Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hawthorn Half-Day Race Report


"I may have to cancel my plans to race Hawthorn." I called Stephanie, (my race crew), to relay this message only days before the race. My family was expecting my grandmother to pass away any day. The doctor said she expected her to pass a full week prior. We sat on pins and needles waiting for "it" to happen, but days and days passed. As race day came closer I began to think of a Plan B in case "it" did happen. As important as racing is to me, family is more of a priority and  I wanted to be around to help my mother when it finally did happen. I received a phone call at work on Wednesday before the race. She went peacefully with my mom and her siblings in the room. The funeral and burial commenced swiftly.

Grabbing a bottle for a cold dousing!
"I'll meet you at my house at 5! The race is on!" I call it my grandmother's parting gift that I was still able to leave town in time to make the race after the services Friday. My wife had been out of town the whole week to add to the chaos and stress. I picked her up from the airport on Friday at 5, literally handed our daughter off to her, then Stephanie and I were on our way to Terre Haute, Indiana for the Hawthorn Half Day Race and Relay.

The Course Record.
The race started unassumingly at 7:00 am. I had high sights set on the race this year. Last year I broke the course record but still placed second to uber-badass, Olympic trials dude, Jesse Davis who in a knock-down-drag-out battle EARNED his overall win to my second place and the course record by fighting with his heart on his sleeve. I closed hard and got within several hundred meters in a tight battle rarely seen at this distance. We closed the final mile of the race last year at a 6:00 minute/mile pace which was absurd. He responded and fought with passion. It was a blast!

This year I was prepped to go 80 miles. Two weeks before the race I even put in a 20 hour week of training running over 100 miles on trails.  I knew my goals would be a true accomplishment as the conditions last year were nearly unheard of, PERFECT. Last year I ran a great race: 77.9 miles placing 2nd. Jesse Davis ran 78.4 miles. Like I said, we both broke the old CR of 72, but the record went to him.

Race morning held relatively cool temps for a summer race. I had been training in the hottest part of the day for the past few months to prep for the heat at Hawthorn. The race course is a 5K loop on trails mostly with a mile of pavement thrown in. Nearly a mile or more of the loop is on an earthen dam bordering a small lake with reeds which block the breeze. This section is fully exposed to the sun adding to the heat and oppressive conditions which have been present at the race in the past.
Lets GO! 7:20 We got one more in us!

The first hour hour of the race I started incredibly slowly, well below my goal pace for the day. I knew to run my absolute best I had to control the day, not the other way around. I checked my watch as I passed the start/finish line a second time completing my second lap. I had been running very comfortably and I knew I needed to pick it up. My first hour was only 6.2 miles per hour on average! Once again, I was in control. I didn't worry about the heat that was on the way. Some people think its a good idea to run hard early, and "beat the heat". I don't agree.

My laps picked up in pace quite a bit over the next several hours. My form was strong and I was doing well mentally. My lap splits were within 60 seconds of one another. I was in the groove. I ran with some guys and figured I was somewhere near first place but I wasn't sure, even three hours into the event I didn't know my placement. Placement is irrelevant. I knew that pacing was all that mattered, nothing and no one else mattered. I was running my own race, confident. I knew there was supposedly some other guy out there aiming to hit 80, but I didn't notice who it might be and I didn't care. By the 3 hour mark I had taken first place and by the 4 hour mark I had lapped the guys that were out front at the beginning of the day.

I grabbed my iPod around the 4 hour mark. My splits were still within 60 seconds of each other. I had run 26.67 miles in 4:00 exactly which is literally exactly where I needed to be to run 80. I was focused and stayed just outside the comfort zone. I enjoyed the great camaraderie on the course. All the runners and I cheered on one another as the day progressed.

Around noon, Stephanie and I employed a strategy which I believe was one major key to success on the day. Every other lap, she handed me a Buff filled with ice that kept me cool. (I called it my Ice-Bukaki) "Gimme the ice-Bukaki"! I'd yell as I neared the start/finish line. ( a Buff is a big tube shaped bandana thingy that I packed with several cups of ice. Don't ask what Bukaki is, and definitely don't google it.)

Ten hours into the race I was gaining ground not only on the competition but also on my goal. I stuck like glue to my nutrition plan. I never slowed, stopped, or sat. I never swapped shoes or clothes, I just ran. That's what you do in an ultra, you run. People make ultras and 100's too complicated. You just run.

Jeff Mires has won the event in the past. He's a good friend of mine and I lucked out to have him run several laps with me in the closing hours. (Jeff has quite a streak going at Hawthorn. He's run every year for nearly a decade. One year he even participated on crutches to keep the streak alive! That's the kind of race this is. A family you want to be part of. ) Jeff kept me alert and motivated. The focus required to run the exact same pace for twelve hours was intense. There were times I felt great and I wanted to pick it up, but I knew I would pay for it dearly and my overall pace would be hurt. There were times I felt like shit and still kept on plugging away, keeping the splits within 60 seconds even after 10 hours and almost 70 miles.

I played mental games to keep motivating myself. The 2 hours to go mark was huge. I knew that I only had to run the loop 5 more times, and if I was lucky, I'd only have to run it 4 more times.

In this event, a smaller 800 meter track opens up with 30 minutes left. If you plan it right, you can finish your last lap on the 5k loop with just over 30 minutes left and then get on the 800m track. Anyone out on the 5k loop at the 12:00 point has their finishing distance rolled back to their last lap, so it makes sense to wait for the 800m to open, get it?

With Jeff's help as well as some serious mental motivation and head games, I forced myself to really pick up the pace. I pretended with only an hour and a half left, that it was really thirty minutes left so I could really let go and push hard, it would be over soon so dig DEEP! ( I figured that after that point, it really would be only an hour left and THAT would be new motivation to push on and dig deep and push hard again...)

I finished my last lap on the 5k loop with 31 minutes left  for the day. This was timed flawlessly! I was running 26-27 minute laps so I technically could have gone back out and run another lap on the 5k course, but it was well worth it to wait the extra minute and run my last thirty minutes on the 800 meter track because it is flat, fast, and paved.

Coming into the track with 30 minutes left I had a giant grin. I had pushed myself hard enough in the closing two hours that I not only had the overall win totally locked up, but the course record as well, but like I said, my goal was 80 miles and I needed to run 2.5 more miles to do it. ( I could definitely do that in 30 minutes!). I dug deep like my life depended on it. I was running much more quickly than at any other point in the race, and I closed the race running a 5:35 mile. (thanks to Jeff for running with me...what an exciting lap, with only 7 minutes and 20 seconds left I knew I would have to push hard to get in another mile...little did I know I could have backed way off!) I could have quit at 80 but this was about posterity, pushing 100% for the sake of it.

I ended up with 81.5 miles, beating my goal of 80.

Thanks to Jeff for running some laps with me and giving me splits and pacing info and Stephanie for the crewing that saved enough time on the day to hit my goals. I really believe I hit my potential out there.

It'd be way funnier to have a self-deprecating race report and joke on the day, but I'm proud of this one...I'll dork it up and just leave it as it is. Especially after the week that preceded the race...

I'll be back next year for more...I love hanging out after this event and eating dinner with everyone in the pavilion during the awards ceremony. It's a true community of runners. Old school...what its all about.