Some runs are quiet, pensive, and lonely. During some races, you might not talk to someone for hours.
Lake Chabot 50k on Saturday wasn’t like that at all. The scenic and flat course attracted a lot of runners; I don’t think I ran a single mile without conversation of some sort. Sometimes, the lack of alone-time while running can be difficult – it’s hard to get in the proverbial “Zone” – but, in this case, that friendly camaraderie was just what the day called for. Beautiful scenery and friendly runners kept me moving to one of my fastest 50k finishes ever.
I didn’t know it before arriving, but I’d run part of the course before. The Lake Chabot Marina was also the start and finish line for the very difficult Firetrails 50-mile race, which I ran in 2011. Firetrails featured an inordinate amount of climbing – Lake Chabot, by contrast, had a few gently rolling hills.
The Lake Chabot 50k course was a half-marathon loop around the lake, then that same loop again to make the marathon, and an additional ~5 mile out-and-back section along the first part of the loop. The first couple of miles were surprisingly crowded, as there were almost 150 half-marathoners who started at the same time. Towards the middle of the lap, I started chatting with one such half-marathoner. The conversation was great – he was training for California International Marathon, and was planning to run another half marathon on Sunday (i.e., the day right after this race). We talked about training and nutrition and coaching – all the things runners find fascinating and most normal people find extremely dull. Around mile 10, I could see he was feeling good, whereas I still had another 20 miles and didn’t want to burn out early, so I told him not to hold back. He said he wanted to pace me in to the finish of the half marathon – how awesome is that?! So we ran together for the last 5k of that lap.
Shortly into the second lap, I found another running companion. This was his first 50k, but he’d done a few Ironmans before. It turned out he was also an economist and taught business at a nearby university, so we had a lot to talk about. He had been struggling a bit earlier with a feeling I knew too well – the sheer insurmountability of another 20 miles, and several hours, of running. Just before the half-way mark, it sometimes seems impossible to finish.
We ran that lap together, and much of the last out-and-back as well. The conversation was motivating for both of us. I could tell he was holding back a bit, which he said was to keep his heart-rate low enough that he wouldn’t hit an anaerobic threshold and burn out. Around mile 28, I told him to go ahead – he took off, and ended up coming in a full two minutes earlier than me! Over three miles at the end of a race like that, that sort of speed is impressive.
I was pushing it hard for the last few miles, as well. A few miles back, we had come up on another 50k runner. She was 27 – in my age group. She and I came into the marathon aid station around the same time, and I realized I still had gas in the proverbial tank, so I took off hard. Even though I’m not particularly interested in finish times or in racing, I’ll take any motivation I can get to run faster, and this seemed like a good one.
Part way into the final out-and-back, I was pretty confident she wasn’t going to catch me. However, I looked at my watch, and I realized that I was flirting with a sub 5:30 finish. At 1.5 miles from the finish line, I had been running for five hours, fourteen minutes, and twenty seconds. That gave me just under 15 minutes to finish, so I calculated that I had to run about a 9:40 pace to come in under 5:30.
In normal conditions, a 9:40 pace is no problem. After 29.5 miles of hills, it’s a bit more of a challenge. The next 1.5 miles weren’t flat, and I’d averaged about a 10:40 pace to that point.
I threw everything I had on the table and ran.
As I came around the corner to the finish line, I saw the official race clock. 5:29:53. I had about seven seconds to make it 100 yards.
“NoWayI’mTotallyGoingToGetThis!” I yelled, and sprinted to the finish line. The clock clicked over to 5:30:01 just as I passed the line …
But it turns out we had started the race four seconds after the clock had started. So I came in at 5:29:57. Boom.
After the race, a few people came up to me and said that was one of the most epic finishes they had seen. I didn’t realize I had shouted so loudly.
I also got second in my age group, but didn’t stay around for the awards ceremony.
Going into this race, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t feel strong, and hadn’t been eating extremely well for the past few weeks. However, I had tried a different recovery strategy after Horsehoe Lake 50k, a mere three weeks prior. I think that’s what helped.
I also finished this race over an hour faster than Horsehoe Lake 50k – a more than two minutes/mile faster pace. Horsehoe Lake did have 2000 feet of additional elevation gain, but even with that, I was pretty happy with my comparative time.
One of the things I really like about trail racing is meeting new people. Every single person out there is a machine, and I have so much respect for people who challenge themselves like this. In the last month, I’ve run parts of races with a woman who’s run *nine* 100-mile races, a guy training to run the Iditarod, a guy running two back-to-back half-marathons, and an Ironman. Meeting people like that is humbling and inspiring.
My next race is CIM – California International Marathon – in December. It’s less than four weeks away, which is not a lot of time to recover and get back up to speed, but I’m optimistic.