Everything leading up to this race was really easy. I didn't really think much about the race and I even slept quite well the night before. And then next thing I knew it was Saturday morning and we were off and running.
Almost right from the start it was clear that I would not be able to stay with the pace that Eric Strabel was planning to set. Last year Eric and I had had an epic battle in this race and he seemed determined to try to put me away early on in this one.
And so we climbed, and Eric pulled further and further away from me. I wasn't feeling too bad, but Eric clearly had a gear going up that I just didn't have on this day. I just kept telling myself to be patient and let the race come to me.
After the pass I started to feel a little bit better and I was noticing that the trail was in really good shape and that I was feeling really comfortable and agile on my feet. I remember thinking that I really needed to use the more technical stretches of this race to make up time on Eric because he had already showed me on the climb to the pass that he had a lot more strength than me on this day. And so I pushed hard through the rocky, muddy, rooty overgrown stretch of trail that leads from the bottom of the pass down toward the river. And then I promptly turned my ankle and had to slow down for several minutes. I had come really close to hurting it badly and even as it were I had done a bit of a tweak to it that needed several minutes to loosen up. And then of course I twisted it again. And again. Luckily none of these times were too bad and after about 10 minutes it was feeling fine again, and I was starting to feel confident on my feet again.
No sooner were things going smooth and suddenly a huge bull moose runs onto the trail in front of me and refuses to leave the trail. I wanted to just bushwhack around it but it wouldn't stay in the same spot whenever I approached it. It would jog along in front of me and then stop again further down the trail. We played this game for about a mile. Through some of this stretch I was able to run my normal pace, but most of the time I was just shuffling along timidly knowing that there was this giant beast around the corner. Finally he cleared the trail and I was back to running "normal."
I was a bit frustrated about the moose thing at the time, but was quickly able to let it go and get back to racing. There was still a lot of race to go and I had learned enough about patience at Western States that I knew that all I could do was focus on myself and just keep plugging along.
At the Eagle River crossing (mile 12) I got word that I was 3 minutes behind Eric. I was pretty energized by that. I had had the ankle "slow down", the moose "slow down", and had taken one pretty good fall that slowed me down for several seconds as well. And still, despite all this I was only 3 minutes back.
And so I pushed on with a lot more focus and determination. I started to feel good, but still I remained patient. I pushed the pace a little harder, but I still needed a bit more time to relax and get fully warmed up and ready for a hard push to the finish. Somewhere around mile 15 I had to stop to use the facilities (cost me maybe 45-60 seconds), and somewhere in this stretch I accidentally took the slower "high water" route, and to add insult to injury while I was on the high water route I ran across a cow moose with a calf camped out in the middle of the trail (found out later that Eric had also taken this slower route and had encountered the moose as well). Despite all of this though, when I got to Icicle Creek, around mile 18, I had still cut Eric's lead down to 60 seconds. I knew I was gaining on him fast at this point. I was feeling the best I had felt all day and I just kept pushing forward harder and harder.
About half way between "the perch" and echo bend (around mile 20) I caught Eric. I ran just behind him for 30+ seconds, but by that point he had really hit the wall and was just pushing along to get to the finish. It was clear that he was done racing. I passed by him and moved back into my much faster pace on to the finish.
When it was said and done I had taken another 2:30 off my course record time from last year. Eric slipped in just under 3 hours and another run at Crow Pass was in the books.
I was quite surprised that I was able to go as fast as I was this year. Especially with all the little mishaps that cost me time throughout the race. Adding it all up I suspect I lost 4 or 5 minutes of time from all of these little things. It was really satisfying to run from behind and remain patient enough all day to keep my head and my body in this one. I don't think I would have been so calm about this situation had I not had the experience I had at Western States last month.
In hindsight I think Eric ran a really smart race, he just ran out of gas a bit too early. I was really satisfied with the way I stayed calm and didn't crack under the pressure of how large of a lead he opened at the start of the race. There were definitely times though when I thought he was just running on another planet that day and I wouldn't see him again until I finished and he was already in his street clothes eating a Subway sandwich. That's what it felt like watching him run up to the pass. And that's what it felt like when I turned my ankle. And that's what it felt like when I followed that bull moose for several minutes. But through it all I just kept things in perspective, and kept moving down the trail as fast as I could at any given moment. Luckily that was just fast enough.