Tuesday, December 15, 2020

2020 COVID-gate 100K

Dear John Andersen,

Did you beat me this year? Yes.
Did you crush my spirits in the Forever Section? Absolutely.
Is your Hellgate PR now better than mine? Sigh…yes.

So … I dunno, congrats or whatever.

I hate you so much, John Andersen. (PC: Becca)

But there are some things I need you to understand.

This summer I was in the best running shape of my life. I had low-16 5K fitness. I could knock out 3K of vert day after day. I'm only 35 and you're, what, 50? I could've crushed you in a race and barely broken a sweat. These are facts.

But then I (probably) got the 'Rona and missed out on nearly 7 weeks of prime training. Still, I knew I had a good base of fitness to rely upon. And the weather was going to be great. And you were getting older. I don't care how well you've been training. Honestly, how much longer can you expect to be able to run as well as the Miracle Year of 2018? Race Plan: Bearwallow by 8am, cruise to a sub-11:30 finish, handedly beat my nemesis. Simple.

Except, we know that's not what happened.

How did it come to this? How in the hell did I end up losing out on a podium position to you? How on earth did you beat me by 10 minutes?! TEN MINUTES!

John, have you forgotten that I no longer live in DC? I had to drive over 700 miles to get to Camp Bethel. I had to sleep in the back of my SUV at a random rest area off I-64 in Eastern Kentucky. Have you ever run Hellgate after a poor night's sleep, huddled under blankets in the back of an automobile, semis whizzing past, parking lot lights flooding your car's interior? I didn't think so.

You criticized me for going out too fast. But I arrived at Camping Gap only 1 minute faster than in 2018. I'm in better shape than I was back then. And this year, the running felt so effortless. You know that half my annual vert is on a treadmill, right? Smooth, constant climbing. What's that sound like to you? Yup. The Petite's and Camping climbs! And I didn't even have a watch, so it's not like I was chasing times or anything. Where were you? Were you walking? Yes, I was running with two people who would go on to break the course record, but the pace felt so easy. And when they started doing their thing on the Reverse Promise Land Section, I didn't chase. I wasn't being stupid! I was calm, cool, collected. I had no idea what pace I was running, but I had this feeling that something as crazy as 11:15 might be possible if I didn't run into any major problems. You'd roll into Bearwallow, struggling to beat the 8am time goal, asking about me, and then spiral into the depths of despair after learning just how far ahead of you I was. Someone would snap a picture of your sorrow. It would be incredible.

But here's the thing I failed to realize until it was too late. I've been living in Missouri for over a year now and I never do sustained descents. The biggest hill in my area isn't even 400 feet high. And I've been too scared to prop up the rear of my fancy new treadmill for fear of obliterating it like I did with my previous one. I thought my legs were strong and durable, but by the time I started dropping down off Onion Mountain to Overstreet on that stupid, technical stretch of bullshit trail, I knew something wasn't right. My legs were heavy and my footfalls were clunky. It hadn't taken more than a few miles of early race descending to ruin my legs for the day. And if that weren't enough, my stomach suddenly went haywire with aches and stabbing pains. Going to the bathroom didn't help at all. So I lumbered down to Overstreet at a snail's pace and slow jogged my way over to Headforemost/Floyd's.

Apparently I said I felt "good" at Mile 24. That was a lie. (PC: Ridge RUNers)

You caught me not long thereafter. I was squatting in the woods, trying to resolve my gut issues, again, to no avail. But I was secretly glad you showed up, because I always run down to Jennings just a little bit faster when you're leading the charge. I left Jennings knowing my legs had betrayed me. My prerace plan was to attack the two climbs up to Little Cove, but we'd barely gotten started and you were already out of sight. The first climb was slow and pathetic. The subsequent descent was clunky and had no flow. We spotted each other's headlamps. I counted strides. Around 400. Over 2 minutes. Starting the climb up to the aid station, I figured you were nearly 4 minutes ahead of me. I chased you … slowly. On the approach to the aid station -- that long bend that takes 5 or 6 minutes to run -- I never once saw your headlamp. Either it was off, or you were way ahead by now. My spirits were crushed. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it to Bearwallow by 8:15am, much less 8:00am. I was the most pathetic runner in the world.

But after a quick stop-off at Little Cove, and a much needed pre-packaged nutella crepe (seriously, the most amazing thing I've ever seen at an aid station in my life), I was ready for miles of smooth running on the approach to the Devil Trail. I never saw your headlamp -- maybe I saw it once, but maybe not, I can't say for sure. My legs felt heavy. And I was easily running 20-30 seconds per mile slower just trying to keep my quads from failing. But I could sense that I was gaining on you. When dawn came, I could tell by my location on the course that I was actually ahead of Bearwallow-By-Eight pace. Catching you was inevitable. I finally spotted you on a switchback. I shouted. You shouted. I counted my paces. 150 strides. Less than one minute! Hell yes! But then you disappeared. And I worked harder and harder. And everything hurt more and more. Why did you do that to me?

I rolled into Bearwallow, and you were still there chit-chatting Horton. Apparently the rule is if you make it in before 8am, there's no rush to leave? My dead legs somehow bridged the gap. I was elated! But then a drop bag snafu had you leaving seconds ahead of me. If only I could just catch up to you and let you pull me along. But no. You wouldn't allow it, because you're a dick. I just spent three damn hours, feeling like shit, trying to catch back up to you. And this is how you repay me? I thought we were friends!

Running is stupid. (PC: Ridge RUNers)

My climbing wasn't terrible, but my muscles were toast. 10lb weights strapped to each quad. I kept counting my strides, keeping you within sight. I knew that if I maintained contact by the top of the climb, I'd catch up by Bobblets. The Pretty Trail is my jam. The In-and-Outs are where I crush people's hopes and dreams! Except, not today. As the trail flattened out I tried to pick up my pace, and multiple muscle groups revolted in stabbing pains and cramps. I was ready to crush you, but my legs wouldn't let me.

I found you at Bobblets. How many damn times have we been in this exact same situation?! Except it's usually me casually waiting for you. This time, you darted off without waiting. God, what an asshole! I had to fucking sprint … SPRINT … to catch up. Do you have any idea how much that hurt? Two years ago we entered the Forever Section together, with so much pocketed time that our Sub-12 goal was a foregone conclusion. This year we were even better off. Last time around your gut betrayed you. You had to go scratch in the woods, and you never caught back up to me. I reigned victorious and all was right with the universe. As we made our way down to the Forever Trail this time, a thought entered my mind: if I can just maintain contact to the Parkway, there's no way he can beat me today. The Running Gods read my mind and immediately punished me for my cockiness. The gut pains that had subsided hours ago immediately came back in full force. There was no way I'd be able to ignore a jacked up stomach, spasming muscles, AND keep up with you. So, with circumstances reversed, I took a calculated risk and jumped off trail for one final poop … watching you dart off into the distance.

In the middle of the 2nd Forever Hill, I spotted you. 270 strides. 90 seconds. A glimmer of hope remained. Then I heard a terrifyingly loud shotgun blast. As I rounded the corner I saw four hunters standing on the trail. I fully expected to see them staring down at your lifeless body … ensuring my victory. But no dice. Soon after, my legs totally crapped out. 2% rocky grades might as well have been minefields. Before I got to Day Creek I knew it was over. You put in just enough effort in the Forever Section to break me. Fuck.

I estimated you were 3-4 minutes up on me when I rolled into Day Creek. Just far enough ahead to be out of sight. If my legs were in good shape, I would have attacked and ran you down in the final mile. It would have been glorious. The aid station volunteers said it was 10:33 as I left. With good legs sub-11:30 and a new PR was a guarantee, with an outside chance of catching you. But my legs had felt like crap for 7 hours straight. So, instead, I lazy hiked my way up the final climb to save whatever was left in my legs for a descent that wouldn't completely suck. I love that descent. I needed a good descent to console me. My climb may have been a train wreck, but my descent might still have been faster than yours. We'll never know since I didn't have a watch. But that's what I choose to believe, and it makes me feel a little better. You put 10 minutes on me in those final miles. Brutal. Call it 2 minutes from pooping. Another 2 minutes on the back half of the Forever Trail. And a solid 6 minutes on the final climb.

It's depressing. I'm depressed, John. How did it end up like this? I want to be happy for you, I do. But your PR is 8 minutes ahead of mine now, and you ran sub-11:30, and you podiumed, and you made me look downright silly at the end. And now I have 52 damn weeks to stew over this. I hate you so much.

But I am consoled by a few irrefutable facts:
  • I ran those first 21 miles faster than ever before, and it felt downright effortless. You were nowhere in sight.
  • My time from Jennings to Little Cove was probably around 6 minutes slower than 2018. I could tell. I could feel it. That won't happen next time around.
  • In 2018 we crushed Little Cove to Bearwallow in 1:33. This year I felt like I was giving up 20-30 seconds per mile … and I probably covered that ground in 1:28-1:30. This is where I crush your spirits next time around.
  • I ran Bearwallow to Bobletts 2 minutes faster than ever before, with cramping legs. Imagine what will happen when I'm feeling good. This is where you completely give up next time around.
  • The Forever Section felt like a bumbling trainwreck, but when you adjust for the poop break, I ran it as fast as ever before. You'll never be able to catch me next time around.
  • My legs won't be shot next time around. I will attack that final climb and descend to the finish faster than you could ever possibly hope to run. You don't stand a chance against me.
  • I'm flying in next year. A full night's rest in a climate controlled room with a comfy bed.

Your Nemesis,
--Chris Roberts

P.S.: Next Sissygate, I'm breaking 11:15, maybe even 11:00. You're on notice.