Wow...what a day!
Yesterday (July 12) really was the icing on the cake for me. But the cake, well that was the preparation and training. For the five weeks leading up to race day, I put my full attention into preparing for the Knee Knacker. I was able to get on the course two or three times a week; breaking the course down, running sections at my race pace, and really just working to solve the ‘puzzle’. It was definitely one the most enjoyable training blocks that I have ever done. The preparation that I did was it's own reward. The road to get to the start line was as valuable as the destination.
As race day approached, I had a really solid understanding of where my fitness was, and how that translated to the Baden Powell trail. I had been setting PB’s on each of the four quarters of the course and I believed that if everything went to plan, that I would be in the ball-park of Aaron’s course record of 4:39:52. (For reference, last year I ran 4:42:32, and my 2013 race recap is here)
My race plan was quite simple; It was to just follow the numbers. I had splits and time checks that I wanted to hit, and more importantly, a ceiling on my RPE (rate of perceived exersion) that I was not allowed to break. Follow this plan to the bottom of the Seymour Grind, then do whatever it takes to get to finish from there.
Race morning couldn’t come soon enough for me, and when it finally did, I was ready to give ‘er. My good friend Will was crewing for me (again). He knows me really well, and I couldn’t imagine someone able to do a better job. I got in a great warm up, and I knew I was ‘ON’.
From the very start, I felt controlled and smooth. Graeme Wilson and I pulled off the front right away, and we tackled Black Mountain at what I felt was the perfect effort. My first major time check was at the top of Eagle Bluffs: we were right at the fast end of predicted time (55 minutes)….perfect. As we topped out on Black, I could hear classical music playing and a lot of cheering. I was pretty focussed on the trail, but i did catch a fast glimpse of two familiar faces cheering hard: Nick Elson (third at 2013 KK) and Ed McCarthy (winner of Diez Vista 2014). The whole scene was totally unexpected, and brought an immediate smile to my face. Keeping the pace right on target, Graeme and I rolled into the Cypress Aid Station in about 1:18. A super fast fly-through refill, a quick wave to my family, and on to the next section.
The first bit of leg 2 was relatively uneventful, even though I did slip out in the mud a couple times, making both Graeme and I laugh. Then, as we dropped closer to the British Properties, (just as the trail makes a hard left) I could hear some (unexpected) cheering. I took my eyes off the trail to see Sammy (multi-time FatDog winner) and Ellie (no intro needed!)…and then immediately wiped out. I did possibly the best tuck-and-roll move ever, and didn’t miss a step….until 3 seconds later when I tripped on a small bridge.
No real damage done…keep on plan Mike.
When we got within a couple minutes of the dam, a small gap started to form back to Graeme. It was only a few seconds, but that’s where I knew the second half would be a solo effort for me. Through the dam at 2:17, with another fast refill and wave to the family, it was time to start climbing again. My main goal for leg 3 was to run it the same as how I ran it last year…conservative, saving something for the last quarter. I kept my effort in check and after getting to the top of the climb I was on to a section that I absolutely love. The technical, off-camber stuff is like a reward for me. I let myself open it up an bit, and was flying as I danced through the roots and rocks. At one point there is a tree right on the middle of the trail. The safe route is obviously to the uphill side on the left…the fast route is on the right. As I jumped to the right to get past the tree, I slightly misjudged my speed, and I clipped my left shoulder. Before I knew it, I was sliding uncontrollably down the side of a steep mountain. I came to a sudden stop as I hit a tree with my shin. Sort of in shock, I frantically scrambled back up the slope. A quick inventory check, and I could see some good blood coming from both my shin and from my left hand.
Shit! That hurts.
No time to worry about it though…pedal to the metal!
I managed to stay upright for the rest of leg 3, and ran through the Gazebo aid station at 3:27, still right on plan. I refilled on calories and water, and now the game really was on! The 4th quarter is where I made my race last year, and I wanted to duplicate that again this year. I knew that if I held my shit together, that I might just slip under course Aaron’s record.
I crossed Lillooet Rd., still on track, but it certainly wasn’t easy. I was getting a bit sloppy as I hit the start of the switchbacks down to the Seymour river crossing (near Riverside Dr.).
Keep pushing Mike…you can do this…keep your head in the fucking moment!
Then…just as I started to get re-motivated and aggressive…I slid out on hairpin corner. I put both hands out as I fell towards a big rock. It didn’t help. I hit hard and knocked the wind out of myself. I jumped right up out of instinct, still gasping for air.
DON’T PANIC. I NEED TO CALM DOWN TO BREATH AGAIN
I was jacked with adrenaline as I was staring at the bloody mess that was my left hand. It didn’t look good at all. Slowly I got my breath back, but that’s also when it felt like all the energy drained from my body. I couldn’t run, so I started to slowly walk as I focused on my breathing. I crossed the bridge and kept walking as I headed towards Hyannis Dr. At one point I looked at my watch and did some clumsy math:
If I start running again right now, the record is still possible. START RUNNING!
Across Hyannis and up the Seymour grind….wow this is HARD…NO STOPPING
As I crested the climb and turned right onto the descent, I gave another look at the time…4:14. I know that I can run from there to the finish in under 25 minutes…when relatively fresh.
I really pushed it as the trail dropped all the way to Indian River Rd. This was exactly how I ran it last year (as I closed in on Gary). Unfortunately, as I turned off the road and back on to the trail, my legs started to give out…just like last year.
I was in a dark place, running as hard as I could, weaving through groups of hikers...but I was slowing. I avoided looking at my watch until I popped onto the last stretch of pavement to the finish…
Aaron’s course record time had passed.
For a split second, my heart dropped. But then, I realized that I was just about to win the Knee Knacker…and in a damn respectable time! I felt relief and happiness as I crossed the line. I was definitely in a bit of a bonked haze, but still able to appreciate what I had just done. As the fatigue and fogginess started to lift though, I became aware of what I looked like. Everyone seemed pretty worried about all the blood and mud. A trip to first aid was in order.
After some preliminary cleaning by Dr. Richie on site, it was obvious that a trip to the ER was needed. I got the absolute best treatment at Lions Gate Hospital. Hand and shin stitched up, and back to the finish line by 2:00pm. I spent the next couple hours enjoying the finish line atmosphere, then headed over to Parkgate for a shower and the awards banquet. Much like last year, I really enjoyed the banquet; swapping stories with other runners, and just soaking it all in. I manged to get home and in bed by 11:00…WHAT A DAY!
Here are some relevant thoughts and observations:
- My preparation couldn’t have gone better, and come race morning, I was ready to RUN.
- I posted the fastest first half split ever…and it felt right on target for me.
- My third leg was also right on target for me…except for falling down the mountainside.
- It’s obvious that I lost what I felt was my ‘buffer’ on the last leg, but here is the important point:
- It’s not simple/linear math at that stage in a race. Having to walk for 4 or 5 minutes doesn’t mean that I lost that 4 or 5 minutes. In fact, walking may have helped hold off the bonk that came at the end. It’s unfair and innacurate to think that if I hadn’t crashed, that the outcome would have been any different
- I can bet you that Aaron had his own problems to deal with when he set the course record. That’s what makes the Knee Knacker so appealing. Getting through the low points is part of it. And…it’s the truth to say that it’s not over until you cross the line.
- I finished in 4:40:49 (2014 results here)
Lastly, I need to thank a lot of people. My family and friends were really supportive of my preparation leading in to the race. Many of them helped me with the logistics of running point-to-point sections on the BP. Some ran with me (Josh, Daniel, Sam, Gary), and others offered their time to pick me up (Jodi, Jay, Will). Then there is entire Knee Knacker community that needs to be thanked: volunteers, organizing committee, athletes…they all help make a truly amazing event.
Ok, one last thing…No more lottery for me! I have my spot for next year (and many more years to come)…and I have some unfinished business to take care of...