Mary’s Peak is the tallest mountain in Oregon’s Coast Range, located near Corvallis. I’ve always been interested in visiting it because of all the endemic and rare plants (botanist-need alert!). Running a 50k on the mountain doesn’t necessarily qualify as botanical exploration, but at least I am more familiar with the trails and got to see the beautiful view at the top.
This post is also intended to highlight the idea of perception during a race. Lots of articles have been published on the mental aspect of running ultras, and most are true. I’ve succumbed to perception issues in several races, mostly in the way of how I am placed in the women’s race. It can’t be helped! I come from a collegiate running 3K-10K background, it’s so so difficult to shake that short term- competitive nature of placing well in a race. It always bites me in the ass. Always always.
Nonetheless, here is [yet] another account of how I allowed misconstrued perception during a race alter my performance.
After a long bus ride up some logging roads to the start area, everyone stood around in the small patches of sun to warm up while the race director gave a good talk. I should add, there were many portapotties staged there and even a pink ‘women’s only’ toilet.
The race was off and I noticed two women shot off the front. We ran down the logging road, downhill to a right turn squeezing everyone onto a delicious single track. I took this easy, despite the downhill, I think my pace went around 8:00 per mile. We rolled along and I generally only was passing on the uphills while trying to maintain a constant effort.
We lolled along, trending uphill, up up eventually all the way up Mary’s Peak. I tried so hard to reign it in, and I think my pacing was fine. I basically ran the whole time because the gradient wasn’t too bad and I’ve been training with good elevation gain for Waldo 100k. I passed two women while running up the hill.
Eventually we got to the epic view. It was wonderful!
The aid station at the top of the peak in the parking lot was a bit confusing. The volunteers weren’t watching who came from where, and I had to ask them which way to go UP (assuming up was the way to go). I figured it out only because Joe came down the trail, back to the same aid station and pointed me the correct direction. This was my only real qualm with the race… Maybe new volunteers? Someone could have been used to point and track who goes where. Also at this aid, they told me I was the first female, which was news to me, as I assumed there were a few more in front of me that I missed on the line.
The trail took us back down a different way, where my natural tendency is to run downhill fast… So I flew. This is where the perceptions come in. I’m like- oh crap! I’m first female! Better hold it. This was about halfway through the race by this point and we were off Mary’s Peak, then eventually started on more logging roads and single track.
We passed clear cuts and downed trees (only around 2, no big deal to hop over/under). The run was up and down, rolling during this section with aid stations every once in a while. Aid station fare was a touch slim, but it didn’t matter to me because I had enough to eat. I put down a good effort while still trying t maintain control on my pace.
At some point, maybe 5 mi to go, I started feeling off. A weird pressure in my chest/rib cage that felt similar to heartburn. Of course, I convince myself I’m having a heart attack and start slowing down. My abs started cramping in the front and I felt like I was overheating. For the first time, I tried wearing my race singlet (Pearl Izumi!) in an ultra with my race vest but by this point I was succumbing to chafe on my shoulders and clavicle due to the best touching my bare skin. I also got kind of bored. Ha! So basically, I was mentally breaking down. I went into the next aid station (the last one), and asked what place I was in. Third. Again- ha! Perceptions! I was so relieved while at the same time sort of angry I was running a bit more aggressively that I may have if I wasn’t thinking I was leading.
Almost as soon as I discovered I was in third rather than first, a woman passed me back and would remain up there, while I was struggling with my ab cramps. We hit a gravel road for a few miles into the finish- I despised this part – and every step was killing my abs while my heart attack feeling was concerning me. Another woman passed me (but I suspected she was in the 25k, I was correct).
Eventually I went through the finish line in 5:30. I saw Joe and Andy there, basking in the sun. I was mostly pleased with my effort, but not pleased with the mental aspect of this race.
Down to perspective. When I was just running, not considering placement, I felt fine. It was early in the race, however, that an aid station person told me I was first for women. Looking back, the two women in front of me were likely still running to the actual summit of Mary’s Peak and hadn’t yet gone through the aid station in the parking lot, and the volunteers made a mistake. Anyway, I got it in my head that it was possible since I ran up the hill while everyone around me was hiking. I pushed the middle of the race when I may not have otherwise (not necessarily a bad thing), and suffered at the end. As soon as I realized I was third place, I let go of the effort and was passed.