Diez Vista 50k 2018: Back in my Groove

Diez Vista 50k was my first ultra since May 2017. I tore a hamstring tendon in July of last year, and watched my summer and fall racing (and adventuring) season slip by as I worked to rehab that injury. I was finally healthy enough to start running again at the beginning of November, and signed up for Diez to give myself a goal to work towards and to motivate me through the winter months. I had never done this classic local race and was looking forward to a new experience after having raced Chuckanut for the last two years as my early season ultra.

Fast forward to April 14th: I had a fantastic day out there. I finished in 5:55, placed 6th female and, most importantly, had no hamstring pain whatsoever. I couldn't have asked for a better race at this point in my training, when I am still in a building phase. 

Happy Trails. Pic: Brian McCurdy
The night before the race, I wrote down my goals and how I planned on achieving them. This is a ritual I do for every race; I find it calming and a nice way to frame my expectations for the next day. My 'A' goal was to run 5:40 - this was a lofty one, but not outside my wheelhouse on a good day. In retrospect, I don't have the fitness right now to run that fast on that course, and am not disappointed that I didn't hit that time. I did achieve my B goal of going sub-6 hrs, and as always my C goal (which is really the main one) of having fun. 
A recipe for success: positive thinking, and food.
Because really, what on earth is the point of running for 6 hours if you're not enjoying it? Don't get me wrong - I had a couple low moments, and was pushing hard out there. I'm not just la-dee-da-ing my way through the race (it is a race, after all). But I am absolutely convinced that one of the surest paths to success in racing is to stay in a positive headspace, even when you're grinding it out and suffering a little. If your brain is happy, your body will follow. This is why I use the mantra, "I LOVE THIS!". I really do, and it's worth reminding myself of that when it gets tough (which it inevitably does).

Before the start, deciding whether to wear my jacket. 
And yes, those are unicorn rainbow socks that I made into arm warmers. Pic: Nadine Schuurman
The weather forecast leading up to the race was horrendous, and it looked like it was going to be a repeat of DV 2017: Monsoon and Hypothermia Edition - but miraculously, we ended up with a perfect weather window that included not a drop of rain and even a little sunshine. (The course flagging team was not so lucky, as they endured torrential rain and hail for the two days leading up to the race - thanks, guys!). I arrived an hour early to the start, feeling prepared and uncharacteristically calm. I snacked on some chews, did a few breathing exercises in the car, jogged a quick little leg shakeout warm-up, and before I knew it we were off.

A few kms into the race - jacket still on (this did not last long). Pic: Scott Robarts
It takes me a long time to get into a groove at races and, knowing this, I started at a comfortable pace and stuck to my strategy of not worrying about what other people were doing. I was running in about 9th position, staying well within myself on the first big climb up the Diez Vistas trail and remarking, "Hey, we actually get some vistas!" as we reached the first of the viewpoints. I opened up a bit on the technical downhill, knowing that being familiar and comfortable with running fast on terrain like this offers a big advantage for making up time with relatively little effort. I must say though, that trail was treacherous - it was so wet from the days of rain leading up to the race that the roots were insanely slippery, plus every little depression between rocks and roots was filled with water so that you couldn't quite see what you were stepping on. Despite some very near wipeouts, I passed 3 women on the descent, and was sitting in 6th when I reached the second aid station at ~15k. 
One of the ten vistas on the course. Photo taken on a training run last year.
After that aid station, my mental framework of how the course would play out was thrown a couple curve balls. I was counting on the ~10k Buntzen Lake loop being nice and runnable - which it should have been, but for some reason I felt like I was moving terribly slowly in this section, and just couldn't get into a rhythm. I also started to feel a stabbing pain on the underside of my foot on this trail, which I initially thought was a stone stuck in my shoe, but when I took my shoe off to investigate it turned out to be a pretty sizeable blister, likely from my drenched socks bunching up a little under my feet. This pain was pretty bad for the whole second half of the race; but, once I realized what it was, I filed it away as something that I just needed to push through.

Suffering a little at this point, but pushing through. Pic: Scott Robarts
In contrast to the Buntzen trail, I had expected the long out-and-back section along the power lines and gravel road, leading to and from the ~37k aid station, to be a mental and physical slog. In reality, I actually really enjoyed this part of the course. It was nice to be able to get into a flow, cruising on the flat and downhill, and jogging/power hiking up the hills. I made up quite a bit of time and passed a lot of people in this stretch, and got a big boost at the aid station when I was surprised to see Brendan, Alicia, and Julien waiting there to cheer me on. I should note that this is also fairly typical of when I start to feel good in a race - somewhere around 25-30k seems to be when I finally feel like I can run (side note: this is, for obvious reasons, less than ideal when I run 25k races - something to work on!).

Back in my groove. Pic: Pargol Lakhan
The moral of the story: you can be as prepared as you want, but sometimes expectations don't pan out and you just have to go with the flow on race day: learn to manage the times when you're not feeling great, and take advantage of the times when everything clicks. I have yet to run an ultra where I don't experience both of these scenarios - a lot can happen in 5, 6, 7+ hours of running!

I loved the somewhat technical downhill at about 40k - it was really fun to run down, and I was feeling great on the descent. I knew the race was almost over, and that there was just one short but tough climb left, back up to the Saddle after the final aid station. I charged my way up that climb and actually passed Sonya, the 5th place woman, on the gravelly downhill, trying to fly past her and look stronger than I was feeling (I was, in fact, totally exhausted). Unfortunately, she responded right away and came past me again in about 45 seconds, and I tried to stay with her but just couldn't do it. I popped out of the trail onto the road just as Tory was driving by, honking the horn and yelling encouragement at me out the window. The route back down Sugar Mountain "Trail" was essentially like running through a flowing stream, but at this point it really didn't matter how wet my feet were and the cold water actually felt kind of nice, so I just splashed and crashed my way down it with somewhat reckless abandon, getting some startled looks from a family hiking up the trail who quickly gave me a wide berth as I flailed past.

Happiness is a Gary Robbins hug at the finish line. Pic: Scott Robarts

The race finishes on the same stretch around Sasamat Lake as Run Ridge Run, so I knew that trail quite well - the only difference being that Diez Vista routes runners up a long flight of stairs right before running back down to the finish line on White Pine beach. I did indeed curse those stairs as I tried (unsuccessfully) to run up them - but soon I was tearing back down toward the awkward "sprint" along the sand toward the finish line. My friend Jenny had crossed the line 10 minutes earlier in 4th position, and Sonya finished just under a minute ahead of me in 5th. The three of us waded into the lake and exchanged battle stories. Sonya asked me, "Did you almost get hit by a car back there? I heard honking and screaming!", and I cracked up (meanwhile, Gary joked that sure, she was worried ... but not worried enough to stop running and check to make sure that I had not, in fact, been hit by a car ;).

Me and Jenny at the finish. Pic: Tory Scholz (who did NOT hit me with her car).
A couple days later, I am feeling a normal amount of tiredness, ravenous hunger mixed with slight queasiness, and stiff legs - but no injury-type feelings, which I am so, so pleased with. My legs were solid and strong the whole race, and I did not feel so much as a twinge in my hamstring (or any other muscles). I owe the successful day to a few factors: it really helped having (a) cheers and encouragement from lots of people along the course (thank you, all of you - you know who you are), and (b) exchanging "way to go"s with other runners as we crossed paths on the out-and-back sections. Definitely my mental game was strong, and I never let myself get bogged down with negative thoughts. I had a really solid, consistent training block for the 12 weeks leading up to the race, building slowly from about 55k/week at the beginning of the year to peaking at just under 80k/week at the end of March. It was low mileage, but targeted, and an agonizingly careful build up from starting from essentially zero back in November. I am really proud of how I executed this training, and look forward to continuing to build on this platform for the rest of my season, which will culminate with the WAM 110 k in September. I LOVE THIS.
5 months of weekly building blocks toward race day.


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