trail running

Journey to Cape Town

The moment I opened the website for Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km, I knew I needed to race it this year. I have raced three times in South Africa and absolutely love the running community, I also love Cape Town and I was very very eager to get on the trails and explore a side of things that I had not been able to when I have previously raced. 

Kim and Nic. Absolutely amazing new friends and running buddies. 

Kim and Nic. Absolutely amazing new friends and running buddies. 

I also knew that I wanted to actually get to spend some time in Cape Town. When racing Two Oceans, I have come for the race, barely staying on the ground for longer than I fly. I did not want to do this this time. Instead, I devised a plan to not only get to run the 100km, but enjoy the food, wine, culture and running community in Cape Town. 

Recovery at it's finest. Stunning meal at Pot Luck Club.

Recovery at it's finest. Stunning meal at Pot Luck Club.

I arrived in Cape Town three weeks ago and settled into a lovely flat with a great kitchen and plenty of room. I tried to recover from jetleg and get springy to take on my first challenge of the trip: Cape Town Marathon. I have been feeling good about my marathon training and with coach Ian Torrence, we decided Cape Town was a good spot to make a go for the Olympic Trials standard of sub 2:43. The course is IAAF Silver status and boasted a strong field and promised a fast course. Despite flying for 40 hours, not running much that week and adjusting to life down here, I felt good to go. Unfortunately, the day itself was not a fast one for anyone. 80% humidity and a ferocious headwind (both directions) slowed the field immensely. I struggled from mile 10 on and slogged into the finish in 2:51, despite a 1:22 half. Initially, I was very very disappointed. But in hindsight, once I learned about the high humidity level (i.e. saw how high it actually was) and looked at how this affects pace, I started to feel a bit better. Sucks to have the day be a slow one, but these are the factors that you have no control over. I will go after the standard again in December at CIM, but for now I am satisfied to focus on the immediate goals and adventures before me.

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I was lucky enough to be introduced to some amazing individuals who have made my trip here absolutely wonderful. Christo & Lauren, Kim and Nic have been so lovely. They have been amazing resources, company, running companions, dinner companions, coffee runs and all around great people. They have introduced me to their friends and the running community and I am so absolutely grateful to all of them. It really has been incredibly special to have such great people to spend my time with. 

Two of South Africa's best (and world's best too!) Kane Reilly and Ryan Sandes showing me the biggest climb of the race up Table Mountain.

Two of South Africa's best (and world's best too!) Kane Reilly and Ryan Sandes showing me the biggest climb of the race up Table Mountain.

I recovered pretty well from the marathon. My energy was slow to return but I was able to get out on the trails and explore some of the UTCT course. Enough exploring to know that I am really in for an adventure. There are so incredibly technical aspects to this race, there are some incredibly steep climbs, but there are so amazing views, blistering downhills and an ultra community behind this race that will be cheering me on with all their might. I have recovered, tapered and enjoyed myself throughly here. If you've been following along on my instagram (@fastfoodie), you know I've been soaking it all in!

Nic kicked my ass on more than just one run!

Nic kicked my ass on more than just one run!

And now it is the eve of race day. I can genuinely say that I am excited. Sure, I am nervous but because running 100km is hard and one should be nervous. But I am excited and happy mostly. Last night, I went to the race briefing and elite panel and I felt like I do at US ultras- this is a community. Kim and Nic have introduced me to many different people and so instead of feeling like an outsider, I felt embraces and accepted. It felt like home to me. That is a truly special and one of the amazing things that UTCT has really worked hard to foster for their race. I left the briefing feeling charged up and ready as I can be to be off and running at 5am tomorrow.

Looking forward to this view tomorrow, mostly because it means I am done with the hardest climb.

Looking forward to this view tomorrow, mostly because it means I am done with the hardest climb.

No matter what happens tomorrow, I have been absolutely blessed to be able to be here in Cape Town for so long and be a part of the running community here. This trip has been an adventure and tomorrow will be no different. I look forward to whatever it holds. My goals are simple: Be brave. Be strong. Be happy. It is as simple as that. 

Satisfaction

Practicing our ninja skills. Photo by Brett Rivers

After Hardrock pacing, I was quite tired. Staying up for two days will do that to you and running for 17 hours definitely will. Thus, last week, I slept in most days (until 7:30-8am, yeah I know....not really sleeping in) and got in 9-11 hours a sleep a night. I ran minimally as my coach had prescribed a cut back week before we started to hammer drop the training for the WC 100k in September. I followed the schedule but was still contemplating big for the weekend: Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler. I figured a rest week and a taper week look pretty similar, so I wasn't losing anything in training if I gave myself a break and decided late in the week if I wanted to race or not.

Sometime back in June, amidst all the pacing I was doing for others and all of the training I was doing with Nathan on Hardrock specific type long runs (as much as one can do those types of runs out here in California), I decided that I should honor the great trail/mountain fitness I was gaining through my trail training and altitude training and do a trail ultra. I hadn't raced since early May, so I was definitely hankering to get on the trail and have a good race. I realized that this year was quickly becoming the year of the road and with the exception of my insane 6-ish weeks in March/April, I really hadn't raced much. So I decided to run a trail race in July. I knew it had to be in July, as August needed to be devoted to training for the WC100k. I knew that it had to be non-conflicting with Hardrock, so the easiest solution was TRT 50 mile which also happened to be my very first trail 50 miler. I also knew that I had no idea how I would feel one week after pacing at Hardrock. I figured I could play it by ear and decide afterwards.

As I said, last week, I was just plain tired. I contemplated every day whether or not I had 50 miles in me and if I should race or not. I knew what my coach would say- ABSOLUTELY NOT! But I couldn't let go of the desire to show my stuff on the trails. I definitely wanted to use the opportunity I had to balance out the road racing with a strong performance on the trails. And I love the TRT course and was looking forward to chasing down friend Thomas Reiss' men's course record of 7:52, or at the very least chasing him down during the race as he was doing the 100 miler which starts an hour earlier. I definitely felt fit enough to challenge that. I definitely did not feel rested enough to.

All week long, I went back and forth and back and forth. I wondered if it was just pre-race nerves (as in my head I was gearing up like I was running) or if it was my rational sane mind telling me that I was making a bad decision. If TRT existed in isolation, meaning I was not running the WC100k in 7-ish weeks, then it would have been an easy decision. I would not have to weigh the cost of recovery and time away from training. I could get my fix so to speak and not be contemplating the next thing. That would have made for an easy decision. Being fit and running a race, even a bit tired, would have been very challenging and satisfying. Over the course of the week, I convinced myself that I would be able to recover quickly and that I should indulge myself in the desire to run the race.

Stopping for a picture, enroute to victory. TRT 50 mile 2007. Photo by Scott Dunlap

On Friday, I headed up to Tahoe with Brett, Larissa (pacing and crewing Thomas in the 100 mile) and Georgia (running the 50 mile). It was great to get out of the city and away from the fog and cold. However, as we were driving, the doubts about my decision to run intensified more and more. Didn't I commit myself to the goal of racing the WC100k? Isn't that why I ran Mad City undertrained 3 weeks after my OT qualifying marathon? Why am I choosing to race when there is potential to set back that goal? By the time we arrived in Tahoe, I was leaning strongly away from running. My mom offered good advice:

"well the trails aren't going anywhere and the races will be run in other years, you won't forget how to race trails if you focus on the 100K roadrace now. there is always going to be that desire to do it all because you love all kinds of running, but they will still be there if you decide that this weekend is not the time to to push hard and possibly jeopardize your on-going training.listen to your body not your fears."

Thomas echoed the sentiment and I realized that running TRT was about instant gratification, short-term satisfaction. I have been pacing in amazingly beautiful trail races and running all sorts of great trails and I developed some trail envy which I was going to mediate by running an ill advised race. Running TRT really served no long term goal. I just wanted to indulge myself and perhaps, "prove" something to myself. As I said, all of that poor reasoning would have been fine if there were no larger context, no long term goals. But the fact of the matter is, the WC100k is my focus race and despite what short term satisfaction I want to indulge, I will be much more satisfied if I follow through on that. There will always be the next race and the next race and the next race that I want to do. I have already filled up my schedule for next year with all sorts of fun and challenging trail races (after the Olympic Trials of course) and I look forward to going after those goals just as hard as I am pursuing the WC100k.

Hiking up Diamond Peak. Photo by Brett Rivers

I am glad that I decided not to run. Instead, Nathan and I had fun hiking around on the course, scaling Diamond Peak, cheering for friends, and enjoying the sunshine. It was nice to let my body rest and prepare itself for the big training my coach and I have planned leading up the WC100k on September 10th. I am very satisfied that I made a smart decision and shied away from simple instant gratification. Yes, I COULD have run 50 miles, recovered just fine and done well at WC100k, but there was a gamble involved and the risks were too great to take the chance. I don't want to leave anything up to chance as I pursue (what could possibly be my last for a while) WC100k. On that day, I will remember all of the sacrifices I made to make it possible and all of the work that I put in to make it a success. No matter the outcome, knowing I put it all on the line and did everything I could in intelligent pursuit of that goal is the ultimate satisfaction.