Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Anatomy of a National Championship Win: Told by Neil Olsen

Neil after 62 miles of hard racing.

The cool thing about the trail ultramarathon is that the race unfolds over a long period of time, over varying terrain, and is littered with unforseen obstacles. Lots can happen. A story unfolds.

Leaders switch position more often; the runner at the front of the pack at mile 30 might not be in the lead after mile 55. The runner in fifth place, 10 minutes down with 10 miles to go, might be your winner when it's all said and done. Often the race can become a race against yourself and not against the runner in front of you or behind you. The uncertainties add up, as does the anxeity and unknown.

Here's Neil Olsen's story about his day at the USATF 100K National Trail Championships.

"This year I toed the Where's Waldo starting line ready to try it again with fresher legs and a determination not to make any wrong turns.

I was more prepared in some ways, and less sure in others. It had been 3 long months since my previous race instead of the 3 weeks I tried the year before. I had done more long training runs earlier in the year but in the previous 2 weeks my longest run was a 4 hour 23 mile hill run that wore me out. In the wake of the Western States 100 Mile cancelation my motivation had lagged a bit. I hadn't done any timed intervals nor have I made it to any of the cross-country series. I did some cross-training including a bike-paddle-mountain bike-hike-bike from here to the coast with some friends from church the week before (during which I was able to spend about 1.5 seconds of quality time with David as he was running the other direction in some event at the north end of Grants Pass), and I'd spent a week hiking with my son and some scouts in the Trinity Alps.

My hope was to take it easy and make it past half way without hurting, then pick it up from there. I dropped that plan, in favor of running a little harder early, because I figured I'd have to slow down once it warmed up. It did get hot, and drinking enough was an issue, but there was a breeze, and it clouded up a bit, and most of the course is in the shade, so it was manageable. From the start Hal Koerner, Nate McDowell, Sean Andrish and some others went out fast. (Nate is the guy with the time for the slightly short SOB course that converts to just 1 minute slower than Max's this year). My splits through the 1st 4 aid stations were about the same as last year but I quickly fell more than 10 minutes behind the leaders. Other than a calf that got very sore, and some tightness in the hamstrings (in-door soccer is not a good way to taper) I felt fine.

I got caught by Jason Bryant while I was checking my map a couple of miles past 4290. I stayed close enough to him to watch him catch Sean, but I couldn't match their pace on the uphill. I got by them both on a down-hill, and later got caught and almost passed by a very strong Joe Grant who paced himself well throughout the race. Somehow they didn't pass me on the long hike up the last super-tall climb to Maiden Peak. I was still 10 minutes behind Nate. I didn't feel all that fresh, as I had been having trouble keeping liquids down. The only solids I had tried were some pretzels at Charlton. I kept urping them up and spitting them out for the next 2 hours. I stuck mainly to the Gu-2O downing 20+ oz every 45 min. After the aid station that only had water (but thankfully had ice!!) I swallowed an s-cap and tried to down an extra Gu.

At the last aid station Joe was on my tail, which usually would have concerned me, but I was thinking forward, as they told me I was now only 7 minutes behind Nate. Sean inexplicably dropped out at this aid station. Hal at least had the good sense that if he was going to drop out, to do so early. My calf wasn't any worse, my quads weren't entirely thrashed, and I had yet to cramp, so I maintained hope and tore out of the aid station moving quickly. I thought it was going to take the entire last 7.5 miles to catch him, so I was surprised and thrilled when less than 3 miles later I spotted, then passed him. I had burned a lot of energy, had forgotten to grab any Clif shots, and now had to avoid bonking for almost 5 more miles. I slowed a bit, thinking I just needed to cruise, but a mile later on a switch-back I realized Nate was still only 40 yards behind me. So I picked it back up, and ran in fear, hoping to get a cushion but never knowing how close he was until the finish. Last year I was in tears at the finish, in relief that the agony was over. This year the agony was much less intense, and mainly limited to the last part. But for the 2nd time in my running career I got emotional at the end of the race, this time with happiness.

I'm not sure why the course was so fast this year, with 7 of us under the 2007 course record. I know without Nate, Jason, and Sean pulling me along, Joe and others pushing, I wouldn't have chosen to go that speed. I am 42.&;quot;

Neil Olsen is congratulated by Craig Thornley, the RD for the Where's Waldo 100K Ultramarathon.

Neil continues, "The race directors put on a great event. These trails would be fabulous to run on if I wasn't so preoccupied the whole time with my racing. The aid station people were extremely attentive to my needs and so up-beat. I asked for some vasoline, and in a flash the volunteer had an open container with a gob of it on her fingers asking, with a straight face, where to put it. The logistics of marking the trails, communicating, having people at intersections were so well done that I didn't have a chance to get lost. The sponsors were generous. I was overwhelmed by the awards. Stop reading here if you struggle with jealousy. John Ticer made stained glass plaques for the overall mens and womens that are works of art. I don't know if he did the sewing, but John also provided quilts for the masters winners. I got a jacket and a shirt that my kids quickly laid claim to. The USATF medals are nice, and the checks were very cool too. Now maybe Emily can go to college after all.

My sisters and their families and my parents camped together at Waldo lake in part for this. They came to the Charlton lake aid station, and it was awesome having them there as my crew. But I got ahead of schedule, so they missed the finish by less than 10 minutes. My daughter Emily offered to go on a long cool-down with me, but I opted for a much needed massage instead."


Brad Mitchell said...

Great run Neil - After last year you deserved this win! Stay healthy and run hard.

peter parker said...

This book is an excellent read for anyone who loves sports and history. Neil Olsen's wonderful storytelling brings the events of a national championship to life, allowing readers to get an up-close and personal look at the hard work and dedication it takes to win. nordvpn offer The stories of the players and coaches are truly inspiring and provide valuable lessons that can be applied to all aspects of life. A must-read for any sports fan!