This final event in the Gnarly Bandit series was a brutal one, and a tough haul for me. It was a beautiful race, but I had to work for most of it, and only had 'flow' for relatively short periods of time. It was really a test of mental fortitude, dealing with being off course several times, and just not feeling good. Overall I finished 4th, 3rd guy, in 12:11:00. Thanks Andy and Kim for a great event and finally breaking my back this year.
We would have to begin this one in the dark, starting at 6AM on a chilly Saturday morning. It was in the low 40's when everyone started showing up in Bayfront Park and queuing up for the two bathrooms. I was down there plenty early and chatted with a bunch of folks before Andy made us all go out into the cold and dark.
About 60 of us lined up for a few last minute instructions, the ones about staying on course didn't stick with me, and we were soon off. Andy leading us for the first quarter mile or so, where Chris and I took the lead and led the pack down the street, across the highway and onto the trail leading up to Enger Tower. I felt good for these first few miles and slowly drifted back a few places instead of pushing it early on. In just a few minutes we were cruising past the peace bell, which I gave a good ring too, enjoying the deep hum of the bell in the darkness.
I knew the first 10 miles of the course pretty well, having run it a couple of times, but as I got to Spirit Mountain I received my first blow of the day; at a well marked corner I kept my head down and proceeded to run a few hundred yards the wrong way and ended up in a parking lot for the ski hill, losing me precious time. This detour alone was enough cost me the six minutes that put me in fourth instead of second at the end. Such is the price of not looking before leaping. Around now, I felt like I was running in a fog, not dangerous, but I was having trouble keeping my attention on where I was going. I got myself back on course and proceeded down hill for a ways getting closer to the Spirit Mountain Aid Station, when I managed to get lost again. This time Thom Patterson went with me, and together we figured it out, and in the meantime caught two more guys about to commit to the same mistake. I ended up running with Thom for several miles, and he saved me from a couple of mental fog induced wrong turns.
For about the next 30 miles I got my act together and managed to make all the correct turns (until I got back to Spirit). Slowly I clawed my way back up to second place, getting into my drop bag at 15 miles for new goo and getting the party going. I started feeling pretty good now and was running well, but was informed that Chris was way out ahead, so I didn't worry about him at all, and just kept myself fueled and hydrated. I started to really enjoy what had turned out to be ideal fall weather for a long run, the leaves were awesome, and the sun warm. The hardest part of the course came and went without too much trouble as I did the long climb and traverse of Ely's Peak. On my way down I started crossing paths with the 50k runners and had a good 45 minutes of seeing these folks and getting energized, particularly high-fiving my good friend Jeff getting after his first ultra.
As I worked my way to the turn-around at Oldenburg Point I saw Chris coming back with 20+ minutes on me, pretty much untouchable at this point, unless he had a serious meltdown, but he was looking strong. Jeff Allen and his kids helped me out at Oldenburg and sent me back out on the trail, where now I'd get to see all the 100kers, many friends among them. Right behind me was Thom, and just a few minutes behind him were the eventual 2nd and 3rd place runners. These guys were far too close for my comfort, but it was pretty apparent to me that I wasn't in much shape to fend off anyone. I felt pretty good for the next 10 miles or so, helped out by passing so many people on the trail, but then the wheels slowly came off and I had to struggle to bring it home.
Gettin' it done
I was feeling well, but just before the aid station prior to going back over Ely's peak I just felt abused. Val and Jen made sure I was ok, which I was, but feeling more like I was 80% there. Val got me going telling me to run happy. I sure did my best, but it was a grind for the next 4 hours, through which I didn't have much inspired running. I committed to running everything flat and down, no matter how miserable I felt, and ended up hiking more uphills than I normally would have. As it was I worked myself aid station by aid station back home.
Again just before getting to Spirit Mountain I missed a turn and ran a couple hundred yards before turning around to find where it was. Shortly after leaving the aid station, where the venerable Donny got me situated and on my way, I dropped to fourth. I ran with the couple that passed me for a while, but couldn't hang with them on the ups and slowly dropped off. They were both looking really good. 2 Aid stations to go.
Amy was at the next aid station, the second to last one, having finished her first trail half marathon. She snapped some pictures and sent me on my way. I was really familiar with the trail now, and ground it out, passing an older guy walking in the 50k. I was glad to see he got it done, and he seemed in good spirits when I passed him. Jeff was waiting at a road crossing, already done with his 50k and he cheered me on across the road on onto the last aid station. I finally made it to the last aid, with only 5k to go, I kindly declined their blueberry pie, and hit the road, just wanting to finish.
Despite not feeling good, I gave it my all and pushed it all the way home, trying to meet a tertiary goal of being done before sunset. I cruised past Twin Ponds, and started smelling the barn as soon as I hit the gravel path leading up to Enger. Jeff was up here, too, and I hammered up and over the top to begin the mile long down hill to Bayfront. I came uncorked here bombing the hills and passing one other 50ker just getting close to finishing, herself. Across point of rocks and the last little decent put me out on Michigan Street. Fortunately there was not traffic and I shot across it, dumping my water bottle out and running hard enough to get a side ache. I could see the finish now, and kept rolling, passing Amy shooting pictures and rounding into the finish stretch. I smiled all the way to the end, jumping over the finish yelling "Gnarly" and finishing a journey that began in April.
It was a satisfying day on the trail, despite my mistakes and the way I felt. It's hard to beat a fall day on the SHT. It was immensely relieving and gratifying to finish of the Gnarly Bandit. Sadly I was the only finisher of it, Darryl Saari having had to bow out at Sawtooth. What a great journey though, and one I wasn't sure I'd complete.