Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sage to Summit Race Series

Saturday morning marked the beginning of the Sage to Summit Race Series. The series is comprised of 3 10k trail races on 1/10, 2/21, and 3/14 at the Millpond Recreation Area near Bishop, CA. Runners are given points based on where they finish and after the 3rd race a winner will be determined. These events serve the region as sort of a bridge between the beginning and end of the local racing scene as races are sparse this time of year.

Going into the race I felt a lot of nerves. This was the first trail race I've ever done, as well as the first race at altitude (although the alt. hovered around 4,600 which is three thousand feet lower than where I usually sleep and run). Lastly, I didn't know the course at all and was told that it had been marked with pink ribbons and chalk on the sand and should be pretty easy to follow.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I was able to race in a singlet and shorts. It was 18 degrees when I got up in Mammoth but had jumped to the 40s or higher by the time the race started at 9AM. I wore a hat and gloves (but was able to ditch those for my afternoon run). The field was small, with about 25 runners competing. I knew the race wouldn't be too large, but seeing as it was the only game in town I expected more.

After the gun went off I found myself in third running a pretty comfortable pace. I was hesitant to pick it up as I was nervous about going off the course. I followed for a corner or two and decided I could probably follow the markers without much trouble. I decided to pick it up a bit and very quickly found myself passing for the lead. I could sense an acceleration and increase in breathing from the two I passed.

About half a mile into the race the course turned off into the desert and off of pavement. We were running in pretty loose sand and it required a lot of hopping from side to side on the path as we searched for the packed grooves that were easier to run on. I love running on trails, and weaving in and out, but concentrating on footing during a race is new to me, and I must say it made me long for the races in Chicago where I could really pound it out on flat pavement. This video shows what the terrain was like about 25 seconds in. You'll also notice that Bishop is a haven for climbers from all over the world.

The course was a semi-loop. We ran out about 2 miles, did a 2 mile loop, and then retraced that 2 mile opening. The first 2 miles had quite a bit of uphill (elevation chart is pictured), so I knew I'd be rolling downhill quite a bit at the finish. As I climbed the hills I found myself swearing at the loose sand. Hills are never fun, but pushing yourself up on really soft stuff is quite a workout. I wondered to myself on each hill if I would break and be caught. I knew I was putting distance on my competitors, but I could still hear them breathing behind me. I didn't want to look over my shoulder and give them any indication I was worried about them.

By the midway point I had opened a gap, perhaps 20 seconds or so, and I was feeling good, but since I did not know my competitors, I considered that they may have strong finishes in store, so I did my best to soldier on. Not that I'm used to large numbers of spectators, but it was interesting to be in the middle of nowhere during a race. Leading the event added to this strange feeling. I've won two races before, but generally I have a few people just in front of me who constantly remind me that I need to keep pushing myself. Perhaps because of all of this I was very self-aware of my thoughts. I do experience this during races now and then. Its usually a neat thing. A dialogue I enjoy with myself about the need to push forward and ignore the things urging me to stop. But, this voice was different. Why?

Well, for some unexplained reason my mind was set on singing the song "Garden Grove" by Sublime. It's been years since I've heard that song. In fact I couldn't even place what it was I was singing until I was able to consult my ipod after the race. The human brain is truly amazing. Especially mine. Ha, only kidding. But, why in the midst of a desert fighting for a win in a race would my mind pull up some strange song from the past?

In the end I was able to hold on for the victory with a margin of victory of about 1 minute. My time was 39:00 which is much slower than the 10k's I ran in November, but obviously trail running is a different beast. I'm left with no choice now but to complete the series and go for the overall win. The second place finisher was a guy named Jeff Kozak who is an accomplished ultra-marathoner/trail runner having won several 50-mile events. We went for a run together after the race and I'm sure he'll be a good friend and running partner when I head south to Bishop. I must admit, that if the trials goal doesn't pan out I may have to extend my distances as listening to him describe his all day training runs in the mountains is incredible!

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After the race the weather hit the high 60's and I declared that wouldn't go inside until after it was dark. I walked in "downtown" Bishop before heading a little out of town to run along the Owens River Valley. This area is a Mecca for fly-fisherman and climbers. I ran on a dirt road with great views of the Glass Mountains as well as the Southern Sierra Nevada (this is pictured as well, you can see the Owens river in the foreground and the Glass Mountains in the back, the dirt road runs along side the the base of the hills seen on the left). This is a spot where I will be doing lots of long runs and tempo runs. Its at about 4300 ft and has a working water well I can use to get more drink (pictured).

Things are going very well at the moment, and i hope the unseasonably nice January continues. I certainly miss running and being with all of my pals in Chicago!

1 comment:

Nettie said...

I think all your pals in Chicago are currently envying your weather! Worst winter we've had in a while!

Congrats on the win and meeting another running buddy!