Whitefish Legacy Trail 20k

I returned to the world of running today.  It felt like I had been away forever between hiking the CDT and then focusing mostly on cyclocross the last month.  And it showed!

I drove from Missoula up to Whitefish this morning for the Whitefish Legacy Run.  I got up there early, registered and headed out for a slow warmup starting just before 9:00 and ended up running longer than I wanted to push my warmup just over 30 minutes.  Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but since I haven't run farther than 20k since the 1/2 on July 4th, I didn't need to waste energy before the race.  During the warmup though, I realized that my quads were still pretty beat up from the cx race on Wednesday and the run Thursday.  I began to worry about how fast the race was going to go out, and planned on starting slow and trying to work my way up the field as my legs flushed out a little.

Like all race plans I threw it out the window as soon as the gun went off.

I still started slow, but everyone else started slower.  I got pushed to the front running slower than six minute pace, which, for a 20k where the winning times the last couple years were much faster than that, didn't quite make sense.  My legs definitely didn't feel good though, and I didn't want to press early, so I didn't take advantage of the others' reticence and just kept a comfortable pace for me.

The early miles of the course followed a small forest service road that gradually meandered up and down.  If I had felt good/fit I would have tried to press early and hard through this section and try to open a gap before hitting single track the last 8 miles, but instead I settled in with the other two leaders.  Despite not pushing it too much (we were all still working, just not WORKING) we still opened up a huge lead that ensured we would be top three, almost no matter how it played out.

After a couple miles my quads started to feel better and I thought about picking it up, but then the muffins I at in the car (or yogurt before I left the house?) came back to haunt me and I was borderline stomach cramping.  I decided to still hold off until that went away.  At this point I still had complete faith that I would feel better at some point and could throw in a big move then.

Meanwhile, the course rolled by two placid lakes with huge reflections and twisted around a couple hills.  About a mile before single track I started feeling better in general, but the pace picked up a litle anyway so, again, I tucked in.

Nice and fast trail
Then we hit the single track.  There was an abrupt change from gradual down hill dirt road, to uphill single track trail, which immediately sent my quads back into the red.  I backed off the pace a little, let a small gap form, and tried to focus on using my butt instead.  I managed to work through the first hill and re-close the gap on the down, but then the pace really started picking up.

We rolled by another lake, 1-2-3 (me being the 3), and took a gradual downhill before climbing again.  Anytime we went downhill I felt very controlled, and figured if I could hang close I could use the downhill near the finish to catch/beat the other two.  Unfortunately the next climb ruined me.

My quads went into the red again, but there was no saving them this time at any sort of reasonable pace.  I managed to hang for a couple switchbacks, but I think the other guys sensed my pain and decided to put me away right there.  Smart move, because it totally worked.  A gap quickly formed and I went into the pain cave.

I kept flashing back to the Xterra West Championships this year when Roberto Mandje pulled away from me in a similar spectacular fashion.  Then, as now, I struggled to maintain rhythm and focus when I lost contact.  For me that's definitely a symptom of not training and a severe lack of workouts.

In my mind I was settling for third when all of a sudden the leader started walking.  So I passed him back, but the next guy was completely out of sight.  At this point I got back into the swing of things a little, but alas, I got caught again.  Turns out the guys who stopped, Nathan, is recovering from a cold and struggled to breath uphill.  Once he got oxygen into his system again he commenced with the destruction of Forrest.

The last couple miles of the race the course twisted back on itself enough that I thought we were running in circles.  We had rejoined with the 11k course so I wasn't completely alone, but realized I was in trouble when I started matching the pace of people I should have blown by.  Downhills still went well, although my legs started feeling like I had been out there way too long.  Never underestimate the importance of long runs!

As I crossed the finish the announcer said I got second, which really didn't make sense.  I found Nathan and apparently he was announced as first, even though the other guy was way way out front.  Turns out that guy unfortunately took a wrong turn in the last mile and didn't finish for another hour.  He definitely deserved the win with how he ran away from both of us, but got in a great long run instead.

Relaxing post-race atmosphere
All-in-all I'm glad I did the race.  I keep saying that 20k-ish distance is one of my favorites, but on days like today I realize it is only my favorite when I am fit.  When I am not capable of racing all 20k, the distance becomes about as fun as getting teeth pulled or washing dishes.  I needed a running race, though, so I can know where I stand.  It's time to get back to work!

The race itself benefitted the Whitefish Legacy Trail.  The trail network is an ongoing project to increase the miles of runnable/bikeable areas around Whitefish.  The part we ran was beautiful enough to deserve a mountain bike trip up there for sure.

The race organization was great as well.  There were plenty of aid stations; the course was well marked (at least for all but a few of us); and there was free food and beer afterwards.  I'm definitely leaving this race on the calendar for next year.

For now I am going to finish the cyclocross season without any more running races.  I will, however, try and up my running mileage and workouts.  If I can add-in a couple good workouts and a long run a week I think I will be ready for the Montana Cup cross-country race on November 1st.

Any good cross country workout ideas floating around out there?

Time to get after it.