I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this race other than sore legs for a few days afterwards and in regards to that, the race didn't disappoint. Other than finishing I was thinking about beating my last year's time but to do that would have meant more than two training runs on this course (or any other trails for that matter). Knowing that this was going to be an endurance run only, and not a race, took any pressure off I was feeling. Plus there was a LOT of talent out there racing today, probably the most I've seen at any race. The one person I was disappointed who wasn't running was Gary Robbins. He decided to recover a bit more from the Dirty Duo that he won a couple weeks ago and save himself for Diez Vista in April.
A beautiful, sunny, cold morning (the total opposite of last year) greeted the runners and at 8am we were off. I didn't even try and go to the front or keep anyone in sight for this one. I figured I was about thirty people back for the first flat six miles. I know last year on the first big climb I maxed out for too long and went too hard. This year I took more walk breaks to try and not kill the legs too early. I said to myself that when it stopped being fun I would walk. Not that I didn't push myself a bit, though.
There were no drop bags this year due to some road washouts so I carried two full bottles of CarboPro and a half bottle of CarboPro 1200. It worked out nicely that I only had to fill up both bottles once at aid station #3 which was at the top of a long climb up Cleator Road. Then it was a nice comfortable pace with two other runners across the ridge. I pulled ahead of these two on the way to Lost Lake which is usually pretty muddy on a dry year, and this year it was a total mud pit for a couple miles. It proved pointless to even try and dodge these areas and it took more energy anyways. Before the top of this section there was a hiker coming down the hill who told me I was in 20th. Arrg! I hate knowing where I am in a race unless I'm REALLY close to the end.
On the long downhill towards the beginning of the Chinscraper I took it easy because I could feel my IT bands protesting the unpracticed decent. Luckily I had enough in my bottles I didn't need to fill up again until the top of this next climb up Chinscraper because it's hard enough without a few extra pounds of water. There was an appropriate sign halfway up this climb that read, "Is Chinscraper getting longer and steeper, or am I just getting older and fatter?". Even in my anaerobic state I had to chuckle at that one because it felt true on both fronts.
I filled up one water bottle at the top of this last hard climb then "took off" (in my slow way) down to the last aid station to the final stretch of 6 long, long miles. On the other two occasions I've done this race I basically shuffled my way from here to the finish, having used up everything I had on the other sections of the course. This year as I was pounding my way through the ups and downs I told myself I wanted to save a little bit and try and maintain a more honourable pace along this stretch. I was planning to keep my heart rate between 155 and 160 which normally is around 80% of my max. I started this section and right away got the HR to 155, feeling good. I noticed also there were two guys off in the distance and I had to hold back instead of trying to catch them right away - 6 miles is a long way at this point in the race. Keeping in my zones I steadily moved up on these two guys but it took a while. As I got closer I noticed that one of them had on white socks and white running shoes. That in itself isn't unusual. What was strange was that the shoes and socks and even his legs were clean. After all that mud we went through everyone was at least a little covered. Then I saw he didn't have a timing chip on his ankle. I finally put two and two together when I saw him pass a water bottle to the other runner then get it passed back to him. This guy was pacing the other runner. I won't tell you what I thought about that (on a frickin' 50k course even!!) but it gave me more motivation to catch and pass them.
I was pretty much on my own through the last little wooded area and on to the last flat gravel section. I saw Mike Palichuk in the distance and felt bad passing him with a mile to go. Could have been worse like me last year getting passed in the last half kilometer to go from 4th to 5th. I finished in 4:33, 18 minutes slower than last year but feeling better than any other time I've done this race. Mission accomplished in regards to keeping it a training run and finishing strong for a change. The legs are still a bit sore though.