Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hellgate 2010 - WWHD

Robert Wehner's race report...

WWHD?  What Would Helen Do!  These four words became my mantra later in the day at Hellgate, and helped me get my mojo back.

Last year I was having a good race, but was starting to struggle in the second to last section (the infamous “forever” section).  Helen Lavin popped up behind me at that point, took the lead, and helped pull me through.  She was running very strong, including some of the uphills, and eventually pulled away, going on to win the women’s division.

Before the start this year I was joking with Helen about when she was going to catch me this time.  She laughed and indicated that she wasn’t expecting to do as well this year, that she would be further behind me.  My training had gone well, and I had hopes of bettering my time from last year, which was a PR for me on this course.

For the first half of the race everything seemed to be going well.  I was a little behind my splits from last year, but wasn’t worried.  Halfway between AS 5 & 6, just as daylight was beginning to filter in, things started to go down hill though.  I’m still not sure why, but I was in a funk, and my paced slowed quite a bit.  I didn’t feel like eating anything at AS 6, and just passed through it to start the hardest section of the course.

Being on a long, tough section didn’t help my spirits any, and so the funk just got deeper. I started to throw my own little pity party (it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to), questioning everything about myself as a runner.  Maybe I’m no good at ultras, why am I doing them, blah, blah, blah.

Approaching AS 7 helped a little, as the toughest part of the course was done.  Getting some food down there also seemed to help, and so I started the long climb out of that AS to reach the zig-zag part of the course.  This section cuts along the side of the mountains, curving in and out (over and over and over again) with some up and down.  If you can get yourself moving, it’s possible to get in a good rhythm and make some time up here.

On the big climb up to AS 8, Chris, who was crewing for Helen was walking down, and he indicated that Helen was close by.  Sure enough, as I neared the top of the climb, there was Helen just 50 yards behind me.  After some good natured jawing, I yelled down to her that she was going to have to run the rest of this hill if she was going to catch me, and I took off running it in to AS 8.

There is a long, rough downhill after this AS until you hit the “forever” section, and I was able to let gravity do it’s job here.  After turning back onto the single-track trail, I started thinking about how to get through this section.  I thought about how Helen attacked it last year, even though she was hurting.  I thought about how Helen wasn’t as prepared this year, but she was still working hard (and was the lead female runner!).  If she was struggling, she didn’t let it show.  Helen would just smile and keep laughing with that lovely Celtic lilt in her voice.

And so the mantra took shape: WWHD!  Every obstacle in this section, every rock, root, or hill was an opportunity to ask what would Helen do here.  She would run this hill, she would push this section, she would attack the trail.  I completed this section faster than ever before, and approached AS 9 feeling like the runner I wanted to be.

From AS 9 to the finish is simple: 3 miles up, then 3.5 miles down; grind it all the way up, and then hold on to your undies going down.  As I passed the 1-mile to go mark, another runner appeared ahead of me.  As I got closer, I saw it was David Ruttum, a friend and former Wisconsinite (and winner of this years Old Dominion 100).  So we fell in together and covered the last half-mile to the finish line, crossing in 13:48:28.  This was a little slower than last year, but covering the last third of the course faster than ever before made for a sweet finish.  Thanks Helen, and congrats on another win!

Bonus Feature
A staple of David Horton’s races is the “Best Blood” award.  Over the years he’s seen a lot of blood, but this years HG100 had the distinction of having the “Best Blood Ever”.  Dr. George Wortley put together a video of the race, and you can see the award winner near the end of his clip:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lost and Found - Pine Mt. 40 mile...

Marty Kanter-Cronin's Race Report...

Lost: My equilibrium, my car keys, and about 3 hours sleep. I have just awoken at 3:30 AM, remembering that I have a 2 hour drive from Atlanta to Pine Mountain GA in 30 minutes, so I can have the pleasure of running 40 miles. Ugh.

Found: Coffee and almond butter toast! And my car keys. Hit the road jack with a GPS and a rental car. At this time of morning the 6-lane highway is mine: Zoom Zoom!

Lost: Well, the GPS says the race is….right……. here….. Hmmm…

Found: FD Roosevelt State Park. The race that is. GPS’ are never perfect. Shut up GPS lady! I found it myself.

Lost: my ability to change in a back seat. I haven’t been that twisted and half dressed in a car since I was 16 on prom night. Compact car? Bad Idea. After that move I could join the circus as a contortionist. Yes, that was my left hand and right foot sticking out of the window.

Found: The start line, 7 AM. Lets get this party started! Its about 39 degrees, and slight overcast. The temp will rise only to about 45 today, and the wind is blowing in some of the open sections. Nothing too extreme, really nice running weather.

Lost: My passing ability. We are in the opening section, a flat 3 mile pine needle covered forest and I should take advantage here to pass a few slower people. I don’t. It’s a long day, no rush.

Found: The best view I have ever seen in a race. We are climbing a mountain switch back (one of many), elevation goes from 500 to 1300 ft. To my left is a rock wall, to my right is, well, nothing. Nothing but an emergency helicopter ride and major surgery if I step 6 inches THAT way. The sun is coming up, and I can see for miles and miles. We crest and run on the rocks, BIG rocks, like boulders. Hop hop hop hop hippity hop. AS1 comes up at 5.9 miles, and we are climbing climbing again. I torch the up hills; they are all gradual, but long. PEOPLE! These aren’t hills! They’re bunnies!

Lost: Left behind a whole bunch of runners at AS1. Running on more rocks, this time glacial trail sized. The well drained trail was leaf covered, but recent rains have matted them down. Most of the roots and rocks are visible, and sporadic enough to skip around. Dance monkey, dance! The trail was in such good shape later the course records would be shattered.

Found: The string in my left leg. Due to Marcel’s recommendation, I foam rollered the left leg ITB issue and it was good to go. Feeling good good.

Lost: the string in my RIGHT leg, suddenly. Ugh. I had done some work on both, but probably not enough. My right ITB was barking in my hip and knee starting at 10 miles just after AS2. From this point, I would once again run UP and walk DOWN. Crap. Running up and walking down is hardly a trade off. It’s a losing fight with gravity’s angels. I thought for a while if I should continue. 30 miles more to go like this?

Lost, then Found: my resolve to never quit. I have never DNF’d a race, and I didn’t want to start with the one that would set my new distance PR. Suck it up buttercup, your ITB won’t break. Running now on rolling forest trails with jutting granite rocks in places pine needles in others. Sharp as a razor, and soft as a prayer.

Found: The leaders. Coming back at me. This race is an out and back, with two loops in the middle. Like eyeglasses; we take the upper portion of the lenses on the way out, and the lower portion on the way back. The first three runners are headed back, and the winner would almost break 6 hours. Not quite, and a testament to the toughness of this course; the winner had 50 milers under his belt in 6:30. AS3 comes up.

Found: Water. Miles 21 to 23. A breath taking valley, with streams and water falls: Cascade Falls, Slippery Rock Falls, Big Rock Falls, and more. We cross fast running creeks and streams 13 times in 2 miles, periodically climbing up the mountain and just as quickly dropping back down in the valley. The most beautiful trail section I have ever run, I take nearly a full hour plus some minutes to complete a rugged 2.5 miles. Some of this trail section is also close to bush whacking. I have to duck my head in places to avoid the vegetation.

Found some more: Weezy. I am running with this guy, and he looks so familiar. I ask him a couple questions before finding out he is this guy: . Someone I had read about just a week ago. Small world. Weezy just finished Pinhoti, almost at the same time Kevin G finished. We run, and talk. We hit AS5 and this guy has GRILLED CHEESE! On a real GRILL! I tell him I am leaving him in my will. Seriously.

Lost: Weezy. It was fun running with him, but he was doing the smart thing and walking uphill and running down. We would yo-yo for a while, he catches and passes me down, I catch and pass him uphill. At some point, we must have had more up than down.

Found: My legs. I run from mile 25 to mile 33, and I am in good shape. A little behind schedule, now I want to finish in under 9 hours. I reach mile 28, at 6:30 figuring 2.5 hours for 12 miles should be easy. Right?

Really Lost: Mile 34. Sooner or later if you run far enough, or long enough you will lose your bearings and the will to go on. I’ve never run this far, and definitely never for this long (7.5 hours). All I want to do right at this moment is to stop. For the earth to open up and swallow me whole. Better still I want to be somewhere warm, like the finish line where there is food and a warm fire. I have seen this part of the course before, it’s the return portion of that stunning opening view. It takes me an hour and a half to cover 3 miles. Ugh. All I want to do right now is stay on the trail. Hello, Emergency services… Yes? I’ve fallen off the mountain and I can’t get up. Send the helicopter.

Found: The LAST aid station, at mile 37. I ask the nice lady what time it is, since I didn’t wear a watch today, on purpose. She says: “3:57”. 2.5 hours for the last 9 miles. Now, I have a flat pine covered 3 miles of trail to go, and 3 minutes to do it in to break 9 hours. Now I really need the helicopter.

Lost: Two places. I suck it up run run run hard picking up each wooden leg of shredded kindling step on toes of lead buck shots from a thirty aught six and no I ain’t walking no more and screw you guys who just passed me I don’t give a crap I catch you I’ll kick you in the shins dang it frikin’ hurts. (Cuss words have been modified to a PG rating.) Ran the last 3 miles in 26 minutes. UGH.

Found Found Found: The finish line, 72 out of 131. 40 miles, my new PR for distance. A new total running time, 9:23, almost 3 hours longer than any other.

Lost: my goodie bag in the rental car! I left it behind! Gack! Oh well, all I really wanted from that was the Moon Pie anyway.

Found: a real gem of a race.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Craig Swartwout's T-Bunk 200 Race Report...

We Ran 200 miles! 

202.18 miles, 27,000 feet of elevation change, 58 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. How does somebody that’s 52 years old do that? They don’t!

As Tom (Bunk) and I where heading down to the Nordic loop we were talking about every imaginable detail. What we needed. What we forgot. Who was gonna do what? But inside I was having a different conversation, “What was I thinking… 200 miles? What’s gonna keep me going? How am I gonna do this?”

I started my Garmin and ran off into the woods, leaving Tom, Robert (Wehner) and Jim (Blanchard) to get things set up while I ran the first loop. After about a quarter mile I was feeling overheated and noticed I still had my warm up pants on. I’d been so jacked up I’d forgotten to take ‘em off. “Oh well. If this is the worst problem I have”, I thought. “I’ll be in good shape.”

About 5 miles into that first loop my phone rang. “Are you done yet?” the caller mocked. It was Kevin Grabowski. If you know Kevin… you know that’s love. It made me laugh, but it also made me think about how many people were out there pulling for me. “I hope I don’t let ‘em down”, I thought.

As I look back, I think a defense mechanism kicked in. “Maybe”, I thought. “If everything’s going bad right from the start… it won’t be so bad if I don’t succeed.”

Poor Robert suffered the consequences of this subconscious malady for the next three loops. He got to listen to me whine, and I was drunk on whining. I whined about not feeling good, wanting to be left alone, how the weather had turned cold, how this hurt and that didn’t feel right. I whined through almost fifty miles before I finally decided I better put on some tunes and run by myself.

I sang with “Cheap Trick” at the top of my lungs trying to drive out the demons. When along came Christine (Crawford): bad timing, right person. I just wasn’t in the mood for company but Christine is probably one of the few people you can say that to, and she gets it. Thanks Christine! You’re a sweetheart for understanding.

I bellowed my way through a couple more loops until Todd (Egnarski) showed up.  I don’t remember much about running with Todd, but as he says, “What’s said on the trails, stays on the trails.” So I guess it’s appropriate that I can’t remember… except for that story about Cobbie and the Butterfingers and possibly a rules violation at the LFM… but you should ask Cobbie about that!

Why is Todd the leader of the LPTR? Well, because he’s the nicest guy in the group! He would’ve stayed with me ‘til hell froze over, but he didn’t want to be in the way. So when Parker showed up to crew the night shift, he bowed out.

Parker (Rios)… I want you to know something. All my life I’ve hated lawyers (it’s a long story). Then I spent some time with Timo (Yanachek), Larry (Hall) and you and I have to say… lawyers can be nice people!

Parker had to wait at the Nordic shelter as I finished a loop, and he must have gotten the story from Tom about my mother being concerned that I would be eaten by coyotes at night. During our loops that evening, the coyotes were particularly active and Parker would admonish me to “Keep up so the coyotes don’t eat you.” Coincidentally, it sounded like they actually hunted down a meal that evening.

What amazed me the most about running with Parker was he kept thanking me, “Because I was helping him train for Arrowhead”. Are you serious… the guys doing me a favor and thanking me! Who am I to have friends like this!

Unfortunately, during my first loop with Parker, I took a bad step on a rock. I didn’t know what the injury was, but I knew it wasn’t good! Each time my right foot hit the ground and again when I pushed off, I wondered, “How am I gonna keep going?” I had whined so much to my crew earlier, that it was like “chicken little and the sky is falling”. They gave me that “ya right” look and “encouraged” me to keep going.

What gets you through times like that? The group of friends and family that believe in you. The people that give up three days of their lives to help. They do it without even blinking an eye! They do it because they believe you can do it. “It’s your crew that gets you through”.

I kept thinking to myself, “You can’t let ‘em down”, but I knew at some point I wouldn’t be able to continue. As Robert and I hit the one-mile marker on a loop Friday morning, I had a thought. “Hey Robert. Give Tom a call and see if he’s got Dr. John’s number? If he does, have him ask John if he can come out and take a look at my foot.”

Long story short… Dr. John arrived as soon as he was done with his last patient. An exam revealed a dislocated meta-something-or-other in my foot. He put the bone back in place, did a quick acupuncture treatment to relive the pain and I was back on the trail. Who am I to have friends like this!

I left the shelter on that next loop with Deb (Vomhof) and Ron Bero. Deb is one of those people that lights up a room and fills your soul with hope. And Ron… well if you’ve never run with Ron at night it’s hard to explain. If you have you just laugh at the thought. The man carries about 25 flashlights but can’t get any of them to work! I can’t believe some of the wonderful combinations that I was being given… exactly what I needed when I needed it.

Deb and Ron got me through the next two loops and Robert pitched in another unplanned loop until Parker arrived for his second night shift. I have no words to adequately describe Robert. I have seen him demonstrate incredible compassion as a race director, friend and crewmember. If you don’t know this about Robert, then you don’t know Robert! He ended up putting in 110 miles over the three days!

I knew that second night was going to be tough. The forecast was for temperatures around 20 degrees with a wind chill in the teens. The frost was forming on the grass, sparkling in my headlight and making it particularly difficult to focus. Fortunately, Parker was in front. I put my light on his back and trusted he would lead the way.

It was a strange night. No moon, very dark, eyes staring back from the woods and things lurking just outside of our flashlight beams. At one point something very large sloshed through a pond. Parker remarked that, “It was heading in the other direction.” I didn’t remind him that the trail was going to take us to the other side of the pond shortly. But heading up that trail on the far side of the pond, Parker did a “face plant” and the conversation quickly changed.

“How many times have you fallen so far”, he inquired. I thought about this for a few moments and contemplated the “running gods” reaction based on my reply. “I’m not answering that question.” I responded.

“So you haven’t fallen?” he asked. “I’m not answering that question.” I replied and we left it at that.

“It’s your crew that gets you through”, but as I headed out for that last cold loop on the second night I cursed their names. Tom, Robert and Mitch were sleeping in that warm comfortable shelter and I was out on that cold dark trail!

Sometimes, what get’s you through is a little bit of loathing. If you have a good crew they understand that. They told me several weeks later they felt bad making me go back out for that loop and I believe them but I cursed their names just the same.

“I’m gonna throw that Robert off the bed when I finish this loop. Yes I am. I’m gonna take as long a nap as I want and I don’t care what anyone says!” I told Parker as we were finishing that last night loop.

Turned out I didn’t need that long of a nap. The Saturday morning TP runners started showing up before seven o’clock and as the sun came up I was up and got ready to go. Robert did another loop with me just to make sure all my parts were still in working order. By the time we finished that loop there were only three more to go. 

The sun had started to warm things up and the dynamic trio had arrived. Deb, Cobbie and Kathryn (Dunn)… are you serious! Can you imagine a more eclectic combination? There’s Kathryn “I can do the farmer nose blow and make it look dainty”. Deb “The nicest woman on the planet unless you’re racing her to the finish in the last 100 meters”. And Cobbie “I’m sorry, he’s just freakin nuts!” It was just what the doctor ordered and I laughed my way to two loops to go.

I think the beginning of that second to the last loop was my lowest point.  I was so close but not quite on the home stretch. As Cobbie and I reached the one-mile marker we passed four guys hiking and smoking a joint. “Hey maybe that would help” he suggested. I contemplated it. “No”, I thought. “I’m having a hard enough time figuring out where I’m going.

“What’ve you got in that backpack?” I asked. After a lengthy conversation we determined the only thing of value he had was a piece of gum. Great big huge back pack… tiny little piece of gum! Didn’t even have toilet paper in there. What good is he… good thing Robert came along with some supplies or I’d have been wiping my butt with Cobbie’s backpack!

Funny thing happened about four miles into that loop. I discovered the faster I ran the more Cobbie complained. This became a wonderful feedback mechanism that provided me with energy. Pretty soon I was running the hills and trying to beat Cobbie into the dust. Who am I to have friends like this?

As we were finishing that loop, Robert was explaining that they (the crew) had determined I didn’t need to do a full final loop to reach 200 miles. I could avoid the toughest part of the course by doing an out and back instead of a loop. Well, at that time I was running the toughest part and it certainly sounded like a good idea to not have to do it again, so I told him “Yes, let’s do that” and Robert went ahead to put that plan in motion. In the meantime, Deb had rejoined Cobbie and I to finish that loop.

As we came into the area by the shelter Tom was standing there waiting for us.
He politely asked Cobbie and Deb if they would give us a few moments and I knew I was gonna get the talk. I knew exactly what he was going to say and I needed to hear him say it.

“Here’s the thing”, he said. “What’d you come here to do? Did you come here to run 200 miles, or did you come here to do 22 loops? Because ya know, when you get up tomorrow morning, the worst thing in the world would be if you felt like you didn’t finish what you started… what you came here to do. Just think about that for a minute… because ya know… 22 loops… that would be special!”

I knew he was right. The name I’d come up with for this run was the tBunk 200+ because I knew if I did 22 loops it would be more than 200 miles. And, I had named it in honor of him. “You’re right.” I said about ten times as I made a quick stop to refuel and headed back out for the last loop.

Tom said he would meet me at Tamarac with warm clothes and a headlamp just-in-case I was going so slow that it would be getting dark. But I was flying… burning up miles like I hadn’t since the first day. Unfortunately I was also cramping up because I was getting real low on electrolytes. I had forgotten to replenish my supply for the last couple of loops and now I was paying the price.

I started to wonder if I could make it this far and still fail. Things were getting pretty weird. I had noticed several loops back I’d developed a couple of strange ticks… one physical and one mental. I was flicking my right thumb and index finger together, almost like snapping my fingers but with the wrong digits. And I had this line in my head from a Cheap Trick song “Dream Police” that just kept repeating… “The men inside my brain, are driving me insane”…  over and over and over again.

But I also had this beautiful crescendo of stories that had played out over the last few days. There were all these people that had come out to run with me. They told me how inspired they were by what I was doing. There was some mountain biker that I’d never met that stopped by each day to see how I was doing and told the crew what an inspiration I was. There was Tom, Robert and Mitch that had given up three days of their lives to help me realize a dream. My wife that was worried sick yet smiled every time I saw her. The list of contributors went on and on!

I was the one that was getting the inspiration from everyone else!

I ran down that long straight section of trail toward Tamarac and I could see Tom standing there by his truck. I really wanted to finish this for him.  I didn’t need a light. I didn’t need warm cloths. All I needed was an S Cap. But it was the one thing that even Tom hadn’t thought of.

I gave him a big hug and started up that hill with a little over four miles to go. My hamstrings were like piano wire when I crested that rise. About mid way through the bend at the top I looked down and saw one of my empty dose packets. A little plastic bag that I use to put various things in when I run. I must have dropped it on one of my previous loops. I was so cramped up I didn’t want to bend down to pick it up. “I’ve been picking up crap on this trail for three days.” I told myself trying to reason my way out of picking it up and I kept on running.

But this voice in my head said, “Turn around and pick it up.”

“No”, I thought.

“Pick it up”, the voice said.

“I’m not gonna run back there and pick it up” I thought. By this point I was a couple hundred yards past it.

“PICK IT UP”, the voice said.

“OK! OK! OK!” I ran back and picked up the packet… and inside what I thought was an empty packet was one S Cap.

There are moments in life that make you pause. Make you stop dead in your tracks. Make your hands tremble just a bit. I took that S Cap with love and gratitude for whomever was providing it. Who am I to have friends like this?

As I headed down the trail my hamstrings started to loosen up. I kicked ass the last three miles. It was probably the best three miles I ran the whole time!

There were eight people at the finish. Tom, my wife (Mary) and Daughter (Aimee) and her boyfriend (Mike), my business partner Mitch and his wife (Joan), Christine and Robert. But I know many others were there in spirit because I felt their inspiration!

202.18 miles, 27,000 feet of elevation change, 58 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. How does somebody that’s 52 years old do that? Not alone… it takes a whole bunch of really good friends and a little help from above! Who am I to have friends like this? The luckiest guy in the world!

As I approached the finish I had another Cheap Trick song in my head…

Whenever you need someone, to lay your heart and head upon.
Remember after the fire, after all the rain, I will be the flame.

Thank you all for being the flame! We did it together.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Road Trippin': Owen Putnam 50K

Marty's race report...                                

With a GPS on the dash I lit the map on fire, threw it out the window and scouted all the bootleg routes. Road trip! I packed up all my expectations, my running toys and some beer and headed off for Indiana. Six hours of back roads, small towns, and Midwestern landscaping, where you’ll see plastic pools in the front yard, bowling balls used as lawn edging, pumpkins impaled on dead trees, and welded Trojan horse statues of derelict farm implements.

This is my first road trip Ultra, and I’m headed for a tiny town called Spencer in the middle of western Indiana. In Owen and next to Putnam County, for which this race and its home park are named, this is where the state stops being flat and rolling hills, valleys, and bat caves abound. The bat caves are closed, signs tell me, because of some white nose disease. The DNR thinks is spreading via people, carrying it from cave to cave on shoes. No matter, let the bats have their long winter in peace. It was a little past leaf peeper season even this far south, so the trails are covered in gold, the trees and hotels mostly bare. And the bats are asleep.

This is where the fun starts. Adventure! The unknown, the first Ultra where I didn’t know the course, the fellow runners, nothing. I arrived the night before the race, to scout the run location, check into my hotel, get some food and good nights sleep. I am not nervous for all of this, and maybe it’s because I’ve run three 50K’s in four months. Some assurance of being able to finish was in my mind. The hotel was a gem; an old Sanatorium called the Canyon Inn located in another nearby state park. Yes, in the state park. The hotel desk clerk was a crab, the food excellent, the room absolutely tiny, but the bed soft. I highly recommend it. They have horse trails, and you can even rent horses there.

Nightime race prep: For once, I didn’t need a Sherpa to carry my gear; I took the road to simple. I took one hand held, stashed my S caps in my pocket, and intentionally underdressed 20 degrees! Brrr.

Of course I did everything I could to get ready for this race effectively except for one small detail: Don’t be FRIKIN’ late! GAH! I thought I left plenty of time. I had a short 8 mile drive, and 45 minutes to get there. I had driven out to the course the night before, and knew exactly where it was. 3.5 miles out, and then 4.5 miles down a narrow country lane road.

Yeah.  One and a HALF lane road.

Currently the narrow country road was occupied by someone obviously carrying nitro glycerin and not wanting to spill it. 12 miles per hour? Are you serious? No time to panic, and no where to pass. I do get to the start line, just in time for the race director to say: “OK, that’s the instructions, everyone got that? OK, GO!”

Yeah!. I mean, NO, what the heck? So roll with it, take the road. So off we go. It’s dark. And I mean dark the stars are out dark I can see the constellations dark. Indiana is on the western edge of the eastern time zone, it doesn’t get light until almost 8:30 on this, the last day of daylight savings time. I run with my Fenix light, and I’m a beacon, a freight train, a shining star amongst the puny fire fly head lamp wearers. I get several comments about headlamp envy. Mere mortals, I am the eye of Pegasus.

So Running. I’m usually careful, not to get caught up the first wave, but for whatever reason here I am with the front pack. Wait, where are they going? The lead pack veers off at mile 1.5, and someone behind me is yelling for me to go straight. I do. And find I am in the front, yelling back at whoever, to tell me when to turn. I’m LEADING. Holy crap.

This is unusual. But it doesn’t take long for the leaders to correct and pass by. We are running the first segment of the race, called the powerline loop. A 5 mile sort of precursor to the horse trail loop that follows, it gave everyone a chance to separate out on a wider trail into respective pace groups. This is a small race, with only about 50 people in the 50K and 50 mile races. This loop passes by in the darkness and if it weren’t for other runners I’m sure I would have gotten lost. We are running in the scrub below the giant, humming powerlines, with no discernable path except some orange flag tape tied to a few twigs here and there. Still we seem to be doing all right until we get to a spot just before the ‘butt slide’ hill. I look ahead and there are the leaders, a constellation of fireflies all conferring. They soon sort it out and off we go again. We finish this loop with a 2 mile run down a gravel road. 50 minutes for me, it’s still dark and now we head for the forest loop. I blow past the aid stations, a strategy I have employed in the last two races with good success. Stay only long enough to grab and go.

I start running my own race, my own road. I am pretty good about not getting caught up with someone else’s pace. Still, I have designs and goals for this race. Its small, and the winning time last year was 5:53.

5:53?  For a 50K? Huh.

I think I can do that. Or maybe at least break into the top three. I keep track of the leaders for a while, but realize that I am pushing my pace just to that edge. That bone edge where it hurts, just a little. That claw edge where it feels uncomfortable. That urgent edge where you are running like you stole something. And that’s where I settle in. The leaders are gone. The next segment is a 3 mile out to the forest loop and the horse trails. It’s still dark, but the sun will also rise and turn this into a beautiful but chilly day.

This segment I will see 4 times: the 8 mile forest loop is run twice, and this 3 mile out is also a 3 mile back to the start area. So out and back, out and back with the forest loop twice in between. This segment is the only somewhat flat area on the course. There still are hills along with 7 or 8 stream beds descents and climbs that are completely unrunnable, but climbable. Most of the stream beds are dry this time of year, but I have to hop skip a couple muddy ones. Navigation.

So I am running, and settle in with a pack. One guy picks up his pace and is moving ahead. I let him go. I run with a guy I call Cowboy Bob because he is wearing a blue foam cowboy hat. We lose the pack one by one. The horse trails are soft, forgiving, but the elevation is surprising. It looks a lot like the Kettle in places: basically no flats to speak of, and sprinkle in four significant climbs/descents. It’s beautiful, and the leaves are so fresh on the ground they are a yellow gold carpet and kick freely away from the trail.  I stay with Cowboy Bob until the next aid station, where he decides to drop due to a nasty gash on his thigh. Ouch. I didn’t see the fall but it must have been a doozy.

I am running alone in the forest loop now. And of course, I get lost. The RD is pretty good about markings, and he has a particular way of tying his flagging tape. I notice this later, after I follow a pink flag instead of an orange one. Pink and orange, by the way, look a lot alike when the rising sun shines from behind them. I am in a wide open clear cut area, and no flags. I back track; I only lose about 7 minutes, and I’m back on course.

I catch and pass that one guy I let go earlier, as I’m coming back to the start area and completing the first loop. This is the last time I will see another runner on the course. I run the out loop at a good pace again. I’m into the second lap of the forest loop and I reach an aid station at mile 25 in 4:30, faster than I had run Glacial. I figured I would easily beat my predicted goal of 6 hours, probably make it in 5:40.

Except for two things.

I had 8 miles to go, not 6. The course was 33 miles, not 31. OK, everyone runs the same course, so I could live with a 6 hour = 33 miler. No problem. But I had another problem. I had rolled my ankles in the soft trails so many times, and those rolls were affecting not my ankles but my IT bands at the sides of my knees. I have never had issues there before, but wow someone was stabbing an ice pick to me with every step. I left the middle aid station and was hobbling. Busted.

So the last 8 miles took me about 2 hours to run/walk. Stomach felt good, had energy, and I could actually run UP hills, just not down. I asked at one aid station about runners who had come through, and was told I was 20 minutes behind the next guy. I had no real chance of catching him in my state (unless he was worse off than me). So.

No regrets. I gave it my best shot, and shuffled it home. So I finished.

My time of 6:33 was good for 5th place overall. I had 20 minutes on the 6th place guy, and the 4th place guy was 25 minutes ahead of me. I had lots of room to run.

The race is very low key: no post-race stuff, no awards, not even for first place. Still, it was well run, well stocked, and well marked. Fired up the GPS and home we go. A road trip worth taking.