This is what mattered, and why I do what I do.
I was standing 10 feet off the line went Gretchen Perbix said "Go." Watches beeped and Donald Clark took off in his SUV to guide the lead runners to the single track. I started slow, trying to hold back from starting out too fast. Lessons of the past learned. But I still needed needed to get out ahead of a few folks. The single track is not kind to passing.
I hit the woods in front of the second chase pack.The first section is the hardest. The climb up to Mystery Mountain is high enough, and it is full of switch-backs. Coming down Mystery is a long, winding downhill - the longest incline of the race. Moose Mountain was littered with downed trees, rough roots and walk-arounds. The incline down Moose is technical and damn-near unrunnable.
I passed a chunk of runners on the downhill on the west side of Mystery Mountain. I was now running solo, and I never saw them again for a few miles. Somewhere about five miles in, I stepped oddly with my left foot. My ankle rotated outward, and I had immediate pain. Twisted, yes. Runnable? Yes. I kept going, and the pain subsided. About two miles from the Oberg aid station, the eventual winner of the women's race caught me, and her and I ran together to and past the first aid station. I came in at 1:08:09, a 9:05/mile pace - right where I wanted to be. I would learn later that I was running 10th of 100 or so starters.
I was indeed right where I wanted to be. I came into this race thinking I could average 9 minutes per mile, and my first mental barrier fell when I looked at my watch. "If I'm at 9 minutes/mile, now, what will I be toward the end? I'm surely going to slow down." And from there, I knew I was in for some trouble.
At the aid station, I dumped what was left of my water (most of it) and filled up with HEED. My wife handed me some jerky, a cookie, and some Pringles - all to be eaten in stride. Normally, I eat the Pringles in the aid station, but I was in a hurry. In and out. I had pre-arranged with my wife that I would not touch Coca-Cola during the first half for fear of a major sugar/caffeine crash later in the race between aid stations.
I left the aid station with the woman still on my tail. Before the single track hit again, one of her feet gave out on her and she slid down into and on the gravel. She was wearing only a sports bra and shorts at the time, and reportedly when she finished (still in first) her friends looked at her bloody side and asked her "Did you kill an animal?" To which she responded, "Yeah, and I ate it too."
Shortly after she fell, I took my first dive. On what I fell I do not know. But I fell forward, tucked and rolled, and was back on my feet almost without missing a step. The woman, still behind me, complimented me on my recovery. Just once I want to make it through a trail ultra without falling.
The fall did additional damage to my ankle. By the time I hit the gravel, the pain had subsided from my first fall. Upon standing, I immediately grimaced from pain on the ankle and resumed my stride.
The woman asked if I minded if she passed when we got onto the single track and starting running through marsh. I obliged on a wider part of the trail and then let her go. Again solo, I ran as hard as I could. I knew others were back there, and I didn't want to get caught. Getting caught should mean fear, adrenaline, and speed. But it didn't this time. When the woman caught me, I just ran with her. We ran hard, and she pushed me to keep up my pace, but I never got that scared-out-of-my-mind feeling like I did at Surf the Murph last October when the I got caught and battled against another runner for 25-or-so miles.
Sometime around when the woman passed me, my ankle pain subsided. But it didn't go away, it just moved. I began to have pain on my left shin. I couldn't tell what was going on through. My compression socks covered the epicenter of the pain. Throughout the remainder of the run, I thought of Jeff Browning - he ran, won, and set a course record at the 2010 Cascade Crest while running a on a bruised shin (race report; shin pic).
The miles drifted by. I passed Leveaux Mountain, thankful that the trail avoided the spur that went up and around its peak. The middle section is the most runnable of the three. It lacks major climbs, and the only walking that must be done is around some muddy sections when you don't want to lose a shoe to the a dirt-and-water vacuum that is the black goop. I kept pushing and pulled into the second aid station at 2:04:12. My pace had slowed to 9:39, and I had dropped one place, but I felt good. I refilled my bottle with HEED, passed on food, and kept running.
From aid station two is a 2.2 mile out-and-back up to Carlton Peak and the turnaround. I don't believe the mileage is accurate given my time, but I let is slide. Almost all of the way up to the turn around is runnable, with the exception of the actual climb. The entire route back to aid station three (in the same place as aid two) is runnable.
On the way out, the chase pack officially caught me. Their lead guy caught me on the boardwalk, and when I turned around to face my competition, two groups of three, four or five were less than 10 feet behind me.
I hit the turn around at 2:20:47, having run the 2.2 miles in 16:35, a 7:32/mile pace. I was on pace for my dream finish of 4:40:00. John Storkamp, one of the top ultra runners in the state and 3-time Arrowhead Ultra champion (foot division), was manning the turnaround. He recognized me from volunteering at Zumbro 100 a few weeks back and gave me a fist jab and I was on my way back. I ran hard down the peak and put distance on the pack, but the lead runner caught me just before the aid station prior to us crossing the road.
At aid three I started on Coca-Cola and declined food once again. My bottle of HEED was still reasonably full, so I skipped that too. My time was fast again - I made the 2.2 miles in 15:42, a 7:08 pace. I was three minutes under my dream pace, but my performance on the way out had slipped.
My wife asked me how I was doing. I told her that I was getting my ass kicked. She said, bluntly, "Yeah, you are." I meant that people were passing my and I wasn't able to hold on to them as they broke away. She meant something else.
I started to break down between aid stations three and four. A pain developed in my left foot. A sharp, focused pain. It happened only upon landing, and it sat right behind the ball of my foot. I could only conclude that a sharp something had gotten in between the rubber sole of my shoe and the last. And I couldn't get it out. This meant some (sharp) pain with every step. Not much, but noticable and only compounded by the shin pain I had now been running on for 10 miles.
My biggest breakdown occurred during those miles. Dark times. I started walking more on areas I would have otherwise run. Technical sections of roots were not run, and I took my time navigating them. I got passed, and passed some more. I slipped maybe eight or nine paces from my spot in 12th to somewhere close to 20th. It was a sluggish 5.8 miles, but somewhere I decided that when my wife asked me how I was doing, I would tell her that I was having fun. I was resigned to not finishing at a 4:40 pace, but I would finish.
I pulled into aid station four with a runner on my tail, pictured above. I managed the last 5.8 miles in 1:06:01, 11:22/mile. Cumulative time was about 3:42. I had slowed almost two minutes from the first time I managed through the section. But I was still on pace for another one of varied goals - finish under five hours. If I could manage about a 1:15 - 10 minutes per mile - I could do it.
With the phrase "beware the chair" in my mind, I asked for my wife's chair and to see if she could dig out whatever the sharp something in my left shoe was. She attacked it with a pen but was unsuccessful. I rejuvenated with three cups of Coca-Cola (about 6 oz) and rocketed out of there. I had spent about three minutes in the aid station between dealing with my shoe and getting fluids.
All that sat between myself and the finish was two big climbs and and one long down hill. The haul up Moose Mountain is just as difficult as the downhill, and you can only climb it so fast. Once on top, I ran what felt like a casual pace (from my normal base line), but it was as hard as I could go. Now on the homestretch, I saw plenty of 25K runners who had yet to make it to their respective turn around, and I passed a handful more who were traveling in the same direction as me (including a 10-year-old and his father who were doing the 25K together).
Somewhere on top of Moose Mountain a woman asked me to pass. I said nothing, and blasted down the hill that came before me. She ran with me for the rest of the race, and she kept my pace honest and spirits up. I never let her pass, and used the downhills.
The only dark point on this last section came on the long walk up Mystery Mountain. I was chasing two 25K runners who were walking up it, and I knew the woman was behind me. By now I had put some distance on her. So I walked hard and eventually got the top. I never heard the woman again. Once on top, I needed two landmarks for confirmation my location. One was the Mystery Mountain campsite. That signaled about 1 mile of downhill until the trailhead, and the trailhead meant maybe a half a mile until the finish.
I camp upon the campsite and my spirits lifted. I surged down the mountain and crossed the bridge over the Cascade River. My feet kept running up the final hill to the trailhead and then the gravel showed its face. From here on out it was a strong push to the finish. I crossed in 5:19:54.
Now 72+ hours post-race, I've dealt with the anticipated delayed-onset muscle soreness. It's most present in my lower calves (Achilles and north) and outside of my quads.
I also learned that my twist and later tuck-and-roll sprained a ligament in front of the outside of my left ankle, and likely strained a muscle or tendon on the outside of my left calve. On Dr.'s orders, I'm wearing an over-ankle compression sleeve (like a sock, but sans toes) and am taking 400 mg of ibuprofen two or three times per day. And I can run, al beit my usual post-race routine - slow, easy and short. I ran 10 minutes last night and will increase it slowly. Something tells me I won't be hitting my planned 13 miler this weekend, but no matter.