Thursday, September 25, 2014

Like Breathing Fire - Flagline 50k Race Report

"Running at elevation is like breathing fire" - Sabrina (Moran) Little, after our TransRockies Run adventure

Life has been a whirlwind since Brian and I returned from Europe - catching up on work, catching up with friends, and filling folks in on the adventures we had.  It seems like before I could blink, I was back on a plane and headed to Bend, Oregon for the Flagline 50k, which would serve as the USATF 50k Trail National Championships. 

Heading into the race, I didn't know what to expect.  I would be arriving the day before, so there was no opportunity to acclimate, however I didn't know if the elevation would bother me.  I have only once raced on the west coast (at Cascade Crest 100), so I didn't know what type of terrain to expect.  I haven't run a 50k in a long time, focusing on the longer races over the summer, so it would be interesting to see if my legs had any speed.  Regardless, I was excited to try a new race, put myself up against some of the best in the country, and to experience some of the hype that Bend has.

(Typical view from along the course)
The starting line was narrow, and the field was deep.  I lined up a bit back, knowing I am always a more conservative starter.  As we started, the trail narrowed to nearly single track, and I fell into a comfortable rhythm.  It was downhill for the first 1km or so...and then a small hill came.

Immediately, as soon as we were headed up, I was gasping for air.  Folks flew by me on both sides as I struggled to get up this small climb.  I was so embarrassed.  Apparently, even at 6,500 feet, my body needs some time to acclimate.  My legs were filled with lactic acid after only a few short miles.

(Beautiful, non-technical single track through the trees)
The race itself was a complete blur.  Perhaps I didn't have enough oxygen to process.  Perhaps after so many 50 mile and 100 mile races, a 50k race is just too short to think.  My thoughts from the race are flashes...

The trails were beautiful, a change from the typical New England landscape that I often see.  They were non-technical, so I could keep my eyes up and on the scenery rather than focusing on the trails to stay upright.  Frankly, at times the trails were downright soft, almost like sand, and I had to channel my snowshoe running technique to efficiently progress forward.

On the last uphill toward mile 20, there was a long grind of a climb.  I was embarrassed, I walked a grade that would be completely runnable for me at sea-level.  I was amazed at how much a bit of elevation could kick my butt if I wasn't used to it.  I felt like I was held to 50 mile or 100 mile race pace to keep my breathing under control and avoid oxygen debt.

(Top women at the US Championship)
In the end, I finished 6th place in the US Championship.  I had hoped for better, but given the elevation challenges I felt, I was pleased to have held on for a respectable finish.  The best part of the trip was meeting some awesome people, Denise Bourrassa and Ken Sinclair, who welcomed me into their home and showed me the trails (and brewery scene) in Bend - now I get what all the hype about this town is about.  All in all, an awesome trip. 

I was honored to have been mentioned in the pre-race article about the race:

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