There are several different ways that I've heard the footing during yesterday's John Dick Memorial Crusty 50k described. Like running on baking soda. Like wet sand after several horses trampled through it. LIKE CRAP!!! It definitely was more sloppy than it was crusty. I started running an hour early just as the sun was coming up, because I predicted that I would be the slowest runner to finish, a prediction that came true. Once again I wasn't well prepared for this effort, yet well enough that I knew I could finish in about 7.5 to 8 hours. That prediction did not come true. Judging by the fact that over two thirds of the field did not make it to the finish line, I was not alone in making erroneous predictions.
Consistency has been a problem for me since running the ice age 50 mile last year. However, thanks to some new running friends I actually have run a fair amount over the last four weeks, averaging 20-30 miles a week. Twenty miles a week isn't a lot, but enough for me to try my hand at a long run to gauge whether I should volunteer or participate. I felt pretty good after churning out 21 miles at Lapham Peak, and so I pushed my chips onto the table: I was going to run and finish.
The early start was a good decision not just because it gave me a greater time cushion (volunteers should not have to wait just for one person), but also because it gave me a view of the trail before the other runners decimated it. The trail was freshly groomed, and if you stuck to the sides and took small flat footed steps, you could stay on top of the snow. However, the middle was soft, and your feet sunk in about 2 to 3 inches with every step. As I made my way back from the first aid station, I noticed other runners passing me had numbers written on attached tags. "Hey," I thought, "I got one of those... but what did I do with it?" Left it back at the start is what I did with it! At the second aid station they were just putting out drop bags. Drop bags? I thought we were headed to the start finish between laps? Mistake number two. See what happens when you assume? Robert had offered to make sure I had gotten all the necessary information just before I headed out, and I had waved him away. So after the first lap back to the start finish I went. That stop was a long one: text Joy, change shoes, change shirts, change jacket, put together a drop bag, grab food, put away head lamp, and.... go!
The second lap, was nothing like the first.
Short strides helped a lot on the straights. The down hills weren't bad---you only had to concentrate on keeping your feet under you. For the uphills I found that a wide ape like waddle worked best. By end of the second lap things were getting better again. There were some places where people had packed the snow down to something that resembled a path---and then the snowmobiles came through. I found that running the snowmobile ski tracks gave me more support, but others to whom I suggested this strategy to didn't seem very convinced.
The end of third lap was a mental challenge. There were so many unanswered questions. Was I fit enough to finish under these unexpected conditions? Would I have enough time? Was I going to stay warm enough? Yet I knew that I was more than half way, and that all I had to do was hang tough and do two more laps. Only two. After singing "I got two more laps" to the tune of "I got sunshine" and they didn't seem so bad anymore. I spent most of the 4th lap meticulously planning my last lap, every incline, every decline, and what nutrition I would need to get me to the end. RD Robert Wehner seemed to be everywhere, and gave me encouragement that he was going to let me finish. "Just keep moving, you can do it," he said, "and don't worry about time." Robert's was one of the few faces I knew amongst the small batch of new faces that were still left on the trail during my fourth lap. At the second aid station of the 4th lap came something that I hadn't planned for: HOT CHICKEN BROTH! YUM!
After multiple laps of soft mushy snow, the final lap felt more like a victory lap, because I knew that there were no more laps to come. I said goodbye to the landmarks I had met along the way, the roads, the amazing toadstool covered tree, and each and every little hill, incline, and decline. At the final aid station I realized that if I hurried I might break 9 hours. "Don't fall into the yellow snow," I heard behind me as I took off, almost falling into yellow snow. I missed 8:59:59 by a couple of seconds, but that just meant I had several more seconds of fun than I otherwise would have had.