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As Taylor mentioned recently, I’ve been experiencing some scheduled downtime from both blogging and Ironman training.  Although neither have ground to a halt, a significant spell of work travel has left me with no choice but to alter my short term expectations from both training and racing.  When I found out that I two work trips were required in the days leading up to the Great Race, I kept calm and acknowledged that zigzagging the country would put a damper on my trail half PR (sub 1:51) hopes.  On the plus side, my travel obligations will subside in 10 days, and I’ve been doing more than enough to stay on track.

"Please stomach, don't fail me now.  I treated you to two nice steaks last week."

“Please stomach, don’t fail me now. I treated you to two nice steaks last week.”

Instead of sticking to my routine of sleeping a lot and eating extra clean ahead of race day, I flew to Dallas, ate a lot of steak, compromised my sleep due to work, and then hopped on a plane to Portland before flying home the night before Taylor and I left for SoCal.  By the time I arrived home, I had spent over 20 hours in transit – I was fried.  Some Powerade Zero – a gallon to be exact, brought me back to life and Taylor and I enjoyed a much needed round of fish tacos to warm up for vacation.

Here comes the pain.

Here comes the pain.

Our trip down to SoCal was easy overall and we even resisted the urge to have a beer on the first night of vacation.  Despite rushing to the starting line, I felt very good mentally and was excited to run on the trail after a long week.  Unlike some of our recent races, I was quite familiar with the course and have run Cheseboro Canyon on several occasions.  The elevation profile isn’t dramatic, and I knew a PR was within reach provided I paced myself on the first 8 uphill miles.  My only concern was GI issues between the dehydration and suboptimal nutrition in the days leading up to the race.

Much to my surprise, I felt loose and strong in the early gradual uphill miles and hit the 5K mark at 21 minutes; I even started the race with a 6:30.  Then it happened: the worst side stitch I’ve ever experienced.  The Ironman didn’t hurt nearly as bad, and it was hands down the worst cramping I’ve felt during the race – I was breathing through a straw at best.  I used the tricks I know – sip water – don’t chug, focus on breathing, stay calm – nothing helped.  I had to take several walk breaks between miles 4-7, and hoped that this would make me feel better ahead of the downhill miles.  I was looking at a ~1:47 finish barring disaster, and was still on track for a PR.

Basking in PR glory

Basking in PR glory

The pain subsided close to the downhill section and I returned to a sub 7:30 pace.  This was short lived, and less than 5k later I was back to walking.  I held the best pace I could leading up to the finish and knew that a PR was still attainable with a hard closing mile.  I powered through mile 12 and gave it my all on the final uphill, and broke the tape at 1:49 – a 2 minute PR on a challenging course, and 9th in my age group.

Look closely - there's even a beer named "Celebrator"

Look closely – there’s even a beer named “Celebrator”

Overall, I couldn’t have performed much better under the circumstances.  I know that I could have squeezed out a faster time if it wasn’t for the trip, but I’m not a professional athlete and have to prioritize my day to day responsibilities first.  The key to this race was hanging in there and continually trying to improve the status quo despite the pain and potential negativity.  I’ll definitely race the Great Race again, and I’ll definitely look to throw down another PR.