I signed up for this race on a lark, I'd been focused on 100-milers for the last two years, so it had been quite a while since I'd done a 50-miler. A lot of the fun at this race would be watching the top guys really go after it, since some national class talent would be vying for the title.
Race day dawned mostly dry, just a couple of sprinkles on the way to the start, but nothing during the rest of the day. It was about 60 degrees out, a little warmer than predicted, but it was overcast so we wouldn't have to deal with the sun for most of the day. As usual, at the start the energy was high, as all the racers were getting amped up to test themselves. I sought out other friends that I knew would be there, including the five other guys on the TCRC team. Matt and I bumped into each-other while we were lining up. I also said hey to eventual women's champion Denise Bourassa whom I had met out at HURT in January. Very soon, right after a stellar national anthem, we were off.
I started off a little further back in the pack than I wanted and as is normal for these things a lot of folks went off harder than they should have. I slowly made my way up through the groups for the first mile until things spread out a bit and I didn't feel so claustrophobic. I could see Ethan Richards and John Horns up ahead a couple hundred meters and spent a couple of miles pulling up on them. The three of us more or less ran the first 9 miles together back to the starting area chatting and generally having a good time. John peeled off at the aid station for a pit stop and I rolled through without stopping.
Ethan and I continued on for a long time, forming a train with a guy all tatted up, Sandy Nypaver, and Denise. We were all mostly together up through 20 miles or so, then spread out a bit. The pace up till now had been a little speedy for me, not crazy fast, just a little too much. I bumped out ahead of Ethan here at some point, on the way back to the marathon point. Hitting the Highway 12 aid station at mile 26, Ben had pulled my only drop bag for me. Quickly handing me 3 gels I took off again. Just about now, I started having a hard time and Ethan caught back up to me. We ran together for a little while, but he was holding steady and left me behind.
I had a rough 15 miles or so, until just after the Emma Carlin turnaround. I think I was paying a little bit for going out harder than I was ready for. All the same, I only got passed once in this whole stretch, and that was back at mile 27. I kept grinding on, going briefly to that dark 'why am I doing this' place. Fortunately going through Horseriders, Ben and Sarah, were there to spur me on. I wish I recognized all the other folks cheering, but I was a little heady and only had eyes for the trail. Heading out of here to Emma, and what I though was a four mile leg. I was ready for a 40 minute haul, but after only 30 came upon Ethan, heading back, saying it was just a couple minutes. I got stoked and beat it out, remembering this section from Kettle Moraine.
I hit Emma with only one gel left, and they didn't have any. It was scorching hot here, out in the open, so I filled my water and beat it out of there. Fortunately the aid stations were so close that the one gel was more than adequate to make it back to horse riders. I got in here to more cheers, quickly stocked up and headed out. Now, with only 7 miles to go I was smelling the barn. I was really starting to see lots of folks headed out to the turnaround too.
This whole stretch back I started feeling stronger and stronger, knowing I could readily spend whatever I had left. I picked it up and started running as hard as I could, and powerhiking the ups. I think in these last few miles I picked up another 5 spots. I fueled up at a busy second to last aid, they had folks coming through in both directions, and started cranking. Hitting the last aid station I didn't need anything, and I'd now caught up to the 50k runners also headed in. I just kept running through the aid and kept hammering the last two miles. Getting back on the ski trails made for easy running and soon I was cresting the last hill, with Thom Patterson sitting there cheering folks on. I could see the finish through the trees, so spending what I had left, sprinted for the line.
I totally surprised myself with a 15th place 7:29:05 and a 58 minute PR. I'd come into this thinking I could get 8 hours for sure, with 7:30 as a pie in the sky goal, but there it was. I was spanked, but totally elated to have gotten it done.
Jeff Mallach did a heck of a job putting this race on. I can easily work this one into the schedule next year.