Monday, March 23, 2015

4 MPH Challenge

Yesterday I won the 4MPH Challenge in Whiskeytown, CA. I'm pretty sure that's the first race I've ever won. Ultrasignup says on average I'm 69% as fast as the winners of the 49 ultras I've run. But the format for the 4MPH Challenge suited me well.
1-(Re)start the clock.
2-Run 6 miles in under 90 minutes.
3-Stop and wait until 90 minutes has elapsed.
4-Repeat the process until (A) you fail, or (B) until everyone else has failed.

I decided to go with option B.

I left Berkeley around 2:30PM on Friday and drove up to Whiskeytown, picking up supplies along the way. The race is mostly self-supported, except for simple hot stuff during the night, so I bought my standards: yellow Gatorade, ginger ale, saltines, and potato chips. The race started at the Oak Bottom campground, which has a giant parking lot for the marina and boat launch, so I just slept in my truck there.

I woke up at 7:00, set up half my gear at the starting place, and sent half to the turnaround. The course was six miles long, with an aid-station/waiting zone at each end. I tried to split food, warm clothing, spare socks, and blankets evenly between them. (That's my advice to anyone doing an event like this--you absolutely want a camp chair and a blanket or sleeping bag at each end.)

The race started at 8:00. I ran the first 6 miles in an hour and ten minutes, which was my fastest split all day, for the most part. The race was actually 6.3 out and 5.7 back, so we had a few extra minutes for the out legs. However, in the out direction, there are three mostly flat miles along the reservoir, and then three miles up a small hill, a contour, down, and along a creek, down to the turnaround, which is higher in elevation than the start. So even though the out direction has more climbing, I enjoyed it more, because you get the three boring miles out of the way at the start when you're fresh.

Maybe my second or third time running back, since I didn't enjoy the returns as much, I had an "Oh boy, what'd I get myself into?" moment, when I really remembered how much I don't like running loops. But this passed once the simultaneous shorter-distance events left the course. (There were 18- and 36-mile options you could sign up for at lower cost. The 36-milers started at the same time as the unlimiteds, but the 18-milers ran staggered, so in the opposite direction.) Once the 36ers were finished, there weren't very many of us left, and at least one person kept dropping every 6 miles, so it got interesting.

I'd never run this race format before (I only know of a couple others, and I didn't learn of the second until during the race) so I didn't know quite how I'd do, but I thought there was a chance I could win, and my goal was to go at least 120 miles in order to get a distance PR (I ran 120 at Fat Dog last year.) But then during the race, I realized that although I've run 100 miles plenty of times, I've never run a 4 MPH pace for 24 hours. I ran 94 or 95 miles in my second 24-hour fixed-time event, and I ran Western States 100 in 25:35, so I've run almost 4mph for almost long enough, but not quite. However, this course was probably ideal. Not too flat to bore me and my muscles to death, and not too hilly to actually slow me down.

This realization probably happened at night, because running at night always sucks. I ran my slowest return leg in 1:19 at the tail end of the night. The aid stations were self-supported to keep costs low, which I dig, but I forgot to bring any caffeine, and hadn't had any all night. But obviously, since ultra-runners are awesome, everyone was willing to share. So my friend and #3 finisher Scott Martin gave me a NoDoz, and I was fine. Then a half a can of Coke appeared at the other end, and the sun was coming up, so all was well.

At some point, there were five of us left: Me, Scott, Tim, Jeremy, and Aaron. Tim looked strong but then all of the sudden barfed a bunch, and dropped at mile 90. Aaron, who won the race two years ago, had the jealousy-inducing advantage of having his adorable dog with him, and she ran from mile 36 to 96 (!), where he dropped, with pretty bad blisters that started when he got his feet wet in the creek. Scott still felt pretty good, but he said he wanted no part of Jeremy and I, so he dropped at 102. I was first out of the aid station after 96, and stayed in the lead, crushing the segment, and didn't see any other runners, so I had to tell myself to not be stupid and not imagine that everyone else would miss the 102 cutoff. And, exactly as my rational mind was trying to tell me that whole six miles, Jeremy came in only a few minutes behind me at 102, looking strong.

On the return leg he dropped me after about a mile and I didn't see him again until the turnaround at 108. I made good time, and the sun was up, and I was feeling fine. A volunteer had grabbed my laptop from my truck, so I uploaded a new book on tape on to my iPod (I finished the terrible California by Edan Lepucki as well as every podcast, and was getting really tired of Serial using the Stitcher app on my phone), my friend Lint was there helping me fill my bottle, and I was ready to go another 20 or 30 miles, when Jeremy said he was done, because his knee was hurting and he didn't want to do serious damage.  Of course I understand that, but I joked that I was disappointed because we hadn't even competed long enough to start shit-talking each other.

Since he had finished this leg before me, I had to complete one more leg in order to win. So I told everyone I'd see them on the other side in 71 minutes, and took off. I went out a little too fast, and my knees started to hurt, and I realized I'd forgotten that I wanted to take an electrolyte pill back at the aid station. I scanned the ground the whole time to look for one that someone else had dropped (this usually happens) but I didn't find any. Oh well. I concentrated on how a good deal of this knee pain and fear of cramping was almost certainly psychosomatic, and I finished the last leg in 64 minutes, my fastest leg all day, and I won.

In addition to winning, which always feels good (I mean, I assume, but N=1, so take it with a grain of salt) I had a blast hanging out with friends. The race is low cost ($50, shirts are optional, aid is mostly self-provided) and low-key, and social by design--you can't escape your opponents. My friend Scott, who told me about this race and about Euchre Bar Massacre, was there, as was Lint, a great hikertrash friend who hung around after his 42 miles were up to serve up quesadillas in a giant racoon costume. Apparently I'll be seeing Jeremy again this fall at IMTUF. I'm pretty sure he'll be able to get revenge since I'm also running Plain the week before.

I won.

Me and Lint

A bad blurry selfie on the second morning
Here's the Strava:

Oh, and lastly, in only tangentially related news, since I listened to it during the race: Edan Lepucki's post-apocalyptic novel California is sorely disappointing. Stephen Colbert was right about most things, but definitely not this. The world she creates is internally inconsistent, there's a ton of build-up with no payoff, there are very cheap plot devices, and it's mostly about spousal and sibling bickering. This WP review, despite being far too positive overall, put it well: "If you introduce a turkey baster in the first act, it better go off by the end of the third."

Just read The Dog Stars instead.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Garret, I enjoyed duking it out with you. Next year we will have to go for that distance PR ;-)