Race: Pacifica Trail Race (21k)
Date: July 12, 2015
Place: 2nd Overall
I lined up at the start with my strategy in mind. I shot out from the start pushing hard to get ahead of the pack before the single track trail started. Another runner went out hard as well, and I got the feeling this would be one gnarly race. I kept up with him as we winded the through the first set of switchbacks but his pace was too hard to handle without burning up my energy. It was only 4 kilometers into the race and there was still 17 kilometers to go in this 21k race.
I made the call and dialed down my effort, saving my effort for the downhill. The first climb was steep, reaching 2000 ft. in just 5 kilometers. If I went too hard, I wouldn't have any legs for the two other climbs. I winded through a tree shaded segment into an opening and could spot first place ahead, already on the next set of switchbacks. I figured once I made it down the first summit, I could stop at the aid station and get a time gap between me and first place.
I reached the first summit, downed a gel and bombed the downhill with no regard. This is where I would make up the time between me and first place, as well as widen the gap between me and third place. I made it to the aid station filled up my bottle with fluids and checked my time gap. First place was over 5 minutes ahead of me. There was a slim chance I could catch him by utilizing my fast descents on the remaining 2 descents, but regardless I was going to give my best and fight to keep my current place.
The second summit was a short one, with no sight of first place on the climb or descent. It was on to the 3rd and final summit, one last chance to see if I could catch my rabbit. I picked off runners but none of them were in my race. I memorized who was in my race, so if any of them came up from behind me, I would know.
With 4k to go, I spotted a runner from my race trying to catch me. He put up a good effort to make it this far, but his breathing was heavy and fast, his posture broken. The game plan was to keep the conservative effort no matter how close he got. Either he would burn up energy and fade back trying to catch me, or I would pick him off on the descent if he passed me on the climb.
The runner faded and soon I was in the grandeur and solace of the mountain again. I reached the final summit and let loose on the downhill, it was all or nothing. As tempting as it was to ease up and recover, attacking immediately would create a bigger gap on the 3rd place runner trying to catch me as well as bring me closer to catching 1st place. Speeding through the descent, the only thing on my mind was, "attack!" Relentlessly forward I weaved through the downhill taking the switchbacks faster than before. If I wasn't going to get first place, I would battle to earn second place.
I reached the bottom and ramped up my speed for a fast kick to the finish. Crossing the line, I went to see a race official to ask about my placing. Before I could open my mouth, I was awarded the second place medal and congratulations from the race director.
There is this feeling of joy you get when you cross the finish, knowing you gave your best, leaving it all at the line. It's now onward, to the next challenge.
Be well and run on!
If fatigue was a fatal event, we would drop to the floor once we reached it. We would slow down and not be able to pick the pace back up, but that isn’t always the case. Each of us can recall times when reach the last part of a race, we find the energy to give a strong kick and run fast to the finish. The closer we get to the finish, our ability to push increases. Danger levels drop because we can clearly see the end in sight. The kick is a result of networking between anaerobic reserve, drive/reward, and a loosening of the safety mechanism from the brain. This phenomenon can be seen in studies that illustrate that at the end of a race, a larger amount of fatigue is permitted by the brain. Even though our fatigue increases, our brain lets us recruit a bit more muscle and endure more fatigue.
What is the kick made of?
A successful kick requires that we have a reserve left in our tank as well as psychological drive/reward. If we have these two elements, the reins are let loose a little more. The kick is largely based on our ability to tap into our anaerobic capacity. The trouble is that many runners use up their anaerobic abilities to maintain their pace during the race. When the time comes to kick, they may have the motivation, but they lack the anaerobic reserve.
The reason why we take months to train for a marathon is because our target pace is likely to be one that we can run, but we run it largely with great anaerobic effort, using up our limited glycogen stores and not tapping into the long-term energy source our fat provides. Training allows us to acclimate our bodies to the workload of that demanding pace, bringing an anaerobic effort down to an aerobic effort that serves as a much better system to use for endurance.
Train hard, train smart, and remember to save the best for last.
Be well and run on!