Going into the race I wanted to break 4:30, which I expected would give me an overall win and a course record. I did, and it did. I'll have a full report up by tomorrow. For now, here's a picture of Catherine, Tigger and me with a tank and what may be my favorite trophy ever (I'm talking about the helmet, in case that's not clear).
Now for the full story:
The race started at six in the morning, so Catherine and I were up just a little before four. Pre-race nutrition has been a source of problems for me as a runner, so I decided to do what I had done (seemingly successfully) before the Red Mountain 30K. Specifically, I ate a ton on Friday, capping it all of with a huge dinner, and limited myself to a banana and a couple of cans of soda before the race. I think that worked out for me.
We arrived at Camp Williams around 5:30, which gave us plenty of time to get our shoes on and use the bathroom. While we were hanging around, I met Jun (who I believe was the first person to comment on this blog). That's one of the best things about the Fast Running blogs--every time we go to a race, we get to meet in person people we already know from online.
Just before six we headed out to the start. I was jittery, as I always am before a race. In fact, I was more nervous than usual, because I had actually prepared properly for this race, and I was going into it with the expectation of winning. At the start line, I had a hard time not looking around and assuming that everyone there was faster than me.
Catherine and I lined up right at the front, next to Jun and Scott W., and a minute later the cannon fired and we were off.
I immediately settled in with a front group of three other runners. As we started the first climb, I found out that I was the only 50K runner in the group. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing, because it meant I was in the lead, or a bad thing, because it meant I was going out way too hard with more than 30 miles left.
As we approached the first brutally steep pitch, two of the runners with me started hiking. That seemed like a good idea, so I did the same, although I had left them behind by the top of the pitch. The other guy continued running and grabbed the 50 dollar bonus at the top, but he slowed down significantly after that, and by the first summit of the day (at about 4 miles), I was all alone in the lead.
The descent off the backside was a pain--so steep and rocky that I may have been descending more slowly than I had climbed. I've learned that my New Balance 100s generally do a poor job of keeping debris out on steep, gravelly descents, and today was no exception. At the bottom of the descent I stopped to shake a few rocks out of my left shoe, and while I was doing that a different 30K runner, who I hadn't seen before, passed me.
I put my shoe back on and continued along, about 200 feet behind the 30K runner, until all of a sudden he reached a clearing and turned around back toward me. Since I've gotten lost in every trail race I've done, I assumed we had made a wrong turn, but it turned out that the clearing (which was also the location of the first aid station) was simply a turnaround point for the 30K course. I continued straight ahead without stopping, and from that point on I was alone until the 50K course rejoined the 30K nearly 20 miles later.
(I'd like to point out that this was the most well-marked race I've ever run, and getting lost wasn't really an option. Every turn was marked with arrows on the ground and at least one sign, and there were ribbons marking the course every 100-200 feet for the entire 31+ miles.)
The next ten miles or so between the first and third aid stations were my favorite. Everything was cool and quiet as I wound through the valley and over the hills, surrounded my some impressive mountains I'd never seen before. I remember thinking that I should run there more often, but every mile or so I was reminded that that would be a bad idea as I passed another target range, artillery range, mortar range, or machine gun range. Clearly, the National Guard enjoys blowing stuff up.
Twice during this section I saw a runner in a white shirt on the switchbacks below me, but I could never tell whether he was right on my tail or 20 minutes back.
By the time I hit the third aid station, around 19 miles, my legs were starting to fade. Leaving the aid station, I hiked the short, steep climb to another summit and than suffered through a steep, rocky and punishing descent, all the while questioning my decision to wear such a light shoe on a run like this. At the bottom, the course turned uphill again for the final climb of the day. I knew that if I could survive the next 4-5 miles, the only think that stood between me and the finish was a long descent.
I climbed slowly but steadily, hiking several of the steeper sections but mostly running. Somewhere along the way I met back up with the 30K course and I enjoyed having a steady stream of runners to pick off and pass one by one. It blew my mind to think that they were 12 miles behind me.
I stumbled past the last aid station stopping only long enough to grab a few Endurolytes, and then it was on to the final descent to the finish. I had been out more than three hours by then, and since I still haven't done any training runs much longer than 2 hours, my legs were feeling destroyed. I wanted nothing more than to stop, but I knew there was another runner somewhere behind me, so I kept plodding along, looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds or so.
Eventually I reached the tunnel that took me under the highway and back to the base, and it wasn't until then that I realized that I was absolutely going to win the race. I crossed the line with a little more than 4:22:30 showing on my Garmin, nearly 20 minutes faster than last year's winner and course-record holder (this was only the race's second year).
Catherine was waiting at the finish, having had a good run in the 15K, and I was just happy to see her. We sat in the grass for a while and watched other runners come in, including the next 50K runner about 10 minutes later. Then we ate, picked up the award and headed home.
It was a great race. I'm sore today, but nothing like what I felt after the Buffalo Run. I'll probably be back next year to see if I can beat my time, but for now I'm looking forward to the next race. I've put my name on the wait list for the Logan Peak race, bit in case that doesn't work out, does anyone know of any other good races in the 50K range coming up in the next month or so?