September was originally supposed to be dedicated to racing in the lower 48, first at The Rut and then following that up with my first 100k at Ultra Race of Champions. Then a few weeks prior to Crow Pass Crossing I decided that I wasn’t fit to compete at The Rut, so I bumped my registration to 2016, which opened up my schedule for an additional race in September. I elected to take up Kesugi Ridge Traverse as I have raced it the previous two years and knew it would bode well for my training, plus it was two weeks prior to UROC, making it an ideal window for a hard effort/race to prepare.
In the past September has always been a mediocre month for racing for me. Aside from my performance at the Equinox Ultramarathon 2 years ago, I always seem to find myself somewhat burned out and injured by the time races roll around in September. The goal for this year was to avoid such a scenario by limiting races in August and treating the month almost as a taper/recovery for UROC.
I elected to spend the night in my own bed and make the 2-hour drive to the start of the race the morning of. This allowed me to get some decent rest sleeping in my own bed prior to the race, and minimized the time spent camping in the rain, which is always a joy.
The morning drive up was somewhat harrowing. Rain was coming down by the bucket for a majority of the drive, couple that with low temperatures and you’re looking at a potentially dangerous situation for everyone racing. At the Little Coal Creek parking lot most people spent the prerace time in their cars with the heater full bore, electing to get their warm up in during the first mile of the race.
After a bit of a warm up I decided that half tights were not going to be adequate for the race and threw on some ¾ tights over my half tights erring on the warmer side of things. For a top I had an Arc’teryx long sleave shirt and a North Face Flight Series rain jacket with a hood. For the race I would be using my S-Lab 3L Waist Pack and a 16oz water flask, food would be Vfuel Gu’s. I also had a Salomon head band and pair of North Face gloves.
After an extremely short pre race meeting the race was started. Everyone seemed content to start off rather slow so I led the race out, expecting Eric Strabel and Scott Patterson to quickly overtake me and hammer the climb. Instead I spent the first mile or so alone, eventually getting caught by Eric and Scott, but they didn’t out climb me by nearly as much as I expected. After they passed me, they put no more than a minute on me over the rest of the climb.
Snow on the trail early in the raceAt the top of the climb you have to traverse a couple of rock gardens. It was crossing these that I was able to track down Scott and Eric as they elected to be more cautious than myself going over the slippery and shifting rocks. This was caused by a mixture of snow and rain that was covering the higher elevations of the racecourse, creating less than ideal running conditions. By mile 4 I had caught and moved ahead of Eric and Scott, primarily because they were not moving fast enough for me to stay warm. The snow was making for a tricky race, and the wind picking up made for very little exchange of small talk between any of us (we were all bundled up with headbands and hoods cinched tight). Scott came with me and Eric lagged 20 seconds or so behind us. We more or less maintained these gaps for quite a while, each of us yo-yoing with one another for the first 12 or so miles of the race.
Somewhere around mile 13 or so Scott made a move to distance himself from me on one of the last climbs in the first half of the race (at this point Eric had stopped to take a bathroom break and was closer to a minute behind). Unfortunately for Scott, he managed to take the only possible wrong turn in the first half of the race, which only amounted to about the distance apart we were (maybe 20 seconds). He realized his mistake rather quickly and popped back on to the trail just in front of me.
Just before Halfway I did manage to gouge my shin on the end of a 2×4 plank. At the base of the descent to the halfway point there is a small 2×4 walkway that takes you up to the ermine hill trail intersection. I somehow managed to come up short when putting my foot onto the plank, which resulted in my shin dragging along the edge of the 2×4, leaving me with a 3” bloody gash covered in mud. Fortunately it was so cold that I could barely feel it and only noticed after the race how bad it actually was.
On the slight climb up to halfway I decided that my best bet for handling Scott would be to allow him a gap, with hopes that he might not push the climbs so much with me out of sight behind him, so let him go rather than try to hold on and battle it out on the climbs. I collected a fresh 16oz water flask at half way and moved on(even though I really wanted to drop given the terrible race conditions).
As usual the climb up to skinny lake and Point Golag were by far the worst part of the race for me. I caught a glimpse of Eric creeping up on my as I was ascending Golag and expected him to really crush the second part of the course. He managed catch me around mile 22 or so pulled away for a bit, staying around 1 to 3 minutes ahead of me.
Shortly after he passed me I had a small bought of cramping in my groin muscles (which would be very minor compared to what would later take place). I managed to stretch it out and down some Gu, but I couldn’t see anyone else coming down the trail, so I was resolved to take 3rd place again, expecting Eric to go chase down Scott.
The next couple of rollers passed with little significance. I could see Eric, but no one was in sight behind me. My stomach was having issues so I was keeping water going, but Gu was not working for me. Around mile 24 or so I caught back up to Eric who was hurting (we both were really) and relayed to him that we only had about 6 miles of this shit left. Neither of us were moving particularly fast at this point, but we were steadily climbing up one of the final hills before the descent to Byers Lake.
It was during this time when I caught Eric that we encountered what was possibly the worst part of the race. We both were exhausted and ready for the race to be over when we came upon a beaver pond that had been built over the summer and flooded over the trail. Eric and I both stopped completely to evaluate it, thinking we were going to get really wet trying to cross on the ‘trail’. Eric mumbled, “I think we’re going to have to swim it” to which I profusely objected and began scrambling around looking for a different route and eventually located an older beaver dam just up stream. Thankfully we were able to scramble over this and get back on the trail and managed to only get our ankles wet (Other racers were not so fortunate, many elected to wade through the puddle and got wet up to their chest, which for Eric and I would have meant a full on Hypothermic reaction later in the race when we both inevitably got REALLY cold).
After crossing the beaver pond I was in front of Eric and tried to maintain my steady speed up the climb, never really moving like I would like to normally, but just keeping forward progress. The next thing I knew I was all alone, and as I began the descent to Byers I kept expecting to have Eric blow by me, especially when I began cramping ever half mile or so. Fortunately for me he never popped up, allowing me to “cruise” in for 2nd place(I nearly walked the last 3 miles due to extreme cramping on hills, up or down).
I definitely struggled those last 3 miles in, running nearly 9 minutes slower over the final miles than I did last year, which meant I didn’t get to PR again this year. However if you take into account the weather then I would consider this year to be a PR, the snow and trail conditions were far worse than either of the previous two years and given how slow my last few miles were, some minor tweaks to my fueling and I would have killed my PR from last year. Hopefully I can engineer the performance I have been seeking at UROC where most everyone will be watching. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was frustrating sitting out on The Rut and having two Alaskans go down and have stellar races, I’d love nothing more than to do the same.
Although this wasn’t my best performance, I’m happy that I was able to pull things together and duke it out with Eric. Up to this point I felt like I haven’t really beaten anyone worth noting, granted this isn’t totally fair considering Eric’s bonk, but we were on a level playing field in that regard.
I’d say that I’m definitely in better shape than last year at this point, which bodes well for my upcoming out of state racing at UROC and TNFEC (December). Ideally I would have taken some Coca Cola in the later part of the race to mitigate the cramping. I don’t expect to be plagued by similar issues at either of the upcoming races as the technical running will be nowhere near what I have experience at Crow Pass and Kesugi this year. Hopefully nothing new arises between now and then. It appears that most of the tendonitis flare-ups I had earlier this week have healed up and are no longer plaguing me. Bring it on Auburn!