“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” J. K. Rowling
Portland, you are beautiful. But with stunning mountains comes miles of brutal climbs and steep backsides. Knowing the depth of physical and mental skill that would be needed to master this particular course, I still decided to add it to my schedule for 2016 and set the bar high. It’s a golden ticket race and I can’t help but always set my goals beyond what seems even remotely achievable. I imagine many people think I’m crazy simply for tackling these trails and another bunch of people think my goals are ridiculous. I feel if goals are set beyond limits, then limits are pushed and can even be reached…seems silly but it’s an incredible feeling when it actually happens. Without crazy dreams you never know how far you can really go. I didn’t reach my goal of a golden ticket for 2016 and really I didn’t have a second goal in mind surprisingly. And I’m okay with it…here’s my story of Gorge…
After a DNF at Black Canyon I knew I needed to reassess things. I was a bit on the crazy side going into that race…planning every move, strategizing, and being so far into my head, all I could think about was how other people were doing. That all needed to change. Why I’m able to approach some races with a clear head and others in a fog is still something I can’t figure out. I went into Gorge ready…training was dialed in and mentally I was ready. I spoke to Rivers the night before to set a strategy for race day. The overall theme….be conservative but urgent. The competition would be tough…it’s not the Midwest, it’s the mountains, which produce incredible trail runners. Perfect. I went to bed relaxed and hopeful for a golden ticket.
Onward to Benson State Park…Brian jokingly says to me on the way, “I wonder if that RV is going to the start…” and I laughed and looked….”are you kidding me?!” It was the Nike Trail Team Winnebago. All I could think was ‘now it’s really gonna suck out there.’ I remained relaxed even though the best team in the trail world was attending and with Solomon as the sponsor…it’s the best of the best…why I think that won’t happen at these races is beyond me and I need to just assume that any race west of the Mississippi will not only be a physical challenge but a highly competive one as well.
The start of Gorge was like any other trail race…runners gather around and ready, set, go. I happened to be stuck toward the middle of 338 runners which did not allow for a quality start, but I remembered I was supposed to start conservatively. Ok. It took one mile to get to the trail course which started as a 3 mile hike uphill. I continued to repeat in my head, ‘move with urgency Annie.’ I passed many people on this hike which was reassuring that my training was spot on…all I do for 3 hours every day is run uphill or hike uphill…it’s horrible lol. A 3 mile backside of urgency might have set me up in the second half but I carried on doing what I do best…staying consistent with my pace. The mountains kept coming…all 12,000 ft of gain was not easy (Milwaukee reaches a high of 617ft…). Luckily, the trail conditions and climate were exactly what I’m used to…humid in the air with muddy rocks on the ground. I rolled my right ankle (aka my trampoline ankle) twice pretty bad in the first 12 miles, but I refuse to let that ruin my day. Reaching the first crew aid station was a relief.
I carried on, continuing to repeat in my head, “move with urgency.” By the time I hit the 50k mark, I was still in 12th…all the females were moving consistently together on course. I felt really good throughout the first half, strong and steady. I started the second half and within 30 second of starting my stomach turned and my head started spinning. My nutrition and hydration was not an issue today on any level, but I did incorporate something new…Rivers and I talked about the added value of pickle juice. Another obsession I had during the race…eat as many pickles as possible while also fueling and hydrating. At the turnaround I consumed a mix of way too many different foods and Coke. I was feeling it. I hiked way too much of the 31-40 mile section to get myself back on track which cost me. Looking back now, I need the Coke to be flat, I think that did it in that moment which is a first for me. I collected myself and carried on, passing one female, but otherwise, I lost my position.
I ran with a couple different runners from the PNW which was really cool. They were shocked at how consistent I was for a flatlander. I was too. I needed to remember during this race that I’m not on my turf and it’s not easy. My body was hurting, but capable (if that makes sense). As I started to relax more in the second half, my statement of urgency was fading and I started to think more about how incredible I was feeling as I pushed through. The PNW females that were ahead deserved it. This was the hardest course I’ve ever ran outside of training in CO. I need more mountain training. My goal transformed into not a golden ticket, but hitting the top 20 before the sun went down. It was a bare minimum goal, but with this competition and course, I need to keep it in perspective as I push my limits. I finished in 20th 6 seconds behind a girl from MO, the only other Midwesterner in the top 20. Out of 338 runners, 36% dropped, or 121 people.
I’ll admit, I’m not proud of my results on paper, but I ran that course to the best of my ability which means so much more. I was mentally and physically strong from start to finish. I do think I acted with too much urgency in the first half (and that doesn’t mean I went out too fast but rather a few more seconds at aid and hiking With a shorter stride may have helped me later on…) and let that get too far away from me in the second half. Moving forward…first, recovery, then I will be getting back to daily hill repeats and long sessions of up/downs to continue practicing my biggest weakness. I need to get out to the mountains more and that’s becoming even more evident. I’m looking forward to racing in Japan at the end of the month and racing the WI trails in May. Cheers!
Thank you Altra Running and Swiftwick Socks…I was blister free after 62 miles of hard trails. Always amazing to me! I’m recovering well with little inflammation thanks to Fluid Nutrition and Tranzend…my body will be ready to kick off my next block sooner than later, I can feel it! My crew was incredible, as always.