I've noticed that waking up for races is a lot like waking up before school when you were a kid, or before a big day at work. As usual, Saturday was no different. I woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm went off and just stared at it until it beeped. I stretched my legs a few times and got out from under the covers. I could feel the cold outside just by looking out the window, and tried not to let the chills influence my wardrobe decisions for the day. I put on my mizuno shorts, bio gear long sleeve, a trail nerds jersey, and then 10 more layers to make sure I'd stay warm.
Once again, I had the usual nauseous stomach that refuses to take in food without a fight. So, anticipating this, I had brought two very high calorie energy bars to get in a lot of nutrition without having to eat a lot. One was a PROBAR, which I saved for last since it is actually quite delicious and has about 400 calories per bar. I would not recommend this for an everyday snack, but if you need a lot of healthy calories, this is the thing to eat. Anyway, after ingesting almost 800 calories in five minutes, I took my multivitamins and chugged about 6 glasses of water, then headed out to the course.
I was a bit worried as I peeled off my outer layers because it was already starting to get warmer, and I know this course is notorious for being filled with muck that can reach up to a foot deep. Visions of the summer course started rifling through my head of losing my shoes 6 times (yes, 6 times). So, once I got my shoes screwed, I made sure to tie everything really tight.
200 people approached the start line, and with the sound of the horn we were off. My legs felt really fresh from the easy week of mileage I'd been doing, along with the opportunity to breathe in wonderful, low-altitude air.
The plan for the first and second loops was to try to keep my splits as close to 1:20:00 as possible. Caleb Chatfield had advised me not to keep the same pace the entire way, but to keep the same effort. This meant running the flats at around 7:30 pace, the downhills at around 6:45 to 7:00 minutes per mile, and then just run up the uphills without getting too fatigued. This plan worked pretty perfectly for the entire first loop. The uphills were free of muck, and the entire course was in pretty solid condition. As I rounded the turn to go through the main aid station, I hit a 1:19:56. The happiness of hitting that split so closely actually gave me a boost of energy. I thought, "Let's see how lap two feels!"
Well, lap two started well..... I can't really say much more than that. The course had just seen about 475 pairs of shoes running straight down the center of a semi-frozen sludge pit. Turning off from the road onto the trail, I saw a completely different trail than I'd seen 83 minutes earlier. It was now a five foot wide muddy, rocky bog. I attempted to run on the side of the trail, but as I noticed further down the trail, quite a few people had already gotten that idea. There was nowhere to go but straight up the middle. The worst part of lap two was the major climbs. With every two-foot step, you sink back six inches. It was impossible not to get fatigued. By the time I got to the five mile point, I was in oxygen debt and actually glad to run a half mile uphill on pavement. At this aid station I also saw Derek, my impromptu pacer extraordinaire. Derek had paced me at leadville with 15 minutes notice, and as I passed him I asked him if maybe he would do it again. Of course, being the awesome guy he is, he said yes. And as I rounded the turn through the main aid station a second time, he was there waiting in his running gear. My split was 1:20:58, with much more effort being put into this lap.
On lap 3, the course was in the worst condition I'd ever seen. There wasn't a single place you could step without slipping, unless you ran into the woods (trading the slippage for low branches and thorns). Imagine dancing on marbles while trying to run quickly. It was exhausting! The most frightening parts were the muddy downhills with signs saying SLOW DOWN! I just kept thinking, "But what if I can't?"
There were a few times when I completely banana-peeled, meaning both of my legs went over my head, and other times when I simply didn't have the strength to balance myself. So, giving into gravity, I would merely fall in the best way I could. I made it through most of the muck and finally climbed up the hill to the shelter 10 aid station. Kristi Mayo reminded me that I only had 2.5 miles to go. I looked at my watch and saw that I had exactly 22 minutes. If the final 2.5 miles of the course looked anything like the previous 7.5, it was gonna be close. I kicked in what little energy I had left to climb up the remaining hills. Just as I was closing in on a 1/4 mile left, I saw Brad Bishop standing in a clearing. He began to scream down to the finish line and tell everyone to cheer. The end of a race always gets my blood pumping. No matter how tired I am or how badly I'm hurting, my body always finds a way to cruise in the last part of a race. This race was no different. Once I saw Brad, I began to sprint down to the finish line. The last time rounding the aid station, I saw that even the field had become a mud pit. And seeing as how I was already covered in mud from head to toe, it only seemed appropriate to slide head first into the finish line. Here is the link below....
Surprisingly enough, I didn't feel nearly as awful as I thought I would. I laid on the ground and laughed as Bad Ben put the medal around my neck. Then Shelley, Sophia, Birnbaum, and Danielle all came over and we took a group picture. My final time was 4:15:12, still four minutes under the course record.
As I took the medal out of my bag I noticed a big clump of mud on it. I laughed, and hung it up as-is on the wall. It will serve as a reminder that not everything is going to be completely perfect in a race. There will always be something that isn't planned for. The only thing you can do is grit your teeth and face it head-on. Most of the time you end up having more fun anyway.
Thank you to everyone that volunteered at the race. Bad Ben, you always impress me with your talent to put on a perfect race in imperfect conditions. Shelley, you are a saint, and a damn fine crew mate. Derek, I can't thank you enough for pacing me for the 3rd loop, I just hope someday I'll be able to return the favor. And to everyone I met out on the trail, STAY MUDDY. I hope to see you all again next year!