The Jed Smith Classic is held every year in Sacramento. It's know for being a very flat and very fast course. And this year's newly revised course promised to be even flatter and even faster than in previous years. Unfortunately, flat and fast is not my necessarily my forte. In fact, you could probably even say it's my nemesis. The problem is that I'm accustomed to running on trails in the mountains with thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of the race -- where the pace is around 8:30 minutes per mile. So when I find myself running on flat, fast, well-groomed running surfaces my body has no idea what kind of pace to run. And invariably I end up going out much too hard and then dying after 16 - 18 miles. It's happened to me more than once. More than twice. More than three, four, or five times. But, I digress.
There I was, standing at the starting line with ten seconds to go before the gun goes off. No wait, let's back up a bit...
There I was, sitting at my computer 3 months before the scheduled race date trying to decide whether I wanted to do the 50 mile or the 50 kilometer distance (Jed Smith Classic offers three distances: 50M, 50K, and 30K). Hopefully 2011 would be the year that I finally run (and finish) my first 100 miler. I'd tried (and failed miserably) on two other occasions in previous years -- dropping out of the Umstead Endurance Run at mile 72 in 2005, and again calling it quits at mile 75 of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009.
If I am planning on completing a 100 miler this season, it would make sense to do the 50 mile instead of the 50K option at Jed Smith and just use it as an easy training day for my 100 miler later in the year. On the other hand, my 100 miler isn't until late June, so maybe it doesn't make sense to already start ratcheting up the distance so early in the season. Plus, I've been having some knee pain lately, so perhaps it's best to just do the shorter, wimpier 50K option. But what the hell, sign me up for the 50 miler anyway!
However, as the race drew closer I started questioning my bold decision to try and do the full 50 miles. I started hedging my bets. Maybe it would be better to do the 50K instead so that I could potentially score points for my ultra running team, Quicksilver RhoMobile (the 50K event is part of the PAUSATF Ultra Running Grand Prix while the 50 mile event is not). Never mind that we already have 3 guys (Jean, Sean, and Jim) who will certainly all finish well and win the maximum 10 points for the top-scoring team. I should do it for the team! Yeah, that's the ticket.
Then, Friday night as I am driving up to Sacramento the night before the race something happens to solidify my decision. I'm stopped at a red light in busy traffic on Mission Boulevard in Fremont. I see a fast-approaching car in my rear view mirror. But they don't seem to be stopping (or even slowing). The car is getting closer, and definitely not breaking. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6... crash. What the hell? Oww, my neck. My head. My car! Ok, now it's official. I'm lucky to still be alive (actually it was a pretty minor fender bender, but still...), so I better just take it easy and do the 50K.
So there I was at the starting line with ten seconds to go before the gun goes off. My neck hurts. My head hurts, My back hurts. My knee is probably going to start hurting. It's too cold out. But it's gonna be too hot later once the sun comes out. I hate races that go around in circles, on bike paths, with throngs of iPod wearing walkers/joggers/baby strollers/bicyclists/dogs. (Ok, the dogs weren't wearing iPods, but you get the idea). Obviously I had already given up before the race even started.
So, the race starts. I figure I should start running or something. I go out at 7:00 minute/mile pace for the first two miles -- probably a little too hard in retrospect, though certainly slower and easier than my teammates Jean and Sean and the other race leaders. The miles start slowly ticking off. I slow down a bit and get caught by a small pack of runners that included women's front-runner Jennifer Pfeifer (who would go on to win the women's race) as well as J.R. Mintz who seems to enter EVERY race that I run. We all chat for a mile, logging a few more miles.
Slowly we start spreading out and running on our own. And that's where the voices in my head take over the party. "I could sure use a cold beer." "Dude, why are you running in circles on this stupid bike path?" "Hey, you're starting to slow down. This is going to turn into a 4 or 5 hour torture-fest" "This sucks, let's go get some lunch." "You're just gonna get injured if you keep this up."