I went into this race not really certain of what to expect. I did not approach this as a "focus" race so I didn't even take the time before hand to check out any of the course, instead I spent most of the 3 days that I was in Hawaii before the run hanging out at the beach and doing runs that were pretty mellow, but a bit running more than I usually do the few days before such a tough race. Basically I was looking for that fine line between being as prepared as possible, but without forcing my body into too much a valley and then a peak such that it would throw too much of a kink into my Iditarod Invitational training.
Because this was my approach I was able to sleep much more the night before the race than I usually am. I had very little performance anxiety about this one so instead of laying in bed thinking about every last detail for hours on end I actually slept for about 5 of the 8 hours that I was trying to sleep (about twice as much as my average the night before a race). It felt weird the next morning to drive to the race feeling pretty well rested. Usually I feel like a train wreck as I'm making my way to a race.
I stuck with my usual approach though of showing up as late to the start as comfortably possible. Nothing worse than standing around in the dark, freezing your ass off, wishing you had slept an extra 30 minutes so you didn't have to stand there for so long.
And then we were off. I started somewhere near the back of the pack because I didn't want to get caught up in the mindset of racing right off the start. I figured the more removed I was from the leaders early on the more likely I would be able to actually hold back as much as I hoped to for at least the first couple laps. I stuck pretty well to this plan until heading into the first aid station (mile 7). The way the course is laid out (out and back stretches leading into 2 of the 3 aid stations on each 20 mile lap) you pretty much see the entire field every couple hours. At this point I was pretty surprised by how far ahead of me a few guys were. I knew that we were all running much faster than any of us could possibly sustain but it seemed very odd nonetheless.
For the rest of that first lap I tried as best I could to hold back but I ended up getting to the start/finish aid station in 3:45 (about 30 minutes faster than I assumed I would). Surprisingly this still put me about 15 minutes behind Paul Hopwood who was running in the lead.
On the second lap I didn't speed up at all, but I also didn't slow down as I wanted to. I was trying to slow down but I ended up running about the exact same time on the second lap as the first. I was a lot more relaxed on this lap because I did take over the lead at about mile 28. This was certainly earlier in the race than I wanted to be pulling away from the entire field if this really was to be a "training" run, but I just went with it because I began to feel much more warmed up and comfortable with the idea of likely being able to maintain a similar pace for most of the race.
I did have a really tough stretch on the second lap climbing up out of Jackass Ginger aid station. For about 3 miles (around race mile 34-37) I felt really depleted and weak. I was pretty concerned about this at the time but I really focused on getting down as much liquid and calories as possible and within about 30 minutes I was feeling much better.
Lap 3 was when I really started to pay attention to my potential for a great finishing time if I could sustain anything close to the pace I was cruising along at. I decided early on in lap 3 that I would run that lap with the same effort as the first 2 laps and assess my chances at going for the course record based on what my lap time for lap 3 was. I could feel that my 3rd lap wasn't going to be quite as fast as my first two, but I also knew that if it was anywhere below 4:15 I probably had a shot at breaking the course record.
Heading down into Jackass Ginger on the 3rd lap I ran into my buddy Dave Johnston who was climbing up out of there on his second lap. Dave's one of those guys who is always in a good mood with a huge smile on his face. I don't know that I've ever seen anyone who so obviously loves ultra racing as much as Dave. Problem is Dave looked really beaten and it was clear that he was struggling. I later heard that he dropped out at the end of his second lap. Bummer. I suspect he'll be back to tackle that beast another time.
I finished lap 3 in 4:00 and although I had slowed down a little bit I was actually beginning to feel even more comfortable with the much faster than planned effort that I was putting in. The course was very technical, but also very similar to the trails I run here in Juneau in the summer time. When I get in a groove I can move through roots and mud like they're not hardly there. By about mile 50 (middle of 3rd lap) I was really getting into that groove. I was also getting my aid station routine perfectly dialed in. Throughout most of the race Jill was biking back and forth between the start/finish aid station and the Paradise aid station so twice per lap she was there with my drop bag items spread out on the ground for me to get anything I wanted almost instantly. While an aid station volunteer was filling my water bladder and/or bottles I'd grab a flask of gel, a bottle of perpetuem, and anything else I might need. Typically I was in and out of each aid station in 90 seconds or less.
By the middle of lap 3 I was also finally running my race and not focusing too much on the racers chasing me from behind. Now that I was thinking about going for the race record I didn't even really pay attention to how far the "chase" group was behind me. Looking at the splits now I see that they were less than an hour behind me at mile 60 so there was still a potentially close race going on if I slipped up much at all.
It got dark on lap 4 which was just fine with me. I really like running in the dark. Even though I know it slows me down it always feels like I'm running faster. Everything outside the beam of my headlamp just fades away and I feel like I'm running into a narrow tube with the sides just whizzing by me faster and faster as it gets darker and darker.
Dropping down into Paradise aid station (race mile 67) I met another friend, Evan Hone who was climbing up on his third lap. He was just about halfway through his race and he was sounding really good. To see Evan so upbeat at mile 50 was really exciting to me. Evan is a really strong runner who has had a tendency in the past to get pretty frustrated with himself (usually half jokingly and half seriously) during the tough stretches that everyone faces when racing an ultra. I was really rooting for him to have a breakthrough race and I was really stoked to see that he appeared to be well on his way to doing so.
The rest of that lap I just kept moving forward and feeling very relaxed. Time was dropping away quickly and I was doing a great job of sticking to my 300 or so calories per hour and drinking tons of water (I probably drank about 6 or 7 gallons throughout the entire race). I finished my 4th lap in 4:20 (the darkness probably accounted for most of my slowdown from lap 3).
I started my last lap with about 4:50 to break the course record. I knew I had a great shot at it, but it was close enough that it wasn't going to come without a solid last 20 miles. This would be my first lap run completely in the dark so I knew this would probably slow me down another 5 or 10 minutes from my previous lap so I really only had about 20 minutes to spare. If I faded by much more than that then I wasn't going to make it. The first half of that last lap I still felt very strong but at about mile 90 I began to have some really weak and dizzy feelings (very similar to how I had felt earlier in the race around mile 35). I was tired and I wasn't taking in enough calories. Even though it seems completely ridiculous now, I remember at about mile 85 I started to think that I would just finish on the calories I had in me and not bother to consume anymore of the fuel that I was kind of getting sick of. It's amazing how dumb one can be under the drunken spell of 85 hard miles. Luckily I snapped out of it around mile 90 and took in about 500 calories of gel all at once and that brought me back around. I popped in and out of Jackass Ginger aid station and now I only had 7 miles to go. I didn't let up, but I was slowing down as more fatigue crept in. Finally with just a few miles to go I knew I had the record in the bag and just relaxed and shuffled into the finish. The funny thing is that as soon as I slowed down I was having a terrible time staying on my feet. I never took a single fall the entire race until the last 2 miles when I fell 3 times and almost fell a few others.
I made my way down to the finish line with a 4:35 last lap, 20:28 total time, 15 minutes ahead of Matt Estes' 2007 record time. Jill, Anne, and Pam (all from Alaska) were all there when I came into the finish (even though it was the middle of the night). It felt good to be done, but as usual I didn't want to leave any time soon. I wanted to sit there and take it all in and root for other racers as they came through.
About 2 hours after I finished Evan came through with the end of his 4th lap. I was very relieved to see that he was still very positive and was heading back out entirely confident that he was going to finish. He ended up finishing in 10th place, just under 29 hours. Pretty kick ass for his first 100 mile finish. Check out his race report here.
I finally got up and made my way back to my hotel for a bath and a few hours sleep. I wanted to get back to see Evan finish but he ran his last lap too damn fast so we missed him come in by about 30 minutes. I suspect this won't be the last 100 miler I'll be seeing him at.
Obviously I ended up running this race harder than a "training" run but I'm very happy with how my body has felt afterwards. I did not push myself 100% into the ground the way I would in a "focus" race and now, 6 days later, I feel pretty near fully recovered and ready to move forward with my Iditarod Invitational final preparations (just over 5 weeks until that one starts).