The week before the race arrived. Along with the tapper tantrums from the lack of running. Little phantom aches and pains here and there. Which in itself would be enough to shake the confidence of even the most mentally fit athlete. The forces to be felt it was not enough. So they decided to test my mental fortitude by throwing in two sick kids. Fours inches of rain on the race course. Hell virtually breaking loose at my job. A raccoon in front of my car on the way home from working night shift. Causing $3,200 dollars worth of damage. Dealing with the insurance company. The rental car company and lastly. A tire puncture on the family minivan. Phewww!!! Somehow in spite of all that happened I managed to keep my cool. Staying what I was now saying, "Zen to Win."
Race morning the alarm went off at 5:00AM. Way too early and not near enough sleep. The stress of knowing what I had to do in order to do what I wanted to. Finally caught up with me. I tossed and turned all night. The work had been done and there was nothing else I could do. I knew I was ready. A little sleepy or not, I was ready to run. I got dressed. Threw on the flip flops and loaded the car. Then started the trek East.
Pulling into the park Jess and I stopped by packet pick up to get my number. Then we headed over to the aide station where she would be working for the day. I set up a little chair and laid out some shoes so that I could make a change if I needed to on the second loop. After we got set up there we cruised on back to the start/finish area. By that time more people had arrived and the parking lot was filling up pretty quickly. We managed to get a spot near the starting line.
Bad Ben sure had a good turnout for the race this year. 326 starters combined for both races. 112 of which were signed up for the 50km. That was pretty much double the size from the year before. Usually when you have that kind of turnout the field gets a bit deeper too. Bad Ben made sure to point that out the week prior also. By posting a list of potential overall contenders twenty some people long. He even threw in a few surprise contenders that had got me excited for a second. Then I realized he was probably just pulling my leg. Having a little fun.
After looking at that list and filtering out who I thought the real contenders were from the pretenders. I came up with a much shorter list than his. Out of that list of 20 or so. There were really only three or four guys I was worried about. Greg Buehler, Rick Mayo, Todd Nott and Matt Becker. All of these guys have had great results in the past on this course. Whether in the summer version or the winter version.
For me that is what it really comes down to. It doesn't matter how fast you've run a flat hundred miler. Ripped off some smoking quick time at Boston or won a race with 12 finisers. On this course none of that matters. If you can't run either up or down short very steep hills at those same precarious speeds over technical rocky and root strewn terrain. You don't stand a chance here. Course knowledge reigns supreme and these guys have already proven they had that and more. If there was going to be a winner I knew it was going to come from one of us five guys.
Ben called everyone over for the final pre-race instructions. I lined up shoulder to shoulder with Buehler. Rick was standing on the sidelines. Becker was a few rows back and Todd was behind me. Everybody else was a blur. Greg wished me luck and I said the same to him. He asked me how I was feeling and I told him. Anymore I'm 50/50 when it comes to running in the heat. Sometimes I show up and nail it. Other times I run like shit. I said I'd see how I felt a couple of hours from then.
Ben gave the signal and we were off. Immediately Buehler and Mayo jumped out to the front of the group. I slotted myself into fourth position behind a guy who seemed like he really wanted to be in third at that point more than I did. Up the little hill hitting the single track and down the other side I quickly jumped up a spot. Already the guy in third was making me a little nervous as he started hitting the breaks in front of me. "On your left." I yelled letting it out a little on that first downhill. Settling in right behind Rick and Greg as they transitioned into the next of several hundred small climbs we would be dragging ourselves up and over for the next five hours. Things pretty much stayed that way for the first six miles.
Running smooth still around mile five Rick leading the way. We encountered the first of the major climbs. "HEDGEHOG" A particularly nasty little B!#*h of a climb. I'm not sure of the gradient on this climb. My guess, is if it has a rope tied to a tree at the bottom of the hill and one to a tree at the top. Then it has to be pretty damn steep. Halfway up the climb Rick asked if I was doing O.K. I told him I was good for now. Not too bad. That was kind of a lie as I was feeling really good. Completely within my comfort zone. I wasn't even starting to breathe hard. Still I wasn't quite ready to let it fly just yet. I wanted to keep it where it was for a few more miles to see if any other runners were going to catch up to our little duo. In and out of the aide station at mile 5.5 I took the lead for the first time. To take a turn on cobweb patrol. I really didn't want to lead at all on the first loop but with Rick and I the only ones out front it was only fair to take a turn up front and do some work. Out of the woods, down the dam and across the spillway. I arrived at the foot of the "Col du Fall Down Hill." Another nasty climb. Twice as long as Hedgehog with at least a dozen and a half switchbacks. Some say this is the worst hill on the course but not me. It reminds me of the Ozarks. I get a big kick out of running up or down this mini monster. Hands down my favorite section of the course.
Pre race I had chatted with Andy Henshaw. Last years course winner about some tactics for this race based on how I like to run. So far those plans were nothing like we discussed. I was running the pace we talked about and well within myself but I was leading. Instead of being in 5th like we thought I might be at this point. Everything felt right. It just looked all wrong. Still I was going to stick to the plan. Staying with the idea of trying to maintain and effort and not a pace.
At the bottom of Fall Down looking up. With Rick a hundred or so yards behind me. I dropped it down a gear and found a nice comfortable effort I thought I could maintain to the top. A few switchbacks into the climb. I heard Rick yell something up to me from below. I couldn't make out what it was though. Either, "Good Job" or "Go Dave" I wasn't sure all I know is that when I reached the top and got into the aide station there. Which, wasn't quite set up yet. Rick was no longer behind me.
From here things went pretty smooth running wise with one exception. Truckin along. Completely in the zone after leaving the aide station around the 11 mile mark. I had come to a three way fork in the road. It was then I realized I'd missed a turn somewhere. I spent some time looking down each direction just to make certain I wasn't missing a trail marker. Nope, I was off course. After wasting what felt like a good four or five minutes. I had made it back to where I had missed my turn. Expecting the course to follow some kind of trail. It became clear why I missed the turn in the first place. The trail flags went completely up the side of this very steep short hill. In Barkleyesque fashion right through the freakin underbrush.
Once I got myself back on track. Instead of panicking, I just kept my cool. I was running good and I knew my second loop would be ruined if I tried to get back what was lost too quickly. Really the goal was just to get back through the start/finish area with enough of a gap to be in and out of there before anybody else caught site of me. In the past I've had the tendency to linger at this one so I was completely focused on getting what I needed and getting back on course. It was starting to warm up quickly now by this point but I had two more miles or so to go before I could get back to my wife's aide station and sit for a minute while I took care of myself.
Coming into the 18 mile aide station. Greg Burger was waiting at the edge of the parking lot asking me what I needed ready to grab my bottles. I had Jess get me a fresh bandanna with ice. She handed me a gel she already had opened for me. I sat down in the chair. Slammed the gel and peeled off my wet shoes and socks. In less than a minute I had my brand spankin new Speedcrosses on. Fresh out of the box with dry socks to match. It's a huge boost on this course knowing that your shoes are dry and light with 14 miles to go. Greg had my bottles ready to go. I wiped the sweat and grime off with a towel. Grabbed a hat full of ice. Said some big thank yous and I was out. Two minutes flat. That was the fastest I'd ever did that much in that little amount of time. I'd practiced that a few times on a couple of my training runs but didn't expect it to go so smooth during an actual race.
Back out on the trail. 18 miles in the bank now and still feeling pretty damn good. I wanted this feeling to last all damn day but deep down I knew at some point. The wheels were going to eventually fall off. I still had a good bit of energy left and I wanted to make the most of it that I could. So the decision was made to make one more surge to gain a little extra ground on the rest of the field. The terrain between Jess and Greg's aide station and Hedgehog Hill is a bunch of little rollers. If I could keep a relaxed but consistent effort all the way to the bottom of Hedgehog. I might be able to have enough to run up the damn hill when I got there.
In what felt like no time at all there I was at the bottom staring up. I just gritted my teeth and said out loud. "YOU and ME." This time around there wasn't any big powerful strides from me. I had it dialed way back. Short choppy quick feet that must have resembled somebody trying to walk barefoot across hot coals. I wasn't exactly running but I wasn't exactly going backwards or stopping to stretch out a calf or a hammy either. Slowly but surely I made it to the top without losing a huge chunk of time. Over the top now I got a little break cruising down to the bottom of Pancake Hill. On the way down however is when I noticed the first signs of the 'ol transmission beginning to strip out on me. Just before I made the left onto Pancake. I felt a twinge in my left calf. I ignored it at first but halfway up the steady little climb I had to break down and really walk for the first time. Not because I wanted to but because I HAD too. If I could get to the top. I could suck it up on the downhill road section into the aide station at 20 something So I could take corrective action.
What a relief it was to get here. The ladies working the aide station were like Godsends. They revived me and brought me back from what would've been a big time meltdown. I had my bottles filled with ice and water. Then one of them asked If I wanted a pitcher of ice water poured over me. YES PLEASE!!! No sooner did they do that my heart wanted to jump straight out of my chest. That got the blood pumping again and pumping cold too. My core temp must have dropped 20 degrees. Instantly I felt like I did a couple of hours earlier. I grabbed some S-Caps for the cramps said thank you and kept moving.
Alright here we go man. Lets get this done. I had some runnable trail coming up and a little jaunt across another open field at the bottom of the spillway. As soon as I get that behind me. I'd look behind me for the first time. For two reasons. One, I wasn't sure where the hell everybody else was at and two. If I looked back and didn't see anybody. It would allow me a bit of a break on the climb up Fall Down Hill. Just into the treeline on the other side of the spillway. I looked through the trees back across the field. Fully expecting to see someone flying down the hill on the other side. I was relieved. Really relieved to not see anything but an empty field.
I wasn't sure how far ahead of everyone else I was. It was still way too early to start speculating. So I kept telling myself I was not more than four or five minutes at best. Which meant that for no reason do I walk unless it's to fight off a cramp. Up, up and away I went. Starting the climb of the "Col du Fall Down Hill" for the second time. This time it was all I could do to KEEP from falling down. I would run as long as I could then my calf would cramp. Back to running then my hamstring would start barking at me. I made it though.
Walking up that last little steep pitch into the aide station. I was getting real hungry but I couldn't put down any solid food. I was starting to bonk pretty hard. I forced down a banana and a few orange quarters. Filled my bottles with ice and kept moving. It was about 4 miles to the next stop and maybe I would be in the mood to eat something there. That was my new goal. I had a real easy bridal trail section to get through. Then a nice little downhill on the new boyscout route before somehow trying to find the strength to drag my ass back up to the road and down into aide station.
I was really running delirious now. I damn near missed the turn back towards the boyscout section and would've if it wasn't for a couple of runners in the 15 mile race coming back towards me. Ahh Shit! I got myself turned around and heading in the right direction. Down the road into the boyscout section. The run down was great the first time through. This time, like everything else on the second loop it had a completely different look and feel. The gloves were off and I wasn't having fun anymore. I was starting to worry a little at this point. Still cramping and still hungry. I tried to work with the cramps the best I could. The S-Caps I had taken a few miles back hadn't done anything for me. So I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the trusty old standby.