Race Morning: I found out on Thursday (two days before the race) that the race was actually starting at 6:00, not 6:45 - ouch! There goes 45 minutes of sleep. I set my alarm for 4:00am and woke up ready to go. I’ve never been very good at sleeping so the early wakeup didn’t phase me. I brewed up some coffee and forced down a bagel and a ProBar. I wasn’t particularly hungry but I knew that I’d need those calories later. I nervously paced around my place for the next hour before hopping in my car and heading to the race. I’m not big on “pump up” music before a run. I don’t need it. I could listen to Enya and get fired up. With that being said, I wanted to hear Ellie Goulding and Calvin Harris - and what do you know, they showed up on my radio. Thanks, running Gods, I owe you one.
I got to the race at about 5:15 and it was pitch black. Most of the runners had flashlights and headlamps. I had… a witty personality? I managed to find the check-in and I got that taken care of. Next, I got my “crew” organized. This consisted of a chair with a box on it filled with Picky Bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, Honey Stinger Gels and GenUCan. I still had some time so I decided to warm up a little - I figured I was clearly an imposter on the trail/ultra scene so why not making it painfully obvious - I went a little less than a mile and my legs felt quite good.
There was a brief pre-race meeting to go over the course and then we lined up. At local road races, I know lots of people. At this race, I knew nobody. In fact, nobody even looked slightly familiar. There was a little less than 200 people - most of us were doing the 50k but there was a handful running the 100k.
Go Time: The gun went off and we were running. Three of us immediately broke to the front (we ended up finishing 1-2-3). We ran together for about half a mile and then Michael Daigeaun took off - quick, think! Go with him or stay back… I decided to stay back. I had no idea how fast we were going (because it was still pretty dark and I was still pretty asleep) but he looked legit so I decided to stick with my plan. I chatted briefly with the guy next to me, Joshua Finger. He had run Western States this year and had been in 25th place at Rucky Chucky (78 miles) when he had to drop. At that point, I’m thinking what have I gotten myself into?! Another runner joins us and the three of us form a mini chase pack. I lead us up the first incline and I’m about to take charge on the second when one of the guys shouts, “Hey! Left!” Yup. Two miles into the race on my home course I was about to make a wrong turn. Smooth. Real smooth. I regroup and move back to the front of the chase pack by the time we get to the top of the hill - it was over 400 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile and I felt good - this was promising. I stopped at the aid station at 4.25 for a quick drink and Finger flew by me - whoa, so that’s how it’s going to be?! I caught back up and he made a remark about the course being flat and only 50km… and he said it in a not-nice way. I felt like he was dissing the course and me. You want to dance? Let’s dance.
I went by Finger ahead of the steep decline - 400 feet of elevation loss in less than a mile - and I picked up the pace a little. I felt good but resisted the urge to go harder. This was not easy to do, as the leader was now out of sight. I finished the first loop (12.5km) in 53:33 (6:53/mile). I had consumed 16oz of GenUCan so far and had one Honey Stinger Gel. I felt good. I was just over course record pace - and then the race director told me the leader was three and a half minutes ahead of me. I believe our conversation went something like this:
Him: He’s about 3:30 ahead of you.
Me: Are you shitting me?
Him: No, I’m not shitting you.
So that was that. I grabbed another 16oz of GenUCan and another gel. I had lots of other stuff in my box (huh, does that sound as weird to you as it does to me?) but I wasn’t feeling it. I grabbed a cup of gatorade off the table and had it quickly… huh, was that carbonated? Oops, Mountain Dew. FML. And I was off…
I was all alone and realized that it would probably be that way for awhile. I felt fine so I picked up the pace a little. I was smooth on the hills and I skipped the aid station on this loop - the GenUCan was getting the job done. I flew over the downhill section - it’s by far the most technical part of the course and I figured it was the easiest section to make up ground on the leader since he was from out of town and unfamiliar with the course. I finished the second loop in 52:33 (6:46/mile). I was now 4:30 behind.
I grabbed another 16oz of GenUCan and another gel and took off again, still feeling fresh. Unfortunately, by this point, there was a lot of traffic on the course, as I was lapping other runners in the 50k and 100k. There was also the usual assortment of runners, dog walkers, people fishing, etc. It forced me to the edges of the trails and I rolled my ankles a few times. At this point, I had to dig deep and conjure up images of Kerri Strug circa 1996 Olympics - yea, I’m just fucking around. Sorry. Back to the race report. The weaving in and out did suck but it’s the nature of the beast. I finished the third loop in 53:25 (6:52/mile) and grabbed a beer. Damn, it was ginger ale!! Oh well. I was told that the leader was 6:00 in front of me. I was still on pace to break the old course record so I figured I could give one last push and maybe, just maybe, I could get him in my sights. It was time to use the power of the beard. I moved up the hills one last time at a good pace and I crossed the marathon mark in under three hours - the last five miles were all flat or downhill. Still no leader in sight. By now, mountain bikers were adding to the traffic. I was finally starting to run out of steam a little. I think it was a combination of the lack of long runs, the difficult course, the weaving, and the fact that I was in uncharted territory, as I had never run longer than a marathon. I was beginning to realize that a win wasn’t going to happen but I still wanted that old course record. I pushed hard to get to 28 knowing that it was all downhill for the last 5k. However, the downhill was my undoing. My legs were jelly from running the descents so hard on the first three loops. I had to slow up significantly. In fact, I suspect that the downill mile at 28 was my slowest of the race by a bit. Nevertheless, I made it to the bottom and picked back up. I knew that the old record was now out of reach but sub seven minute miles were still a possibility. I ran well the last couple of miles and hit the finish line strong. My last loop was 57:57 (7:27/mile) and my overall time was 3:37:26 (6:59 pace). I was second overall and I had run the fourth fastest time ever on the course (the winner broke the old record by four and a half minutes).
Overall, it was a really great experience. The race director, Tim Hardy, is an awesome guy and he did a hell of a job. I loved the 50km distance and I actually feel like I can run quite a bit more. The whole thing is somewhat surreal considering that I only trained for seven weeks and I only did two runs longer than 16 miles. I’ve done lots (and lots and lots) of races over the years, but I haven’t run a decent race on trails since my senior year of high school… um, “a few” years ago.
Maybe there will be another ultra in my future… maybe not. Right now, I’m looking ahead to the Empire State Marathon in October…
The beard is gone and I’ve re-retired my racing flats. I’m taking a few days off to let the legs (and mind) recover. Thanks for following along! Stay tuned for the next adventure!