Going back to the first two races, I had gone out too fast to start and faded quite a bit in each to the point where finishing was certainly in question. I knew I knew I would have to run a pretty smart race if I wanted to keep 2nd place. And if the fact that I knew it wasn't enough, I had my 5yr old daughter giving me advice two weeks out. She had just watched the story of the tortoise and the hare and completely unsolicited, she told me that I needed to run my next race "slow and steady". While I thought it was quite cute, it was the phrase I would repeat several times early in the race while picturing her telling me "remember Dad, sloooow and steaaady" in a drawn out manner.
Unlike the previous two races, I made the 300 mile trip the day of the race for the 7:00 p.m. start. Getting there just past 4:00 gave me plenty of time to set up my "camp" near the start/finish area and relax a bit before the race. While it was still pretty warm outside, about 84, it was about 15-18 degrees cooler than the last start and it appeared that it would drop into the 70's by 11:00. Quite balmy by hill country summer standards. That was a much welcomed change. Combined with the fact that the Race Director's email said the course was "not all that difficult" and "slightly rolling on a mountain bike trail that is mostly smooth" made me think this would be the sub 6 hour race. I opted to ignore the "still enough rocks and roots to dissuade you from dragging your feet".
Before the race got started I saw the two guys behind me in the standings, but never looked for Josh as he wasn't even a consideration to me. My only hope of finishing #1 overall would be for him to fail miserably and DNF. A quick runners meeting, standard comments on paying attention to signs, glow sticks, watching out for snakes and proper hydration and then we were off and running.
The first lap would include a .84 out and back to get the race to a full 60K. After that, 4 loops of 9.09 miles. Just after the making the turn on the out and back Joe, the Race Director, yelled at me "You're it, Josh didn't make it". D'oh, seriously? I later found out that his wife had just gave birth to a child so he skipped the race. No pressure, but here was my chance to steal 1st place overall. Because of the way the out and back was designed, I would count that I was in 9th place of the 60K runners. A bunch of 30K runners ahead that only had to do 1/2 of the out and back. I'm assuming it was all of them, about 80. And of course, among the 8 60K runners ahead of me were #'s 2 and 3, Derek and Scott. We had finished 3, 4, 5 respectively at the Falls.
Unlike the last race, I didn't stress about being behind anyone this time. I just reminded myself that this was a 37 mile run and that I didn't matter if I lead 36 miles or 1 mile. All that mattered was where I finished. Slow and steady, slow and steady. We had all had our struggles in the prior races and I was banking on similar results.
I took my time and didn't look far ahead often. Even when I did, I couldn't see much other than the runners just ahead of me as we ran in some pretty thick wooded areas with a lot of hills and brush. It seemed I could never see much more than 20-25 yards ahead at most, sometimes less. It wasn't long into the race that I caught up with the tail end of the 30K runners. Passing them one at a time was not much of a problem as most of them pulled over when they heard me behind them. Every once in a while I could see that I was passing a 60K runner, but it was difficult to tell even though we were identified by the color of the #'s on our race bibs. Black for 60K, red for 30K.
The loop had 3 aid stations. The fully stocked and manned station at the start/finish, one at 3.00 miles out with water only and then the 3rd at 6.55 miles that would be manned and fully stocked. I had made the decision to carry two Nathan handhelds to avoid frequent stops at the stations. The plan was to stop at the finishline only. If I stopped anywhere esle something went wrong.
It seemed like forever, but eventually the first aid station appeared and while I ran right by, there were a couple of people already stopped and refueling. I felt pretty good and had plenty of liquid. The temperature wasn't bad at all and I could tell early that hydration wouldn't be a problem at all. That said, I did pop and S Cap just before the start and planned on taking one about every hour.
Between the 1st and 3nd aid station there was some extremely gnarly rock sections that included some large buried jagged rocks, roots and a lot of trees. The course overall was pretty technical with a lot of switchbacks and tight sections between trees and low hanging branches. This particular section was almost impossible to run while we still had daylight available. I immediately thought this was going to be treacherous in the dark. And not only that, but without the worn dirt trail, it was difficult to tell where the trail actually was. That meant looking down at foot placement and then looking around for "confidence markers" which was the neon colored tape hanging from the trees every so often. In loops 2-4 it would be a little easier because you could see the glow sticks that had been randomly placed on the ground. At that point it was a matter of going from glow stick to glow stick.
Once past the difficult section of rock, the course seemed to open up a bit with some of that "mostly smooth trail". Due to the rain from the night before there was a little mud, but not bad. The second aid station came and went and again as I ran by, there were a couple of runners fueling. I still had plenty of Gatorade in my bottles and didn't even hesitate to keep going. Another 2.5 miles and I would have one loop knocked out. I wondered how the guys up front were doing.
The loop ended with a very short section that ran into the start/finish area on the same trail as those coming back out. By the time I got to that section it was already dark and I my headlamp was on. It was really a cool sight as it was dark and then just as you came ove a hill you could see the camp area with all of the lights for the aid station. As I was coming in a few runners passed me going the other direction. Not sure why, but I never even looked at them. I think I was trying to stick to my plan of slow and steady and not worry about who was ahead of me.
A quick run across the timing matts, around the cone and right to the Gatorade jugs. A split of 1:29:38 for the first 9.93 miles (1:24:12 for the 9.09 actual loop). Unbeknownst to me, I was about 7 minutes behind the leader at this point, Derek. I asked for Heed, but they didn't have it mixed yet. It would have to be Gatorade again. No problem, a quick refill with ice and Gatorade by the volunteers while I squeezed a gel into my mouth and then I was on my way out. A very efficient and short stop.
Loop 2 was pretty uneventful other than passing Scott and another runner at the first aid station. I had been tailing them pretty much for the 3 miles since leaving the start/finish area where they had gone out just before me. I was not right on them. but not far behind at all. Again, the 2 bottle system worked as they both stopped and I ran right by without so much as looking in their direction.
Loop 2 took me 1:32:08, about 8 minutes slower than the first one. While I tried to remind myself of staying slow and steady, I was a bit concerned that I wasn't feeling quite as good as I wished I had and I wasn't seeing any 60K runners that I knew of out there. As I pulled in to the start/finish area for he 2nd time, I unscrewed the caps on my bottles and dumped out what was in them coming into the chute. I crossed the matts and handed off the bottles again to be re-filled. I grabbed a protein brownie from my gear bag, bottles from the volunteers, Heed this time, and I was back out onto the trail, but not before asking how far I was behind Derek. About 10 minutes was the response. Turns out, it was actually 11, but close enough. Not what I wanted to hear, but still, slow and steady and he would come back to me at some point right?
Actually I was starting to doubt the "slow and steady" approach, but honestly don't know if I could have run much faster without totally draining myself. At this point I was 19.02 miles into it and had just over 18 to go. Still a long way and a lot of time to catch up. I told myself to continue to run my race. Be disciplined, stick to the plan.
Not far into the 3rd loop I got my first wake-up call, I hit the ground. I was trying to split a tree and failed to pick my feet up high enough in doing so. I hit the ground with a pretty hard thud and then there I was with the familiar feeling. Soaking with sweat and now rolled in dirt, not to mention the dirt on my water bottles as well as in my mouth. Nice! It was as if I took a leap while running and someone grabbed my feet out from under me. I looked at my Garmin at that point to see that it happened at 19.96 miles. No idea why I even cared, but apparently it was important enough to look. Just about a mile and a quarter later I would get to look again because there was another crash. This time I completely crushed one of my water bottles at 21.15 miles. This was getting ridiculous I thought. Now, I was really irritated, but not surprised. I had clipped several rocks up to that point and had almost fell several times. I managed to stay upright for the rest of the third loop and I came in at 1:48:36, slow.
Coming in from the 3rd loop I knew I had some ground to make up, just how much was the question. I felt good enough to consider an attack for the last 9 miles and was considering either one or no water bottle for the last loop. I had an iPod available and knew that I would pick that up for sure. With majority of 30K runners off of the course, it would be pretty thin out there and plus I wanted something to give me a little life. I was also going to slam a Red Bull, but totally forgot it once I got into the aid station.
I was told that I was in 3rd place and about 17 minutes out of 1st place, maybe 12 behind 2nd. Looking back at the splits, it was actually 14:28 behind the leader. I headed out with one water bottle and a huge challenge ahead of me, but feeling somewhat optimistic that with a decent run and maybe some luck I could gain enough ground to make it interesting.
Some of the early parts of the loop had some decent downhill sections in the wooded area and I was moving at a pretty good clip at times. The music pumping in my ears in the dark of night was pretty cool and the rush I was getting by flying recklessly downhill and in between trees had my adrenaline pumping. I kept hearing Brad's comments to me at the aid station "leave it all out on the course". Slow and steady had been discarded. At the same time I knew there was no way I could hold that pace for 9 miles. I was just going to give it hell and see what happened.
With the faster pace came risk and I remember thinking if I fell it was not going to feel good. Well, it wasn't exactly Nostradamus, but it wasn't long before I clipped a rock and sent down pretty hard. The jolt to the body was rough, but not injuries. I was up and back at it in a matter of seconds with a relatively decent pace.
As I progressed through the loop I could see headlamps moving ahead of me. While I was pretty certain it wasn't either of the two 60K runners, I thought to myself "you never know" and continued to chase them down. Each time I caught one of the runners a disappointing feeling would come over me as I realized I was lapping a runner and not actually catching 1st or 2nd place. That was okay, I was still running and each time I saw a light I had a burst of energy. It was like when you're out training on the road and you see another runner and your pace seems to pick up a bit. Not necessarily intentionally, but it just happens.
Somewhere in the first half of the loop I would go down for the last time. I had caught a glimpse of a runner and here came that energy again. I was gaining ground through a fairly technical section in the trees I just before I approached her that moment of whiplash and then thud to the ground. It was another lapped runner and I felt quite stupid and I was at her heels. She turned to see what had just happened and as I lay there looking at the ground I said "I'm fine, go ahead" and waved at her to keep moving. She was being courteous to check on me and I was just embarrassed at disheartened at that point. I popped back up and tried to get back after it, but I think at that point I knew it wasn't to be. I had needed to run a perfect 4th loop and I had two things working against me. One, I couldn't stay on my feet and two, I was running about 1-2 minutes per mile slower than I needed. My focus switched from predator to survival about then. I decided to finish respectably and take 3rd place like a man. First for the night and overall were lost earlier in the race when I chose "too damn slow and steady" for my strategy.
As I approached the last mile of the course I could feel a little life back in me and I picked up the pace for the last time. Soon the hill just before the finish line was under me and then the lights of the tents were visible. Such a great view in the middle of the night.
Crossing the finish matt was once again the unceremonious moment. I was handed an assortment of items by one of the volunteers that turned out to be a medal, two framed pictures, one for the night's placement and one for the series overall as well as a Team Traverse belt buckle for completing all 3 60k's. 6:33:01 was my time and as it turned out, I finished 2nd place for the night, not 3rd as I had been told and 2nd place overall.
I finished 8:30 out of 1st place overall with a total time of 19:20:01, but I couldn't help but be somewhat disappointed with myself. With Josh out that night I had the opportunity to take 1st and I let it get away. However, Derek ran an fantastic race. As he had previously, he went out fast and he finished strong. Either way, 1st place wasn't meant to be mine for this series. Second place seems to be more my speed and with that being said, I was happy with the Shoe and the whole series, it seems to fit me just fine. Just seven short weeks earlier I had never run a trail race and now I've have 3 60k's under my belt with some respectable finishes. Gives me a lot to look forward as I pursue my goals in the ultra world. And by the way, I'm not abandoning the slow and steady approach as I did feel much better at the end and never thought DNF was a consideration. I just need to work on making my "slow" as a little faster.
Thanks for your support and for stopping by to read this mad rambling.