Saturday morning, 4:22 AM I awake in confusion from a very back loaded night of sleep. Before 1:00 AM I didn't sleep at all, but eventually I fell into such a deep sleep that at 4:22 it took me several seconds to figure out where I was and what that noise (my alarm) was. Once I reacquainted myself with reality my first thought was that I should just go back to sleep and skip the race. Finally though I snapped out of it and crawled out of my sleeping bag.
20 minutes later I found myself jogging the half mile from my campsite to the race start.
10 minutes later we were off and running.
It quickly occurred to me that I didn't really know who any of these guys were. The front runners quickly grouped into a pack of about 15 guys, but it was dark and I had, to my knowledge, only ever raced against one of these guys (Hal Koerner at Miwok earlier this year). I also knew which one Kyle Skaggs was, but beyond that I had no idea. What I did know was that I was blessed that day with some decent uphill spring in the legs. It's funny with uphill running. Some days it just doesn't feel like you're ever going uphill and other days it feels like you're going uphill the entire time. Lucky for me Saturday felt like it was going to be one of those good uphill days.
Eventually our group consisted of 13 and I found myself pulling easily to the front of the field on the climbs and falling back on the downhills. On the switchback climb from Muir Beach (mile 13) daylight broke and we were finally able to turn off our headlamps as we formed a single file line on the narrow trail to climb up toward Pantoll, with me in the front. In places these switchbacks were so short and tight that I could look to my side and see a continuous snake of the other 12 guys winding down around two full switchbacks. Still I was feeling very comfortable climbing and even considered for a bit making a move to try to shake the field up a bit. I wanted someone to go with me. I had no interest in breaking away by myself that early on. Kyle was running just behind me through this stretch but didn't seem very intent on trying to pull away from the others so I decided to just hang tight. Eventually the trail opened up and Matt Carpenter, Shiloh Mielke, and I pulled a bit ahead of the pack as we rolled into Pantoll (mile 18).
I had some friends lined up as a tentative crew but I had left a drop bag at Pantoll in case they weren't there. I didn't see my crew so I fumbled through my drop bag to get a second Gel flask and a bottle of Perpetuem, and drop off my headlamp, arm warmers, and earband. By the time I rolled out of there (perhaps 90 seconds later) I was behind the two runners who had rolled in the same time as me, as well as 3 or 4 others who didn't waste as much time at the aid station. For a few minutes I was a bit frustrated that my lack of organization and planning had just cost me precious time at that stage of the race, but quickly I remembered that in the large picture it almost certainly didn't matter and that I just needed to focus ahead of me, and that the race was really just getting started.
By the time we all rolled through Stinson Beach Aid Station (mile 21) we were grouped back together in a tight group of at least 7 or 8. Shiloh was a bit out ahead, but I felt a lot more comfortable being in a chase group with Kyle and Matt than being the guy out in front being chased. By the top of the climb it was once again Shiloh, Matt, and I running stride for stride with each other. Kyle and Uli were not far behind.
This was the point when Matt made his move. At about mile 25 he just took off and I kind of knew that I shouldn't go with him, or I would pay dearly later on. It was also right around this point that Shiloh pulled up and started walking, shortly after he had finished telling me that this was his first ultra ever! I guess he doesn't have the endurance mentality totally figured out just yet, but certainly a name to keep on the radar in the future.
By the mile 26 turn around Matt had about a one minute lead on me and UliStiedl was about a minute behind me and Kyle Skaggs and TsuyoshiKaburaki, from Japan, were maybe 2 minutes behind me.
I very much liked the position I was in but I also knew that there was still plenty of time for things to change drastically. And almost right away they did. I held on to second place all the way through mile 30, but somewhere around there things started to go quickly downhill for me. My quads were really starting to ache and for only the second time ever during a race I was getting muscle cramps in my legs (mostly in my hamstrings). Uli passed by me right at mile 30; Tsuyoshi at about mile 32; and Kyle at about 37. I was particularly struggling when Kyle passed me.