As anyone who has read this blog knows I tend to enjoy the mental aspect of running 100 miles. There is something about going beyond 100K in a single run that tests the mental fortitude of just about every ultrarunner I know.
On a recent run I was thinking about some of my favorite 100 mile races and the brief, but significant, impact of short paved sections in these races. In Angeles Crest, Wasatch, and Western States there are short, but impactful, paved sections that can wear on the mind of the runner and turn a good day bad in a hurry. What follows are some thoughts on these three sections in these three excellent 100 mile races:
The Sulfur Springs Road at Angeles Crest: This long, steady uphill takes the runner to the Mount Hillyer Aid Station at Mile 49 of the race. Winding up a steady grade for a bit over two miles the Sulfur Springs Road is almost always hot, dry, and nasty. The key to this section is, for me, to try to run every step, to zigzag across the road trying to catch every section of shade, and to keep cool by pouring water over my head throughout the climb. The runner who can run most or all of this road will certainly make time on the competition.
Millcreek Canyon Road at Wasatch: This 3 mile section of road leads from Elbow Fork at the bottom of Bearass Pass to the 61 Mile Aid Station at Upper Big Water. Usually, by this point in the race the temperatures have cooled and the shady, winding road feels deceptively pleasant. However, the car and bike traffic moving up and down the road combined with the relentlessly uphill nature of this section can wear on even the most experienced runner in ways that are tough to combat. Knowing that one of the most beautiful sections of the course awaits after Mile 61 tends to motivate me to get this section done as quickly as possible. It's easy to walk this but if you want to make time you need to run more than walk.
Bath Road at Western States: At Mile 60.6 in Western States the runner emerges out of the heat of Volcano Canyon and is greeted by the pavement and monotony of Bath Road. The 1.6 mile stretch from the bottom of the road to the Foresthill Aid Station runs uphill for just over 1 mile before gently descending to the school at Mile 62. Bath Road, while shorter than Millcreek and Sulfur Springs, can sap a runners energy and dampen the runner's will to push hard. The uphill grade is steady but runnable. Failure to run assertively on the climb up this road will certainly result in a loss of time. Knowing that a nice, long downhill awaits after Foresthill is often motivation enough for me to hammer this section and get it behind me.
I am sure that there are other sections (paved and otherwise) that are "focusbusters" in some of the big 100 mile races out there. However, these three tough and unfriendly sections should not be taken lightly and preparation holds the key for success in getting through these mentally draining sections.
I hope everyone is enjoying a nice fall of trail running and enjoying a few more weeks on the dirt before the snow and rain arrives.