Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cajun Coyote and Thunderbird Race Reports

Well, what an amazing two weeks its been. Two wins and two course records to close out the year. You really can't ask for more than that. Here is a race report for both Cajun Coyote 20 miler (12/7) and Thunderbird Trail Half Marathon (12/15). Both were incredible performances exceeding all my expectations.

Cajun Coyote Trail 20 Miler (12/7)

     This was my first time ever running this race and running at Chicot State Park in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Its really not a far drive from my house so I'll be returning for some camping and trail running, as the park boasts a continous twenty mile loop. Typical to all out of town Forge Races, I got terribly lost finding the park which meant no scoping out the course on Friday. Jeff Beck rented group cabins for everyone to stay in but you still had to go out in the cold to use the bathroom. This meant a lot of trips out in the freezing cold, as I like to stay really hydrated days before a race. A friend was sleeping in the mess hall which had two bathrooms inside the heated building so this is where I decided to camp. Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 am to make coffee for myself and the 100 mile runners, who started at 6 am. After eating breakfast, watching the crazies start, and packing up my stuff, I got in a little 10 minute warmup with a friend, who broke down the course for me. The plan was start conservatively in the most technical section, then drop the hammer at 10 miles. I was planning for a time of 2:20 but secretly wanted to run under that.
     We started at 9 am and I quickly found myself at the front. I wanted to control the race from the get go, I wanted to let anyone know, that I would be the one deciding how fast we run and if you stuck with me it was going to hurt. Another runner, who said he was a road marathoner decided my conservative pace was a little to slow and got in front for a few minutes. I ran right behind him and noticed how he was struggling up the uphills/downhills and more technical track. So I quickly passed him and decided to hell with conservative pacing, I used the hills to my advantage quickly opening up a lead. At aid station #1, I quickly drank a cup of water and keep pushing on roughly maintaining a 7:00 min/mile pace, feeling pretty good. At six miles I took my first Hammer gel and came into aid station #2 at 8 miles in ~58:00 min and again got a single cup of water.

Coming into Aid Station #2 (8 miles) Photo: Miriam Thompson
     The rest of the race was comprised of the daunting task of not allowing myself to slow down and true to the plan, I laid the hammer down. I flew through the half marathon split in 1:29, more than three minutes faster than my PR. That was a huge motivation to keep pushing as I felt surprisingly really good. Another gel later and I found myself at the last aid station (16 miles). Here, I stopped for two cups of water, got them to open my gel and headed out, just trying to maintain. At this point my quads were trashed from the hard running on all the hills. I was also dizzy for two miles, which typically happens when I run hard for a while then stop then start again. I was thinking at this point I should have foregone stopping at the aid station. However, there was little I could do except push on. I slowed my pace just to make sure I didn't fall as I knew I wouldn't be get up off the ground easily at this point. Between 18-20 miles I was really hurting just wanting it all to be over; a whole lot of praying got me to mile 19 and from there to finish I poured everything I had left into it. The last mile must of been short because I really doubt my ability to run a 5:23 mile on a trail after just running 19 miles but I'd like to think I'm capable. All in all this race was amazing. I was completely beside myself when I finished in 2:14.23 setting a new course record. I finished so fast everyone was busy doing other stuff, not expecting anyone to be done so soon. Whoever told me this course was flat lied to me, it certainly wasn't; however, it was very open which allowed for fast running. It was also very inspiring to see all the hundred milers battling near freezing weather, heavy rains, and flooded trails for nearly thirty hours. They were the true champions of the weekend. Thanks to Jeff Beck, Brenton Day, Forge Racing, and all the other volunteers and racers who made this a great weekend.

Thunderbird Trail Half Marathon (12/15)

     The Thunderbird trail races are the last stop of the state-wide Forge Trail Racing Series were points are totaled and state champions are named. The point races are 10ks and the race director will typically add a few extra distances such as 5ks and half marathons. Check out Forge Racing's website for more info. This race has special meaning for me as the trail is only five minutes from my house and is my go to training trail. The trail is no joke, it is called the Beast for a reason, featuring technical single track throughout and lots of hills in the ~6 mile loop. Forge has been hosting a race here for three years and I've yet to win, so I really wanted it. It was looking like it would be a possibly till about thirty minutes before the start I saw a familiar face registering at the last minute. Nick Accardo, 2013 US 100km Road National Champ, who beat me by 12 seconds in 2011 at this very race. Well, my morning just got a lot more interesting. We started fast, quickly breaking away from everyone on the gravel road heading to the trail head. We were arguing about who would lead and he decided to let me take it, I quickly slowed the pace to 1:30 half pace. After a short minute he decided this was too slow and passed me surging strongly. I knew I couldn't let him go this early so I ran right behind him. I was thinking there is no way we could maintain this pace, then I realized this must be a surge just to see what I'm capable of or break me early, so I forced myself to hang on. We popped up at the first baseball field in 13 minutes which put us on 1:23 half pace.

A blazing start. Photo: Jeff Beck, Forge Racing

Heading into single track on first loop. Photo: Miriam Thompson
     Eventually, the pace returned to 1:30 half pace to my relief. I also noticed how easily I was running up the hills behind him. It allowed me plenty of time to recover and after the steepest of hills in the second third of the loop I was smiling running behind him. I think this is when I knew that I could beat him and knew I would need to crush every hill on the second loop to do so.
     We finished the first loop in 45 minutes, exactly where I wanted to be. I got the lead back and quickly began the process of trying to run away from him. I built a small lead and was feeling really confident, then BAM! I went down hard, I never fall on this trail but today I did, twice actually. This fall hurt as I rolled over some big roots and when I get up Nick is right on my tail. I couldn't let him know that I was hurting though. So, I slowly began to really push it hard on every uphill and sprint the downhills. This race really really hurt, he was running really close, I could hear him the whole time. I knew I couldn't let the pace relax for an instant and I didn't want it to come down to a kick. I felt like a gazelle running scared from a hungry lion. Eventually, the footsteps were becoming more and more quiet. Eventually they stopped. After the race, he told me he was running so hard to catch up that he fell and knew at that point that he probably wasn't going to get me. I managed to hold on for the win and course record, despite slick and some muddy conditions. I ran the last loop in just over 43 minutes and finished in 1:27.02, setting a new course record, with Nick finishing in 1:28.04. Finally, I had been waiting a long time for that one. A race like this is one that every competitor dreams of, a battle, one that I will never forget and hope to have more of. Nick is an amazing competitor and its no surprise that he is a national champion. However, I just happened to be better on trails. This race was a huge confidence boost and I look forward to our next encounter with great pleasure! Again, a special thanks to everyone at Forge Racing, Jeff and Brenton, you guys work hard and I greatly appreciate all you do hosting races and helping trail running grow in Louisiana. Thanks to all the other volunteers, friends, and racers who came out to St.Francisville for the weekend, I hope you all come back more often.

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