Monday, September 24, 2012

Wörthersee Trail Maniak 57k: Don't Walk --- Run

I felt like I was haulin' ass the entire time.  The ascents, the flats, and the descents:  haulin' ass.  It wasn't until mile 20 that the gradient became steep enough to relegate most runners to hiking.  Up until that point, however, the ascents were short enough that most people --- me included --- managed to run/jog up them.  By the time I made it to Velden (approximately half-way), my hip flexors were tight, my knees were sore, and my spirits were flagging.  
We're off!  The start of what felt like haulin' ass for 35 miles.

Prior to the race, my goal was a sub-seven hour finish but by the time I made it to Velden just over 3h:15m had elapsed so I knew any chance of a sub-seven hour finish was going to require an even or negative split and that was assuming the elevation gain/loss on the return would be similar to what was experienced heading out.  That, of course, wasn't the case since I knew the longest climb awaited (~1,000 ft over three miles or so) and that the return was longer than the outbound leg (the race circumnavigated a lake).  I wasn't yet ready to completely surrender my goal, however, so I soldiered on.  

I was a little lackadaisical about jockeying for position in the pack prior to the race starting --- I started near the rear --- but once we were off and running I was passing more than being passed.  I felt good, although I was concerned about heading out too fast, too early, then falling apart near the end.  I kept doing the math over and over in my head:  "Twelve-minute miles equals five miles per hour divided by ~35 miles means approximately seven hours."  I didn't think I'd have too much problem since I had, after all, run the 50k distance before in the 6-7 hour range and those two races featured considerably more vertical gain.  This race was, of course, slightly longer but I figured that it being (relatively) flatter would translate into (relatively) faster running.  My logic was flawless.  Or so I thought. 

For about the first third of the race, I felt like I was either passing people or, at least, maintaining my position.  On one of the steepest and most technical descents of the day --- the single-track was essentially a slippery, muddy stream --- I was holding my own but when it flattened out the group I was running with pulled away from me.  Things didn't get any better once I reached the pavement heading into Velden but after spending a few minutes regrouping at the aid station, chatting with Lisa, eating some orange slices, cucumber, and drinking some isotonic drink, I felt a bit better (unlike the races I've run in the US, the electrolyte beverage isn't a name-brand drink --- Gatorade, Powerade, etc. --- but rather a generic "isotonic" drink).  Heading out of Velden I was moving well enough but I was eager to return to the trail --- the pounding away on the asphalt is brutal --- so the turn onto a dirt road was a welcome sight.  Once the ascent began in earnest, I fell into a rhythm and began to power-hike but about half-way up to the highest point along the course (Pyramidenkogel) I was overtaken by a woman who must have been around fifty years old.  I couldn't believe it.  This woman was hauling ass up the mountain and she didn't even look winded.  I'm no chauvinist and am well-aware of the fact that there are many, many ultra running women out there who can run circles around my gangly, pasty ass but this was unexpected.  I was in awe, especially as I watched her pull away from me and continue to reel in and pass a few other men in front of me.  When I finally reached the summit, I had several cups of Coke (I'm not sure what it is about that stuff but it's like jet fuel -- perks and powers me right up), some more cucumber and oranges, then set off for the longest descent of the day.  My quads were a bit sore but I was moving well and having fun bombing the descent, even when a pear-shaped oldish woman (probably in her mid-forties) caught up to me on the non-technical parts of the descent only to fall behind me when it became more technical (she eventually passed me for the last time on some flats about five miles later).  When I reached the bottom of the descent and the next aid station, Reifnitz, Lisa was again waiting for me and again we chatted for a few minutes, I downed another couple cups of Coke, a cup of non-alcoholic beer, and ate more orange and cucumber slices.  At this point it was even more unlikely that I'd finish in less than seven hours but I didn't care anymore, I just wanted to finish.  I was tired.  

I spent the last 8-9 miles thinking about how the race had gone and my slower-then-expected finish time.  I clearly underestimated how much faster the field runs when the course features only a modest amount of gross elevation gain/loss (1,800 meters = ~5,900 feet) and that Austrian and German ultra marathoners don't screw around.  They didn't piss around at the aid stations, there was very little chatter and small talk among runners, and, true to the stereotypes, they showed up and got down to business.  It was remarkable.  And quite humbling.  I felt like I ran a pretty fast race but either my perception of "fast" is considerably slower than what it was four years ago or the ultra runners here are just, well, faster.  Probably a combination of both.  

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was 167th among 295 finishers with a time of 7h:31m:52s.  I was expecting to have finished much lower in the rankings (bottom quarter, at least) so I was pleasantly surprised by my placement.  The race organization was top-notch, the race schwag commendable, and the course varied, technical, steep, and fast enough to please virtually any ultra runner.  Just be prepared to haul ass.
57k (~35 miles):  7h:31m:52s

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