Crow Pass turned out to be a definitive succes for me.
I did not win. I did not even come very close to winning but I was in position to have a chance to win for almost 20 miles so that was enough to keep me very excited and having lots of fun.
When the eventual top three finishers (I finished 4th) pulled away with about 7 miles to go I just didn't have a faster speed available to go with them. In most circumstances this would have been very frustrating for me but I had already had so much more fun and gotten so much more performance out of my body than I expected that I just happily let them go while I eased comfortably to an uneventful finish of 3:17:53, about exactly the same time I ran 2 years ago.
The course was a mess in places. A lot more snow than usual and a lot of mud. I took a few pretty good falls. I think just about everyone took some falls. I would guess that the first half of the course was at least 5 minutes slower than either of the past 2 years. The second half wasn't too bad though, and some recent trail work may have even made the second half a bit faster than the past couple years. It's almost impossible to explain the challenge of trying to race this route. It's kind of something you just have to experience to understand it. I can talk about snow, mud, bears, overgrown trail, creek crossings, roots, rocks, etc., but without being out there it's hard to comprehend just how much of each of these things there are. Here's a recent Anchorage Daily News article that does a pretty good job attempting to explain some of the diffuculties with this route.
It was great to be able to push myself quite hard but not wreck my mind or body in any way. I'm a bit sore and tired today but I suspect I will be back at my training tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest.
I found out that I have a high level of general endurance still, but I do still need to get some speed and some climbing strength. All throughout the run yesterday I felt like I couldn't move on the uphills and that I couldn't kick it up to a faster pace. I was pretty sure from early on in the race that I was not going to be able to contend for the win but then I just kept lingering around the leaders longer and longer. I even had one stretch from about mile 13-15 when I thought maybe, just maybe I could stay with these guys to the finish. For the most part though I felt more like a spectator. Once the lead pack pulled away I found myself wishing I could be at the finish to see them battle it out.
As it turned out Eric Strabel (2006 winner) won by about :30 in a showdown with Patrick Stinson that wasn't decided until the last 1/2 mile of the race.
I had sort of forgotten how much I like this race. Even though I didn't bring my 'A' game to the starting line this year I still got to have a really fun time racing against some great competition and great people. And in the end I was still able to run about the 30th fastest time in race history, replenishing my desire to have a year again soon (quite likely next year) in which I'm able to put my full focus on this race and see just how fast I might be able to go out there. I feel confident that there is a small group of runners in Alaska now who, with the right trail conditions could push each other to times shockingly faster than what have been previously run in this race.