Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cougar Mountain 50k Race Review

Moving to Seattle, Washington, this May, has really influenced my 're'-dedication to running. Taking a five year training hiatus has shortcomings, but it also has advantages. Like the mindset I took in June, "Whoa, a 50k race over and around two mountains...I'm in." Having not really ever been exposed to this type of terrain for any extended period of time I didn't really have a base of where/how to start training for such a vertically demanding event. So, I did what any runner would do: I started running uphill; a lot. I joined Washington trail hiking sites, like: Washington Trail Association and Hiking With My Brother. I purchased Map No 203S from Green Trail Maps. I started subscribing to ultra-running blogs and other noted mountain-runners, Andy HenshawAnton Krupicka, Dakota Jones, Geoff Roes, Joe Grant, Joe Gray (local, friend, and volunteered to pace/run with me around Squak Mtn. and some of Cougar Mtn.) and Timothy Olson. This goes on, and on. It's not as obsessive as it is assimilating, though. The long break from training has given me the upper-hand when it comes to understanding how to train properly. Completely immersing myself in my goals is just the way I train. Distance first, and then speed. Successful plans are years long, not seasons. My training was consistent, varied, and unusually satisfying in terms of success.

Week Prior to Race Day
Weekly Totals ~ Time: 01:50:09 Distance: 12.63 mi. Vertical: 2,005 ft.
(Those numbers look like a total joke, but I think it helped.)

The week prior to the race I found myself hitting the refresh button on weather.com hoping that with each new update it would somehow move Saturday's perfect forecast to Sunday. (To no avail, by the way) I also spent most of the week playing Madden '12 on PS3 and even ventured to the new rock climbing gym.

(Go full screen and click HD)
Day of the race, no improvement.
Which brings me to a more 'lesson learned' piece of advice: having fun the week before a big event is crucial, getting carried away with it, however, is not a plan for success. I didn't push myself physically too hard, but the final attempt at the start of a route landed a baseball size bruise on the inside of my right leg just outside of the knee. A few inches toward the center and my knee would have been crushed and the race definitely wouldn't have happened. It was a neat dyno, though, and I did complete it. No pain no gain, right?

This all happened on Monday. Thursday I set a new PR for total time up-and-down Squak Mtn. and Friday was just an easy 5 miles on the road. By Saturday night the bruise looked just as bad as it did Monday evening, but I could at least run the flats and uphills with relatively no pain...downhill, well, I had no choice but to laugh at the unusual and untimely injury. Every step was followed up with, "Damn, that was a cool move. Damn, why did that other hold have to be there?"

Race Day
Course Map and Elevation Profile
(Click for larger image)
The fog trampled over the mountains around midnight like a pack of coyotes. Bringing with it a blanket of misty, cool, and windy conditions. On race day, there would be no exceptions to a stereotypical Pacific-Northwest fall day. A tease of sunshine and "warm" weather the day before would soon be a distant memory that felt like a stomach ache from eating too much of a good thing.

I arrived at Sky Country trailhead about an hour before the start to drop off some on-course electrolyte replenishment and then retreated back into the car to think about the next few steps of time and avoid the cold. The starting area of races always seems to be the coldest spot in the area and although I enjoy the cold I don't like shivering for more than a few minutes before a race.
Only a little coffee left before
the start.
Sort of listening, here. Mostly
shivering
Getting a closer look
Eric Bone, race director, gave a final few instructions about the upcoming course and that someone had messed with the flags the night before and he tried to correct everything, but that we should be aware of any potentially unplanned detours. I stood patiently in a parka and short running shorts not really paying attention. I did my homework on the course and knew 99% of the turns. I didn't plan on rattling off quick miles from the start anyway, so I was sure I'd be following people. Plus, the 20-mile race started at the same time, which presented it's own mental challenges, by the way. Section 2 and Section 3 (I mentally divided the course into three 10 mile sections) I knew like the back of my hand from spending a month of training between the two sections.

As the start began we cruised around the traditional start loop of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series, a quarter mile around a grassy, usually wet field; and then we darted into the wet, foggy forest. The trail was surprisingly not too slick, and the field spread out quickly. Which is good, because the last thing to worry about is getting trapped behind a line of runners on single track trail. The first section went by relatively quickly mentally, plus I had the courtesy of running with Brad D. for most of it. The ultra-running community is by far the most casual, friendly, and laid-back community. The yearn for competition and success is embodied by tact, patience, and overall happiness. Hopefully Brad D. and I can grab some training miles together over the next few months. He's apparently a pretty good chef, too, so I can't wait to grab some grub at his place.
Laura Kay says I'm in this pic...
Mass start and a good depiction of
color on this fine Northwest day
20-milers coming through
A 1,000 ft. descent from Wilderness Peak to S.R. 900 finished off the first section. You're then cascaded into a valley between Cougar Mtn. and Squak Mtn. There's no where to go but up, and up. Joe G. volunteered to pace/run with me around Squak Mtn. and more, so I picked him up at the aid station. "My" fans were also cheering for me here, in full force, Erin S. Christy M. and Laura Kay Y. braved the miserable weather...actually they took a field trip to get coffee and sweets <can't blame 'em>...while I slowly plodded up, around, down, up, and down Squak Mtn. with Joe G.

Squak Mtn. houses 75% of the total elevation gain for the entire 50k. 4,000+ ft. of vertical gain is no joke. Compressed into 10 miles it becomes a painful reality that I'm not a mountain goat. I would have gladly traded in my two legs for four legs to push through two mental bonks on this section. When you're hiking up an incline and your heart rate is holding steady at 160+ it's tough to grasp that you're not even on the steepest section, yet. My pacer kept it real, though. Constantly reminding me to walk, eat, drink, and not make decisions until the downhill. The West Peak of Squak Mtn. is nothing that can be taken-on easily, and coupled with freezing temps, heavy fog, and no panoramic view it can be a drag physically and mentally. After reaching the summit and having my nutrition kick-in things felt much better and my legs loosened up. Hindsight, I needed to grab a vest at the base for the drastic weather change up top. Lesson learned. We quickly descended and I changed my shoes (Montrail Rogue Racer to old Brooks Cascadia), socks (Wool Feetures! to Wool Feetures!), and shirt (Craft LS to NIKE LS) for the remaining eleven miles...smart move. My legs had gotten cold enough on Squak that they began to randomly 'cramp' until they became warm again. Capri's are a must next year...or manpri's (ha).
1,000 ft. descent after 9 miles.
Only 22 miles and 6500' of gain
remaining.
Getting my race number recorded
Alright, ahead of schedule,
feeling great, and ready to
chat, run, and eat.
I came through the first twenty miles about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so I took my time on the next 1,000 ft. climb and at the remaining aid station. Should have paid more attention to the time, but at some point you're just logging the foot steps hoping you're going in the right direction and time becomes irrelevant. Your mind is your biggest enemy at painful times, and your mouth is the medium of exchange between irrational thought and how illogical thoughts can be. At some point, I just started talking and when I started talking about food I was quickly reminded, "Trey, you're talking kind of loopy. And food, right now, is not what you should start thinking about." Simple and effective advice.
Ascending to the grave (Squak Mtn.)
with Joe.
Looking for dry clothes
Dry shirt = warmth
I rounded the top of the final major climb, De Leo Wall, and cruised the downhill into Aid station 5, talked, talked some more, grabbed some Mountain Dew, and headed for the finish line. Only one more climb and then it was flat. I crossed the line in 6:05, Laura K. forgot to take a picture and proceeded to tell me that I should fake run in so she could get one. I wasn't in any way going to toy with the idea, so I smiled and said, "yeah right." Coincidentally someone else did grab a photo of me just past the finish line.
Wardrobe change mile 20
All smiles after a successful
Squak Mtn. tour
Climbing out/away from hell.
11 miles to go.
In summary, it was a 6-hour adventure, 11th overall, and the race definitely provided me with some great evidence that I'm training properly. It has been a year since I picked up running, again, and it's nice to start seeing results. I'll start to lay out my next year's racing schedule soon, and more thoroughly pick through the 135+ hours, 775 miles, and 149,683 ft. of vertical gain data I've accumulated since May.
Laura Kay 'crewing'. Only three miles
until the finish.
Finisher Photo
Eric Bone, Trey Bailey, Joe Gray