At the race start I wasn't very nervous. The other races didn't seem nervous either, which is a stark contrast with the start of an Ironman where there's a mostly unspoken but palpable nervous energy. The run has a "we're in this together" feel. Instead of starting with 15 minutes of bumping and at times overt hitting to establish position like the start of an IM swim, the run starts with everyone chatting and settling into groups. With my run/walk approach, I spent the first hour -- which was a long, gradual uphill -- passing people during my 5 minute jogs and then being re-passed by the same people during my 1 minute walks. I kept the effort very easy during the jogs; my breathing pattern was the same as if I were just walking. A few other runners, however, ran by breathing so loud and harsh that it was as if they thought they were running a 5K.
|And we're off!|
|Coming into the first aid station. Just 41 miles to go.|
|The view near the second aid station. The course climbs from near the low-point in this photo.|
|The sole quarter mile of pavement approaching the second aid station.|
|Hurting as I jog into the third aid station.|
Leaving the third aid station, my focus was solely on reaching the turn around. Yet an odd thing happened as I neared the turnaround: I started to feel more energetic. Still tired and sore, but optimistic that I could finish the race. At the aid station I took just a bottle of water and four Fig Newtons and began a long climb back to 12,000 feet (my third such climb at this point in the race). I had another low moment when as I hiked up the climb I had to stop walking, stand still, and re-group. The low was fleeting, and by the time reached a short descent on the way back to the third aid station (after the turnaround I'm back tracking through the aid stations: third --> second --> first --> finish line) I was flying. I noticed a mile go by in 6:40, this nearly 30 miles into the race.
|Approaching aid station three on the way back.|
Leaving the third aid station for the second time, I had a long downhill and made up a lot of ground on those ahead of me. While my uphill running muscles were shot, I could still move quick on the descents. I kept my focus on making it to the next aid station, forgetting about the finish line. Mentally I was doing very well, all things considered. The second aid station came quick, and I rested a few minutes there to take in a lot of food knowing I had one final long climb remaining.
|Entering the second aid station on the way back, and just about to walk back up to 12,000".|
I hoped that the food would give me a burst of energy and allow me to run at least half the last climb. Yet this energy burst never came, and I slogged slowly uphill running only for the brief stretches where the road leveled out. As the climb progressed I was passed by several fast walkers, but just one runner. The runner, as an aside, had run 60 miles of the Hardrock 100 the day before! (If you're not familiar with Hardwork, watch this and read this.) I stayed positive knowing that I was nearly done with the last sustained climb; from the top to the finish line was mostly downhill.
|Running downhill on the approach to the first aid station. Just 7 miles left!|
Right as the gravel road on which we climbed turned into an even steeper jeep road, the course turns back downhill. I made the turn, walked a few moments, and then began my jog. I tested out my descending legs and they were strong. I ran downhill at a good speed, perhaps 7:00/mile. Just keep this up for the final 9 downhill miles, I told myself. Two miles later I stopped for a final snack refresh at the first aid station, dropping off my shirt, taking my iPod, and leaving with a V8/water mix and half a Snickers bar. I left the aid station running fast and strong.
While each small hill on the way to the finish line offered a walking break, I continued at a strong pace whenever the course tilted downward for a few more miles. Eventually, though, the course flattens a bit. This was good because it signaled that I was almost done, but bad because I had no strength to run when the terrain was just slightly downhill. With three miles to go, I was beat. I slowed to a walk, wishing the finish line were closer. Even when walking, my breathing was very quick and shallow. Dust and a long day of deep breathing left me feeling as if I had asthma.
|100 yards to the finish! Stacey: "You sure are pale."|
Because I can't get enough Bon Iver: