I’m driving over to the race start Saturday morning watching the outside temperature drop from 20 degrees to 17 to 15 degrees.  I was giving my wife who was running the 20 mile race the play-by-play, but I don’t think she was enjoying it too much.  Needless to say, there wasn’t much socializing before the race as everyone was camped out in their cars enjoying a last gasp of comfort before braving the elements.  The temperature had gotten up to 19 when the race started and was never really a problem for me.  I was cold for about 10 minutes and then fine the rest of the day.  I had hand warmers in my gloves, which definitely helped out.

Do I look cold? Well, I am. And yes, this is the same outfit I wore to Phunt. Don’t judge. It might not look good, but it kept me warm which is the important thing.

The race course is a 20.6 loop around Blue Marsh Lake that starts at the Dry Brooks Day Use Center.  There were 119 starters for the 40 miler and we were able to get spaced out halfway decently before hitting the trail.  The nice thing about the trail is that there is plenty of room to pass, which is important as you get later on in the race and there is a lot of 2 way traffic.  The 3 miles to the first aid station are rolling hills through the woods with plenty of views of the lake.  I was cruising along here nicely at about a 10:30 pace until my heart rate monitor strap got unhinged and I had to pull off to the side of the trail to fix it.  I felt bad for another runner I know who saw me, started to ask if I was OK, got distracted, and then took a header (sorry, Perry!).

The whole course looked a lot like this. Definitely worse ways to spend a Saturday.

The next 3 miles to the second aid station are a little flatter with some meadows thrown in for variety.  After the second aid station, you do a 7 mile loop.  The section before the third aid station is the hardest on the course with 2 decent sized hills.  They’re tough on the first loop and even harder on the second.  Though the hills were far from the most frustrating thing about this section.  You see, this is where I started getting passed fairly regularly.  It doesn’t matter that it was the 20 miler runners who were flying by me like I was standing still.  Normally, I don’t start getting passed until closer to the end of the loop, however the format changed and they were only starting 30 minutes later this year instead of the normal hour.  Yes, I know they were the eventual winners of a shorter race, but it still messes with your mind a bit to know how much slower you are than others.  Sigh.  Story of my life, I guess.

This is the bottom portion of The Hill.
This is the top of The Hill.  You can tell as it’s clearly marked.  I thought the smiley face was a nice touch.

After the third aid station is probably my favorite section of the course.  It’s not the most picturesque and large stretches are run next to a road, however it’s the flattest section.  If you’re going to make some time, this is the place to do it.  It was in through here that I posted my fastest split (9:32).  I kept thinking “run easy, run easy” and I was trying to not push the pace since I still had a loooong way to go.  Looking back, I know I was running easy, but I’m not sure I was running easy enough.

And then the loop is done and it’s a straight shot back to the start/finish.  I cruised through the next 6 miles and only clocked a couple miles above 11 minute pace. I was trying not to check my watch because I knew I was running pretty fast (for me anyways, I’m still getting passed regularly by the 20 milers) and didn’t want to jinx or disappoint myself.  I get to the final hill in the last mile and I’m feeling really good.  Not really good for running 20 miles, but really good in general.  My legs had started to get a little tired around miles 15-16, but other than that my energy levels were sky high and I was in a real solid place mentally.

I reached the starting area, filled a water bottle, and was on my way back out for loop #2 after 3 hours 39 minutes or a 10:33 pace.  This was about 14 minutes faster than last year and 5 minutes faster than 2015.  Even though I have a long way to go, I’m starting with the mental math.  A 12 minute pace will get me back at 7:40 and 13 minute pace 8 hours.  Both those would beat my best time of 8:11.  I’m thinking I can probably split the difference and do 7:50, which is about where I thought I would end up coming into the race.

The good feelings I had finishing up the first loop continued as I started lap 2, however I started slowing down quite a bit.  I was now running 11 and 12 minute miles and the effort seemed to be increasing to hit these paces.  As is usually the case, slight rises in elevation during loop 1 now became hills.  And were walked.  Even if it was for only 6 feet.  My head was still in a good place, but knew that it was time to start working for my finish.  I’m hoping that at some point I will gain enough ability and/or knowledge to just breeze through an ultra, however I haven’t gotten to that point yet.  Maybe I never want to get that point. I want to give full effort every time I hit the trail and that means pushing yourself a bit physically and mentally outside your comfort zone.  That doesn’t mean you’re not still having fun and enjoying things (I was).  It’s just not a walk in the park.

I was still managing fairly well until I got to The Hill for the second time. I clocked a 16 minute mile here (3 minutes slower than the first time), however that wasn’t the problem.  I stopped being able to take any more gels in through here.  I had been downing one every 4 miles and that had been working well, but they started becoming more and more difficult to get down.  I finally gave up at mile 31 and just started grazing off the aid station tables.  The bananas, potatoes, and potato chips all met my stomach’s seal of approval.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking much of any of those at any one time.

This is a tree. No, I wasn’t really trying to take a picture of a tree. I was trying to get a shot of the trail and the lake together, however only ended up getting a good shot of the bottom of the tree because I was very tired and not very artistic. But you, my readers, deserved a shot of the trail next to the lake and unfortunately the best I could muster was this tree.  Sorry!

I was able to maintain a 12 minute pace compared to 10 minute the prior lap in the flat section heading into the next to last aid station.  After that, the “gently” rolling hills slowed me down to 13.5-14 minute miles.  It was in through here that I remembered I had been carrying a bottle of Ensure Plus as back-up calories in case the gels stopped working for me like they did at Cloudsplitter.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this until it was basically too late.  I would have gotten the calories down, but they wouldn’t have gotten into my system until I had crossed the finish line.  Oh, well.

The final hill leading up to the finish. This my favorite one as it’s not too steep and not too long, but is an easy landmark to know I’m almost done. You can see all the runners who passed me in the last 2 miles right ahead of me.

And then I was up the last hill, down the short road section, and across the finish line in  a time of 7 hours and 57 minutes which was good for a 15 minute PR for me.  It wasn’t a perfect race for me, but it was an extremely enjoyable one.  What was perhaps most surprising is that the temperatures (high of only 29) were never a factor for me outside of several short sections where the wind really seemed to gust with gusto.  Hand warmers for the win!  As always, Stephan Weiss and the Uberendurancesports team did a wonderful job with the race.  The course is very well marked with ribbons and chalk.  The aid stations are close and stocked with everything you would want (even IPA).  And it’s a pretty trail to run with nice scenery thrown in.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next year for another go.  Hope to see you there.

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