Some thoughts about yesterday's race:
I finished 2nd in a time of 6:40:53, about 8 minutes faster than the previous course record. Uli Steidl won the race in a time of 6:33 and change!
Uli ran away with the race coming out of the aid station at mile 39. To that point he and I had run within a few hundred feet of each other the entire way. From about mile 14 on we were separated from the rest of the field. In that 25 mile span from mile 14 to mile 39 we were never more than 10 feet apart. We took turns in the lead and most of the time I felt like we were connected such that we couldn't separate if we wanted to. It felt like we were literally dragging each other down the trail with a 5 foot rope holding us together. We both took the same amount of time at aid stations and we both seemed to be running with the same strengths, that is to say fast on the uphills, fast on the flats, and fast on the downhills. I had assumed that Uli was not that fast on more technical trail, being that most of his racing in the past few years has been on roads. That was definitely the wrong assumption. We ran the technical downhill after PanToll (mile 30) about as fast as one could possible imagine and I couldn't even hear him behind me. He just seemed to hover along a few inches off the ground. For most of the run we hardly talked at all but I felt like we were communicating so much just from sharing the same experience so closely. I felt so focused on moving forward in conjunction with Uli that there almost seemed to be no space in my mind for words. Because of this the times we did speak seemed really significant and almost shocking at times. Simple one sentence statements seemed like profound thesis at the time, because they tended to speak also of the previous 30 minutes of silence. Each word seemed to convey a thousand thoughts. I don't think I have ever felt as tuned in to another runner during a race.
Eventually my body broke down. I made up my mind at around mile 20 that I was going to stay with Uli as long as I could. I wasn't going to fade back slowly to improve my chances of staying strong and thus remain more likely to maintain 2nd place. I was running to win and the only way I was going to be able to do that was staying right there with him. I was not going to let him out of my sight unless I had no physical ability left to keep him there. For several miles (around mile 28-35) I even felt a confidence that I might be able to be the one to pull away from him on one of the difficult climbs in the last 10 miles of the race.
It wasn't meant to be for me though. When my strength began to waver on the climb up out of Muir Beach (mile 39) he was gone out of sight almost immediately. It felt weird to be right there with him for so long and then suddenly he was long gone. I kind of liked the quickness of it all though. I was able to just let him go in my mind and begin to instantly focus on getting my situation corrected. My legs were cramping and I was short on calories. I walked uphill and rubbed my cramping quads, drank lots of fluid, and ate as many calories as I could stomach. Gradually life came back to my physical body and I was able to finish strong.
It would have been nice to win, but it was an absolute honor to share that experience with Uli and I am completely humbled by the race he ran. For 39 miles I was able to push my body to a limit just slightly below collapse. Uli was able to convince his body to stay at that limit for the full 50 miles. I know that my name has been thrown around by some people for Ultrarunning performance of the year (either for HURT, Wasatch, or Mountain Masochist), but Uli's run yesterday was without question a more impressive performance than what I did in any of these races. It was the most impressive running performance I have ever seen in person, replacing what Dave Mackey did at Miwok '08.
It might sound strange but this may have been my most satisfying race of '09. My body failed me before the finish, but my mind dealt with this failure in such a healthy and satisfying way. I had a deeply satisfying and connected experience running with Uli all day. And probably most satisfying of all was that I got to share this race with some of the most important people in my life. I had 8 people that I love dearly there with me at the finish. People that came from all over the continent and made my experience more complete than it ever could have been otherwise.