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Ultra-airhead

Posted Aug 12 2009 10:47pm
After the damage was done.

The Mt. Disappointment 50-miler on Aug. 8. was my 10th 50-miler (and 19th official ultra race that I have completed; still no DNFs, knock on wood) since I ran my first race beyond marathon distance in January 2007.

Despite all this trail running, I still consider myself an ultra-idiot -- meaning, I don't know the answers to anything, really, when it comes to running ultras, except what works best for me.

I did well, finishing in 10:08. That time was much better than last year, when (according to my Garmin) I finished in 11:18, although my official time was 11:32 (the timekeeper admitted he failed to mark my time when I crossed the finish last year -- oh well, who cares, right?)

So I did well, and I wonder why.

Certainly, it was cooler this year. Last year's temp hit 105 in the dreaded canyons, and it was at least 15 degrees cooler this year.

That helped a lot.

I also wore a hat, which kept the sun off my face. I absolutely hate hats, but will never run another race without one (thanks, Jane ).

Thinking about why I did well, I think it may have had to do with my mindset.

When it comes to races, my head now is much less cluttered with crap, and my body less encumbered with crap, than it was when I was an ultra-newbie.

And when it comes to ultras, simplicity helps -- for me.

I no longer run races with a camera -- as much as I would love to document the experience.

I have ditched waist-packs and bladders on the back in favor of two hand-held bottles, relying on aid stations for most of my fueling.

I have discovered that music isn't a necessity (though it's a nice option).

I no longer wear a Garmin, finding that it won't change my finish time. Makes sense, eh?

He makes the girls swoon: Recently devirginized Badwater runner Dennis Koors signs his life away.

I have to pop electrolyte pills every hour, so I can't ditch a watch.

Watching how the fast runners do it, I've noticed that most of these super athletes keep things real simple.

They don't carry a lot of stuff, and thus seem to be...lighter, of the mind and spirit and body.

Yeah, I think lightness works, when it comes to ultras.

The Incredible Lightness of Running.

Lightness, as in air.

As in ultra-airhead.

The thing about Mt. Dis, in my opinion, is not to get too excited at the start -- and to save gas for two gnarly hills that can kill you (the 50k runners only have to worry about one bummer climb: the notorious 4.5-mile climb on the Kenyon Devore trail, to the finish at the summit.)

The race starts at the summit of Mt. Wilson, which is stabbed with pointy towers but from which an incredible view of the L.A. basin can be enjoyed. Runners plod downhill on a curvy, asphalt road (the one they drove up to the start) for a few miles before hitting dirt -- where the real work begins.

Lovely scenery atop the summit of Mt. Wilson

The number of miles on the beginning stretch of asphalt was extended this year, to about 5 miles from 2 miles, because RD Gary Hilliard could not get permits for the trail portion that starts at around mile 2 because of damage caused by rock slides.

I tried to hold myself back from running too fast down the pavement. Plus, I didn't feel great -- just felt sorta tired.

I had forgotten how rocky and technical some singletrack sections of Mt. Dis are -- so large do the hills loom in this race.

But yeah, Mt. Dis is a fairly technical course. Runners have to really watch their step in several sections, or risk falling down steep slopes.

Really, though, Mt. Dis is about those two hills: the 4.5-mile finish, and, for the 50-milers, the long, seemingly endless climb (four miles? Five?) on winding fireroad to the Shortcut aid station (mile 41). Something about this stretch is brutal. Gee, I don't know, maybe it's the heat. Also, the climb comes at 30-plus miles into the race. Yeah, that could be a factor.

This year, I loaded up on fluids and packed my two hand-helds with ice before tackling the stretch to Shortcut, which actually starts off with a nice, extended downhill on runnable fireroad.

The incomparable Jill Childers. Why didn't the boys get pink shirts, too?

Knowing, through experience, that the climb eventually does end, I power-walked up this beast, doing my best to scare away thoughts of dehyrdation -- or worse.

Mastering mental games is a key to finishing an ultra, assuming you have properly taken care of your body (fluids, food, electrolytes). And it's on climbs like this that the mental games really set in. I just concentrated on moving, and eventually the nightmarish climb ended.

You just tell yourself that the bad moments will pass, and you keep moving. Now look at me: I am writing this in an air-conditioned room.

See?

Eventually, things do get better. And to tackle Mt. Dis, that's the mindset one needs.

Mt. Dis truly is a fun, beautiful course. The problem is, so many runners suffer on the hills, and that misery tends to cloud out most other memories (including the wonderful conversations with fellow runners and the priceless interactions with the volunteers -- Gabor, you rule!).

The word "masochism" gets tossed around a lot when it comes to Mt. Dis.

Well, yeah, I guess one could make that argument. But I also think that sitting in front of a laptop is pretty masochistic, too -- and at work, I'm not allowed to pretty much pee wherever I want.

So gimme the "masochism" of Mt. Dis any day.

Let's keep thing simple.
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