After all the planning, and preparation I couldn't believe I was going to let myself be late to the race. It was just an easy 3 miles from the hotel to the start but I had let time get away from me and now I had 15 minutes to get to the car and get to there. It's a good thing I had everything ready. Headed out in the dark and cold (30F) and drove down to the starting area and parked the car with 5 minutes to go. A brisk walk and I was at the line with 1.5 minutes to spare. Nothing like cutting it close for no reason other than I wanted to minimize my time standing around in the cold wind.
We headed out into the darkness and since the 1st quarter mile was uphill I just began walking and by the time I reached the main road almost everyone was in front of me. Although it was dark I didn't need my light and by the first mile I had adjusted to the darkness. That mile was 10:21 even with the uphill walking start and now we were running into about a 10mph headwind. The entire course is rolling with various grades from 1 to 8 percent, some 1/4 mile and some climbs a mile or longer. This first section was about equal up and down and I passed mile 5 in 49:07. I was very happy with that because it felt very easy and I wasn't pushing the pace and the last half mile was a pretty stiff climb.
After touring the course the day before and knowing that it has twice as much elevation climbing as Boogie and a little more than Umstead, I was wishing I had spent more time on the Umstead hills instead of the greenway. But so far I was feeling good with the climbing but with 45 miles to go a lot can change. About this time the sun was coming up behind the mountains behind me. I was still running in the shadows but the high peaks in the distance in front were bathed in golden light making for an awe inspiring view. What a gorgeous place to be !
At mile 7, the first rays of the sun shown on my back and by now I was warmed up and comfortable and it seemed the wind had died down to about a 5 mph breeze and would not be an issue for awhile. I continued with the easy pace and came by mile 10 in 1:38:11, 47:04 for that 5 mile segment. This was awesome! For the first time I was running with my phone so when I came to a walking spot which came soon after mile 10 with a long steep climb out of a river valley, I texted Amy and Jenn so they could track me and post updates for my friends and family on facebook. It was really nice to be able to keep up with them that way and I loved getting their encouraging text back. As beautiful as the desert scenery was, it was very lonely out there. The race had a very small field and we were very spread out I never had anyone to talk to on the course. but for a couple of brief moments.
I passed the half marathon in 2:10 and texted that to the Angels as I climbed the hill just past that point. Just as I started running down the other side Amy called ! I almost didn't answer but I did and said Hey I'm running ! The next mile was a gradual downhill and I wanted to make time because I knew some serious climbing was coming up. We talked briefly while I ran and she was so supportive but I had to go and get down to business. The split at mile 15 was 2:30:45. The 5 mile split was a 52:34 ! And that included an 8:47 mile !
By now I was having visions of a sub 9 hour actually being a possibility and not just a fantasy but I also knew I had a very long way to go and the toughest parts were coming. The next 5 miles were almost all uphill but it was a very gradual climb and quite runnable so I ran all but a few short sections when the grade would tick up a bit. Still ,when I hit mile 20 I was shocked to see that I had run that 5 mile section in 48:53 ! 3:19:38
I thought that was going to be the high point of the course but I was wrong ! The next two miles continued climbing but at a much steeper grade and I was forced to take more and longer walk breaks but I was still feeling very good. Finally I topped out at 22 but the next 3 to the turnaround were a series of steep rollers similar to going up and down cemetary in Umstead over and over again. I was now counting the runners coming back toward me from the turn and by the time I got there I was in 11th place overall. My time for that 5 mile split was 57:22, (4:17:16) the slowest by far and the first one that was slower than the pace need for sub 9. In and out of the aid station quickly as always and was now looking forward to some easier running for awhile.
But first I had to get through the steep rollers. The marathon wasn't marked but with my average up to that point I was about 4:30. I made it through the rollers and was looking forward now to mostly 7 miles of downhill with only a few short upgrades the wind had picked back uo to around 10 mph and was mostly in our faces now. I was definitely beginning to feel the effort and I knew my pace was slowing down. I doubted I would make up any of the time lost over that past 8 miles but hopefully I could at least maintain. I was able to do that and in the meantime enjoy the gorgeous desert views around me. I was able to pick up the pace a little and did that 5 miles in 54:38 passing 30 miles in 5:11:17.
The next 5 was mostly a slight downhill but I still took a few walking breaks so I wouldn't wear myself down. I had gone through the 50k in about 5:23, slightly faster than I ran at Derby. Amazing since this course has 3 times the climbing of derby and I was feeling a lot better ! I had really hoped to run this section a little faster but at mile 35, my 5 mile split was a 53:28 (total 6:04:35) which was the fastest since mile 20 and I was still on pace overall to come close to cracking 9 hours.
I was now heading into probably the toughest 5 miles of the day but my spirits were high I was having fun and loving life. My Angels and I had been in contact every 5 miles and at this point a pr was in the bag unless something serious happened. Shortly after I did hit a little low energy spot and the steep long hills over the next few miles were working on me. I tried running as well as I could on the downs but my stride was shorter now and I could feel myself slowing down. Mile 40 comes just as I began a long climb back up from the river valley and I texted the Angels my time and said "tough 5 miles" My split for that 5 was a very slow 1:03:32 (7:08:08). I figured at this point my fantasy of sub 9 was gone but I still was feeling ok and I had a huge pr in the bag.
Just before I finally reached the top of the climb and mile 40.5, Amy called again to tell me how happy she was and proud for me. I told her I now estimated my finishing time would be about 9:10 at the pace I was moving unless the last 9 were a lot easier than I remembered. We hung up and I looked around as I topped the hill. I noticed that the lake was a pretty good ways below so It had to be predominately downhill but I also knew there were several more hills in the way. so, I thought, ok you have a pr in the bag and could almost walk it in but you came here to go for a big one so just go for it. and that's what I did. I took off running as fast as my feet would go without going into oxygen debt. When I got to an uphill I was still able to do some decent running and when I did take a walk beak it was only for about 30 seconds and then I would run some more. Came into the 45 mile aid station with a 5 mile split of 53:56, 10 minutes faster than the last 5 and that included that nearly half mile climb from the river.(8:02:04 total) There was an 8:50 mile from 44 to 45 !
I texted the time to the Angels and said I was going for it ! I flew down the next hill and then I had one more steep half mile hill to go. I alternated power walking and running and got that one behind me. Soon after I could see the finish area nearly 4 miles away. Normally this would be discouraging but today it was a beautiful sight. I knew I had the sub 9 now if I just kept moving. There were no more real hills ahead, just a couple of short upgrades so I was able to run most of the way including a couple of more at 9mp. I hit the final downhill 1/4 mile and nearly sprinted to the finish in 8:55:03, a huge pr by an hour and 2 minutes ! that last 5 mile split was 52:58.
I knew my training had been going very well but after my pre- race tour of the course and knowing how much harder it was than some of my other 50;s I would have been pleased just to get a pr by a few minutes so as you can imagine I am overwhelmed with how well this race went for me. My results in the past have shown that I do my best ultra's when I am training for a fast marathon but at my age I never imagined I could shatter my pr like this. I have to give a lot of credit to my Angels and especially Karla and Amy. Ever since I barely qualified for Boston after intense training in 2010 and then my poor performance there in 2011, I had given up on ever running any faster. I had been content to run easy pace nearly all the time with rare occasional faster paced runs. But then after Umstead this April , Amy stated that she wanted to qualify for Boston. It just happens that our times needed are the same so I decided to help her get there and in turn it has given me the motivation to get back into some serious hard running again.
I have really enjoyed the training with her, the hill repeats, the intervals and long repeats and now we move into long tempo and marathon pace stuff. So many times over the summer and into the Fall when I would run with Karla, thinking it was going to be an easy day, she has made me work a lot harder than I would have on my own. The result has been that my average daily pace is much faster than it has been in years and it feels easy and good doing it. My intervals times with Amy are faster than they were several years ago so I am obviously in great shape. I have also been able to run consistently higher daily mileage for the past 3 years now with the past two being my biggest years ever so I guess I can expect to keep running well for awhile longer.
For those that care about such things my nutrition plan for this race was very simple. I ran with one 20oz water bottle, I drank a small cup of Heed at each aid station and I took one gel every 5 miles. that is all the calories I took in other than one handful of caramel popcorn at mile 15 and a small cup of coke at each of the last 4 aid stations. It seemed to work because my stomach stayed happy and the energy level was pretty consistent the whole way.