It was cool Spring morning, dew laid on the grass, while the sounds of a gentle but slightly swollen creek bounced off the ridges above, mixing with the songs of birds welcoming the new day. The star spangled banner began and I watched the others as they silently and nervously reflected on the challenge they were about to set foot on. I was ready to run, explore new trails and ridges, and bask in the atmosphere that was surrounding the event. Everyone was so welcoming, so supportive, and I was surrounded by many dear friends. This was a race and atmosphere that anyone who was not a participant would be envious of, but I was not racing. I embarked on my run of one of the loops after the 50 milers had taken off and planned to be back at the barn for a long day of volunteering and hanging out. I thoroughly enjoyed the trail, the scenery, and the atmosphere surrounding the event and I went home upset that I hadn't signed up for it after it was all said and done. I wouldn't make that mistake again.
Soon after registration opened up for this year's running, I immediately signed up. I couldn't wait to get back out there and make this run my first official attempt at a 50 miler. Training leading up to the race started strong, but progressively got worse and I showed up the night before feeling under trained, but well rested. I had ambitions of being competitive, but now I had changed to the mindset of surviving my first official 50.
From experience with the trails last year, I knew that a little rain could make them extremely muddy and slick. Last year, a Spring storm came through the night before and left many muddy sections, but they were manageable. With the forecast of rain Friday and Saturday I knew things would be messy, so I was prepared. Graciously, friend and race director Tim put Hannah and I up for the night in their rented cabin so we could miss out on the rain, but as we went to bed there was nothing falling. We had escaped the rain on Friday and this had me a bit more confident that the forecasted rain for Saturday would be less intense than originally thought. Hannah, Terri, Jonathan (eventual 2nd place finisher) and I helped make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the aid stations while we caught up on life. It was actually a relaxing way to spend the night before the big race.
Race morning arrived and outside there was just a slight mist falling. My assumptions that the rain would be holding off for the most part were seeming to come true. Confidence in the day ahead grew and before I knew it we were all off, enjoying the mile of pavement before we hit our first climb. I stayed steady and was feeling comfortable as I slowly ran up the first major climb of the day. I was in about 12th place at the time and felt that was a good place to be. Once we finally hit some real trail, the footing was not all that bad other than in some steeper sections near streams. I ran with a couple of French runners that now reside in New York and struck up some light conversation. I kept looking out into the mist as well, hoping that the system would eventually break and open up some of the views I knew where there. But the weather did not break up, the rain instead intensified and began to fall in steady waves for the rest of the day. This made the first loop a bit tricky in spots, but it reminded me of last year's muddy spots for the most part. I shared the last few miles into the 3rd aid station back at the start with the eventual female winner of the 50 miler and we talked about mountain running, trails, and of course the weather.
I came into the 3rd aid station feeling really good and was ready to hit the next loop. I was on my time goal for the race and felt pretty strong. I climbed up Ambush trail, which was astonishingly pretty solid footing considering what it looked like last year. But afterwards it became a completely different story. The trail became so slick that there was no entertaining running up most of the hills and even running the flats was a chore and had me sliding all around. I was beginning to become annoyed when we finally hit some gravel and then some pavement! I could make up some time and I did! I did get passed during this stretch by one of the Frenchmen as I took a bit longer at the aid station. After the road ended, we had our first and only true creek crossing. It was quite nice as it washed off a lot of the mud that was caked everywhere on my lower body. But then it returned to muddy trail. I was beginning to start feeling the day's effort and the conditions were just making things worse for me mentally.
I finally hit the Rawhide aid station and looked forward to getting to back to the start/finish to call it a day and quit. I was hitting my low point of the day and the trail wasn't getting any better. Actually, the stretch between Rawhide and the start/finish was the worst section of trail I ended up being on all day. My mind was in drop mode. I finally reached the start/finish and told Hannah I thought I was done. She would have none of it and convinced me to get back out on next 10 mile loop. I argued with her saying that the trail was terrible and that this next 10 mile loop was going to be the worst. She still kicked my butt out of the aid station and apparently her pep talk helped another runner head out as well with me.
I was tired and things were starting to slow down. I tried to run as much as I could through the slick mud and tired legs. The last 10 mile loop was surprisingly the least muddy of all the loops in my opinion. About half way through this loop, we got passed by the lead runner on his second and final loop of the course and he was crushing it. This made me motivated to run a bit more, but soon after, while on some flat trail I began to feel a terrible side stitch that hurt me while running. I had to start walking a lot more, even on the flats and I felt my time slipping away. I finished me first 10 mile loop in 2:22. That is is 22 minutes slower than what I was planning and I was actually hoping to finish those loops in under 2 hours to reach my time goal.
Of course, Hannah pushed me back out there, along with the help and encouragement of Jeff who gave me a most delectable PayDay Bar. I couldn't stop now after that offering. I shuffled slowly along the flat road to the start of the trail and then began my feast. I chowed down on that PayDay and then chowed down on another granola peanut bar I had in my pack. 500 calories later and I was ready for a nap. I think that it may have been a bit too much to eat, but after 30 minutes I was moving the quickest I had been since the second loop. I finally passed a couple of runners and then hit the home stretch of the last mile of road to the the finish. Once I hit the the pavement I began to get worried about the guy behind me. I had just passed him maybe a mile back and I knew that he was moving quicker than I on the flats. My side stitch was creeping back in, but I had to choose to push through it. I knew I was on the cusp of a top 10 finish and I didn't want to give that up. I picked up the pace on the road and was able to hold him off, but only by about 20-30 seconds. I was glad to be finished and a cracked open a celebratory PBR that I was able to snag from the Rawhide aid station. My mom and dad had showed up to see me finish and I collapsed on the ground and just laid down on the wet grass for awhile. It was a fitting ended to the run.
After a couple days reflection, I think that I will be back next year for the 50k. I really enjoyed the first 2 loops and my 50k time out there was very good while pacing for a 50 miler at that. Plus, I want to see all the views I missed along the course because of the fowl weather. Hopefully, the weather next year will cooperate and for once the trails will be dry!
|coming into Rawhide|
|done with first loop|
|finishing the first loop|
|coming into the finish|