Long version: Last weekend on Saturday, March 26 I took part in the Woodside 50K trail event organized by Pacific Coast Trail Run (PCTR). This was essentially the same course as the Crystal Springs 50K course organized by Coastal Trail Runs (CTR) that I had run earlier this year in January. Those of you who read my blog will recall that I had a great race in January, finishing in 2nd place overall with a time of 4:22:08. This time around however the weather, trail conditions, and footing were far worse. Combine the bad weather with a few tactical errors on my part -- i.e., going out to hard the first 5 miles, not taking in enough calories, and wrongly assuming that my Garmin GPS was providing accurate speed/distance data in foul weather -- resulted in a time of 4:36:00 that was 12 minutes slower compared with my great performance in January.
Ironically however, prior to the race I had just returned from Orlando, Florida where the weather was 85 degrees and sunny. But don't get too jealous: I was there for a work conference and spent most of my time inside hanging out with other IT nerds, not lounging by the pool sipping beers (OK, full disclosure: I did manage to sneak out a few times with some buddies for a short run and post-run pool-side beer). So my body was probably a little confused as to what was going on with the drastic weather changes.
Anyway, at the start of the race I was chatting with Will Gotthardt who is a much faster runner than me (he has run Woodside in 4:08 and 4:09 in previous years). As we stood there at the starting line getting ready for the gun, I kept telling myself, "John, whatever you do, don't try and go out with Will." Of course, the race starts and I find myself trying to stay right on Will's heels for the first few miles. Mistake #1.
So my first mistake was in going out too fast with a couple of guys I had no business running with. But that wasn't the only tactical error I would end up making.
My second mistake is that I failed to take in enough calories during the day. Typically I carry a few energy gel packets (Vanilla Gu) with me. But on race morning I could only find one Gu in my race bag, so I figured I would just stop at aid stations and eat whatever they had available. But as the race went on, I found myself struggling to eat any solid foods that required chewing. As I would attempt to run, chew and breath all at the same time, little bits of uneaten Cliff Shot Blocks would fly out of my mouth with each exhale. So, as a result of not taking in enough calories I found myself slowing down (and even walking) the last 3 (mostly downhill) miles, which I would normally otherwise hammer!
My third mistake was that I wore my Garmin GPS and foolishly assumed it would be providing accurate speed and distance data even though we were running in tree-shrouded canyons on a very cloudy, rainy day. Nothing sucks more than looking down at your watch and wondering why it says you are running much slower than you expect, especially compared to the effort level you are expending. I kept running harder and harder during the first 10 miles thinking that I was only running 9 minute miles (when probably I was actually running sub 8:00 minute miles). So naturally I ended up going out to hard and expending more energy than I had planned. Note to self: If it feels like you are running too fast, you probably are.
Anyway, after losing sight of Will and Cameron I ran virtually all of the race alone, in solitude. However, somewhere around mile 18 I got passed by another runner, who I would later learn was Peter Duyan. I tried to hang with him for a bit, but he was running way too strong. So I settled in at my own pace, content to just try and hold on for 4th place. Luckily no one else passed me and I was able to keep 3 or 4 minutes between myself and the next runner, Judd Haaland.
In conclusion, I guess the takeaway is: 1) don't be an idiot and go out too hard, 2) don't be an idiot and run 31 miles with just one 100 calorie Gu packet, and 3) don't be an idiot and assume a consumer-grade GPS watch is going to work in a tree-shrouded canyon on a cloudy, stormy day. I guess we could further distill those messages down to the more condensed, "don't be an idiot" in general. Now, if only I could remember that advice next time...
Here's a link to the official results: http://www.pctrailruns.com/Results/2011WoodsideMarchResults.pdf.