Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Drag-N-Fly half marathon race report 2014

Brazen Racing has some interestingly named races that all tie into their respective event site in one way or another. Drag-N-Fly's connection to the event remains a mystery to me. I heard one person say it was meant to describe the course where you drag your ass up one side and fly down the other side. Over and over again. My wife saw a few Dragonfly's out on the course and thought that might be it. Perhaps. But I think they got creative with the initials D.N.F. because they knew the course was crazy.
 This race is said to have 3000' ft of elevation gain over 13.5 miles worth of very exposed trails during the bay areas warmest time of year. I know people who have attempted this race without really being aware of how tough it was and ended up dropping. In 2012, just a week before I started SFTrails.com, my wife and I ran this race unaware of it's difficult reputation. I remember finishing in 2:33:00 and being absolutely trashed. Ever since then I have spoke of  it as a"top 5 toughest races I have ever run" and that includes 50k's and marathons.

The race takes place at the Contra Loma Regional Park and runs out to the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch. Brazen warns you on their website about false directions that are given on the iPhone GPS system. I got the same thing on my Android phone. I highly recommend that you do as the website instructs, print a map with step-by-step directions. It's sooooo 2005 but it will save you a pre-race hassle at 7am. If you get to the park early enough you can park just outside of the main entrance and save the $5 parking fee but it is a bit of a walk if you choose this option, I did not.

This is the last race in Brazen's Ultra Half Series. For those of us who have run at least 5 races in the series the Championship race is in 2 weeks. For me it is race #7 in the series. Brazen averages your 5 best races to calculate your place in the standings. I'm hoping that just as race #6 erased my terrible placement at the Diablo Trails Challenge I am hoping this race will erase my 58 minute "Time Back" at Wildcat Canyon back in early May. So this gives me 3 goals to shoot for:

  1. Finish in less than 58 minutes after the overall winner for a better "Time Back" than Wildcat
    • The course record is 1:40:20 (Michael Sevier) so I need to aim for 2:38:00 or better
  2. Finish faster than I did in 2012 (2:33:00)
    • This is just ego
  3. Finish in less then 45 minutes after the overall winner to reduce my current "Average Time Back"
    • Using the course record as a gauge I need to aim for 2:25:00 or better

 My wife and I arrived at 7:30. The spaces outside the park were all full at this point and the closest parking lot to the start was full as well. We parked in the far lot which has it's own porto potty. We made use of this assuming the other bank of porto pottys near the start would have a long waiting line. We jogged the quarter mile from our car to the start as a warm up, grabbed our bibs and confirmed our porto potty suspicions. Aim for the far lot if possible.

The race started at 8am as scheduled after the usual pre-race announcements. My wife and I started from the back of the mid pack with a game plan to go out slow and conservative. The race starts with a slight uphill that turns back down a little over a mile into the race. The first aid station comes into view at about mile 2. You also get to see a monster size hill with a conga line of walking zombies gasping for breath extending way up into the sky. It is really an incredible sight to see.

This is the first BIG hill climb. This pic doesn't tell the whole story.
 After cresting the first BIG hill the course turns back down just before the 3 mile mark. My 20 minute pace walking up that hill quickly switched to 8 minute pace flying down the other side all the while trying to stay conservative. The hill bottoms out at aid station #2 around mile 3.5. I stopped just long enough to top off my bottles, grab a GU and squeezed a giant sponge of ice water over my head. For unknown reasons my stomach was off and I could feel that I was having trouble making power. I usually don't need sugar but I thought maybe a GU would help me out somewhere down the road. 

 I jogged out of that aid station and just a little way down the road the course turns off onto single track that marks the 2nd really long climb of the day. I walked almost all of this hill. I took down that GU I just grabbed as I tried to figure out this stomach issue. I took in a lot of water and a salt pill too. I was just trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. The course turns downhill around the 4.75 mile mark and I was able to get some decent speed out of it for almost a mile until we bottomed out. The course turns back up at about 5.5 miles and climbs at a really steep grade for a mile until you reach aid station #3 at around mile 6.5. This is so steep that you are literally stair stepping up rocks and unable to run for another very long stretch. I finally made it to the aid station at 1:18:30 and so far I was averaging 12 minute miles!

 I repeated the quick bottle top off, GU and sponge on the head routine and walked out of this aid station fairly quick. I was feeling better and I knew the top of this 3rd climb was only about a half mile away. I walked and took down another GU and eventually got back to running. In just a few minutes I was at the magical 7 mile mark meaning most of my climbing was done. Thank god! The downhill section that followed was really technical and you had to keep your eyes on the trail in front of you. This was super steep, rocky and rutted. Somewhere around 8 or 8.5 miles I was starring at the trail in front of me going at a fairly fast pace when a low hanging branch hit me in the top of the head like a baseball bat and damn near knocked me out cold. I staggered and looked back to see the branch and then did a drunk walk for a few minutes while I tried to regain my marbles and not pass out.

Is that fake???
 I did the best I could to keep running along and within a few minutes I realized this was not an ordinary bump on the head. It still hurt a lot and my thoughts of a bloody head wound made me think the aid station people might try to pull me out of the race. I reached up and touched the spot that hurt and instantly knew from the pain sensation that we had a bleeder on our hands (pun intended). Head wounds bleed a lot and they take forever to clot. I had a river of blood steadily pouring off the bill of my visor and leaving a dotted trail as I walked a particularly steep technical section of the trail. I was squirting water from my 2 handheld bottles on the top of my head every few minutes to get the blood out of my eyes and to hopefully clean and clot the wound. All I achieved was making my face look like a professional wrestler on Saturday night.

 I made it to the next aid station and one of the nice volunteers took a look at it and said it seemed okay but that I should have it looked at in the next aid station. I had cleaned it up enough and down played the incident enough to minimize the whole situation down to "....oh just a small scratch that wasn't much of a problem". I squeezed another sponge full of ice water over my head and the water ran clear, mostly. The bleeding had stopped but the sting was still annoying.

 Coming out of this aid station you have 3.7 miles until the finish. The course climbs up for just under a mile or so and then you come to the massive climb that started your morning but this time it is downhill. So far down in fact that by the half way point your legs are sick of taking the pounding and you really just want this race to be over. The hill finally bottoms out and then starts to rise again and the final aid station is just up the hill a bit.

 I refilled my bottles and took another sponge of ICE cold water. The volunteer informed me that it was fresh ice as I screamed in shock at how cold it was! I could see a string of about 6 runners spread out over the next quarter mile. Most of them were walking up this last hill and I had the reserves to run. I eventually caught and passed all of them and finished this last leg at a brisk 8 minute pace. I never looked at my watch the entire time I was on course. Coming into the finish line I could see the clock readout was 2:41:30. That is roughly 8 minutes slower than my 2012 race but all things considered I was not disappointed. The final results had me at 2:41:28, 42nd place out 117 finishers. That was good enough for 8th in my age group. The overall winner was Lon Freeman at 1:43:23. That puts me almost exactly 58 minutes behind him meaning this race will not likely help me out in the standings unless somebody ahead of me in the standings does really poorly and slips a few places.
Brazen Racing with their lightning fast calculations updated the standings on Monday and I somehow managed to move up a place in the series standings! I am now ranked 31st overall.

 Although my wife and I started out together she quickly fell back on purpose out of fear that she would start out too fast and burn out prematurely. Her strategy was much the same as mine, slow and steady with a mindfulness of the heat. She ended up finishing in 2:55:56 which was fast enough for a 4th place in her age group! To me that was amazing considering she trained very minimally leading up to this race. We both agreed that this race is 100% crazy and we will definitely be back next year! #Masochists

Next up is Rocky Ridge, the championship race of the Ultra Half Series. It has an extra 1000' ft of climbing compared to this race so I will probably shoot for about 2:45:00 or so. You never know how these things are going to turn out.