Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hixon 50k: A Great Race in a Great Trail System

               My final race of the year was the Hixon 50k in the LaCrosse, WI region, October 30, Hixon Woods. First, let me just say that fall in Wisconsin is already pretty amazing. Add the bluffs along the Mississippi river and you've got breathtaking views. This, of course, means climbing on race day. Climb, we did. There were a lot more "creepers" in this race. Creepers are what I call the long, slow uphill climbs that you may or may not notice depending on grade, but still take a toll on the legs later in the race. The good news is that I was conditioned and ready and they didn't hit me as hard as in previous races. I had a lot of late kick. Then there were the climbs that were bordering on 45°+ grade. I shit you not. The last mile and a half of the loop ( the race was a double loop) started out with some creeping, then you hit the set of switchbacks that wound you up a side of a bluff. It'll slow you down significantly. The ground went from straight up mud to choppy and craggy limestone, some grass, and some sharp rocky areas. Of course there were roots, and small stumps, all things that could send you flying down the side of a bluff and fuck up your whole day. I tripped a few times but recovery was on my side this time. (It's not if you trip, but when). Mostly canopy coverage with a little opening when we cut through a valley road midway up the bluff, and a very short portion of shoulder to an adjoining portion of trail system that led us right back to the bush.
               I need to mention that this was the second year for this race. That means this race is still in its infancy, and yet this race was amazingly well organized with very few if any ticks or hiccups that I could detect. Everything was clearly marked, aid stations were organized, volunteers were awesome, and the organizers were extremely helpful. Bluff Running Company of LaCrosse needs to be commended and I look forward to staying in touch. I am generally prepared for some clusterfuckery with new races. It's only natural and nobody's fault, typically. Organizing a race isn't for wimps. When it comes out like a seasoned pro is running it, that is something I take notice of, and frankly, how a race gets a demand. This year's 400 racer capacity topped out. That was between the 25k and 50k, the majority running the shorter distance. But.....it sold out its second year. This will be a Midwestern race of note in a short period of time. Right now it's mostly locals, but somebody should warn them that this is the kind of race that gets a write-up in UltraRunning Magazine or Trail Runner. Then, the rest is history. People come from all over, and rightly so. A well run race should be respected and honored.
               So, how did I do? My strategy was simple and typical. Run just slower than felt natural, maybe even a little on the awkward side. I do this because I want to run just like everybody else does. The adrenaline is going. IT'S RACE DAY! Yay! I've been really good at meditating from the time I get up on race day. This helps immensely. I put my mind in a place where the people around me almost don't exist for the first part of the race. I do this so I don't get sucked into that vortex of coming out too quick as a lot of people do. I'm still susceptible, even now. Another reason I do this is to put my mind in a sacred place to feel everything about the race and to be very in tune to what is going on with my body. If you are religious, it is not unlike what you do before church, synagogue, masque, etc. This I would do for the first 8 or so miles. Then I lock into a relaxing groove that feels pretty effortless and relax my shoulders and arms, take an inventory of any trouble spots. This makes my ascents feel less draining. Some of my inclines I typically walk at a good clip. However, this time I felt no need and only slowed a little while maintaining tempo. It paid off big. Once I got through the first loop I opened up the thrusters. I ran fresh and renewed. I had a lot left in the auxiliary and ripped the downhills and climbed heavy as well. This is where I made the most out of my climbing ability. Where most people were slowing down I only lost :29/mile on my first to second half splits. I passed about 12 or so people and nobody passed me. The two that did I later caught again and left in the dust. The only thing that finally slowed me down was the second ascent up the side off that bluff. I ran into that final 1.5 miles still rocking until I got to the high pitch stuff. It took me an extra minute or so but I was okay with it. I was fairly confident nobody was tagging me. Then one guy passed me on the 45° grade stuff near the top.  Good for him. I was beat......then I caught him and passed him at the top and kicked in the afterburners. I ran the 50k in 6:03:06, which destroyed me previous PR and this might be a tougher course, certainly as tough as Dances With Dirt.
               As far as my dropbag, I didn't need it much and turned over very quickly at aid stations. I don't think I was at any one for over a minute. Most times it was a refill of my bottle and haul ass back off into the woods. I changed my socks at halfway. I kept the same shoes, same clothes. I only ate my Huma gels every 45 minutes and that was enough. I ate well the night before and that paid off as I didn't need any fruit or potatoes. This also helped me out a ton getting in and out of stations. So fast that I think it may have stunned some of the aid station volunteers, a simple "Yes, please." and "Thank you guys so much for doing this." They might ask me how I was doing, and I'd give them a thumbs up before running back into the trees. I didn't have time to chitchat. Just a smile, and a nod, and a thank you.
               This year, overall, was great. I feel pretty amazing at 41. I'm quite certain I am in better shape now than when I was 25. I accomplished a ton, including my first 100 miler at Kettle 100. I ran an ultra every month for five months, totaling 3 50k, a 50 miler, and a 100 miler. This race was my icing on the cake. It felt fantastic to close out the year on top. I finished 6th in my age group, 35th overall. Now, to put together next year's calendar. First race of the year, most likely being Ice Age 50......