Two Weekends, Three Races

I've tried to get my running back on track a bit the last couple weeks, and decided it would be a good idea to jump start my winter with a couple races.

It began two weeks ago with the Montana Cup. This is a cross-country races that rotates around the state and allows former runners to return to team competition for an annual hoorah. Each city/region competes for bragging rights in a 5k-8k (you don't know until you show up). This year the race was in Missoula so I was able to jump in before heading over to the Rolling Thunder CX races.

The course was on a fairly flat, windy golf course. It was one of those course that would have made me drool in college because it would have been nearly impossible not to PR on it. When the biggest detriment to speed is a few tight turns, it promises to be a fast cross country race. We did three 2k loops for a total of 6k and any sort of speed I was hoping for disappeared after 1k.

I went out in the lead pack, but it felt very comfortable. It actually felt fairly slow. But just after the 1k mark I started to struggle to hang on. My legs still remembered how fast I should be running, but my body wasn't ready to keep me there longer. I spent much of the next 2k losing positions until I settled in to 15th-ish.

Team Missoula has won the last couple years in every category except the master's men, and I wanted to do my part to keep that streak going. Running in 6th for the team, I started counting people ahead and realized there were three guys in purple leading the race, but no others. It became my mission to not let any other purple guys pass me. It turned out, nobody else passed me, nor did I move up, so I halfway did my job, or so I thought. Apparently unattached runners (on a current college team or not Montana residents) wore purple. So there was no point in focusing on purple runners! Either way, we won.
The Cup/Thunder Double
Photo Courtesy of Myke Hermsmeyer

Overall the race felt pretty rough for me. It was great to be running cross country again and brought back and number of college memories of hammering chilly races with Birmingham-Southern, but I was hoping I still had more running fitness in me. I hadn't done much specificity, really any, but cyclocross should have helped more. I also made a few mistakes as far as pre-race meals went, and the subsequent stomach pressure in the latter half of the race didn't help.

Immediately after the finish I jumped on the bike and pedaled over to the Rolling Thunder venue. The Montana Cup race started at 1:00 and the Cat 4/5 race for Rolling Thunder went off at 2:30. This meant I had just enough time to get over there, register, drink a bottle of of Fluid and eat a Snickers before the gun went off.

I felt awful before the start. My stomach still wasn't happy so I could only eat half the Snickers, and my legs hurt. My entire race plan for Thunder was to get out as hard as possible, help the other Cycling House guys, then blow up. This plan literal failed at the start.

I was talking to a teammate when the whistle blew (it happened rather quick, but still a rookie mistake) and I lost any chance of getting out in front. I managed to still make the top 15, but a lead group escaped that I couldn't hang on to. After getting stuck behind a couple guys and avoiding Mike Wolfe going into an outfield wall off the baseball field, I finally felt I would be able to at least maintain position. After a full lap I finally realized I was racing and starting to shake out my legs a little so I started to hammer a bit.

At this point the lead pack had about 12-15 guys in it, including three other TCH riders. It was great to see more of the black kits up there and actually got me going. I thought it would be even better if there were four kits up in the lead group. The problem was, I was pretty far back and it seemed like the gap was still growing.

During my previous race (actually at the same venue) I had ridden a little more conservative to just win the Wednesday night B series. This race I gave everything I had. I hit the sand pits too hard the first couple laps. I went into the bump track fast every time. I tried to pass a guy coming out of a swooping berm only to catch my wheel and nearly go over. But the aggressiveness paid off! I definitely made a fair number of mistakes, but I also went through obstacles faster than I did previously. I managed to make it over all the 8" barriers without getting off the bike, although that was pretty ugly, and handled the bump track better than ever (my calves also cramped up every time I got off and ran so it was more motivation to stay on when I could). I also attacked absolutely everywhere.

The other TCH guys, especially Nick and Cory, also helped me out in a way. They kept the lead pack going at a hot pace so guys kept falling off and coming back to me. Any time I was about to settle they shook another one off for me to catch. They were also riding out of there minds and actually led a couple times trying to ride away with it. Rolling Thunder is a huge event, so to lead is actually pretty awesome.

With two laps to go I realized I was probably going to catch Cory. There was one guy in between us so I wanted to blow by him, then work together with Cory to catch back up to the last couple leaders. The problem was I couldn't shake off the other rider after I passed him. Instead I had to hammer to try and shake him so he wouldn't leech off me then get me later. Which is exactly what he did. He used me to jump up to Nick in third place and outsprint him at the line. I finished 5th and Cory 6th. We put four TCH guys in the top 6 though (1, 4, 5, 6) so as a team we did pretty well.

Doubling back after the MT Cup hurt, but I was very happy with the Thunder result for me. I was able to fight the entire time, and loved it!  It was such a fun event.

It started raining soon after my race and the course got progressively muddier and terrible as the races went on. By the time the 1/2 race went off it was pretty much a mud bath. It was incredible to witness the bike handling the top guys had though in rough conditions at high speeds. Maybe one day....

Thunder marked the end of cx season (I thought) so I switched my focus entirely to running. The next day I went out for three hours with Mike Foote and Justin Angle and was reminded how bonking on long runs felt.

I put in a big week of training and then Saturday jumped in the inaugural Elk Ramble 15k. This trail run went up and over and up and over (back and forth) the Mt. Jumbo saddle. I wanted to go out fairly conservatively while staying in contact with the leaders, but my conservative was a lot slower than the leaders.

The top three slowly pulled away on the first climb up to the saddle, and by the time we descended and started climbing again I was down 20 seconds on third with fifth gaining on me. I started to feel a little better and tried to put in a few pushes at the beginning of the climb (each climb was at least a mile, this climb was 2-3) and by mid way up I could see third again. I kept the pressure on and slowly reeled him in so that by the time we started descending the last two miles to the finish I felt contact.

Team TCH (minus Sara) at the Elk Ramble.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Raz
I caught him not too long after and settled in behind him for the ride down. The course was mostly fire roads so the footing wasn't bad and the descents were fast. At this point we were going about 4:50 pace on a gradual drop. I couldn't see second place so I figured I would just settle for a bit then really push the last dow
nhill mile and angle for third.

With about 1.5 miles to go we hit a junction where we were supposed to go left, and the other guy started to veer right. I took this as my queue to separate from him so I dropped the hammer. We had a slight uphill on dirt road at this point so I really laid into it and managed to create a gap with about a mile left.

At this point I realized I could see second place about 200 meters in front of me. The rest of the course was downhill on paved road to the finish, so I figured I would just go and see what happened. I let my legs loose and took off.

Sure enough I started reeling him in. Long legs are great for downhill! Unfortunately he saw me coming with 200 to go and gave everything he had left. I tried to close the last bit, but ended up finishing a few seconds back for third. My last mile was at 4:30 pace, which means I almost PR'd in my mile at the end of 15k! If only track races could be downhill

Even though I was hoping for more of a single track race, the course was fun and fast. It still felt like a trail race because of the big climbs and descents and never dull. Even the road section at the end was just short enough not to be too much of a pain.

Overall I was pretty happy with my race. I needed to not let so much of a gap open up early, but due to the bigger training week and fighting off a cold I don't think going out faster on that day would have been wise. I was able to come back and actually felt like I was racing for a lot of the race, which is a feeling I have missed. In the MT Cup I felt like I threw out what I had and if anyone beat me, they beat me. I didn't feel like I was engaging. The Elk Ramble felt like a race. My running legs might be coming back!

This week has been the dawn of a new ice age here in Missoula. So far it has gotten up to 13 degrees and the half inch of snow from Sunday night has not melted. I have only run once as I'm trying to shake this cold, so I'm hoping I'm not losing too much.

This weekend I'll be heading to Coeur d'Alene for my last cyclocross race (really, my last). It looks like it will be a good race to try and get more points to bump up to Cat 3 for the start of next season, so in the big picture it seems smart to go. It's also supposed to be warmer there (mid-20's!) so I'll try to sneak in a run or two as well.

It looks like my next running race will be in Phoenix in early December, but more on that next week. For now I plan on running when I can, and sneaking up into the mountains for some microspiking and snowshoeing when possible!

Stay Warm,