Cedro Peak 45 Race 2014
On Saturday I ran my first 45+ mile race. Located just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the rocky and dusty southern Sandia Mountains, the Cedro Peak 45 race looked like a good option for an early season attempt at the ~50 mile distance. Having never run a race of this distance, I didn't have a lot to go on, but I felt confident that I could manage and was excited to give it a try. Tara and I headed down Friday early, stopping in Las Vegas to do some bouldering to break up the drive. There is a little known bouldering spot just outside of town that hosts problems between V3 and V10+, and it was nice to check the zone out after about 4 years of not climbing there. Although I didn't manage to send Fugazi again (V10), I did send a few of the easier V3-V7 problems in the cave. A couple of holds have broken since the last time we were there, making for new variations to try and tackle. After a good 2 hour session we continued on down to Albuquerque for packet pickup and to get ready for the race the next day.
Cedro Peak 45 is basically a lollipop course, with a long out-and-back to the top of Cedro Peak, followed by a loop that takes you back to the top of Cedro Peak before returning on the out-and-back section. The course continues to change each year a bit (this was the 3rd year of the race) and so there was no overall course map to study. I didn't really feel nervous about the race, most likely because I didn't know what to expect.
At 6:00 am we took off from the start in the dark, just as the sun was coming up. You need your headlamp for about the first 30 minutes of the race before it becomes light enough to see all of the rocks and twists and turns in the course. The course drops, then rolls along over very rocky (mostly baseball sized cobbles and stones) and sandy trails through pinon and pine forests as it makes it way to the first aid station (Juan Thomas). During the night part of the course had been sabotaged, so the lead pack ran around for about 15 minutes back and forth looking for markers until finally someone came along who had run it last year who could direct us on the right trail. I didn't really mind, but it did bunch us up all again until we spread out a bit later. I decided to not use any drops, and went with one handheld and food in a Nathan HPL vest. I felt good, but didn't quite have the pep in the legs I was hoping for, probably because of my earlier double G & T. After the first aid station, I was pretty much alone for most of the first section, just cruising along up and down rocky and sandy washes, small hills, and through the twisting pinon and pine forest towards Cedro Peak. I worked on fueling consistently and drinking plenty of water, and I felt fairly good as the temperatures began to climb into the 70s.
This continued for most of the first 30 miles of the race, and although I started to slow a bit, mentally I was solid and happy to be out in some new mountains. Then things went south. There is a big climb up a trail called "Powerline", which is really just a scramble up the side of the peak following the powerline. I was still good, and halfway up the climb there were some guys handing out Popsicles, which at the time I though was awesome. I took one and continued up. As I climbed and finished my Popsicle, I started to get fairly hot as it was around 80 degrees in the sun, and about 2 minutes after everything in my stomach decided to come up. About 20 feet from the top of the climb, sweating like a beast I was hands on knees puking up a ton of liquid. That lasted for about a minute or so, and then I felt OK so continued on. However, I could now no longer put anything in my mouth, and when I did, I would instantly retch. I struggled for about 4 miles up the long climb to the top of the peak and down to the Cedro aid station, where I had to stop and take a seat, hoping that I could get my stomach back on track. I sat there drinking ginger-ale, taking some Tums, and just hoping things would get better. Nothing seemed to work, and I really didn't know what to do - I didn't want to DNF my first ~50miler and didn't really feel anything else was wrong, I just couldn't get or keep anything down. After about 20-30 minutes, I re-motivated, telling myself it was 7 miles to the next aid station, then 5 miles to the finish. I had some energy again, and ran the first 4 miles of the next section, until the next long climb, where once again I got really hot and retched. I would continue to retch up water about 3 more times as I SLOWLY moved along the trail, weaving, seeing spots, and feeling extremely lightheaded. I didn't hit a "wall", but since I had not been able to take in any calories for about 15 miles and 3 hours or so, I was in a weird state of total exhaustion. Finally, I made it to the final aid station, where I again had to sit and wait for about 15 minutes to come around. After downing about 1 liter of Coke and Ginger-ale, I felt good enough to take off. I was able to run once again, and started to make up some time on the people who had passed my while I was retching in the previous section. I ran in to the finish and crossed the line feeling actually fairly good in a time of 10:26:07, which was still good enough for 20th place.
Obviously, this was not the race or performance I was hoping for. But I learned three critical lessons. I was on pace for a much faster time, but when the heat got to me and the corn syrup bomb of the Popsicle hit my stomach, my race was over. I've been running in winter conditions, and this was the first time I've run in shorts and a t-shirt, let alone high 70s and low 80s. I can adjust to heat, but not that fast. I think heat training via a sauna over the winter is essential, and something that I will be looking to incorporate on a regular basis as this is now the second race where the heat has caused issues for me. The second lesson is to not take in fuel that you are not used to. Although the Popsicle seemed like a good idea, I think the combination of a bunch of straight corn syrup (as opposed to my alternation of maltodextrin and solids) and heat caused my stomach to turn. Once it turned, it was gone for the entire race. The third, and perhaps most important lesson I learned was the power of Coke. I've read about how people can run the final 20 miles of a race on Coke alone, but I never really believed it. Well, it is true. Despite not being able to even put anything else to my lips without hurling, I could down a TON of Coke and it would sit pretty, giving me almost instant fuel. I filled up my water bottle with Coke and drank it all the way to the finish. Instead of wasting 45 minutes trying to get my stomach back, I should have just slammed Coke, filled my bottle with Coke, and I could have kept moving.
Overall, the race was great. Despite the early confusion about course markings (there were other issues with the markings later in the race, and some people cut the course), the race was well run, the volunteers were really amazing, and the course itself both tough and beautiful. Now that I've got one under the belt, I'm really eager to try another because I know I can improve my time by a lot. These first races are always tough, especially when you don't perform up to your abilities, but if it had been smooth sailing, I would not have learned some valuable lessons. Now to figure out what the next race will be....