Huge day in the hills. 54.3 miles of mud, snow and bushwacking- all of which seemed to peak on the steepest of climbs. The forecast was ominous, but the day dawned nice enough to dress light.
At 6am eveyone toed the line and and I was off with the lead pack.
The leaders chatted as they all knew each other from previous competition. I was happy as the outsider- flying under the radar. We climbed over gorgeous singletrack trail with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Two Sandhill Cranes appeared and I admired their in-flight courtship ritual and accompanying song. Coming into Gibson Jack, mile 8.3, the first serious mud of the day was encountered. I was in 3rd place behind Dakota and Ryan when I took a nasty, sideways fall onto my left hip that left me staggering for a while and looking as if I had grown a tail. Five or six runners quickly passed me. I limped along and recovered with a power hike up and over Wild Mountain. This part of the course was amazing with steep off-trail bushwacking and nothing but ribbons on sagebushes to guide you up to the summit. From there, a beautiful scramble led over a serrated ridge to rejoin the trail to City Creek. A fast downhill jeep trail and singletrack leads to the first crew point at mile 17.25- and some mild stomach distress. Rita and LG were there to resupply me with EFS gel and drink and I was off to chase down B who had taken off for the 50K race a little earlier.
Meanwhile, B's race started and she was making her way up City Creek trail.
I caught B near the top of City Creek Trail, 4 miles from her starting line. We were in a tangle of trees along the side of a steeply sloping snow slope above the creek. We passed along some words of encouragement and I jokingly advised the runners moving along with B to not let her be the routefinder. I hit the top of the hill and trotted along in the snow toward the next aid at mile 24. Matt Hart and Joelle Vaught caught me here. I would spend the rest of the day chasing them with no luck, but they were the last racers to pass me. A cold mist engulfed the ridge as I took my aid quickly and blasted off for nearly 10 miles of mostly downhill to the next crew point. I was really not moving well here, getting only 8-9 minute miles where I should be under 7. Joelle and Matt were obviously so much stronger downhillers than me. I will have to work on that part of my game. My hip was hurting and I knew I needed some Aleve at the next aid. I tuned out for a bit and kept the stress off, while I enjoyed the forrested surroundings and mellow trail.
Mink Creek, mile 34, was the next crew point. I was really happy to see Rita and LG. I ate 2 Aleves and swapped my bottles out and was gone for the climb to Scout Mountain. I ran well for the next 2 miles, but then resorted to walking as the Valve House Trail got steeper, then very snowy. A 2 mile slog ensued where the trail was sloppy, slushy snow mixed with flooded creek water. Thirteen minute miles felt fast for this kind of terrain. I saw some of my competition coming back toward me on the short out-and-back leg including Matt, Joelle, Christian Johnson, Luke Nelson, Ryan Burch and Evan Honeyfield. The first three runners had already completed this section, so I did not see them pass. I knew that Christian was within my reach and perhaps if Joelle or Matt fell apart I could still give them a run for it.
At the Scout aid station I downed a few PIEROGI, watermelon, chicken stock and cookies and had a brief chat with Ultra Legend Karl Meltzer while my bottles were being filled. I set off for the slushy slog and started feeling better. I encountered and sized up the field behind me and felt confident I could hold off all challenges coming from behind me. I hit the downhill running well and quickly caught sight of Christian ahead by less than 1/4 mile. I chased hard for 5 miles of downhill and caught him at the Mink Creek aid. Rita and LG were quick with the bottle swap, I dumped some extra stuff and took off. It became apparent that Christian had lots left in the tank, as he floated up the 1300' of climbing while I staggered and limped. I mosied along past the top of the hill, onto the rolling jeep road, desperate for some adrenaline. I hit the top of the Corral Creek trail and took a quick look back. A racer was closing on me quickly- now less than 50 yards away. A surge of adrenaline tore through me and I floored it down the hill- knowing that all the climbing was done. Dropping to 7 minute miles hurt, but with the excitement of a challenger it felt good to be racing again. Three miles later I hit the pavement and it was just 1.4 miles to the finish. On the last straightaway, I pulled close enough to Christian to see him, but I needed another mile to get him. It just wasn't to be. I just waited too long to gun it. 10th place for me. 9hrs 46mins 57sec.
I am pleased with my result. Everyone who finished ahead of me had so much more experience in ultras and it showed in several key aspects of racing- most notably on downhills. I think I could have run at least 30 mins faster at my current state of fitness if I had used better pacing strategy, had more confidence to push harder in the last 1/3 of the race, and had not fallen down and weakened my hip early on. All of this easier said than done- but I clearly had too much in the tank when I finished. I guess that's better than not being able to walk unsupported for several days- as is my custom.
B popped a caffein pill late in the race and finished by passing people like they were standing still. We drove up to the exit point for the Corral Creek trail where she hit the pavement and we cheered her on. She has never looked stronger at the end of a long run. She could have handled the 50+ today for sure. We raced back to the finish to watch her cross the line in 9:25.
The after party was great. Awesome burritos and good music encouraged us to hang out as long as we could.
I met some great runners who I only knew from the Blog world. The whole event was a class act and I plan to return many times.
Big thanks to Rita and LG for taking great care of us out there.