A mellow start...The start delivered perfect weather, upper 50's, sunny and dry. I like not having any concerns about what to wear. Amy and I camped out the night before, and though I didn't sleep well, I'd had enough. I was up at 5 for some breakfast, then back in bed for a bit before suiting up for the day. We got to the start just as my parents and brother were getting out of their car. Last year on this same day my brother was in the hospital in a really bad way, so it was great seeing him well enough to be up at Gooseberry to share the morning with me. He and my dad would go back to Duluth after the start, and my mom and Amy would crew me the rest of the day.
After a few minutes milling about and having a few last words with friends the crowd moved up to the start line for a few last words from John. Then 3...2...1...and running. I started near the front, not want to sprint off the line, and soon enough was right up with a lead pack of 5. Steve Moore was at the front, followed by Adam St. Pierre, Ben Hian, myself, and Jim Kerby moving steadily, but at what seemed like a pretty pedestrian pace considering the talent we had here. All the same it made me nervous, especially since I knew the kind of speed that Ben had. Nonetheless, we all stayed together until Split Rock, where we restocked, and Steve started putting the hammer down with other Adam close behind, then Ben, with me and Jim running together. I never saw Steve again until the finish.
For a long time, Jim and I cruised near each-other. He was yoyoing a lot. For about 20 miles he'd surge ahead, then come back to me, then for another 20, he'd drop off, then pull back up on me. He was being crewed by a friend I'd made at HURT, James, who I ran a loop and then some with in the middle of the night. It was largely uneventful steady cruising up through County Road 6, which was the last time I saw Jim. The section getting here is pretty hard and really the first gut check of the race. In last year's heat, this AS was like a MASH station. This year, though, I was here an hour and 12 minutes faster than last year and feeling like I was jogging. Amy kept on me that I was much faster than my plan, but it was one of those days where I was slapping down miles without trying and I felt really good.
Kurt, Paul, and Mike where here to meet me, and I got a good cheer coming on in, in 4th place.
|Kurt having a good time|
I got into Finland after the better part of 8 miles and started getting suited up for night running. I did a quick shirt change while I was at it, put my headlamps on, and headed out with Kurt for the next 12 miles.
|Off into the twilight|
To rule the night...After last year's night time pursuit of John Horns (I made up an hour and twenty on him) I got kind of a reputation. We'd find out soon enough if it was justified. I was 12 minutes back from Ben, and more than half an hour back from Adam St. P. I just kept telling myself, run your race and Kurt kept reinforcing that. Less than a minute out, Ryan Welts came blazing into Finland looking strong and fast. A few minutes later he blew by me like I was standing still. I was amazed, but given the rate he was moving, I was convinced that I'd see him again. So on Kurt and I went, now in 5th. We had a great time talking as darkness set in and midway to Crosby we turned our lights on. The temperature stayed great in the darkness and we motored along. As we hit some really rough sections I started dropping Kurt a little bit. It's kind of mean, but it is really motivating when you are moving well enough to pull away from a solid experienced pacer. But the night is mine, right?
A mile or so before Crosby I came upon a runner (Ben) standing off the trail trying to find his way. I tried to call him back to where I was, and the trail went, but he found a little dear path up to it. Kurt was a little ways behind me at this point, so Ben and I cruised a little bit more of the single track chatting about his past experience with rabdo, and how careful he was with hydration now. As soon as we got to the road up to Crosby, Kurt caught back up and we rolled in together. Matt Patten was running the joint here, and apparently cooking up a storm. I was so focused, though, that I didn't realize he was there, even though he was cheering.
John Horns surprised me here, all suited up and ready to run with me for the long stretch to Sugarloaf, 9.5 slow miles away. This is one of the longer, and slowest sections of the race. I was glad to have him, and we left promptly, not seeing Ben again. Thankfully, speedy John Maas would run with Ben for a while from here. I also left Ryan at this aid station.
We had a good time floating along the dark single-track, occasionally hearing voices behind us. That turned out to be Ryan and his pacer, and they soon moved by us. No worries, it was late and we were all doing what we could. I was going as hard as I felt I could at this point, with 40 miles to go. This race was just getting going after all. John really helped keep me focused, even so, this section seemed to go on forever taking more than two and a half hours to get through. Eventually we found ourselves at Sugarloaf where Amy and mom were waiting. I bid adieu to John and swapped in Amy for a surprise pace gig (she ran this section with me last year) and headed back out.
Unfortunately for Amy, I was on fire, and left her behind almost out of the AS. Oops, not good to drop the wife. I blazed this section out, and hit Cramer road, forcing my mom to do some solo crewing, then beat it out for the grind to Temperence. I'm glad I knew this section, because it was really poorly flagged. I would have really been questioning if I was headed the right way if I hadn't run this before. I had passed Ryan along the way and when I got into Temperence Adam St. P was still here, having injured his knee, but still moving. I left with the other Adam, immediately passing him, as Ryan got in. This was the last I'd see of either of them, which is surprising since this is where my wheels fell off.
Up until know, I'd beat all my splits for the last two years. Somewhere early on here, my right shin started hurting and got progressively worse. Eventually getting to the point where I was really considering if I should drop or not. I was now in second, and the machismo made me keep going. Over these last three sections, I ran fully a half hour slower than last year's run, and I'm convinced I could have beat those times if my body had held up. Instead, I'd spend the next four hours spending a lot of energy battling some serious pain. These were all really runnable, too, which really hit my morale.
So, through mind numbing pain (I didn't want ibu to cover it up, just in case something snapped, but in retrospect it would have been alright), I kept pounding it out through Sawbill and onto Oberg where my TCRC teammates were. As I rounded the lake to Oberg I came upon Brian Peterson, Paul Holovnia and one other guy out on the trail, maybe half a mile from the AS. This picked me up and they ran me in, where Kurt and Mike Bateman were waiting with my mom and Amy. They pumped me full of chips, potato and broth, since my stomach had been queezy. Then Kurt tried to rub some cooling gel on my shin and at the slightest tap it hurt so much I screamed. (If you want to worry your wife, that will do it).
OK, 7 miles to go, and 15 hours to do it before the cutoff? I don't care how much I'm hurting. Paul walked me out. Yeah, walking since my shin tightened up that fast. Then onto a slow jog. He was only going to make sure I got moving, but ran the full way with me. It was awesome. He was a total trooper doing that, since I was moaning and groaning, and whining the whole time. I'd had a lofty goal of beating 24 hours, and getting to Oberg before dawn, and totally nailed that. We were only about a half hour from the finish when we turned off our headlamps. So it was up the steps to Moose, across the top, down, up the switchbacks (more than I remember) then some flat running and the decent to the bridge. Last year it was a steep decent, but some trail work made it long and gradual, which was confusing, but ended up in a pleasant surprise when we crossed the river earlier than expected. I'd been looking behind me a lot, expecting Ryan to catch up, but I'd apparently gapped him pretty well over the last 15 miles.
Paul and I hit the road, and did a little fist bump for a job well done. No sign of pursuit, a course PR by an hour forty, and second place. Amy met us at the turn down to the finish, and she and Paul dropped back for me to cross the line. Oy. 6:41 in the morning and I was spent. There was a lot of cheering, since the marathoners were still about, but as soon as I stopped I started melting down and could barely register even the handshake from Steve. I don't think I'd ever left that much out on the trail before. I'd be happy with a 22:41 on any course, but on this one, I was ecstatic (at least after a nap).