This was my second time running this race. Three years ago this was my first ultra marathon and first big trail race. I ran it in 2012, that year it started at 7:00 am (optional) or 6:00 am and it was the coldest day of the year. This year, it was about 70 degrees, start time 6:00 am. I had no race anxiety going into this one but had developed a non-stop runny nose two days earlier for which I had to break down and resort to sudafed (the good stuff you have to ask for behind the counter).
First mile - this one is the easiest. It is 70% on unpaved but hard surface road and mostly downhill, then turns onto a softer fire road. Of the dark miles it's the lightest one because the starting group is together, so everyone's headlamps sort of pool together. (8:52 pace)
Miles 2-7 were the mainly dark miles, going from pitch black, to the first hints of light through the trees to full light. I had one headlamp and a handheld light, hoping to make it through this section without tripping on a root or a rock. I mainly stayed behind people (miles 2 and 3 were in the 11's which included the very rooty section up tucker hill, then 4,5,and 6 were low to mid 10's). Finally, just before mile 7 point it was fully light and I decided to pull ahead of the three people I had been following in a comfort zone and was finally under 10:00 (9:55).
Miles 8-12 finish up the first big loop. The next 4 miles were in the low 9's, felt pretty good but also maybe a little worried I was exerting myself. The 12th mile was another trip back up tucker hill and a brief stop to ditch my hat and handheld light.
Miles 13-19 were all pretty good, mainly in the 9's with two miles in the 8's. Things were still going pretty good until about mile 20. I started having this feeling that one of my ankles was going to give out from under me (how am I going to finish this?, please go away unexpected ankle problem!!).
Miles 20 and 21 were in the mid 10's, those "easy" 9ish miles had disappeared and my heart rate had climbed. Mile 22 was another climb up tucker hill and a quick stop to grab a muscle milk as well as some encouragement from RD Andy Matthews who always makes me feel good by publicly announcing that I'm a Western States 100 finisher. Also some good-natured ribbing from trail running zen master Patrick Bene.
So, I finish up mile 22 someplace early on the start of the third loop. The first half of the big loop is peaceful, the runners are far and few between. My legs are aching and it's difficult to keep going. I want to quit but no I can't, it's not an option but I still want to. I calculate how long it would take me to fully walk it (too long), how about 15 minute miles, or 12 minute miles? I settle on goals of 12 minute miles doing a 3:1 run/walk strategy with adjustments for hills as needed. I pass a woman walking at a brisk and determined pace who seems to be fully enjoying the day. I'm going to do that if I have to. The new goal works and the running feels easier (but still a struggle). I count down the miles until I'm finally climbing up Tucker hill one last time and can hear people at the finish line. I come charging in, greeted by my own personal cheering squad of Jessica and her three kids who made the drive up just to see me finish.
Nice to see Clark and Cindy at the finish who had done the 25K. Saw Rob Fulton finish - he hadn't run at all for three weeks, had been battling a cold and his garmin fell apart but he still finished.
In addition to thanking Jessica for driving up and Andy Matthews for being an awesome race director and great guy I'd also like to thank the kid at the 5 mile aid station who rang the cowbell every time I ran through there. Also impressed that the woman who was running behind me during the dark miles knew which shoes I was wearing (Pearl Izumi Peak II's) and complimented them. They are pretty nice shoes, light enough to not feel weighed down but tough enough to protect from roots and rocks (thanks for recommending them to me Scott Vaughn back during the good 'ole days of Suncoast Running).
Splits: 8:52, 11:09, 11:43, 10:20, 10:34, 9:55, 9:12, 9:18, 9:07, 9:52, 11:18, 9:20, 8:43, 9:37, 9:18, 8:55, 9:37, 9:44, 10:26, 10:41, 13:38, 10:59, 11:20, 12:05, 10:17, 11:07, 11:26, 10:36, 10:39, 11:53, 0.59@12:56