I approached this race very different from any race I have ever run. The idea crept slowly into my mind over the past month or so to run a race in which I didn't race so much against other runners, but instead to test my mind to see how hard I could get it to push my body. As I explained this approach to a few close friends leading up to the race one of them asked me if I thought maybe I was getting bored with racing. This caught me a bit off guard cause I hadn't thought about that, but almost right away I wondered if she was on to something. By the time I lined up for my race at 7am Saturday morning I had a bit of fear/excitement that this might be the last race I would run trying to compete at such a high level. If you discover that you can push yourself where you want to go, as fast as you want to go, without feeding off of others in the race then at some point it becomes kind of silly to race as compared to just doing fun routes against a clock or against previous runs and how they made your mind and body feel. This didn't turn out to be the case though. At least not yet.
Eric Strabel and I had loosely discussed the possibility of pushing each other to what would seem to most people to be an impossibly fast time. He had the fastest time ever in the 25 years of this race (3:05 and change) and I had the 3rd fastest time ever in this race (3:07 something I think), but we both knew we could go faster. We had even talked specifically about the likelihood that one or both of us could go under 3 hours. As the race started I pretty much knew that if it became a race against another runner, as compared to a test to see how hard I could push myself, that Eric would almost certainly be that other runner.
Up to the pass I ran alone. I didn't feel very good but I was 10 or more seconds ahead of anyone all the way up. I found myself looking back at the pack a few times... not entirely able to forget about the rest of the field like I hoped to do.
Over the pass I was able to bring my thoughts mostly into my mind only. I really tried to hammer down the back side but my quads were burning pretty badly and I was only 5 miles into the 25 mile race. I knew it was going to be a painful day but I kind of relished that thought. The last thing I wanted was to finish this race without some serious physical suffering. It was only going to be a success if I hammered from start to finish as hard as I could, and certainly that was going to involve some serious physical pain. I had accepted that as a certainty several weeks earlier.
A few miles later Eric caught up to me for the first time. I tried to keep my mind off from whatever race he was running and just kept pushing harder. I pulled back ahead of him and cruised on down to the river crossing at mile 12 with about a 10-20 second lead. I knew he would be strong after the river, as he always is, but I kept trying to push myself against myself and not against him.
Eventually though he reeled me in again and when I took a slight wrong turn that cost me a few seconds he took the lead. I settled in behind him and almost instantly the race was on. As the interest in racing against another runner came back into my mind it became almost all consuming. Eric is a great competitor and I knew we were in for a battle to the finish that would be more satisfying than anything I was going to be able provide myself, without his help. We took turns leading each other further down toward the finish. He dropped a bit behind with 7 or 8 miles to go, but he caught me again a mile or so later. Finally with a bit less than 5 miles to go I made a strong move and never saw him again.
Now I was back to racing the clock. I never really forgot about him behind me but more and more I became zoned in on trying to break 3 hours. Finally with about 2 miles to go I knew I had it as long as nothing went drastically wrong. I wasn't moving very fast anymore but I pushed myself as hard as I could, almost screaming out in exhaustion at times. I finished in 2:57:11, more than a minute ahead of Eric.
Instead of ending the race feeling that I had no need to race against other runners anymore, I ended the race as hungry as ever to compete. Wasatch is going to be on in a big way come September 11th. Hal and Karl are both supposed to be there. It should be epic.