Race Report: Gobble Gobble Kids Dash 2017

On November, 2017 I ran the Gobble Gobble Kids Dash with my two oldest boys. Here is the race report.

Synopsis

This was the first official race my three year old ran – he got his own bib & everything. My two year old was technically too young to register, but we let him run some of the race with us as well.

This is part of me exposing them to the sport of running and what it has to offer. My kids have been watching me be a runner as long as they can remember (my two year old asks ‘are you going running daddy’ whenever I put a synthetic shirt on) and going in the stroller for just about as long (this past summer they even got to participate in their first race, riding in the stroller), but this was their first time where they got to be the runner in a real race. I wanted them to experience all the things I love about racing, but hopefully not traumatize them.

While the race ended up being pretty rough, and tears were shed – both boys already look back fondly on it (sort of like our first camping trip). Now when they hear me telling racing stories to friends, they have their own to chime in with.

Goals

  1. The kids got to experience racing – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. The kids had fun – SOMEWHAT ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. Boston Qualifier – Not Possible – this was an untimed kids race…

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • My three year old ran his first race – .3 miles
  • My two year old got to run some and cross the finish line with us

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Securing breakfast pre-race
  • Dressing warm enough
  • Not brining gloves
  • Making it to the starting line on time

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • A lot of cheering fans
  • A well produced start/finish line & turkey pardoning ceremony

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Really cold morning
  • 5 places we tried to get breakfast at were closed

Race Recap

The report for a 1/3 mile race can’t be that long, can it?

Thanksgiving brought with it a cold spell. We had just had the first frost one week early and up until then we’d still been having days every week hit the 70s. That morning when we woke up, however, it was 18 degrees. It wasn’t something we were prepared for – we hadn’t had practice dressing for the cold and were about to run an 8am race.

We bundled up as best as we could in foreign winter clothes, garments we weren’t used to as Californians.

I had previously planned to run the adult race but was coming down with a cold, so opted out the day before. That meant the kids dash was the only thing on our mind that morning.

We left the house at 7, plenty of time to pick up some breakfast on the way at our favorite bagel place, who also happened to be a sponsor of the race. Unfortunately, they were closed because it was Thanksgiving. I guess that makes sense, but it wasn’t planned for.

Ok, backup plan, Burger King. It isn’t great pre-race food, but at least they’ll be open… But of course, they were closed to.

No worries, the race is happening in the historic downtown, there are a bunch of coffee shops down there that will be open because of the big race that is happening… right? 20 minutes of walking around and nothing was open.

We’re now 30 minutes to race time and my three year old is starting to complain he is hungry and cold. I messed up. My choice now is to try and get him to hold out for the race and solve both of those afterwards, or fix them now and forget the race.

Like any good dad I told him to toughen up and that he could eat when he finished the race.

Kidding.

We got in the car, cranked the heat and drove until we found something that was open. A fine dining establishment called Sheetz. He had a few bites of a breakfast sandwich in the car and I carried the rest so we could have it post-race. As fast as Sheetz is at making sandwiches, and as fast as I ran from our car, we got back just in time to hear the race starting. We’d missed it.

We were about 50 yards down the course and as the runners passed us I told my son we should just hop in and start running. He broke down crying. I was able to gather from a few barely-comprehensable \ words that he wanted to go across the start line. So we ran backwards on the course to the starting line and I counted down.

On your marks. Get set. Go!

We’d been practicing race starts and finishes over the summer on the track. He knew to lean down over one leg to start and to throw your hands up at the finish line. This was an immutable part of racing is his mind and to neglect it would invalidate the entire experience.

So here we are running on the course, a good 200 yards behind the lead pack. The course went straight for one block, around the court house building and then back that same street we were running down. We were far enough behind that as we neared the turn, the 12 year old boys, the oldest allowed in this race, were coming straight at us with all of the caution and calmness you would expect from a group of 12 year old boys that are amped up on holiday excitement and competitive juices.

Despite us staying to the side of the course, closest to our turn, my three year old nearly got trampled by boys four times his size. Thanks to a few stiff arms from me, he stayed safe.

Only sort of kidding.

As we rounded the court house we actually passed some people. Other young runners who had decided they didn’t want to go any further. Some parents were negotiating, others had picked up their kids. My boy was loving the experience. I’m just glad we weren’t in last place anymore.

I was so proud of my boy during this stretch. He was so focused and working so hard, but he just isn’t fast at all. Even for his age he’s kind of slow, he bounds too much and doesn’t drive forward enough. My two year old has some speed, but he’s unpredictable, just as likely to stop or run the opposite way. Maybe I can get them to train together, the focus of one and the fervor of the other would make a runner that could surpass me.

We turned the fourth corner and were looking straight at the finish line, now two blocks away. My son asked if we were almost done and I pointed out the inflatable black archway that marked the goal. I got to watch as he processed for the first time a feeling I am addicted it. The relief that comes from seeing the place where all of the pain I have willingly subjected myself to will finally end. I took his hand in mine and said ‘we can do it’ and we re-doubled our efforts.

One block from the finish my two year old, who had come with grandpa, saw us and wanted to join. There was a brief moment where I was holding the hands of my two oldest boys, running to the cheers of a surprisingly large crowd. I look forwards to moments like these in the future and hope they’ll indulge me in a few bigger races when I’m well past my prime and they’re in the middle of theirs.

Half a block from the finish and we had a breakdown.

Here is the start of the breakdown. Notice the subtleties of this image. Despite tit being 18 degrees, none of us have gloves – great parenting. I’m carrying a bag of Sheetz food during a race – something I’ve never before seen in a race. Despite both boys crying, we are still mid-stride.

My youngest would decide he no longer wanted to run (I told you he was unpredictable) and laid down on the street. I carried him the rest of the way. My oldest was eventually convinced him to run across the line though.

.3 miles – probably 8 minutes. Felt like

Afterwards they ate their sandwiches. Look at their poor pink fingers, it was really cold out.

We then celebrated, got our finisher bracelets and watched a real live turkey get pardoned. Someone grabbed a nice shot of my oldest sitting on my shoulders. By this time he was having fun.

I had been told there would be pumpkin pie cups instead of water cups at the race and so I had told the boys. There was not pumpkin pie as far as I could tell, but again, young expectations. So when we got home we had pumpkin pie, in a cup. They were so happy.

Later that day, when calling grandma, we asked how he liked the race and he only had good things to say. Mainly he was focused on the fact that he had pumpkin pie.

Data Breakdown

Along with many other ways I messed up that morning, I completely forgot to track this race. It would have been cool to see how fast my oldest boy ran and how evenly he split, but I guess I can do that next time.

What is Next?

I suspect this will not be their last race, I’ll do better being a race parent next time.

Race Report: Run-A-Muk 10k 2017 w/ Stroller

On August 26, 2017 I ran the Run-A-Muk 10k while pushing two children in a double stroller, finishing in 5th place overall with a time of 39:58. Here is the race report.

Synopsis

My first ever race with a running stroller. I was invited by my friend Abram (who is also my brother-in-law-in-law) who was putting together a group of dads that were going to run the race with strollers.

Throughout 2017 I got pretty good running with the stroller, bringing one or two kids on more than 50% of my runs. I had mastered the art of snack management for keeping kids occupied, I had made adjustments to the stroller to allow me to clock sub-6 miles, I had even turned my kids into an onboard cheering unit, ‘run faster Daddy’ their cry whenever I slowed down (even if because of a hill).

This race let me put that all to the test. I write this race report with my tongue in my cheek, it was a local fun race, mainly an excuse to get our families together, but I ended up winning my age division and getting 5th place overall, despite my 90lb handicap.

Goals

  1. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Kids enjoyed it – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Sub 40 – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. Top 3 age group – ACCOMPLISHED
  5. Win age group – ACCOMPLISHED
  6. Top 3 overall – Not Accomplished
  7. Win – Not Accomplished

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Did not run over anyone or crash the stroller
  • Really strong effort
  • Paced the snack distribution well
  • Strong finish, the last mile was the fastest of the day

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Almost took out the archway while leaving the starting gates

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • A great group of running dads
  • A race director that let me start in the front despite having a stroller & that being against the rules
  • Leftover fitness from my marathon

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Out & back 10k at the same time as an out & back 5k meant I got bottlenecked behind slower runners at the end

Race Recap

I would be running with my 2 & 3 year old for this race. (~30 & ~25 lbs for those wondering) My stroller of choice is the Chariot Cougar 2. It is a multi function child carrying vehicle that can be used as a bike trailer, running stroller or sled. It weighs in at ~32 lbs, bringing my total weight to 87 lbs). I modified the handle to get it a bit higher and farther out which lets me run at full stride without kicking the back – I found that with the original handlebar I would kick the stroller if I dropped much below 6:30/mile.

Getting into position at the start of a race when you have a stroller is a bit tricky. Usually, without one, I just slip in at the front after doing some strides just before start. With the stroller, I had to line up a bit early to block out enough square footage for my profile and I couldn’t move at all once I was there. A few people stumbled over the stroller, as most people are used to shoulders marking taken space in a start corral and weren’t expecting a wheel.

Fueling is really important for longer races – don’t eat enough early and you’ll risk bonking at the end of the race. For a stroller 10k it is equally important – give your kids their snacks too early and you’re risking a breakdown at the end.

I brought three things for each child: a container of cereal with berries (it is small, so it takes them a long time to eat), a container of goldfish & raisins (their favorite, so promises of it motivates them) and a lollipop (it fully occupies their mouth for as long as it lasts, so there won’t be any crying or complaining). I had planned to use the cereal at the start, the goldfish at the turnaround and the lollipop for the final miles.

Turns out I hadn’t planned for breakfast so I used the cereal & berries pre-race and they had mostly finished it before the race started.

The gun went off and like always in a local 10k, everyone raced out of the gates at a pace much faster than they could maintain. Someone made a quick lateral and almost ate it on our front wheel, I ended lifting the wheel to move it out of the way, but that maneuver caused me to veer off course and almost resulted in me taking out the starting gate arch. I recovered though and nobody (nor any structure) went down.

The first 1/10 a mile is downhill and I was swerving to pass people. The next half mile is really flat and I used a bell I had brought to call people out of the way. I worked my way until I realized the leader was just a bit ahead of me. I hadn’t planned on being that close to the lead but though that now that I was, I should see if I could grab it.

That is when we hit the 1 mile long uphill that climbed just under 200ft. Normally I do really well at uphills, but the thing about gravity, is it slows you down more the more weight you have. Having a 90 lb stroller in front of me down by over a minute per mile, and the other runners started passing me back. I crossed 180 beats per minute and was really working hard.

The next mile was downhill though, 100 ft change, about half as much as the uphill I had just come up. As soon as I crested the hill my speed picked up and I started passing those runners back. I then attempted a very advanced move: putting away the empty snack containers, and getting out a new snack while holding a 5:40 mile. Worked like a charm. Only problem is that snack was supposed to be used after mile 3 and I was only at mile 2.

By this point of the race I was in 5th place and as it would turn out I wouldn’t pass anyone or get passed for the rest of the race.

Mile 3 and we turned around. The race had started on a road but eventually dropped to just the bike lane & sidewalk. Cars were still using the road, and despite them being careful, it meant that crossing the line was a major no no.

Heading back, I was in the same bike lane I had just been, except now I was running straight at the 129 people. Thankfully most people were very kind and hopped up onto the sidewalk to let me keep running – hopping up onto the sidewalk with a stroller wasn’t really possible. I did pass the other stroller-dads and we gave each other some good cheers.

The path back was the exact opposite, up the smaller hill first and then down the bigger hill. I held steady around 180 bpm and kept chugging along. Sometime around mile 4 I handed out the lollipops and prepared to give it all I had to see if I could catch anyone else. I gave it a good race effort & ended up crossing sub-5 a few times on the downhills.

I was zeroing in on the 40 minute mark, which was 6:30 per mile. I had thought would be appropriate based on a recent marathon effort at 6:30 per mile – this was shorter and the equivalency charts predicted me at 6:00 per mile, I added ~30 seconds for the stroller.

At the finish chute I got bottlenecked behind two 5k runners. They had slowed down to celebrate and I didn’t want to ruin their moment by passing them, but the clock was ticking down, 39:50, 39:51…

I ended up crossing at 38:58 and hitting my 40 minute goal. I guess it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t, but I’m glad to be able to have come in just under time.

Post race, the kids go the experience the joys of all sorts of snacks and a medal they took turns wearing. I think this was a great way to expose them to racing and it went along nicely with a race they watched me run earlier in the year and a kids race they would both run later in the year.

Here is our full group, four dads, 8 kids it tow and two others on the way. A great time.

I ended up winning my age group, here is me with the other age group winners post-race.

Data Breakdown

I’ll keep this analysis brief.

My pace bounced around a good bit, but that is because the extra weight of the stroller made uphills hurt more than usual and downhills help a bit more. The fastest speed I hit was 4:47 and my fastest mile was the final one, which came in at 5:56. Average was 6:28, which is where I wanted to be.

Heart rate wise, I quickly spiked to over 180, which is where I want to be for a 10k. I let off the gas a bit as I peaked the first hill, after that brutal climb with the stroller, I was glad to catch my breath, but shortly thereafter started working my way back up. From mile 3-6 I stayed pretty steady in the high 170s for an average of 177. I think I could have been a bit higher.

What is Next?

I really liked doing a stroller race, it was fun having the kids with me, the stroller added some extra mental stimulation and the handicap meant I had more competition to run with in a race I would have handily won otherwise. I’ll definitely consider it in the future for local races I’m running for fun.

A word of advice though, not all races are good for having a stroller. This one worked out because there were only ~150 runners and it very much had a local vibe. The website mentioned it was stroller friendly and we contacted the race director ahead of time to clear it. I’d suggest doing the same if you intend to run fast with a stroller as opposed to staying in the back, which is what some races expect.

Race Report: Dispea 2017

On June 11, 2017 I ran the 107th running of the legendary Dipsea race. I finished in a time of 1:02:04.

Goals

  1. Finish/Survive – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Qualify for 2018 – ~150 spots – ACCOMPLISHED – with 136 to spare
  3. Average heart rate 170+ – ACCOMPLISHED – averaged 177 BPM
    • 160+ on the Downhills – ACCOMPLISHED – 175+
    • 175+ on the Uphills – ACCOMPLISHED – 180+
  4. Sub 1:05 – ACCOMPLISHED – 1:02:04
  5. Top 25 Open Section – ACCOMPLISHED – 21st out of 796 runners
  6. Do not walk or speed hike – Not Accomplished – 3 sections of speed hiking, 2 forced
  7. Sub 1 hour – Not Accomplished
  8. Top 1% Course time – Not Accomplished
  9. 55:00 – Not Accomplished

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Completed my first trail race
  • Really strong effort, dug deep & kept pushing
  • Managed to stay upright the whole time
  • Maxed my heart rate at 192 – haven’t seen 185+ since college
  • Really let go on the paved downhills – max of 3:37/mile pace
  • Busted a heel grab over the photo-op hurdle near the end
  • Played it safe through the Swoop to avoid injury
  • Brought a frozen water bottle to drip on head & keep cool

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Had too much left in the tank at the end
  • Did not push hard enough for the final stretch of the cardiac hill
  • Got lots of poison oak on my arms & legs

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • My amazing wife for signing me up and letting me disappear for the weekend
  • The race director for accepting our bribe
  • Other runners I drafted behind during various sections
  • 107 years of history that make this a great race
  • Volunteers that cleared the trail, handed out water, blocked dangerous parts & cheered

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Bottlenecks, especially through the Sun Trail & Dynamite sections

Race Recap

The following is a detailed account of my race day. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

After a number of years of failed attempts to get into the Dipsea, I had given up. My wife, however, had a different idea. Towards the end of last year she got a hold of my friend Chris to figure out a race we’d want to run & they agreed this one would be a good race and nice chance for a weekend away. So for Christmas last year, this was her present to me. (We’re minimalists, so gifts that aren’t ‘stuff’ are our favorites).

I found out I was accepted about six weeks before the race and realized I had zero specificity for a short (7 mile as opposed to 26.2 mile) trail (as opposed to flat asphalt) run with 2k ft of climbing (as opposed to pancake flat).

I scrambled to turn a few of my interval days into hill-interval days, got one practice run on the course and fortuitously got lost during a long run which allowed me to log a few trail miles to prep my stability muscles.

That would have to do.

I wasn’t sure how I would do, not having raced in nearly a year, so I set a range of goals. I had checkpoints lined up for a ~1:00-1:05 finish but knew I could be anywhere from 0:55-1:10 based on comps to other runners.

The Starts

The Dipsea has one of the most unique race starts I’ve ever heard of. There are ~50 groups that start one minute apart and runners are seeded based on a handicap system that accounts for age and gender. The first group to start includes men 74+, women 66+, 7 year old boys and 6 year old girls. It then works it way back until the last group – men age 19-30. More info here.

Not only that, but there are two sections – the invitational, for runners that previously ran & qualified goes first and then the open ‘runner’ section for everyone else goes second.

I started in the very back group of the runner section. The last group to cross the starting line that day.

The benefit is I got to enjoy watching all of the other groups start. It is pretty cool to see the groups and get to hear the announcer praise the accomplishments of various runners – including winners from recent years and those running the race for the 50th+ time.

My Start

After a short warm up I lined up with the young guns. I debated starting in the very back, just so I could pass everyone, but remembered my lesson from last year’s NYC about getting fancy on race day and decided instead to toe the line – literally.

The pack took off fast, I noticed we were at 5:10 and backed off to my planned 6:00 pace for the relatively flat half mile until the dreaded stairs. There were probably 15 guys ahead of my from that group – only one would remain ahead of me until the end.

The Stairs

The Dipsea race has many reasons to be famous, but the stairs tend to be one of the more dreaded and well known. At 688 stairs in total, runners climb the equivalent of over one third the Empire State Building.

My goal was to use heart rate as my guide – take the first set at 160 BMP, the second at 165 & third at 170. The top of the third set was a checkpoint, I planned to cross is at 8 minutes.

I started up the first set, staying to the left to pass people and was logging 175. By the second set I had gotten bottlenecked, both lanes were moving slow, so I hopped off the steps and sprinted up the dirt to the side, I was now crossing 180 BPM. I got past the bottleneck, sprinkled in a few steps of speed walking up the steps but generally held to 180 through the third set. I crossed at 7:10 – 50 seconds faster than planned. I was worried I’d gone too hard.

Cresting The First Hill

After hitting the top of the stairs I had my first moment of digging deep. Most runners were backing off the effort a bit as they reached the road and continued to climb to the top of the first hill. I held my resolve, eager to make the most of the section of wide road which was perfect for passing people. I averaged 167 BPM and was holding to under 9:00 pace despite the 10%+ grade.

Down To the Bridge

We hit the peak, around the 1.2 mile mark, the course hopped onto the Sun Trail, a single track dirt trail with some ruts from the rain over the previous winter. I tucked in behind two runners that were trying to pass the crowd but we got really blocked up. Despite going downhill we were moving at 12:00 pace and my heart rate had dropped to 163.

I finally stepped into the brush and jumped over a bush to get around a slow pack and got onto the asphalt. We were looking at about a half mile of paved, wide open road at a 10% downhill. I decided to test my mettle and open the throttle. I clocked that section at at 4:50 mile pace, averaging 180.

My goal was to get to the bridge by 18:00 – I hit the next trail section at 15:45 and wasn’t quite sure how far it was. I knew I had lost some time on the Sun Trail bottleneck though.

I tucked in behind a runner that was hollering people out of the way and followed him down the ‘Suicide’ shortcut – which is basically a steep dirt embankment you try and fall gracefully down. I darn near nocked over a 13 year old boy who was stalled at the top.

I picked up some speed and ran through the Muir Woods parking lot at 5:15 pace, clearing the 5 steps in one stride as I tried to pass people before the trail got bottlenecked again. I hit the bridge in 18:05 – just a hair behind pace. I’d lost my edge but was still doing well.

Then came the pain.

Up To Cardiac

The next hill is the biggest. Remember those 40 stories of stairs at the beginning? That was half of the first hill’s climbing. This hill was twice as long and steep as the first hill. In total it was two miles that climbed 1,200 ft.

It starts off with Dynamite – a steep section of switchbacks on muddy trail through a lush green forest. The trail was completely bottlenecked, I tried tucking behind people but there was just no room to pass. I then tried getting around people by running off trail but was burning myself out. I hit 189 BMP – a rate I hadn’t seen on my watch since college. I couldn’t maintain that so I backed off, resigned to move with the pack and save myself for the fire road that was coming up.

We averaged 16-18:00 per mile through Dynamite and when I hit the road I picked it up to 10:00 pace. My goal was to do the two miles in 11 minute pace and get to the top by 40:00.

There are a number of path choices up the hill and I opted for the wider, though often slightly longer trails to avoid bottlenecks. I ended up averaging 10:00 pace and 180 BPM through the main part of the trail and passed a good number of runners.

When I hit 4 miles on my watch I wasn’t sure how much climbing I had left and was getting a bit discouraged. That final steep section really knocked me out – 0.2 miles at 19%. I speed hikes a few really steep sections where tree roots made the footing hard, averaging 13:45. In retrospect, this is one section I could have pushed harder through if I had confidence where the top was and what the other side looked like. I averaged 178 and should have pushed through the top bit around 183-185.

I crested the top at 42:00 which was 2:00 behind plan. That would put my finish in the 1:02-1:05 range depending on how fast I went downhill.

Starting Down

The downhill starts off a fairly mellow rolling trail at around 5%. The views of the Ocean are beautiful but between the wind making my eyes tear up and rocky footing, I was 100% focused on not tripping. I averaged 6:40 and 176 through that feeling pretty strong but getting noticeably less sharp mentally.

I had no idea where I was going at this point, but thankfully had people in front of me continually so I just ran towards the next runner as I overtook each one.

I eventually hit a split in the road and had to stop to figure out where I was going. It took me a second to figure out which way the short one was – my mind was going. I got going pretty quick down the steep stairs for a bit before catching a runner in a blue shirt – he waved me past but I made the wise decision to stay behind him. Drafting meant I wouldn’t get lost, would have someone helping clear the path and would likely be going at a slower (and safer pace).

I only averaged 170 through that section, but am ok with it. A wet, steep, winding path I’ve never been on before is not the place to push myself as I hit exhaustion.

Even with that safe approach I hit a rough patch and rolled my left ankle a bit. I took at easy for a few steps and decided I would keep going. I was pretty sure it would swell up later, but it seemed good enough to finish on.

The Final Bump

The last climb is a short but steep climb that taunts runners who are exhausted. It is aptly named ‘Insult Hill’. As we approached it a young kid I had just passed kicked it into gear and went flying up the hill. I was a impressed.

100 feet later he was walking. I passed him and made a quip to which he defeatedly admitted that was a horrible idea.

I hit 186 by the end of that minute and that kicked me into gear for the final 1.25 miles.

The Last Downhill

The final mile alternated between paved roads and trails that cut between curves in the road. The trails were not very worn, most sections looked freshly trimmed back and teeming with poison oak. I was letting loose on the roads, hitting around 5:15 and doing the best I could on the trails to keep moving without flying into the bushes.

As we popped into the bushes for the second time I overtook a runner and realized that for the first time that day I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I was running around 7:00 pace on a deer trail with no idea where I was going. Thankfully I stayed on the right course and made it out.

The Finish

Before getting on the road for the last quarter mile, the trail drops you off at a wooden railing you have to jump over. I was having enough fun at this point that I busted a heel grab and got a laugh from the onlookers.

I ran the final quarter mile drops 120 feet. I ran it in 4:21 pace averaging 185 BPM. I hit the finish at 192 and nearly passed out – I don’t think I’ve hit that level of exertion in a decade. I even looked back at hard workouts over the last few years and the highest I see is 185. I found a gear I forgot about for the past decade and it feels really good to know I still have it.

Post Race

Into the ocean to try and get the poison oak oil off of me. A light cool down so I might be able to walk the next day. Then three hours of chilling on a picnic blanket in the sun recapping the race and watching the award ceremony.

Because of the crazy handicapping & starting system, depending on how you count it, I either got 2nd, 9th, 21st, 22nd, 71st or 614th. (2nd in my start wave, 9th fastest time in the runner section, 21st place in the runners section, 22nd in my age group, 71st fastest time of everyone and 614 was the number I crossed the finish line in)

Since I started in the very back, I went from 1,400th to 614th over the course of the race, passing around 750 runners over 7 miles, which works out to about 1 every 50ft.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

This is the distribution of race times for everyone in the runner section – those that didn’t qualify the previous year. I’m pretty close to the front, only a few people had faster course times, only one from the group I started with.

When I add in the runners that qualified last year I move towards the peak of the bell. The interesting thing about the way qualification works is that 600 people qualify one year but of those 600 only 450 will be able to qualify again and the other 150 come from the fastest among the other runners. You would think this would make the qualifying harder every year but it actually looks like it stays quite stable.

Looking just at my age group, I’m much closer to the middle. That speaks in part to the caliber of the race and in part to my newness to trail running. 

Looking at my Strava data – a few things pop out. First the pace varies widely – par for the course. Second, my heart rate is relatively steady except for the places I got bottlenecked and pushes at Insult Hill + the finish. Third, my cadence is a great way to show where I fought bottlenecks and wasn’t dictating my own stride – the tremors in the pink line highlight the difficult spots, the most obvious and long lasting being the start of the second uphill.

Looking at just heart rate I notice a slight downward trend from mile 2 through 5. Part of that is from exhaustion going uphill & the rest because once I started heading downhill my limiter was footing and not my heart, part of it was exhaustion. I clearly found a second wind though as I hit the final climb.

I love isolating the pace, look at that range – 3:20 per mile all the way to 22:20. I have never experienced so much variance in a single race. This was one of my favorite aspects of it and a big reason I’m looking more towards trail races in the future. Road races have become predictable – set your pace and hold it, then hope your energy systems don’t fail. There was a lot more to think about in this race including footing, passing strategy, optimal-though-not-even energy output, etc.

The zoom in on cadence reveals a few more things. The spike before mile 2 is the suicide shortcut. I hit 230 steps per minute through there because you’re basically just trying to control a fall down a dirt embankment. I later had a few other sections of quick foot movement on the downhills. I believe those helped get my legs into a gear that allowed me to finish well – look at that increase during the final quarter mile – I crossed the line at 212 steps per minute – very high turnover for me.

The Strava course record is held by the runner who has logged the fastest time each of the past few years. I compared my time to his to see if there were any sections I was weak at.

From the looks of it, he took the start slowly, relatively so, as his time really doesn’t separate from mine until the stairs. In this chart, the pink line indicates how far ahead of me he is at any point in the race – higher means farther ahead.

There is a spike where I got bottlenecked on Sun Trail & things stay flat on the downhill section I raced. Most of the big climb looks fairly steady until the final hill – I knew I hadn’t pushed hard enough there and the comparison shows it.

The only section I gained anything was at Insult Hill, and it was only briefly. Perhaps he stopped to help someone. The finish section is actually relatively flat – I was really moving through there so it isn’t a surprise.

The good news with the mostly steady progression is I don’t have a glaring flaw (or I share the same flaw he has). The bad news is I don’t see any low hanging fruit to improve – I’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way.

What is Next?

The top ~150 people from the open section get invited back next year to run in the invitational section – I got 21st. That means if I come next year I’ll get to start earlier, with faster runners. I might even train for this as my ‘A’ race for the year – I would love to attempt to break one hour.

I really enjoyed the trail aspect of this as well as the varying hills. On a track or road race I mostly check out and just hit my paces. Here I had to focus to switch gears between sections of sprinting on the road, quick turnover climbing stairs, long slogs on the dirt uphill and careful maneuvering through tight trails. That variance feels like a breath of fresh air to my running life and is something I’m interested in. In addition, running on trails lets you spend more of your time in beautiful places.

Plus, most of the really long races are on trails – so I’ve got to get good at them if I ever want to compete at the 50 or 100 mile distances.