My Hips Lied (to me) : Les Templiers Race Report.
The flat stretches of road made me cringe. Even worse was the slightly downhill (i.e. -5% grade) road and paths that resulted in accelerations of up to around 11mph. It was ironic because as a former “roadie” marathoner most would assume that I would embrace these intermittent fast stretches and eat up ground on such “easy” terrain. In reality, all I wanted was more uphill (longer uphill!)…it was this quick stuff that was seemingly destroying my legs. Actually it was the combination of steep, short uphills followed by these more tame sections that was locking up my hips. Sheer muscle failure. This has been a painful limiting factor in every single European race I’ve done (save for Lake Sonoma, which also locked up my hips) and it’s the key difference between racing in the States and on the Euro tour. In track racing, they used to say that to race in Europe you needed “2 gear shifts”….well in MUT Running on the Euro scene I think it’s more like I need a whole new transmission! The nature of the trails and the hills/mountains require different, specific training between continents. It has been a challenge for me.
We split the first mile in 6:07. After the first climb of the race the field was already getting a bit spread out. Zach Miller lead the charge in the dark carrying a handheld flash light in addition to his headlamp (he ran a gutsy race leading most of the way and still held on for 5th). I was content to actually “sit back” and start a bit more conservatively (a rare thing for me to do in most ultras, but I had concerns about the technicality of the trail in the last 30km of the race). Coming through the first aid station about 13 miles in, I was in great shape, right around 10th place and 2-3min off the lead. So far so good! The next climb went very well for me as I moved into 3rd place over the next 4-5 miles and was 50 seconds off the lead. Then my hips protested. I tried to shrug the painful fatigue off… to mentally check out and stay positive about the remaining 30 miles, but the discomfort only increased from there on.
The last 20-miles was a blur of pain. I tired to enjoy the views, running through castles and the festive ambience of the race as much as possible, but the dread of a pack of guys flying past me at any moment was overwhelming. Around mile 35, after a particularly tricky steep downhill I heard the pitter-patter of Alex Nichols quickly coming up to pass me. As Alex pulled away I tried to latch on, but my form was broken and slow. I thought about the team competition and how I was going to be the “weak link” for our squad…this provided a lot of motivation to try to finish as strong as possible! I found myself in some pretty dark moments as I thrashed my way up the final climbs (when your muscles start to fail you must use auxilirary muscles to keep moving) always paranoid that the nosies behind me were other runners catching me.
I started to think about how and why the US men have traditionally struggled at UTMB and how the nature of the trails in France (and the everything else I’ve seen in Europe for that matter) is like nothing I’ve ever trained on in the US. The hills come at you differently, the transition to road sections seemed to require different musculature….different neuromuscular patterns. I was ill-equipped. Mentally I scolded myself for not training harder…training smarter. What happened to “Sage the Rage” who ran up to 150 miles a week in college while training for 8km cross country races? Perhaps I’ve grown weak with age…
The last couple miles were a blur. Descending down a fast stretch of road I spotted Zach walking. Apparently his fast pace had finally caught up to him and there was absolutely nothing left in the tank. I think we’ve all been there before. I reassured him that we were close to the finish (I actually had no idea how far the finish line was away from us, but I assumed it was within a mile or two based on my GPS). Soon, I was coming into the finish area and someone handed me an American Flag. It was a huge relief to finally cross the line and I was surprised that I had moved up into 4th place! I congratulated Alex on his 3rd place, podium finish as well as the two French runners that finished ahead of us quite convincingly. With Zach’s 5th place finish, we ended up winning the team title. Fellow HOKA athlete Magdalena Lewy-Boulet lead the US women’s team with her strong 3rd place finish with Aliza Lapierre and Cassie Scallon finishing 5th and 10th respectively.
In closing, Les Templiers was an amazing race experience. The views from the high point on the courses were spectacular and running through old castles and forest trails complete with knights and thousands of cheering people was quite special. Race Director Gilles Bertrand organized a well-orchestrated festival of trail running for 3 whole days in Millau and it was an honor to take part in such a grand event. From the pre-race expo to start and finish fireworks and champagne and cheese, everything was top-notch! I was humbled by the course and competition, as well as the generosity of running community in France. Also, a special thanks goes out to Christophe for helping organize the international team component and taking care of us before, during and after the race. Finally, I’d like to thank my parents for coming out to crew and support me in my crazy running endeavors (and Sandi for supporting me in spirit and online from across the Atlantic). Thank you.
My time in France was too short on this trip, but I hope to return in the near future for more racing and training! So far, it’s been a long year of racing including the following:
January: Carlsbad Marathon (2nd place):
March: Tarawera Ultra Marathon in New Zealand (1st place):
April: Lake Sonoma 50 miler (3rd place)
May: Transvulcania 45-miler (3rd place)
June: Mt. Washington (3rd place)
July: Speedgoat 50km (1st place)
August: Pikes Peak Ascent (1st place)
September: The Rut 50km (2nd place)
October: Les Templiers 46 miler (4th place)
December: The North Face 50-miler (TBD!)
(I basically raced every single month save for February and now November), but I plan to continue straight into 2015 with the Houston Marathon in January and the Tarawera 100km in February.
As Rod Dixon (3:53 miler to 2:08 marathoner) would say: “All I want to do is drink beer [and make videos], [and race] and train like an animal!”
Thanks for reading, and best of luck with your training and future events!
PS I’m proud to announce that my film project “MUT Runner” is finally finished! DVD copies are available on Amazon HERE, and HD Digital Downloads are available on Vimeo HERE. To help grow and support the sport, 65% of all proceeds from the film will go to the non-profit, American Trail Running Association (ATRA).
Thanks you to all the donors who supported the Kickstarter campaign. I couldn’t have done it without your generosity!
Shameless Sponsor Plugs/Gear Used:
Shoes: HOKA One One Huakas (I would’ve worn my Challengers if it rained though)
Compression: Compressport R2 calf sleeves during, Recovery Socks post-race
Hydration: Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest, with 20oz bottles, 4oz gel flasks and a 12oz soft flask
Fuel: about 20 Vfuel gels, Ugo bars post-race, Trail Butter before race,
Socks: Drymax max protection
Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock V2
GPS data: Strava.com
Nutrition: Flora Health “7 Sources” and “Udo’s Oil” taken daily in training