This was my third time running this race.
In my first attempt, I spent a huge amount of time navigating a very complex course on tough technical terrain. I finished last in 10:07.
Two years ago, I missed the race when a storm hit on the weekend of the race. I would have been able to get to the race, but a Sunday night blizzard would have made it nearly impossible to get home.
Last year, I finished in 8:54, again last, but faster than my previous attempt. I still spent a lot of time solo, working on navigating this course.
Two weeks ago, I ran 24 miles on the course to refresh my sense of directions on this unmarked course, but I still had some navigational issues yesterday.
During the early part of the run, I fell in with Hardrock vet Craig Wilson, my friend Pat from Montreal, some friends of Craig's who made the trip from Maine with him, and Norm from MA. Norm and a few others were faster than most of us, and Pat eventually pulled away from me. Craig and a friend fell behind after a while.
So, by the time I hit the first major aid station at mile 13, I was already solo. I usually do the second half of this race solo, but not the first half. The weather was very nice - sunny, breezy, and cool - maybe low 50s at the warmest.
I left the aid station at mile 13 with two others, but they quickly pulled away. We hit the high point on the course and then returned to the aid station at mile 16. At this point, I figured I'd be solo for the rest of the day, so I grabbed my MP3 player for the next 10 mile segment. I was feeling pretty good and I'd maintained a slow but steady pace. It was pretty clear that I'd finish close to last year's time, but probably a bit slower. I was OK with that given my training this year vs. last year.
My nutrition worked perfectly all day - my normal mixture of Perpetuem and Hammergel, mixed into 300 calorie gel flasks. I try to take in 200-300 calories per hour, based on how hard I'm pushing and that worked flawlessly yesterday. I did use a different flavor of Hammergel - their "Tropical" flavor and it worked well with the very neutral flavor of the Perpetuem. I ate a few potato chips at aid stations - mostly for the salt.
The stretch from 16 to 18.5 or so is not super-technical, but navigation is difficult. About mile 18.5, we get on a trail that is very runnable for a while and I was just cruising along, listening to music. Suddenly, I noticed three other runners in the race who had been ahead of me. They were coming out of the forest on my left, using a trail that is not part of the race. They'd gotten lost and seemed a bit exasperated. I offered to guide them the rest of the way, but tried to explain that I wasn't going fast. They seemed OK with that, although Norm was constantly pulling ahead, while Kevin and I stayed back a bit.
Overall, it was a very synergistic group. I had been content to take it very easy and just finish. They wanted to finish, but they were having navigation problems. I started pushing myself a bit more so I'd be closer to their pace, so I could keep them on course. The last 2+ miles before the mile 26.5 aid station are pretty tough to navigate. Kevin was tired, and fighting some cramps, but I'd been sharing my electrolytes with him. I was happy to see that both Kevin and Norm wanted to finish, so the three of us pushed on. At this point, I was in the middle, pace-wise. Kevin was tired but game to push on. This was only his second ultra and he'd gone through a bad patch, yet he wanted to finish. That determination will serve him well in future races. Norm was fast, but understanding of our slower pace. Plus, when he got in the lead, he would sometimes miss turns. He missed one nearly invisible trail while in the lead with about 3.5 miles to go, and we all had to backtrack a bit.
Overall, the last 4.5 miles went by pretty quickly. The last mile or so is very easy and Norm pulled ahead just a bit while Kevin and I stayed together. We all crossed the line with a time of 8:48 - six minutes faster than I ran last year. With the cool temperatures and mostly dry trails, the course record from 2000 was taken out yesterday. The record was lowered from 5:38 to 5:16. That CR time alone should tell people how slow this course is. In the 50K, there are 5700' of climbing and lots of very technical terrain.
Overall, I'm very happy with my run. My weight is higher than one year ago and my mileage is lower, and I still improved my time by a few minutes. However, the slight improvement is mostly due to my improved familiarity with the terrain and the favorable weather conditions. Eighteen runners finished (24 starters) - and the RD thought that might be a new record number of finishers for this event. Most years, it seems that less than half the starting field finishes.
This run is really the antithesis of big-style events. No fees, no hype, no trail markings, no prizes, nothing. Just a few low-key aid stations, with a bring-your-own-supplies attitude, some trail maps, and some typed up instructions. Even the RD got lost for a bit yesterday while running the race.
This coming week will be a recovery week of sorts for me. I'm going to need a couple days to let yesterday's race fade from my beat up body. My next "big" workout is a triple ascent of Vermont's highest peak in two weeks. That run is just short of 26 miles, with 7800' of climbing. Essentially, I hike up, jog down, repeat and repeat. It simulates the canyons of Western States very well - except for the lack of heat.
Oh yeah, the finish of this race marked the 24th consecutive year that I've completed at least one race of the marathon distance or longer. Of all the things I've done in my running "career", that consistency over 24 years is something I'm proud of. I don't know how long the streak will last, but as a bigger-than-average runner who gets by on stubbornness at times, this streak shows just how stubborn I can be.