|Photo - Quinn Fitzpatrick|
I recently ran the Devil’s Backbone 50 Mile race in Bozeman, MT. It’s kind of a cool race in that it is an out-and-back race all on single-track with no flagging or course markings, no aid stations (except a supply drop at the turn-around), and no frills. Its pure mountain running at its finest! And in addition to a stellar course, RD Tom Hayes works hard to give Devils Backbone 50M an intimate flavor – a pre-race meeting and potluck dinner at his house, a “pick your prize” raffle, and a post-race breakfast where stories and experiences can be shared.
I first ran Devil’s Backbone 50M in 2010 with Christian Johnson and Peter Lindgren. That year Christian and I were out in front most of the race. It was a fun race in that it reflected both of our bicycle racing backgrounds – we took turns pulling each other along, we strategized where we could make time and gap the runners behind us, and when Christian’s stomach went sour, he catapulted me off the front with everything he had admonishing me to finish strong and break the course record.
I gave it my best, but I missed the course record by 4 minutes. Returning this year was about unfinished business.
|DB50 Course Map|
The weather was arguably perfect- cool, overcast, with a light drizzle. “If the expected rainstorms would hold off,” I thought to myself, “it couldn’t be a more perfect day for racing.” The first part of the course climbs 3,400 vertical over 7 miles to the top of Hyalite Peak at 10,299 feet. I felt strong on the climb and quickly pulled away from the other runners. As I neared the top of Hyalite Peak a thick fog enveloped me and it began to rain. I was nervous knowing that I would essentially be running along a ridge above treeline exposed to the rain, wind and lightening the entire distance. I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone.
As I descended the peak and began to run along the ridgeline I worked hard to disassociate, go to that other place, and daydream. Fairly quickly I started working through a mental inventory of all the cool and helpful things I have been taught about running from people like Christian, Greg, Erik and Peter. Things like…
- Crunching up your race number before pinning it to your shorts. Yep, I was that guy with the obnoxiously loud race number, like a sail flapping in the breeze - wap, wap, wap. If it was me that gave you a headache because of the annoying noise during a race, I apologize. I had no idea that the cool and experienced runners wadded their numbers up into a ball, then folded it into the smallest possible size that still showed their number, before pinning it onto their shorts.
- If you turn a hydration pack upside down and suck all the air out of the reservoir it eliminates most of that sloshing that can be so annoying, and at times has you considering dehydration as a desirable state in comparison to having 1 liter waves crash into the space between shoulders at every stride.
- Rubbing Bodyglide in the small of your back so that your hydration pack leaves some skin attached to your back. In fact, a good slathering of Bodyglide almost guarantees no rashes or irritation. How quickly I forget about the outrageous cost of Bodyglide when I think about the alternative of having a 4 by 4 inch scab on my lower back.
Despite some exceptional daydreaming and disassociation, the day wasn’t going so well. I felt tired and my hamstrings were bugging me. The constant ups and downs over semi-technical terrain made it hard to put my race on cruise control. I was having trouble opening up on the descents due to my hamstrings. The flats required more effort than they warranted. I had no spunk on the climbs. I couldn’t find a rhythm. I was pissed off and discouraged when I reached the turnaround just three minutes ahead of my 2010 split. My visioning of effortlessly dancing along the ridges of the Gallitan range was not working.
The return was a slog. It started to rain. I began to doubt I could break the course record. I was discouraged thinking that perhaps I was wrong in believing I was faster now than in 2010. I even had thoughts that it was maybe time to give up running . “Perhaps I’m too old to be good at this anymore,” entered my head. At some point I realized that my personal pity party was quite pathetic and not at all helpful, and that I needed to excuse myself from it. My race needed some immediate reframing. Yes – I was feeling off, the weather was crappy, and my hammys were no doubt fried and inhibiting my running. Yet – I was in first place, if I wanted it I could break the course record, I was running on one of the most beautiful trails on this planet, and I was still moving quite briskly for an old guy. In reality – my situation was pretty damn good and I knew I needed to seize the moment!
The last 10 miles or so were not easy. I focused on maintaining turnover, not falling (something I’m quite good at), and making sure that I didn’t drop below a 9-minute mile pace no matter what. Once I established rules, the task at hand became much easier.
I crossed the finish line 3 minutes ahead of the old course record. I had anticipated I would have been faster. But given the day, I was happy with the outcome.
Postrace – The hammys are irritated and inflamed with some adhering and stickiness of the fascia. I’ve experienced this before and know that it requires just one thing – REST – something that nobody has been able to teach me to do well yet. However, I must be learning as I have only run twice in the ten days following Devil’s Backbone. Maybe I can add ‘rest’ to the list of things I have learned!