About 4 days prior to the race I was intensely worried that I was going to perform terribly at this race. I had a pretty amazing weekend the week before watching my good friend Brooks Williams compete at the Brew to Brew 44 mile race from Kansas City to Lawrence. Brooks was running this race because it is sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Brooks is affected by this illness and wanted to show his support by running the race. Not only did he win, but he demolished the competition by over 40 minutes.... Often times this happens in ultras. The longer the distance, the more of a gap there will be between finishers. But to win by 40 minutes is just amazing and I was speechless as he crossed the finish line.
After the weekend I was feeling slightly fatigued. Crewing is a tough sport in its own right. To be honest, I find it a good bit more exhausting than running the race. And day after day I woke up feeling a bit tired... not my usual feeling the week of the race. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive having my parents, girlfriend and friend/#1 crew member Shelley travel all the way to Madison to watch me fail miserably. Great thoughts before a race.
The day before I took a red-eye from Seattle to Minneapolis, then on to Madison, sleeping every chance I could. Once I got the hotel, I slept more. Then I ran for 20 minutes just to shake out the legs and get the blood flowing. I took a healthy dose of Emergen-C just to make sure I kept my antioxidant levels elevated, then ate a pasta dinner. Sleep that night was restless but I got in a full 8 hours.
Apart from my mother telling the entire crew that the race started at 6 am, there weren't really any hold-ups, and now that I think about it I am glad we got there early. I had some time to just relax and mentally prepare for the day. About 10 minutes before the race started, I stripped down and began to wait by the start line.
When the gun went off, I was expecting at least one person to dart out to a 5 minute first mile, the way most races do. Interestingly enough, everyone went out way slower than I had imagined. The first loop we pulled through in a modest 42 minutes, a bit slower than the pace I'd wanted to run for the first 50k. After lap one I pulled ahead of the pack a bit and caught the lone front-runner. After some brief chatter I learned that this was THE Zach Gingerich. In my mind he was the person I was going to need to beat in this race. But even though his list of accomplishments is certainly intimidating, he is a really nice guy. For the next lap he told me about the night he had spent staring at the ceiling as a high school party was in full swing in the hotel room next door. And even though he says sleeping is overrated the night before a race, I can't think that it helped him too much.
After lap two, Zach slowed a bit to grab some stuff from his fiancee and I gradually gained a gap on him. From that point on I was alone, and spent a large part of the time just focusing on my tangents to not only increase the lead, but to spend the least amount of energy on wasted footsteps.
Other than tangents and occasional random thoughts, the rest of the race was putting one foot in front of the other, focusing on form, length of stride, etc. Here is a list of the splits for the race....
As the race progressed, the lactic acid build-up and overall fatigue became a bit too much to maintain a solid rhythm, and the hills were primarily the area where I began to be more cautious. Rather than going into oxygen debt, I decided to lay off the pace a bit and just run comfortably up the hill. This paid huge dividends in the later laps! By the last 2 laps though, it was the downhills that were wrenching my quads and hamstrings. Each step felt like I might have an entire body cramp.
As the last lap came around, I learned that my original theory that the CR was 6:46:00 was way off, and all I had to do was run consistently for the next 6 miles and I'd have it for sure. So I dropped my bottle and gave it my all. I took one more gel at the 1.5 mile aid station and began to press harder. With a mile to go I let my legs relax and dropped my shoulders, and let the adrenaline surge as I knew I'd only have to run for another 7 to 8 minutes. Half mile to go, I saw my dad waiting on the corner of the final stretch. I smiled so hard my face cramped up, and just started laughing. The last 200 meters was exhilarating. Crossing the finish line, I felt an extreme weight lift off of my shoulders. I had been wanting to join the world team for USA for about 2 years. It was nice to know I'd be representing my country internationally!
On a side note, during the worst race of my life (WESTERN STATES), I came by a woman who was having an equally bad day. After a while of chatting while laboring up the hill to our eventual drop-out point at mile 55, I learned she was Devon Crosby-Helms. We talked for almost an hour about other races, why we were feeling terrible that day, how much it sucked walking up a hill since we both knew we were just going to drop anyway.... When I saw her cross the finish line on Saturday, she looked so strong. I approached her at her car and we hugged. Apparently both of us were feeling much better since then. Congrats to her and her 14 minute CR!!!!!!!!! What an amazing athlete!
I'd also like to give a shout out to Nick Clark and Ryan Burch for their impressive finishes at American River. I know they are both mountain specialists and those times are pretty gnarly for the course not being their preferred style. Congrats to you both as well!