"Well, that was harder than I thought..." Jon was talking about our strange predicament of finding a way to wake up for the race. Some really odd things happend this weekend, but it all added to a great experience in a truly breathtaking location. My phone inexplicably started to turn itself on and off over and over again and was completely worthless, then on our first day in Seattle, Jon lost his phone at that Hostel and we began our trip to Winthrop cut off from the outside world. Getting into Winthrop at 5:30pm Saturday we realized that we had no way to wake up with our phones busted and lost so we went searching and found nothing, most places were closing and the open stores didn't carry anything (no watch, no kitchen timer, nothing). Everyone had told us that the Harware store would have them but was closed and our best bet was to drive out to Twisp so we decided that's what we had to do and then further to a bigger town if necessary. On our way out we noticed a truck pull into the Hardware store so we followed and as it turns out we lucked out because the store just recently changed hours to stay open until 7. Much releived we trotted over to the Schoolhouse Brewery and Pub for a beer and a fish taco wrap (best pre-race food ever!). After, we hit the sack early and woke up to our new alarm and news of the BP oil spill at 4:40am. All of our stuff ready, we made our way to the start shortly thereafter and met up with a bunch of funny Canadians we'd met the night before (Randy, Lori, and Barry). The bus ride to the start was fairly uneventful and we were ready to start in the slowly drizzling rain.
We started and I weaseled my way to the front expecting to be near there and was surprised to find myself out the front by myself. Shortly after two guys came up and said hi, one I had noticed with a Team Inov-8 singlet and he took off up front with me trailing in second and one other guy a short ways back. I was able to keep the leader in sight for about the first 2 miles until the dirt road started turning and then we got on some seriously sweet singletrack where I couldn't see the leader any more. I had figured that he was gone and I'd never see him again. The trail was soft and rolling with a lot of undergrowth crowding which had me soaked just a short ways in and I mentally noted that I'd probably be running in wet shoes all day. RD James mentioned right before the start that there would be 3-4 creek crossings that were not on the website and that 2 or 3 were butt deep, all of us were a bit surprised but could do nothing but accept it for what it was.
About 4 miles in I noticed that I could actually see the leader again and that I was gaining on him. I didn't know what to think just that I needed to run my pace and I ended up passing him as he stepped off the trail to grab something from his pack. We ran comfortably quick through the first aid station and got to chatting for the next 10-12 miles. We negotiated the creek crossings, he asked me about running in Denver and races I had planned then I was asking about him when I found out that it was Brian Morrison (scroll down on the Team Inov-8 site for his bio). I hadn't gotten his name but put the pieces together after I asked him about Western States and he mentioned his love/hate relationship due to his near win in 2006. This was the same guy who came within 400 meters of winning the biggest ultra in the US (story here). He definitely played it down and just briefly mentioned it just that he's taking the year off from States because he promised his wife he would. I had read the recap of his collapse on the track so close to the finish and him having to be rushed to the hospital about a year ago when I first got into ultrarunning and it's a heartwrenching story.
Here I was 15 miles into the race, in the lead, running with a guy I was now completely certain was way out of my league and I was a bit scared I was going out so hard that I might not finish. But I stuck to my plan because I still felt great. Brian passed me on the dirt road leading to the 2nd aid station and then took off. I held my pace, but within a minute he was out of sight and I felt better because he was probably just using me as a rabbit to feel out the front waiting to hit the gas and hit the gas he did. We ran on a road for about 4 miles and I took a wrong turn up this driveway that was marked with the same ribbon as the course and lost about 5 minutes (not a lot of time, but frustrating none the less). Then I hit the second climb of the day, a long easy grade that I just kept plugging away at. Before I knew it I was at the top and into the 3rd aid stop to grab a gu and fill my bottles.
Just after on my way up the rest of the climb I was passed by a tall lanky older man who was smoking up the climb and I was in 3rd place. At the top of the climb I made my way down some steep rutted out singletrack and back onto some sweet PNW rollers on the first little loop, then into the aid stop at 34 miles, ate a ton of salt because I had gone through all of my caps and the legs were a little twingy. We had a few more miles and then the toughest climb of the day to the top on Sun Mountain Lodge where I could finally tell that the legs were gonna have a rough last 10 miles. So far I was 40 miles in and solid, but the wheels were coming off. I still pounded the downhill coming out of there pretty hard which was stupid because it set me up to be super slow the last 7 miles. There is a short hill and loop that is a bit confusing and you have to climb over this ladder over a barbed wire fence I was almost sure I would fall into with my now cramping legs. I was slowed to pretty much a shuffle and walking the hills. I was bummed a little because I had put myself right where I needed to be to finish under 8 hours maybe even 7:45 if I could have held it together (went through 50K in 4:33ish BIG PR for that length) and I had given myself the ability to get through the last 7 miles at 10 minute pace, but now I was starting to unravel and was forced to walk a lot. I was a little more than a half mile to the finish line when 8 hours moved by so I decided I would stop to pee and then jogged in across the line completely gassed. I was really happy with myself, especially the first 40 miles which were run as close to perfect as I ever have. I nailed my splits and put myself in position to achieve some severly lofty goals and that's all I can ask for. Put yourself in position to achieve and give it your best. Overall I finished 4th in 8:08:46 which is a 50 mile PR by over an hour. The course was tough and certainly wasn't a cupcake despite what I figured to be an "easy 50" (website shows 8,000 ft of gain which I'm not sure I believe, I'd give it 7K but I haven't checked my reading on the GPS).
I got home at 1:00am this morning and I am TIRED! Pictures to come later...