I acquired a small injury at the beginning of this winter. A calf strain, not the worst, but bad enough that I had to take 10 days off of running. This is how I decided to run the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. It was probably for the best as it gave me 4 months between ultras instead of two if I had run the Black Canyon 100k like I was planning to. A bit of a side note, but I am trying to be smarter and have some longevity in my ultra running. I am fairly certain that racing too often could end my competitive running days prematurely. The shorter training period leading up to Gorge went quite well. I was optimistic standing on the start line that I had a shot to get top two and the automatic Western States entry.
To say the field went out guns blazing might be an understatement. I let myself get dropped immediately, like first 1/4 mile. I have always thought that conservative early pacing in ultras is key for strong finishes. I decided to run at an effort that was at least semi sustainable. I found myself in about 8th place after the first big climb and descent coming through the first aid station right on pace with the leaders split from last year. I knew that I was not going too easy, still the gap to the leaders had already grown to 4-5 minutes in the fist 6 miles.
I really wasn’t quite sure who all was up in front of me in the early stages of the race. We started in the dark so the faceless headlamps of the predawn miles all blurred together. I tried to keep myself from thinking too much about what everyone else was doing and focus on being calm, running smoothly, and saving as much energy as possible for the return journey (GW is an out and back course so we’d be seeing all this terrain again in reverse).
Pounding a Coke aid station pose
I found myself in good spirits and tied for 4th place at the turn around point which came at the bottom of a 3 mile 1000ft descent. Getting to see how far back I was from the leaders was helpful and somewhat hurtful all at the same time. It was about a 10 minute gap to first/second. Doable in a perfect world. So much happens to you over the second half of a long and difficult race. I have been in this position many times needing to make up ground later in races so I kept my focus forward pressing on to catch everyone I could.
As I made my way up the long grind I began to hit what would become a series of lows that would come and go throughout the rest of the race. I even fell and smashed my hand, going uphill!! That is when you realize you have seriously diminished amount of energy.
I think the guy behind me is not quite sure about my aid station tactics
The day was warm but not hot. 70 and sunny though is pretty nice weather for being outside all day. I had lots of help with my wife and entire family at the race, plenty of ice cold water to bathe in which always speeds me up for a couple of miles.
Trying to keep running
The last 1/4 of the race like so many before was pure tunnel vision. We all had to work hard to get through throngs of tourists out for a weekend stroll. I think we must have looked like a seriously ragged bunch, working very hard, breathing heavily, and not really moving all that fast. For me many of the ups, especially the 1500ft climb in 2 miles from 58-60, were “hikers”. By the time I hit the last flat one mile stretch around the little lake at Benson I could tell I was not going to make up the time to 3rd place. I ran hard anyways, why give up that close to the end.
4th place, 9 hours and 36 minutes of racing. That’s how it all ended up. I can’t complain really. I started healthy, finished healthy, and got to take a crack at one of those golden tickets. Only thing to do now is learn something from this race and do things better next year. Who knows though, there’s a chance that two of the guys ahead of me at Gorge decide Western is not for them.
First half of race Strava data here (lost reception second half; very steep mountains)