 3 hours at Crow Pass…
Heres the Strava for anyone interested: