Coulee Cactus went better than I expected in many ways. I hadn’t run more than 1.5 hrs in many months and tackling a 3 hr+ course (~32km) was sure to tax my body in many ways I’d hadn’t since Lost Soul 53k last September. The good news though is that the body held up well. I finished the ~32km course in just over 3 hrs (3:04 offically) and placed first in the solo event and 4th overall. I missed out on 2nd overall by just a minute…one minute!
One of the aspects that pleased me most about the run was my negative splits on legs 4 and 5. The course is a 5 leg relay with legs 1 and 2 being the same but reversed for legs 4 and 5. They changed leg 2 slightly, but essentially a runner can see whether he/she ran the second half legs faster than the first. My times were close on legs 2 and 4, but I was 3 minutes faster on leg 5 than leg 1. Given my training I’m pleased with the patience I showed on this longer route. Race competition wasn’t as stiff as many races, but it was still decent for a local race. Many runners had completed monster races the previous weekend and didn’t have much in the tank for this one, so it wasn’t really fair in some ways. But there were a few fresh legs out there and I feel like I still had some speed at the end, had I needed a bit more.
This was the first year I’ve run the real Coulee Cactus course, since last year was the wet weather route. It was one of the most disorienting experiences running I’ve ever had. First, on leg 2 I almost missed a quick double left and then not long afterwards ran into the lead runners coming towards me. I eventually figured out they had missed the double left and were the ones disoriented, but it still left some doubts in my mind. So after not being sure if I had run the correct route for awhile I completed legs 2 and 3 and wasn’t sure where to go at a junction for leg 4. I stood there for a second looking confused and a lady asked if I’d checked in all the required times to the last time aid station. At this point in the race I couldn’t remember if I had so I just ran with Jep, another strong solo runner until I forgot about it (almost). It was during leg 4 that I began pulling away from Jep and the others behind me, but the nagging doubts about the route were somewhat frustrating. I wasn’t sure if I crossed the finish line first whether I’d be DQ’d for missing something. I didn’t know why I doubted, I’d followed Jep most of the race and there didn’t seem to be many other soloists around us. I tucked in behind one of the relay runners, tried to keep up my pace and eat a little before the final leg. Eventually, the relay runner started to slow and I was able to pass her and attack the next relay team target. I hit the big hill at the final transition feeling good, grabbed the bottle (& expresso gel I had stashed there after leg 1 and headed back down the hill. It was a little while after the hill that I saw the second place solo runner and just told myself not to blow up or get injured in the final leg. I just had to hold it for another 40 minutes or so. My calves were starting to cramp a bit, but otherwise everything seemed fine. I had some good speed on the downhills and when I hit a few of the smaller hills to my surprise my legs still had something left. So I locked into a short quick stride and ran up as many of the final hills as I could. There was one relay runner ahead of me that I could see and I tried to catch her, but it was definitely too much to ask of my tired legs. I was passed by another relay runner, but this time didn’t care as much, knowing that if I continued moving well I wouldn’t be caught by any of the solo runners.
I enjoyed the final few kilometres of familiar trail and cruised through the finish line without pushing it too much. I crossed the finish line very content that I had finished first in the solo event and even felt good at the end (no puking in the final 5 min like last year). As I look forward to Powderface 42km trail marathon and Lost Soul Ultra 53km races this season, my Coulee Cactus result gives me a lot of confidence that I can continue with my training regime and do quite well in those races. One of the biggest things for me has been figuring out my nutrition and race plan. I used 2.5 GU gels (2 chocolate (only kind I like) and 0.5 expresso), half a Larabar and approximately 2.5 litres of Gatorade plus 0.5 litres of Gatorade just before the race. For many people that’d be overhydration, but I sweat a lot and hope I’ve what works. All in all it was nice to win, but what was even nicer was being able to hang out with so many of the Lethbridge and area running community for the day. The event brings out all the local runners I hadn’t seen in a long time, due to my busy family life schedule and it’s such an inspiration to hang out with everyone. Cheers to all the organizers and volunteers (though a few more flags/signs next year might be nice).
Well, no rest for the weary Powderface is just over a month away, so I’ll need begin ramping up the training again soon. Take an easier week this first week and then build again to 2 weeks before the race. Isn’t race season so much fun?