If I thought running in SA was competitive, which it definitely is, the bar has been raised now I've moved to the US, especially on the trails. I've been here 3 months off and on, and this week had a real taste of the ultra trail scene with the amazing Way Too Cool 50k in the appropriately named Cool, California. It takes in some of the legendary Western States trails and a good field for early season, including legendary trail runner Max King who definitely pics his races carefully as his 2012 log shows 2/36/1/1/1/1/1/3/3/1/1/1/1/1 Pretty impressive. When you can run a 31 minute 10k and a sub 2,20 marathon i guess you always have a winning chance when you pitch up on the trails. I'd got pretty 'lazy' and unfocussed over the last year and had really only tried to keep 80k a week going but with no structure whatsoever and few races. So had no expectations when I arrived in the US. The first races I found were small field 21km events, and the novelty of leading a race for the first time for years got the competitive juices flowing and made up for the lack of proper training. First 3 races, 2 PB's and 3 second places. Great to be back racing again, but the long stuff was feeling like hard work and a 30 loop marathon didn't help the motivation to run distance. However, the beauty and variety of the trail here means you can find a different, unique race every weekend if thats your goal. Three weeks before WTC 50k was the Hagg Lake 50k, a 2 laper with a 6km road section to start. The starts are like a road 10k; fast and furious, and although this seems nonsense, you cant amble along and hope to catch the speed bunnies. They dont slow down enough! As this was my first ultra of the year i just wanted to get the miles in and not push too hard. 8th/191 and 4,06 was a good start and there was more in the tank. The next weekend was a 35k in Portland's Forest Park and an 8km race at Lake Oswego. 29 minutes for the 8km was pretty much what i'd thought, given the long run the day before, but it hurt. A lot. Way Too Cool was by far the most impressive trail ultra I've run. 1000 runners, chip timed, amazing aid stations and pizza, beer and cupcakes at the finish. Also a Patagonia finishers tee and free beer from their chill out zone! The start was fast! My first km was 3,58 and I was a long way back from the leaders on the 2km of gravel road that was needed to string the field out before the single track. As we hit the single track the pace normalised and i reckoned I might be 30th or so. The leading woman swooped past me and into the distance, so maybe my pace was too slow? But over 50km you have to be in a place between very comfortable and breathing hard and I felt I was there. Also I know that generally I get better in the second half, so was happy to hope I saw her again! We dipped down to the river, a 250m drop and had the American trail experience; fast flowing river, pines, surely a bear somewhere fishing, and beautiful single track. The kay's flew by, with every 8km or so an overstocked aid station, with more food than most restaurant buffets I've been to. Spectators with cow bells were common, other runners not, which if you are racing is generally a good thing! As we climbed out of the valley, my legs told me we were ok, and we started to catch runners. Some going ok, others cramping. As an aside, I've sorted of decided that a good (or bad run) is down to two things, pace and nutrition. The pace has to be faster than you are comfortable with, but within your limits. At Hagg Lake I took the famous (in running circles anyway) Rob Spedding quote to hurt. If you feel good, wait, if you are still feeling good, wait, and so on. This time I was less cautious and pushed from the valley bottom, about halfway. Nutrition has taken me a long time to get right, but GU Roctane seems to be the magic muti. Maybe its in the head, but one of these every hour and I seem to keep my energy up. Trail runners here are real polite and all stand aside when you are about to pass, and a bonus was catching a group of three up the steep Toad Hill. To the last aid station (2km to go, go figure!) and then the sting in the tail, 100 metres up in 1km, to nearly the finish. The first glance at my watch all day said I would break 4 hours, a surprise given the hills, and a great end to an awesome race. Just as during the race, we were pampered at the finish with massage, pizza, homemade soup, frog cupcakes and beer! Thank you WTC.
Next week its Chuckanut, much tougher, but great training for African X, potentially with mountain goat Coach Dion. Yikes.