Going into Way Too Cool I would have been really stoked to know that I would finish in 3rd place behind Leor Pantilat and Max King. I think they both have more speed at that distance than I do and with how little focus I was putting on this one as anything more than an ambitious training race I really wouldn't have imagined beating either one of them unless something went wrong for them. As it turned out I was the one that had "something go wrong."
Things went pretty much as expected for the first 27 miles. I started out running with Max, just a bit behind Leor for the first few miles and then I eased back when I realized we were running sub 6 minute pace. And then for almost 3 hours I was stuck in the middle by myself. I was never really close enough to see Leor and Max, and never once did I see another runner behind me after the first few miles. I was simply out for a long run at that point, lost in my own experience. I wasn't feeling very fast or strong most of this time but I was enjoying myself nonetheless. I was getting reports all day from spectators that I was somewhere between 2-5 minutes behind the leaders. I knew I would likely be stronger as the race wore on because I generally excel on large climbs (which there are more of in the later parts of this course) and because I likely have the most endurance of the three of us. On this day though I felt really weak on the climbs and since I wasn't feeling very fast all day I was kind of resolved to just staying in cruise control mode and hope for a third place finish.
And then surprisingly as I pulled into the aid station at mile 26.8 I saw Max and Leor just leaving the aid station. I blew through the aid without stopping (as I did at every aid station all day - 50k's sure are a lot easier logistically than 50 and 100 milers) and less than a few hundred yards past the aid station I passed Max and then almost right away I passed Leor. This whole scenario caught me off guard. I never expected to catch them and then when I did I was beyond them so quick that I felt myself a few times needing to remind myself that it actually happened.
Shortly after passing them I came to a long straight away and looked back behind me and couldn't see either one of them. My lead was probably 30-60 seconds no more than a few minutes after passing them. By this point I knew I had the race in the bag as long as I took care of myself. Then suddenly I came to a junction which had flagging going in both directions, 2.5 miles from the finish. There was a lot more flagging going to the right and for some reason I was really impatient and just took off downhill to the right. It felt right for a minute or two but then I was really starting to question myself. Eventually I ran into someone down at the bottom of this long downhill who told me that I had made the wrong turn. This stretch I was running down was in fact a stretch of trail that I had already run at about mile 8 of the race, thus the flagging going in both directions.
That's more or less the end of my story of this one. I turned around, ran back up the hill, and ran frustratingly to the finish in 3rd place.
I still find myself thinking about what "should have been", but I also can find a lot of self deprecating humor in it. It's a good lesson in acceptance. I need to accept that I made this impatient mistake, and I more or less have accepted this. I had a hard time thinking about much of anything else the night after the race, but by today I really haven't thought about it much at all until writing about it now. I also need to accept that I have a lot more 50k "speed" than I thought I did. I'm not sure if this means you'll see me at too many more 50k's in the future, but I do need to spend a little more time coming to accept and believe that I had myself in position to finish ahead of the entire field in one of the most competitive 50k trail runs in the country... cause right now it almost doesn't feel like I was ever in the position to be able to win the race. It almost feels like the entire experience of catching up to them, blowing by them, and then getting lost never even happened. Like I just ran in third place all day and finished in third place. It would be a lot easier if that really were the case.