Well, just like that, the taper for the Western States 100-miler is here. May was a very strong month, and I was able to go into my 3-week taper with a huge (for me) 7-day stretch where I ran 102 miles and climbed and descended a combined 24,400 feet. May saw 370 miles (not including miscellaneous walking). Most importantly, I felt good through all the volume and still feel fresh and alive.
It all ended with Saturday's North Fork "50K." I quote "50K" because it's really a 32.5-mile race--and one of the best such races in Colorado with its friendly, down-home feel, great organization and tremendous post-race picnic food complete with tall cold ones. It seems the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, which was also on Saturday, is the "in" 50K for this time of year but I'll take North Fork any day of the week as it suits me better. It's a beautiful, fairly fast course, passing through some of the burn areas from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire as you climb about 4,800 feet (which is a lot less than Golden Gate). Plus, it has some nice descents that are perfect for conditioning the quads.
Except for the fact that I saw a dead motorcyclist on US 285 going home, it was a great day at North Fork. I finished in 5 hours and 21 minutes, good for 8th overall out of 128 finishers. Going into North Fork, the strategy was to run it very conservatively (as in all-day pace) and essentially use the race as an aided long training run. I was able to hold to that strategy through about 21 miles, getting passed by quite a few runners, and then it fell by the wayside a bit when I "decided" to amp up the pace and see how many folks I could reel in.
As we entered one of the burn areas in the late morning, I had a nice view of several runners in front of me. It was at about that time that my iPod turned to Bob Seger's "Shakedown," a great tune from the eighties (I've always been a Seger fan). With the competitive juices flowing and the legs suddenly alive, I picked up the pace and by mile 23 was running sub-7s, absolutely hammering the downhills. I passed, by my count, every single runner that had overtaken me in the first 20 miles and was looking for more. And I was feeling good despite the heat starting to pick up. My legs, after feeling tired in the first 20 miles from a lot of running in the past few weeks, all of a sudden felt light and my turnover was solid. My quads were in great shape. It was time to run.
So in the last 10 miles, I was able to gain a lot of ground and even passed a runner about a 1/3 of the way from the finish line, crossing feeling quite fresh. Zero stomach problems. I continue to wonder at the effects of my sharp reduction in sugar, which I began earlier this year.
Today, all feels good--just some minor soreness in my hips and ankles but otherwise the ship is sturdy. I put in an easy 7-miler this morning, followed by weights and my fifth sauna session. I'm looking to put in 10-12 total sauna sessions. Not really interested in any bank robber suit runs, though I admire the commitment quite a bit. The taper plan is to cut mileage by about 35% each week going into Western States, with very little the week of the race as I super-hydrate.
I've been running ultras for 13 years and it's not every day that you can go into a race feeling solidly good about your training. I feel like this has been a hell of training cycle and so I can line up at Western States feeling confident that I can finish and ideally go sub-24 hours...or much better. My quads are there and the heat training is progressing.
The word that best describes this whole process--from start to race day--is simple: Gratitude. I am grateful for this opportunity.