|What a lot of the course looked like. Photo from the race's Ultrasignup page.|
To be fair, I was also having an unusually bad day. Something (altitude, most likely?) was wrong with my stomach right from the start and by mile 4 I was ready to throw up. I tried not to, though, because I thought it would be too embarrassing having everyone around me assume that I was sick already because I had so badly misjudged my pace! At this point I could tell it was going to be a long day...
The race starts off on a paved bike path for 2 miles, then turns onto a singletrack trail up a hill. It's cold, since the race starts at 5 am, but it's great weather for running. We keep climbing up and get an amazing view of the lake and mountains at sunrise. More climbing up on singletrack and a rocky road, which winds around to a pass near mile 15. It's cold up here--Fake Tony (this guy had such a perfect Anton Krupicka imitation look going that since I never got his name, I went with Fake Tony, although he seemed like a much nicer person than his namesake) says I'm lucky to be wearing gloves, but even then my hands are so cold that I can't move my fingers enough to put some Gu I picked up from my drop bag into my pack. A nice guy named Barry helps me. A few minutes later I realize it was a wasted effort because I'm too sick to be able to eat any of the Gu anyway.
After mile 15 it's a long downhill, but my stomach hurts too much to run very fast. The sun comes out and it's immediately way too hot. I realize I forgot to put on sunscreen, which is bad news at 7,000 feet with red hair. To balance this out, though, I get lucky on the navigation front: there are some sudden turns off the rocky main track onto singletrack that I would have missed if I hadn't been able to follow Barry, who, fortunately for me, has done the race before.
Everything feels awful and I consider dropping out at the mile 20 aid station. This is only a training run after all, and I don't want to overdo it and be too tired to race the WHW. But I can't drop at 20 because I figure I need to get in at least 40 miles today or it will be too short of a pre-WHW long run. I decide to slow down to 100-mile pace and treat this as practice for keeping the pace up when I haven't been able to eat much. I get plenty of practice at that because in the end only a few pieces of fruit, a cookie, and two Gu stay down for the rest of the race. I even throw up my Tums, which is a new low for me.
Again I wonder if I should drop out. Maybe I could stop at the mile 33 aid station and add on a few more slow, easy miles on my own? But the last uphill section ends at mile 40 and then it's all downhill to the finish, so if I'm going to run more than 33 miles anyway, I might as well do the race. Only 7 miles more of uphill, how bad can it be?
Bad. Very bad. Before the race, the race director had talked about how this was one of the hardest 50s in the country. I didn't doubt that it was at least somewhat hilly and hot, but I figured he was just saying what runners always like to say, that their local race is the hardest/longest/most technical____. Well, this guy may have had a point. In addition to the other hard bits of the race, the climbs out of mile 33 are brutally steep and entirely in the hot sun. The second of the two climbs is straight up a giant hill with no switchbacks. It takes me 1 hour and 15 minutes to do a mile here and that is fast enough to be passing people. Even going more slowly than planned, this is definitely not just training anymore.
I have music with me but I'm in too bad of a mood to listen to it. Everyone else seems to be suffering too--a guy in a white tank top and I trade looks of pain every time we leapfrog each other. It takes absolutely forever to get to the top of the pass. I see Divesh at the aid station just on the other side of the pass, and he looks about as happy as I feel. There's an unpleasantly steep and rocky descent for 6 miles down the other side of the mountain. I try to convince myself it's good training for the descent into Kinlochleven, which is undoubtedly true, but it's not what my mind wants to hear right now. Finally, near the end of the descent, I get to see a familiar face when Clark, who we had met the night before at the pre-race dinner, passes me. The rockiness eventually eases up into smoother, less steep trail. There's a bit of confusing route-finding at the bottom of the hill but, like clockwork, Barry shows up to point me at the right trail.
A few minutes later, we end up at the last aid station and from there it's just 3.5 miles on paved road to the end. I'm fully intending to walk here to limit the leg damage, but a friendly girl named Allison runs up and catches me and I realize it'll be a lot more fun to run with her than to walk on my own. Plus faster to the finish = faster to a soak in the nice cold creek. About a mile from the end, Allison drops back but Clark's friend (whose name I can't quite remember now), who had DNFed but was now out on the course to see Clark finish, shows up and kindly runs with me to the end.
The end result? I probably should have dropped out. I'm pretty concerned about whether my legs are going to be fully recovered from this by June 22. My time was 11:36, in comparison to my 8:55 50-mile split from the Fling a month ago, and I feel a lot worse after this than I did after the Fling. The course was hard enough that even if I had been having a good day, I probably would have been over 11 hours. So, I'd say it's definitely not a race to use a training run, but with the beautiful scenery and tough climbs, it would make a nice goal race.
Now I just need all your best recovery tips...