Aug 2, 2011

Race Report: Wakely Dam Ultra 2011

I ran the Wakely Dam Ultra in 2009 in a time of 10:52. My official time in 2011 is 10:00:20.

I have been very casual about my races lately. I'm not taking them nearly as seriously as I used to. There are positive and negative results to this attitude. While I really appreciate the fact that I can toe the starting line of an all-day event without any stress and unconcerned with my ability to finish it, a race like Wakely Dam demands at least some respect. With a relatively short distance of 32.6 miles and small amount of elevation change at 4000ft, it's easy to forget that this is indeed a rather difficult race because of the endless technical singletrack and the relentless rolling hills. I wrote all that to write this: I showed up to the starting line with everything I needed to finish, but without reading anything about the race, just as a refresher. I didn't even read my own race report from 2009. Someone introduced themselves to me early in the race, telling me they read it, and asked if I had handled my chaffing issues. I had handled that issue specifically, but there were other details in that report that would have been helpful to have remembered in 2011. In retrospect, I wish I had re-read it.

Fortunately, those details resulted in mere inconveniences rather than serious issues. The only real issue I had would not have been avoided by reading a report or two. Since the beginning of June, my heart rate has been abnormally high during my runs. It has been very frustrating seeing all aspects of my running suddenly decline. My speed, my endurance, and my hill-climbing ability are all significantly worse than they were in May. I will have another post about that topic specifically, so I won't go into too much detail here. But suffice it to say that it had a profound effect on my experience at Wakely Dam this year.

The first ten miles came and went. It's the hardest part of the race in terms of hills, but it's also early when we're all fresh so I just went slow and easy, so much so that I assumed I'd have a negative split. In miles 8-9 there is a pretty significant (read: endless) climb that kind of wore me out because it was just grinding - and it probably was the beginning of the end of my hopes for a great race. I had an elevation profile posted in my 2009 report. If I read it, I would have been reminded of this, and prepared it.

Miles 10-15 are when we really start to get rewarded with spectacular views of pristine undisturbed remote lakes that, frankly, can only be viewed by folks willing to hike a half-marathon each way. It is incredible. I refilled my 100-oz CamelBak reservoir for the first time at mile 10, from a gentle cascade right below a beaver dam, in what may be the prettiest part of the course.

It was in mile 15, however, when things started taking a turn for the worse as I was moving really slowly - even to the point of stopping and sitting on hills. The trail through this section was also technical enough that I didn't feel safe running it - my fatigue may have contributed to this mindset - and the steep rolling hills really took a toll here. Miles 20-25 in particular were like a bad movie - they seemed to take forever. In mile 25 or so I stopped and refilled my CamelBak for a second time, and suspecting that at least part of my performance issues were due to dehydration, really focused on drinking as much as I can. It was nearly empty again by the finish. (that's 300 oz of water for those of you keeping track, a number that doesn't count another half-gallon of water I drank before the race. Regardless, I was still nastily dehydrated at the end.)

After mile 25 I started to feel like the end was close enough that I could really push, and perhaps just persist my way to the finish line. So I started to force myself to run as much as I can and powerwalk the rest - and while there were still a few 16-minute miles in the last 10K, all the 25-minute miles were behind me. As was the case in 2009, I began to wonder If This Race Will Ever Freakin' End.

I finished feeling totally spent and unsatisfied with my 10-hour finish. I really thought I could break my 2009 time by two hours - as it was, I took a mere 52 minutes off. Which, while 52 mins is nothing to spit at, the chaffing problems I had in 2009 were really nasty and took at least an hour off the time I would have had back then. (That part I do remember.)

My experience at the 2011 Wakely Dam Ultra will have an impact on my schedule for the rest of the summer. Specifically, I ended up skipping the Burning River 100, which was scheduled for the following Saturday. Wakely Dam basically proved something that I've been suspecting since my performance decline in June: I don't feel like I'm ready for another 100-mile attempt right now.

This report would be incomplete without a word of gratitude towards the race directors, both former and present. After ten years, RDJim, the founder of the Damn Wakely Dam ultra, decided that the 2010 race would be it's last. Thankfully, someone else stepped up - RDKim! She and her husband Doug took over, added their own unique flavor, and kept the race going. And from my perspective they did an awesome job. They're heros to everyone who has or who will ever run this special race - because there really is nothing else like it anywhere.

Here are a separate post with a few dozen pictures from 2011:

Here is my report from 2009:

Here is my GPS data from 2011: