Leading up to the race, I tried not to think much about it. I didn't do any planning really and just thought of it as a chance to test out my race day plan for WS100 -- gear and nutrition namely. As race week approached, the one big negative that came into view was how early we'd have to get up there. Parking is extremely limited, so we left home at 3:45 AM to be there by 5 AM. That was the other big negative, hanging around for 2 hours before the race started! For breakfast I had two Epic Bars and some Vespa, then the guys and I just hung out, chatted and waited.
As you read on, one thing to note is that some of the details are a bit blurry, particularly mileages. I used 5-second recording on my watch, which is typically a little long on distance. And, I think some of their mileage markers may not have been updated from the 2013 course, which was a mile shorter. So, I had a difficult time all day reconciling exactly where I was at. Though, when it was over, my watch said 32.42 miles and the official distance is 32.1, so I think my watch was closer than their mile markers...
Start to Aid #1 (Mile 5-ish)
The course follows along Deer Creek for several miles with many crossings (almost all over bridges). However, the run off from all the May rain was evident in mud all along this section. I probably wasted too much energy trying to avoid the mud, but you never really know how much more is coming, figuring you may as well try to keep your shoes clean. Just a few miles in, John Witcher passed, which kind of surprised me because I didn't think he was planning to push it. Then within a few miles dozens of people were passing me. I was a bit annoyed by this, but figured I'd pass many of them again down the trail.
Before hitting the aid station, there was a short, technical descent and I went slow and easy. I could feel the runners behind me getting impatient, but pounding down wasn't part of my plan. When we pulled up to the first aid station, I discovered Chris was right behind me! Neeraj was manning this aid station and was super helpful getting me refilled and on my way.
Aid #1 to Aid #2 (Mile 12-ish)
Leaving aid, I really had to pee and I was feeling hungry. So, I stopped and took care of both. (I ate a Lara Pineapple Coconut bar, delicious!!!). I started the day with my water bottles full of Skratch Labs. While the course served Tailwind -- which I like, and is very much like Skratch -- I really figured I'd switch to water later because it was going to be pretty warm. I don't like sugar in my drinks on warm days.... I had Neeraj give me water only at my first aid stop.
Anyway, the course goes up a nice double track road through here before hitting some very plush, technical single track as you wind around Tremont Mountain. I was once again hungry and stopped to eat, finding, once again, that Chris was right behind me! We chatted again briefly before we started climbing. Along the climb, I worked reasonably hard and caught a few groups of runners here and there. I mostly just hung with the groups that I'd catch because it was too hard to pass and I wasn't interested in running fast at this stage. Once in a while I'd pass a weaker runner or a good descender would pass me.
The final mile into aid was a nice double track descent that was very runnable and I logged one my only sub-10 min miles of the day. I once again got water and didn't waste much time at aid. There would be no more sugar water the rest of the day, just gels, mostly.
Aid #2 to Aid #3 (Mile 17-ish)
I finally reached a short and out and back section to aid #3, where I saw John Witcher coming back up at me. At aid, I got a handheld full of water and ice that I mixed with Bio Steele. I also dumped all my trash and had my final Vespa packet before heading back out. Chris was once again right with me, but as I passed him leaving. I could tell he wasn't feeling right. He wished me well as I passed him on the climb out.
A couple of other themes for the day: one was traffic. This race has gotten big and included several waves of runners (a slow start wave, then waves by estimated finish time, then 12 milers). The result was that I never knew who I was passing -- a slow start 50k runner or a 50k runner that passed me in the first few miles. The other issue was that combining 500+ runners with normal State Park foot traffic, there were people all over the course. In addition to navigating rocks and roots, there was lots of other people (and dogs) to contend with.
Aid #3 to Aid #4 (mile 25-ish)
I finally pulled into aid where Neeraj was once again. He took both my water bottles and filled them. Then he gave me a blue popsicle, which was amazing! I finished with a cup of Mountain Dew before cruising out of aid feeling good.
Aid #4 to Aid #5 (mile 29-ish)
I expected the out and back section to Windy Peak to be a quick little tag of the summit and back. Instead, it was over a mile round trip. And, once again, the course was quite technical and I just had to grind. At least half the runners coming back at me where the back-of-the-pack 12 milers (they started at 10 am, I think). John's buddy Barrett came back at me near the summit. When I reached the summit, instead of taking in the view, I turned around quickly to tried catch Barrett (who did break 7 hours). The technical descent was tough and I had a few toe-stubs, but kept on my feet as I was trying not go get passed back by runners from behind.
After completing the out and back section, I got back on the loop and the Marshall told me it was 1.5 miles to aid. I ran pretty hard down this technical, hoping not to get passed. Once I arrived at aid, I stopped for a Mountain Dew with ice and quickly chugged that before taking off quickly. The aid station folks told me 1.8 miles to the finish.
Aid #5 to Finish
Afterwards, we ate and hung out. We had to wait for the award ceremony (Chuck was 2nd Masters) and it didn't start until 3:45 pm. The awards ceremony was ridiculously drawn out, in my opinion. It was already a long day on a course that is tucked way back in the middle of nowhere. An hour long award ceremony was hard to sit through at that stage. I think others agreed as at least one-third of the AG finishers had just gone home.
I was certainly disappointed with my finish time, but the rest of the experience was pretty positive. I executed my strategy really well and ended up with identical splits for each quarter of the race -- perfectly paced. My nutrition was good, not great. My gear worked well overall, but I did chafe just a bit on my back. My new shoes (Olympus 1.5) are getting close to being broken in and ready for WS100 duty. So, I got the simulation I was looking for even if it didn't go down quite how I had hoped. Most importantly, my body doesn't feel destroyed and I can continue training this week as I wind down the final grinding weeks. It was certainly humbling to be on the course with some of the best mountain runners in the world, but I know a course like that doesn't suit my strengths.
Update: Based on split data, I moved up from 246th position at aid #1 to 122nd to end, 124 places during the race. Each aid station split in the second half of the race was in the top 85 of all runners and my aggregate second half split was in the top 75.