Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bradbury Bruiser - Race Report

An actual, living, breathing race report. It's true. I finally put in an effort worthy of a report. Not the result I would have liked, but certainly the effort. But without giving away too much of the ending, here's what went down at the 2013 Bradbury Bruiser.

Since setting my sights on the Big Brad Ultra 50k, I'd basically forgotten about the Bruiser. It was on the calendar, but I didn't think about the course or race strategy or anything until the day before. I took a quick peek at my 2010 race report--the year I PR'ed in 1:38:23--to get refresh my memory on the three key splits: end of the Island Trail, the beginning of O Trail and the finish. That year, I went approximately 15:00, 60:00 and 23:00, but this year I'd hoped to get under 1:44:48 to put me a 4 hours even for the series. I thought this was a bit a stretch, but still held out hope.

What I didn't need to review pre-race was the strategy. I've learned how to best tackle this race: stay relaxed on the Island Trail, race hard until the O Trail, then hang on to the finish. It's worked well for me in the past, and this was my goal again despite my depleted fitness. While marking the course with Jeremy on Saturday, we were chatting about something that had become quite clear to me this summer: it's really hard to race, when you don't trust your fitness. It's tough to push yourself early and often, when you haven't trained and tested yourself enough to know if you're going to survive. Right now, I don't trust my fitness--what little of it there is--but I knew that if I was going to have a satisfactory day on Sunday, I needed to have a little faith.

Unfortunately, on Saturday night, I felt terrible. Not sure quite what it was, but had some aggressive gastrointestinal issues that evening that left me feeling a bit wiped out on Sunday morning. In my favor, however, was the weather. A cool September day was on tap, so I knew the weather wouldn't be holding me back. After the usual song of dance of setting up the Start/Finish area, which I feel like I have down to a science now, and the hustle and bustle of registration, Ian was giving the pre-race instructions, and we were off.

Unlike the previous races this summer, after the announcements, I moved quite a few rows back from the start line. I did not want to get pulled out too quickly, potentially sabotaging my race even before it began. My plan worked, and according to the photos I was in 36th place at the start of the Island Trail.

Feeling comfortable in 36th place at the start of the Island Trail.
Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
It was a very comfortable spot to be in and then throughout the Island Trail, while I watched others waste far too much energy jockeying for meaningless positions and wasting crucial energy so early in the proceedings. The end of the Island Trail came in 16:30, a full 90 seconds off PR pace, but just where I thought I should be, and once we made that left hand turn, I was in a good place to pick up the pace.

I say "we" because at about a mile into the race a kid in a blue shirt pulled up behind me. He would end up staring at the back of my head for a very long time. It was great to have the push, and it definitely put me into race mode. But, of course, I wouldn't have minded dropping him either. It is a race.

Exiting the Island Trail. Note the blue shirt lurking. Thirty-third place at this point.
Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
I asked him a couple times if he was interested in passing, but each time he declined. He seemed more than content to let me dictate the pace, and I know without him I probably would have backed off a bit. Either way, we would run alone--together for a bit--then catch a group, pass them...rinse and repeat.

We rolled through the first aid station which was quite spirited due to our awesome volunteers, so I decided to give them a bit a a cheer back. Or, perhaps I'm completely insane.

Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
At this point, we'd moved up to 22nd and 23rd, and I was really enjoying the stress of racing. A third runner joined our train just past the entrance to the Bat Cave due to an untied shoelace, and it felt like even more of a race. I still didn't trust my fitness, but I also knew that I needed to try to shake my blue shadow. I'm not as nimble on the technical terrain as I would like, so part of my Bruiser strategy is to hammer the Snowmobile Trail, which comes at mile 6 or so. The treadway is smoother, and no one likes to pick up the pace on an uphill, so it's a good place for me to try to break things open.

So, as soon as we hit the Snowmobile Trail, I dropped the pace considerably, and I as the trail pitched upward the footsteps behind me got quieter and quieter. I was putting myself fairly deep in the hurt locker at this point, but it was working. As an added bonus, I was catching up to two guys in front of me. A frothy and subdued thanks to the aid station crew this time, and I pushed some more. I was pretty worked by the time, I turned left off the Snowmobile Trail, but was super stoked with the risk I'd just taken. It had seemed to have paid off as I took a glance back at the left hand turn onto the next bit of singletrack: no blue shirt in sight. Plus, I was able to latch on to the two guys in front of me. I say "latch on" but I was always a few strides back of second guy who was always a few strides back of the dude in front. We were a pretty disorganized train, but we were moving pretty well. Or so I thought.

Then just before the long, superfluous mountain bike bridge, the blue shirt reappeared right on my tail. Oh, to be young and fit. Damn. Since I now had company--or more likely from fatigued--I dropped back a bit from the two dudes in front and ran along on with my blue shadow once more. As we entered the singletrack on the other side of the Snowmobile Trail, I tired to pick up the pace again, knowing that I was going to blow through the upcoming aid station and push hard up the hill on Knight's Woods--that dreaded, awful, terrible, hill on Knight's Woods. I flew through the aid station with Jeremy and Zak yelling wildly at me, and I put the hammer down going up the Knight's Woods Trail. That hill hurts like hell. It must have hurt blue shirt too because I got another gap, and actually caught back up to the other two guys in front. I was a grunting mess by the time I ran the final few yards to the O Trail, and it was at this point that the blue shirt finally went around. I managed to squeeze out a "Great job" or other such congratulatory phrase as I knew I wouldn't be seeing him again.

I enter the O Trail at 1:18:59 in a train of four other runners. The split was only about two minutes slower than my PR split from Island to O, which was encouraging. However, I knew I had pushed really hard to get to the O, and my plan of just hang on backfired somewhat.

Being the caboose in a train of five meant that it was easy to get dropped off the back. And that's exactly what happened less than a minute or so in. I couldn't--or didn't--hang on. Since my race strategy at this point has always been "hang on as best you can," I cut myself a little too much slack. If I had tried to stay with them longer, which would have been a tough task, perhaps the O would have gone a little better. As it was, I soon found myself running alone and not moving very well. Then I was moving even slower. It's really hard to know what's going on in the O Trail with its myriad twists and turns, but I could tell that a group of three or four was gaining on me. I started to see them more frequently, but at the same time, I also knew I was nearing the end. After stumbling and shuffling, I started running harder when I was afraid of getting caught, and I was somewhat ashamed at how well I was able to run as I popped out onto the Knight's Woods Trail for the final push to the finish. Then I remembered that I was about to claim my first Bad Ass hoodie in three years, and I picked up the pace another notch.

After they'd broken out the calendar to record my O Trail split, I headed for the finish.
Photo courtesy of Maine Running Photos.
I crossed the line in 1:45:47, 22nd place. I made sure to seek out the guys that I ran with throughout the race, especially my blue shadow, congratulate them on their efforts and thank them for their push. It had taken me nearly 27 minutes to complete the O Trail, and I'd missed my goal of breaking four hours for the series by 59 seconds. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to be healthy enough to complete the series and actually racing the Bruiser was so much fun, but there's more there. There has to be. I just have to keep working for it--both mentally and physically. I am fit enough to run the O Trail faster than that, but my mind wasn't there. Training isn't just about the body. Damn, this sport is cool.

Who's ready for the Snowshoe Series?


Jamie Anderson said...

Great report and glad to see you getting back to your former self. Looking forward to you rooster tailing snow in my face at the snowshoe series.

unstrung said...

Welcome back, Snowman!