Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It was a Dark and Stormy night...and Day!

What can I say? The forecast looked pretty grim even days before the March 14th race. Yes the 2009 Delano Park 12 Hour was, once again, going to prove to be a true test of man versus the elements. The weather prognosticator's maps showed nothing but green (rain) for the next couple of days (an early homage to St. Patricks Day perhaps?). And sure enough the rain came down steadily on the way to the pre-race meal, on the way home later and it was still coming down on the way to the start! The certified one mile loop was absolutely flooded; the out and back spur on grass would soon become the "field of lost shoes" as the grass turned into shoe sucking mud. For those thinking that this isn't a real "trail" race, let me assure you I've never experienced more mud, standing water and lousy weather for any "real trail" race of this length; period!

I started off fairly conservatively, in my brand new La Sportiva FireBlades in an absolute downpour! I've only been averaging mid 30 miles per week this year and felt woefully under-trained. Therefore the odds were pretty good that I wouldn't be having a real banner day. Still I had to give it a go. The Delano event has become a staple in kicking off my Spring training for a Summer 100 miler. There is just something about this event that keeps me (and many other folks) coming back every year. While my true love is the mountain trails, this event is so different that it is intriguing. I can't explain it. Perhaps it is the fact that everyone's effort out there is fully exposed, naked before the rest of their compatriots. You can see the struggling, the limping, the funny gait walking the pure effort to get in just one more lap! Yes, no hiding in the woods here!

Anyhow I won't go into to much detail, but the first six hours were a real struggle for me as I battled to settle into my "ultra-shuffle" pace and to figure out my fueling strategy. Meanwhile the front runners just kept pounding away, getting further and further ahead. I'm such a second half runner it is ridiculous. Though the first half of this event seemed to just crawl by, the second half seemed to fly by as I'd finally woken up and the circuits just became easier and easier, my pace gradually increased. I found that I was walking less, running more and I realized I had a real shot at hitting 70 miles, a six mile personal best. I was even more inspired when those early front runners started to come back to me.

Lap by lap their leads dwindled into nothing as a lot of folks stopped at 50 miles and who could blame them? They'd had enough of the elements. So finally with just a few hours to go I realized I still had a real chance for a podium finish, after barely hanging on in the top ten for the first half of this race. So I kept grinding out laps and tried to keep fueling my fire; my engine. And in the end I did indeed end up with 70 miles, 3rd place overall (2nd male) (after some official recording issues were ironed out) and just 5m 28s ahead of my best buddy Blake Thompson who at one point had over a 3 loop advantage on me! I remember early on as he kept lapping me that he might indeed beat me this day, but I was going to make him work for it! Congratulations Blake! Still this was an outstanding effort by this young dude!

First overall with 78 miles (setting the women's course record and tying the overall course record) was Jamie Donaldson of Badwater and National 24 Hour team fame as well as a whole host of 100 mile victories. On paper it was her race to lose! Second was Matthew Kahrs a young rookie who'd never run over a 50km before and this just 8 months into ultra running. Matthew ended up with 75 miles and I know he'll indeed be a force to be reckoned with in the future!

I want to thank all the volunteers who made this event possible. I know it couldn't have been fun standing around in the rain for 12 hours (it wasn't fun running around in it either). Also to the Jon Elmore and his father (among others) who worked tirelessly to help drain the numerous standing pools of water, great work! To Eric Schotz, thanks for a wonderful event I really appreciate all the effort that you put in. I know there were a lot of issues with the new chip timing system but it is an improvement and I know the bugs will be worked out for next year. Sorry if I seemed a little "short" with you late in the race, I was a bit fatigued and still in race mode.

At the inaugural event we faced gail force winds, last year it was snow and frigid temperatures, this year it was to be mud, standing water and torrential rain! I can't wait to see what race directors Schotz and Elmore have in store for us next year!

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