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CCC100: The Threes

On August 19th, I celebrated my two year anniversary at the brewery.

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I don’t know how many more anniversaries I’ll mark with Ninkasi, but I’m quite confident there will be several.

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I adore my job, and the people that I work with, and the beer we brew (obviously) and the communities we support, and the fact that I get to spend every day exercising creativity, engaging with folks who share our love for craft, and doing silly great things like visiting local hop farms for “work”.

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One of the many things that I love about my company, is our emphasis on feedback, both positive and constructive. There are several built-in mechanisms that encourage employees to recognize our fellow colleagues for their accomplishments. And outside of these systemized gold stars, they’ve created a culture where folks are really great about giving credit where credit is due and acknowledging professional successes, both small and large.

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So it’s probably not surprising, that when I first heard about a post-race practice that forces you to give yourself some feedback, I was an instant fan of the idea.

The credit for this drill goes to Ann Trason, who has approximately 14 cougar trophies from Western States and several impressive records to confirm that she knows what she’s talking about with this sport.

The idea behind “the threes” is that no matter how great or terrible your race result was, you probably got a few things right, and learned a lesson or two along the way. By asking yourself to write down three of each, you can figure out what you nailed (and hopefully repeat that next time) and what could use a little more work (and then work on it!)

When I went back and read the version I drafted after Pine to Palm last year, it was fun to see that it worked for me. I repeated and built upon the thing things I felt I did well: trying my darn hardest from start to finish, handling lows well, and training and racing outside my comfort zone. And I improved upon the things that went less well: managing my feet, executing a smart pace, and the nutrition thing.

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So I decided to do it again for Cascade Crest.

The good news first:

1) I ran a smart, steady and controlled race.

Turns out, I learned a thing or two about pacing from the first time I did this and managed to actually apply some of those lessons at Cascade Crest.

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For instance: instead of running most of the opening climb because I felt good at mile 0 of 100, I forced myself to hike. Which left plenty of gas in the tank to tackle later climbs at a pace greater than a shuffle. I continued to run a lot of the final ascents, which was most definitely not happening in the Siskiyous last fall.

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I also reversed the way I ran in relation to the field. Last year, I had runner after runner flying past me as I inched my way toward the finish line. This time around, I managed to keep steadily moving up as the race went on, which is one of the most effective ways to convince a pair of very fatigued legs that they’re still doing okay late in a race.

I felt steady and in control of my effort from start to finish. Which was a nice change from Pine to Palm, when I spent the last 20 miles trying to figure out how to stop moving forward without my pacer noticing.

2) I did okay on things that went up.

If you’ve ever run with me or looked at my race results, it doesn’t take long to figure out that I’m at my best on flat terrain. But that’s not what I like the best. I like running up, down and around mountains, even if it means I might finish a little further back in the ranks.

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I spent the last year trying to get better at running and hiking up hilly terrain. And after using the very scientific measurement of self-assessment, I think I improved, at least a little bit.

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At Pine to Palm, the climbs crippled me. I tried bribing the mountains to get a little less steep in exchange for several cases of beer and would have traded all of my Hokas for an escalator. At Cascade Crest, I continued to enjoy the climbs and feel strong on them until the very final push up. So, even if I didn’t actually get any better at climbs, I grew more fond of them.

3) I kept smiling.

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Mostly.

This year’s race tried its darndest to make us runners suffer. The conditions were tough, the terrain was gnarly, the views were nearly nonexistent, and the distance remained unchanged in its lengthy length. But I stayed inexplicably happy throughout it. I didn’t let the lows get me down, and the highs helped me continued to help me stay positive when shit got hard.

And now, where there’s room for improvement:

1) Navigating technical terrain. Especially when running down it.

#1 goal for 2016: get better at going down things. And across things with a lot of rocks and roots in the way.

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2) Giving up on the Trail from Hell before it even started.

You know how nearly every race has some shitty section that people talk about (and freak out about) before the race? At Boston it’s Heartbreak Hill. At Ironman Lake Placid, it’s a succession of climbs called the “Three Bears”. And at Cascade Crest, it’s hard to choose between the Needles and the Trail from Hell.

From my experience, 9.9 times out of 10, the scuttlebutt is worse than reality.

One of the reasons I love previewing courses before the actual race is because you can prove this to your head and legs so they feel better about it during the race. When I got out to Washington for the training weekend on the course, this happened with the Needles (the last and hardest climbs in the race). While they were undeniably hard, they were no match for the insanity in my head, which had imagined climbs so steep I’d need a jetpack to clear them.

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I didn’t get out on the Trail from Hell that weekend and that was probably a mistake. I decided before setting eye or foot on it, that it would be impossible and I would walk it. I came to an immediate halt when we reached it in the race and didn’t respond well to Chris trying to coax some speed out of me. There’s no question that it was HARD and TERRIBLE and my LEAST FAVORITE TRAIL EVER, but I probably could have tried a little bit harder on it. If I run this race next year, I’ll make a better effort to not suck at this section.

3) My aid station strategy could have been more In-n-Out.

One thing I decided before the race: I wanted to have fun and share the experience with my friends. I didn’t want to be frantically chasing some time that would leave me saying “hibyethnxforthefritter” every time I darted into an aid station. So I didn’t do that. I stopped for hugs and high fives, fritters and quesadillas, and chats with other crews to find out how my friends were faring.

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As the miles got higher and the temperatures got lower, the amount of time I spent at aid stations remained high, but it had less to do with ALL OF THE FUN I was having and had more to do with ALL OF THE BLANKETS (and heat lamps/hot soup/dry tents). It got to be very, very hard to part ways with the warmth and head back out into the cold. And while the temporary relief from the cold, wind and rain felt nice, it was fleeting and as soon as you left the aid station, you would be as cold or colder.  

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When you look back at a race and calculate the grand total of time you spent at aid stations, it can be a little painful. While some of this time is very necessary, some of it is most definitely not. 

So there you go. If you need me during the next 350 some odd days, you can find me on some rocky trail, mentally preparing to get better at inhaling grilled cheese sandwiches.

ICYMI, here’s the actual race report. (Warning: requires several hours of free time to get through all 7,541 words.)

And, I extended the challenge to ask ANYTHING about the race. Should you choose to accept this challenge, fire away. Either here or there. I’ll tackle this project over the weekend.

10 Responses to CCC100: The Threes

  1. I definitely agree with the “smiling” one….I’ve noticed that a positive mentality makes all the difference in the world. It’s not always the easiest to accomplish especially when you’re having a rough day but when it comes down to it…we love running and we really have to find a way to keep reminding ourselves of that during those low points.

    I’m TERRIBLE at downhill running. I broke my ribs earlier this year when I fell and tumbled head-over-heels….it was the worst running injury that I’ve ever had and now I have this subconscious fear that slows my downhill pace to a crawl (LITERALLY). I did the Squamish 50 a few weeks ago which is notorious for technical descents and spent a good portion of time scooting on my butt while people whizzed past me.

    • I’m impressed you did Squamish! What’s slower than a crawl? THAT’s what I would be doing on the descents there. And I hear you on the injury making shit even worse. I strained a pec muscle earlier this summer and it really, really screwed with my already low confidence on descents. You should come hang out in Oregon and practice downhill running with me!

  2. This is a great idea! I think I’ll start doing this for my own races. Thanks!

  3. Long time lurker (really long time), but I wanted to add my congrats to everyone else’s. Totally awesome accomplishment – and the best thing was reading how much you really enjoyed yourself.

    I’ve really taken a lot of inspiration and insight from your thoughts on mental toughness, etc. Something I seriously need to work on :-).

    Keep on rockin’…

  4. I love doing lessons learned posts after big events. It’s the best way to get a clear idea about the good, the bad, and the things to improve next time. Awesome job in the race. More and more I believe staying mentally calm and positive is vital in ultras (that and good metabolic management). I find myself trying to fill my mental toolbox during training for those not so good times during the race.

  5. I love this idea! Feedback is so important even for yourself from yourself. I have a race Sunday I’ll have to do this!

  6. Are you going back next year? :)

  7. Hey, long-time reader here, but first-time commenter. The other day I kind of let myself get carried away making an interminable list of the variables which did or did not go well in Saturday’s race. The idea of choosing a mere three to focus on after each race strikes me as mighty sensible!

  8. […] stealing the next part of the post from Sweat Once A Day (who credits it to Ann Trason, an all-star ultrarunner). The idea behind the exercise is that […]