Saturday, June 14, 2014

My journey to and through the Lynch Canyon Trail Run 2014.

Me finishing the Lynch Canyon Half in 2013 
My review of the race last year described the course in pretty good detail so this year I thought I would spend more time on the journey and less on the course detail in my reviewing of the 2014 event.

I was a bit worried coming into this race. I had written a few articles about how I was aiming to beat last years 2:16:00 but I wasn't sure I could really pull it off. I had taken a lot of time off from running through the winter and had only picked it back up in February. I started back by concentrating on the half marathon distance because training for the longer stuff takes more time then I have to give.

During my lay off in the fall/winter of 2013 I only ran 5- 10 miles a week and had a really tough time at the Tilden 35k, Skyline to Sea Marathon and the Quad Dipsea. I didn't run hardly at all in December and January and then I ran a trail half in Monterey at the end of January and that too was a struggle. That is when the light went on. I shouldn't struggle with a half marathon! I gotta get it back together. I enjoy doing long trail runs and my ability to do them is fading fast. Soon I will struggle to lay down 30 minutes in the hills and that will be a sad day. I was able to get consistent with 3 days a week for 30 minutes to an hour on those days and that got me to around 20 miles per week. For Lynch Canyon I got it up around 30- 35 miles per week for the last 5 weeks. Good for me but last year I was running 45- 50 miles per week.

The entrance to Lynch Canyon Open Space just off I-80
 Have I lost some level of fitness? Last spring I was setting PR's in the marathon and 50k. The obvious answer then, would be yes. But maybe not! I have purposefully been running more hills then ever and I have ran 5 of the most difficult half's in the bay since the Monterey race in February. I'm conditioned for hard half's so I may be in better shape then I thought. I ran my heart out at last years Lynch Canyon and my best got me a 2:16:00 finish (10:25 pace). If I beat that time I feel like that is proof enough that any fitness that was lost on the lay off has now been regained. My secondary goal is a llloooonnnnngggggg shot! I really want a sub 2 hr finish on a brutal course. Sub 2 hour is 9 minute pace and to pull that off on massive hills seems like a really great benchmark to reach for. 

Lynch Canyon Trail Run 2014
I got to the race at 7:30 and was on the starting line listening to race instructions 30 minutes later. I placed myself mid pack knowing that the course has a long slow climb early on. I wanted to get slowed down by the crowd. I wanted to go out slow and easy and then after 2 or 3 big climbs start looking at my average pace. The plan was to keep my average around 9 or 9:30 for the first loop and then keep it under 10 minute pace for the second loop and that would guarantee that I beat last years 10:25 pace. If I was having a miracle day perhaps I could have enough left over after the first loop to pick it up and average 9 min pace hitting that sub 2 hour goal!!!

Running the early hills at Lynch Canyon
The course runs fairly flat for a quarter mile and then starts to climb. This is the 1st of 3 distinct climbing sections before the course has a long downhill section. This first hill is a long slow grinder for .75 miles. I ran all the way to the top without walking! Off to a good start. At the top of the hill is the aid station and a much flatter section that  is runable for about a quarter mile before the next major climbing section begins. It rises, falls and then rises sharply for a half mile. I distinctly remember choosing to walk big hill #2 last year.  I did not walk it this year!

Prairie Ridge: A high point on the 10k & half marathon course
The downhill at mile 2.25 lasts for .75 and gives your aching legs a welcome relief. At the bottom is the 2nd aid station which marks the 3rd climbing section. It begins with a very difficult 22.4% slope for over a quarter mile taking you up to the Prairie Ridge. The next half mile slopes up sharply at the end but is really runnable for most of it. I was averaging 9:45 per mile at this point and I knew that would be dropping as soon as I crested this last little rise.

Downhill is a welcome relief!!!
A left turn onto Kestral Trail marks the begining of the downhill. It starts really sharply and can be VERY treacherous with its ankle twisting terrain covered by trampled grass. This downhill is about a mile long and loses 400 feet of elevation in the process. At times it is a -20% slope average. I averaged 7- 8 minute pace the entire section so that when the course slowed I had brought my average pace down to 9:15! Coming out of the 2nd of two shady spots on the course the trail crosses a meadow and turns right at the aid station onto South Valley Trail.

The false flat of South Valley
South Valley climbs for a half mile with only one little 40 ft hill that gives you any trouble. The next half mile is a fast downhill that ends with a sharp 50 ft hill climb that slows you considerably. The hill drops quickly down to the finish line area where my wife was waiting to swap me water bottles. I was at 9:15 pace which was perfect as far as my plan was concerned.

Finish line area
With loop #1 done and my average pace being right where I wanted it (if not on the low side) I started out on the 2nd loop with high hopes. This loop is slightly shorter and maybe slightly easier due to the course change that comes early in the loop. If I continued to feel this good on the 2nd loop I may have a shot at lowering my average pace to the unthinkable 9 minute pace (sub 2hr finish)!!!

I stayed calm and continued to run conservatively. I needed to make it to the top of Prarie Ridge without adding a lot of time to my average pace. If I could do that then the race would become a Prefontaine (pure guts race) and I was ready to puke and die trying if it came down to that. My new water bottle was still icy cold so I had no use for the aid stations along the way. I used the runners ahead of me to keep me motivated. I kept trying to reel them in and as I did my confidence grew. Unfortunately my average pace was growing too. By the time I reached the downhill at Kestral Trail I was close to 10 minute pace and my energy was fading.

With 2 miles to go I was losing faith that I could drop my average back down to where it was let alone hit the 9 minute mark. A lady came by me at this point and I used her to motivate me. We traded places a couple of times on our way to the South Valley Trail but once we were on that trail I was firmly in the lead. I was pushing hard and starting to feel nauseated from the hard work and the heat beating down on this exposed course. When I hit the super steep but short hill about a half mile up this trail I nearly lost my breakfast. I went from a fast pace to a dead stop instantly and stepped off the trail as I thought I was gonna let loose. I didn't throw up but I did get passed, twice! I took some water, started walking and soon started jogging. The awful feelings subsided and I began to close the gap that the other racers had gained on me. I surged up the final hill and passed one of the racers but I could not catch that fast female.

 I crossed the line at 2:07:44 with an average pace of 9:45. That was 9 minutes faster than last year and I was absolutely ecstatic about that. It was too bad that I could not get the sub 2 hour but honestly that was a super lofty goal. The race results can be seen here. Overall I finished 36th out of 99 and 13th in my age group out of 23. I suppose that's all fine and dandy but really I just wanted to beat last years time.

Lynch Canyon 2014
At the finish line I chatted with the race director Chris Abess and he introduced me to the race winner, Chris Dasbach from Troy, Michigan. I'm a Michigan boy myself so that was super cool in my mind! He finished the race in 1:36:02.! That is just 4 minutes over the course record which to me is a super human feat that only mutants from another planet can pull off. The first female, Sophia Young finished just a few minutes ahead of me at 2:03:27.

My wife participated in the free community hike which was 2.5 miles long and she pushed our son in the Bob Stroller. She is as tough as nails and in her own words "That was insane!". The hike is a cool feature of this event but I think pushing a heavy stroller around the course is a bit much. I will definitely be back next year and I will be aiming for that sub 2 hour finish. Next up is the Trail Quake on June 14th. Hopefully the 1 week in between these races is enough recovery time, yikes!!!