Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Highlands Sky 2012: Redemption

I had not planned on running Highlands Sky this year.  I had had also not planned on dropping at the MMT 100.  After the disappointment of DNF-ing at MMT, I needed a new goal.  I needed redemption.  I have to be honest.  Deep down I was starting to wonder if I was washed-up past my prime as an ultrarunner.  The last good (or decent) race that I had run was in 2010.  It took longer than I hoped to be physically normal after the AT; and even longer mentally.  I feared that possibly I had lost my edge.  Running long, slow efforts requires a different mindset in comparison to true all-out racing.  The extreme efforts had been traded for more benign executions.  Had I forgotten how to suffer?

Experience is a double-edge sword.  On one side, the 9-years of ultra experience I possess is a priceless tool -- leading, guiding, and paying dividends in many situations.  On the contrary, the years and miles can rack up; mounting their attack on a runner that has forgotten his/her hunger.  I have been extremely blessed to be able to run and even more blessed to be able to run ultramarathons.  Running has given me so much.  Most of my best friends in this world were met through running.  I have seen much of this great nation on foot -- running 2,181 miles from GA to ME, a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, I've completed countless ultras of various distances -- from stage races to 100-milers-- and even won a few races along the way.  In some cases, I think it becomes too easy to look back on all that you've done instead of focusing on the goals ahead.  I realized this after MMT as I dug deep within myself.  I asked questions:  Do I still love to run?  Do I still have goals?  Do I want to keep doing this?  My answer was a definite yes to all those questions.  I had something to prove at Highlands -- not to anyone but myself.  I had to get hungry.  I had to be ready to dig deep and suffer like I once knew.

The week before Highlands I received Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run.  I immediately starting reading it and really enjoyed it -- hardly putting it down.  One repeating sentence throughout the book is Jurek's father's notion to his son, "Sometimes you just do things."  (This line reminded me much of what my friend Eric wrote after his course record performance at Promise Land -- Do It Anyway.)  This would be my mantra.  When things hurt, when I didn't want to run a hill, when I didn't want to take a gel, when I had doubts, when the wheels start to come off . . . Sometimes you just do things.

In 2010 I approached Highlands with the goal of 6:30.  Ultimately I fell short by 13-minutes with a 6:43 effort.  I had been training to be in "100-mile" shape this spring and had not focused on any real quality other than long slow efforts in the mountains (similar to the 2010 training cycle).  I thought 6:30 might be possible, but most likely a bit lofty.  Regardless, I wrote my concocted splits for a 6:30 finish on my arm -- ready to give it a go. . . Sometimes you just do things.

Goal Splits         2010 Splits
AS 2: 1:42          1:43
AS 3: 2:41          2:41
AS 4: 3:15          3:19
AS 5: 3:39          3:43
AS 6: 4:11          4:16
AS 7: 5:12          5:22
AS 8: 5:56          6:05
Finish: 6:29        6:43

From the start, the field had a sluggish pull off the line.  It was time to declare my plan.  I eased out front and pushed the pace.  Before long, a group of four emerged consisting of myself, Jeremy Ramsey, Frank Gonzalez, and Robert Smith.  Our group gradually pulled away from the rest of the field.  We were running fast, but still conversational (at least they were -- I was starting to wonder if I was running too hard). . .Sometimes you just do things.

Near the top of the Flatrock Trail, I decided to let them go.  The trail gets mighty steep through there and I felt it best to run a touch more conservatively.  Regardless, at AS 2 (mile 10.5) I came through one minute behind the other three in 1:36 -- 5-minutes up on my goal pace.  I wondered, did I go out too fast? . . . Sometimes you just do things.

Instead of scaling back, I decided to push the next section; one that doesn't play into my strengths.  This is overall a very technical section with a gnarly descent, more rocks, more water, and a long slow grunt to make the elevation back up.  I did not want to lose my time buffer.  I came through AS 3 in 2:32 (I think) -- 9-minutes up.  The next goal was to focus on getting to the road with my time buffer still in place.  I did, and came out to AS 4 where Kadra was waiting with a fresh bottle and gels.  I was still holding solid with about a 9/10-minute gap on my 6:30 goal.  Time to hit the 7+ miles of road hard. . . Sometimes you just do things.

I ran nearly every step of the road.  I kept the effort high, but focused on staying consistent and on fueling.  You can see a long way here and it was a little demoralizing that I could not see the three guys I was chasing.  "Oh well, they're flying -- just keep focusing on your race.", I thought.  No wandering of the mind occurred; focus, focus, focus.  At AS 6, I came through around 4-hrs, got some water and readied myself for the exposure of the meadows.  It was not nearly as hot as has been most years, but it was still warm enough that I conserved water early in the section and declined "wasting" any on my head;  this section can be quite long.  I did not want to get caught here.  I knew if I slowed down that Brian Greeley was lurching near behind to gobble me up.  Run!  Don't walk up this hill! . . . Sometimes you just do things.




Dolly Sods North Meadows (photos: Luc Bijeau)

After Willie's aid-station (AS7), I caught up with Jeremy Ramsey and we ran together for a bit.  Once we hit the infamous "butt slide", Jeremy used his superior downhill running ability to gap me by a good 200-yards at the bottom.  I rolled through AS 8 around 5:45 and was psyched that I was poised to crush my PR.  I didn't even really care about trying to race Jeremy.  We could have jogged it in and held hands at the finish for all I cared.  I only really cared about racing the clock -- the more of a PR, the better.  That changed though when Tammy Gray drove alongside and said that two people were close and that Jeremy and I had better not slow down.  I was not going to let anyway pass me in the last four miles. . . Sometimes you just do things.

Freeland Road (photo: Brock Nichols)

I caught up to Jeremy at the top of the last hill on Freeland Road.  He was feeling pretty fried at that point and just wanted to get to the finish.  I tried to get him to run in with me, but he told me to go along.  I did not want to take any chances on someones late surge from behind catching me/us.  I pushed ahead alone, hitting the road through Canaan State Park and bringing the pain. . . Sometimes you just do things.

I had suppressed any higher-order thinking throughout the entire race.  I was 100% focused on the task at hand -- running, eating, and drinking -- nothing else.  In the last 1/4 mile, I let myself soak in my achievement.  I'm back!  I can still run fast!  Thank you God!  I was VERY excited.  Those that saw me cross the finish line might have thought, "What's that guy all excited about? . . . Wasn't he third place in 6:18?"  Leaping across the finish line and releasing a guttural yell felt so great!  This finish meant more to me than possibly any other.  Highlands is a special race to me for many reasons, but I really needed to have a good race on this day.  My soul was quenched, but I found my hunger again.

Finish Excitement (photo: Dan Lehmann)


(photo: Kadra Casseday)

Many thanks to Dan Lehmann and the grand host of WVMTR volunteers out there to make this race happen.  Congratulations on 10-years!  Full results.
Thanks to my wife Kadra for her unwavering support.  Time to move on to our next adventure in life . . . coming August 28, 2012 (or August 8).

28 comments:

  1. It was great to see you run what you are capable of after witnessing MMT! I look forward to running hard with you at MMTR! Congratulations on a wonderful and well deserved race!

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    1. Thanks Clay. I'm looking forward to November and running MMTR with you.

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  2. Killer run, Adam! Psyched for that and SUPER psyched for you and Kadra! You'll be joining me in the greatest club of all: fatherhood! You'll be jumping higher than that finish photo once your baby arrives. It's pretty much the greatest feeling ever!

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    1. Thanks Dan -- it is certainly the best club in the world.

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  3. Great report and pics Adam. I was in the same frame of mind last year before Grindstone. Why are we our own worst critics and need those personal successes to keep ourselves motivated? Next time we get to run together I have to tell you about the conversations I have with Dr. Horton...during my solo runs.
    Mario

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    1. Does Horty know that you have these conversations? ;)

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  4. I'm happy you feel hunger again and more the fact, you were reminded what it feels like to feel that hunger. But the important stuff,,,, a baby!? That's beautifully awesome and congratulations to the both of you! Talk about a reason to do some running!

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    1. Thanks Melissa. We're super excited.

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  5. Way to go, Adam! 6h18 on this course is awesome, and you'll be even better in a longer race. What's next?

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    1. Thanks Gancho. No "long" ones for a while. I "may" go out to White River next month, but I'm definitely running Masochist in November. August/Sept/Oct will be full of race directing and fatherhood. Next year I'm hoping to run Rocky Raccoon in Feb, then hopefully Western States or another one of the big 100's -- maybe Wasatch.

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  6. Adam, fantastic job. Running is many things, but sometimes it's passing the tests we lay before ourselves that makes it what it is. No doubt about it, you still have it, and it's not going away anytime soon. Glad you found out for yourself what everyone else already knew. Keep the fire burning Casseday.

    -Mike Bailey

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  7. Congratulations on a great race, Adam!! That is one heck of a performance at Highlands Sky!
    I'm just sorry I missed that great finish line crossing.

    Glad you're enjoying Eat and Run. I too got some great inspiration (and a few new angles on running) from it.

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    1. Thanks Kirstin. Good seeing you at Highlands.

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  8. Adam, great job at Highlands Sky! Yeah man, you're an animal. All the ultra experiences you've had through the years will continue to pay off whenever you toe the line again. Thanks for the inspirational write-up.

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    1. Thank you Matt. Congrats on your S.A.G.E. adventure. Yet another super impressive trek.

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  9. Adam,

    Well done! Working through the process is always a unique experience, no matter what the process is.

    Good Luck to you and Kadra with Coming Soon Casseday!

    Scott sends you his congrats, too!

    Peace,

    Wendy

    PS Perhaps paths will cross out west with On Her Way Ennis (11/26/2012)...Ogden Bound!

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  10. Thanks Wendy. That is incredibly exciting . . . the move west and a baby!! Congratulations!

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  11. Congratulations on an epic race Adam! You are very strong in body, mind and spirit. Your race report is inspiring. Great message and awesome picture. Kudos!!!

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  12. Adam, so happy for you man. Just got to read your race report. I really like the mantra for your race. You and Kadra take care and we hope to see you soon.

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    1. Thanks Chris. It just seems like yesterday that we were "running" on the AT in PA. It's hard to believe that it's been a year. Hope you and the family are doing well and hope to see you soon.

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  13. Congrats Adam! After seeing you bummed out about MMT, I was excited to see you at the top of the leader board for HS! I too have been reading Scott's book, that statement rings true in life as well as on the trail. I was unable to run Highland Sky due to my wife being due with our first child (we're still waiting on the baby) but I hope to see you at the Trilogy this fall. Take Care!

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    1. Thank you Tristan. Good luck with the baby. That is exciting stuff -- waiting on one myself ;)
      I hope you can make it to the Trilogy. It is a special time in the mountains.

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  14. Adam
    We've been swapping comments on my blog and I totally missed posting mucho deserved congratulations to your blog. I'm REALLY happy for your super strong finish at HS. Wasatch? Awesome. Did you see the WS results? They killed the course records. See ya at CMM. /jim

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    1. Thanks Jim. I've got lots of running pipedreams . . . we'll see.
      Yes, WS was absolutely nuts! I was glued to my computer day and night. It is a very exciting time in ultrarunning with all the course records falling.

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  15. It's those not so great runs that make us really appreciate the good days :) Glad you had one at HS! the finish photo says it all~!

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