Woodside 50k Race Report

On a weekend when many of my friends and fellow athletes were out celebrating the end of the racing season with a bang at headliner races TNF50 and JFK50, there I was quietly lining up at a small 50k in Woodside, California.

It had been so tempting to join in the fun at JFK. JFK had been a goal race of mine since coming in second there last year. It suits my skillset and I wanted a shot at running a faster time there. But it wasn’t to be. Injuring my foot and the weeks off that followed meant that I was only just starting to train regularly again. I wasn’t ready for a race like JFK. I wasn’t ready to risk being broken again.

Instead, I decided to focus on Brazos Bend 100 miler in December. Last year, I ran the 50 miler, which had been one of those races that delivered a gift beyond my wildest dreams. I still look back with wonder at how I did it.

You might have noticed, though, that 100 milers haven’t exactly been my forte. (Not yet?) They’re a puzzle I’m determined to get right one of these days. Stubbornly, I decided to take one more crack at it this year. This time on a course I’ve proven I can run well.

Which brings me back to Woodside. With Brazos Bend three weeks out, I needed a low key long run. Hilly trails tend to make me strong. I knew I’d need a good dose of strong at BB100. I signed up, knowing very little about the race.

When I arrived, RD Greg Lanctot told me I was in for a treat, and he was right. The Woodside trails (near Palo Alto) are fantastic. Padded with needles from the trees, the terrain was a shaded journey through tall redwoods for miles on end. On this mid-November day, conditions were perfect. Crisp, cool air. The rainfall from a couple of days previous had drained well but left everything fresh and earthy. I could have stayed out there for days.

I hadn’t done much of anything in terms of climbing for weeks because it irritates my plantar at the moment. Javelina 100k had a little, but this 50k packed in 6400ft of it according to Strava. It was almost all very runnable and nothing too steep, except for one short section of 26% grade added a few days before the race. Maybe Strava got it wrong though because I think historically the race has only had about 4700-4800ft of ascent and I don’t think too much has changed. At any rate, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed running it all. Guess I still had a little climbing fitness left over from this summer when I was training for Headlands 50k.

A few miles from the end, I came upon a runner who had passed me before the halfway mark. I had kept it in my head not to push at the mid-point in the race. The purpose of being here was to have a fun long run, not to truly try to race it since I needed to get back to training without pause the next day. So, I thought I’d just see how things shook out and keep things steady and unforced. With a handful of miles to go though, when I saw the runner (and now new friend, Vincent), I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get in a few faster paced miles and go for it. I surged and passed him, but he wasn’t about to give up without a fight! I kept my foot on the gas and was thankful for how good my body felt. I probably felt better in those last few miles than I did the whole rest of the run. It was wonderful to run fast again. I was able to keep the momentum and finish first, winning the race outright. It was what I needed at the right time on the calendar to boost my fitness ahead of Brazos Bend. And now, to tackle the beast I fear most and turn my attention back to 100 miles. An interesting little Birthday present to myself: the gift of pain. Probably only an ultrarunner can really laugh at that one, but trust me when I say that I intend it with good will and humor. That, and the belief that one day, I will get it right.

Race day Photo Credit: Robert Rhodes

Javelina Jundred 100k: The Box

Photo: Howie Stern

After being laid-up for eight weeks due to injury, Javelina Jundred 100k was never going to be anything but a celebration of the act of running, whatever the pace or outcome.

I definitely don’t recommend running a 100k directly after a two-month injury stretch. Just as I don’t recommend going from a handful of scattered miles to running 90-miles in the week ending a week before race day.

In case you were wondering, my coach doesn’t recommend it either. But, I really wanted to run Javelina 100k. I had missed out on so much by being injured. Races I had planned to focus on passed me by, someone else victorious. Friends were out crushing it regularly. Each week of injury had been a torture of multiplying proportions. I handled it well for the first month, thinking I’d be back to it before long with little fitness lost, but then the bone bruise happened. Instead of taking two weeks to heal, it took closer to a month. By that point, I was gasping to run, to race. I knew I had lost so much fitness, but I was desperate to fix it, in one big cathartic gulp.

I usually listen to Mario, because he is wise — and really, what’s the point of having a coach if you don’t listen. This race, though, I was stuck on it. So, he did the best he could in the few days we had, knowing that there’s not much fitness that could be gained. The only ‘improvement’ would come from reminding my body what it was in for. In the end, knowing I couldn’t be talked out of it, he bolstered me up and sent me out, neither of us knowing what might happen.

Photo: Myles Smythe/Michigan Bluff Photography

At the last minute, I realized that having a crew would be invaluable. At Javelina, runners see crews only at Jedquarters, after each approximately 20 mile loop is completed. In the 100k, I would see crew only twice, but given the desert heat (I’m told temps reached 92 degrees on race day) and the effect that can have on a runner’s stomach, I thought it could be key. I struck gold when on a whim I emailed local Phoenix resident Kristina Pham, figuring she’d have plans already at that late date. But her husband, Norm, and son, Enzo, were working the event, and no-one had asked her to crew or pace yet. What luck! Actually, the fact that she was willing to give up her day for me was touching. Kristina has crewed and paced me at Black Canyon 100k (2015) and Western States (2015). I already owe her, bigtime. She didn’t hesitate to help me again. She’s pretty incredible like that. Here’s her take on the day.

The race started out warm and quickly heated up. The second lap was the worst: a shadeless, full frontal sun assault. I was mentally prepared for this, even though physically, not so much. We’d only had two warm days that I ran in out in California, the Monday and Tuesday of race week. The Tuesday run, with friend and sometimes training partner Cassie Scallon, hadn’t been pretty. Me, hiking up the tiniest of hills and gasping for breath in the 100 degree heat, Cassie concerned for my wellbeing on this eight-mile run. It didn’t bode well.

Regardless of the weather, I was in for a world of hurt. It wasn’t the course, which is super runnable and non-technical. The ‘climbs’ were almost imperceptible, gentle as they were. A few short sections with a little rock, lots of undulating dips in and out of sandy washes, but nothing to beat up the feet too badly. I wore well-cushioned road shoes (without gators) and was happy with the choice throughout. The problem was that there was no avoiding the fact that my fitness was a shadow of where it had been.

By mile 8, I felt it sneak up on me. The sore lower back, the heavier than it should be breathing. The complaining hamstrings, the lack of ease or flow. Still, no matter how bad it got, I remained enormously grateful to be out there, running. This race was a gift to myself, a welcome release for all the pent-up frustration. It hurt, and I accepted it. That slow burn, sit and suffer that I learned to come to terms with at C&O Canal 100 miler. The pain cave. The box. I got in the box and rode it out, mile after mile, all the way to the end. I won, even beating all the guys except the new course record holder, and that felt so good. Sure, I could have run it faster at ‘normal’ fitness. But to dwell on that would be to completely miss the point. My fitness wasn’t strong, but my mind was better than ever.

Practicing the “fake it til you make it” approach by smiling through the pain. Photo: Kristina Pham

Thanks to Jamil, Hayley and the Aravaipa Running crew for putting on a one-of-a-kind and impressively organized race. It sure was a party out there, the black humor of celebration in self-destruction, triumph over desert heat, and for most runners, the incredible achievement of completing 100 miles in the sister race.

NB. To all those who heard me belting out Pink Floyd in the latter miles of the race, you have my sincerest apologies.

Photo: Aravaipa Running