Things didn't go that great for me in the 10 days or so leading up to this one. Two days before Thanksgiving my lower back got really sore and forced me to spend the better part of 3 days in bed. In all I only ran 13 miles in 4 days during that stretch. I felt a lot better on Sunday and Monday (5 days before the race) only to come to feel a bit of a head cold creeping in on Tuesday. I fought off the cold with every thing I could think of: Lots of sleep, little to no running, vitamin C, and Osha root. This seemed to work and by race day I was excited that I still hadn't been hit too hard by this cold. Just a slight sore throat and headache as I lined up to race Saturday morning. The main downside was that I hadn't run at all since Tuesday, meaning that I ended up only running 5 of the last 10 days before the race, certainly more of a taper than I would have liked.
But as the race started I quickly felt excited just to have made it fairly healthy to that point. My back was healed up and my head cold felt like it would hold off for at least one more day.
And so we were off. I felt tight. I felt like I hadn't run in 4 days. But beyond that it felt great to be racing.
We were in a huge group at the start. 10 miles in and I think there were still 25+ of us within a few seconds of the lead. Looking around I knew that there were several runners who didn't belong in this group, but there were also a dozen or more who did belong in this group. It was an amazing group of elite runners to be running with. I chatted a fair amount with Dakota and Dave, and a bit with Michael Owen, and one or two short sentences with Miguel Heras. Beyond that I just kind of ran along very relaxed. It was nice when the sun came up around mile 15. At this point we seemed to regroup into a couple lead groups. One group of 3 up in front and then a "peloton" of about 12 of us slowly reeling in this lead group on the climb up toward PanToll.
I still felt tight, but this climb also felt really easy to me. This was probably the first point in the race when I knew that I would have no problem running hard for 50 miles on this day. I didn't know if I would be able to run fast enough to stay near the front, but I knew that I was going to be able to put in a 100% effort and that my body would hold up.
By the time we got to PanToll the peloton had caught the breakaway group and Dave took the lead on the short downhill stretch over to Bootjack aid station. Dave hammered down this technical stretch of trail and a few of us followed in close pursuit. This fast downhill and the transition point at Bootjack was a key point in the race in which several runners were suddenly unable or unwilling to stay on the pace. Still hanging around in front was Dave, Dakota, Heras, Lorblanchet, Matt Flaherty, and I.
Just past Bootjack we hit the 4 mile out and back stretch of the race and Dave seemed to really push the pace in this stretch. I still felt pretty relaxed but I certainly couldn't have run this stretch much faster than we did. I was relieved when we made it back to the beginning of the out and back portion and begin the drop down to Stinson Beach. The pace felt a lot easier going down and I knew that once we hit Stinson we would begin the long climb back up to PanToll. Something I felt excited about, as I had been climbing comfortably all day.
I stopped to urinate at the bottom of the climb from Stinson Beach up to PanToll and discovered that we had dropped Flaherty and Lorblanchet. We were down to 4 in the lead group. Dakota moved into the lead on this climb and I slowly, and easily passed Miguel and Dave and caught back up to Dakota. This climb felt super smooth and super easy to me. Dakota and I put a bit of a gap on Dave and Miguel and we cruised together this way all the way to about mile 35. On the downhills through this stretch Dave would catch up to us briefly, but we would drop him again just as soon as we went uphill at all. Just past the Old Inn aid station there is a short (but steep) climb and this was were I pulled away from Dakota for good. He stayed close though all the way back to Muir Beach. And then finally on the climb out of Muir Beach I pulled comfortable away from him and into the lead all alone. I had no idea where anyone else was. I knew Dave and Miguel were probably not far back but I hadn't seen either of them in almost an hour.
I was feeling good, but never feeling certain that I would win. All day I had felt strong on the uphills, but relatively average on the flats and gradual downhills. I liked my chances of winning based simply on the fact that I was 2 or 3 minutes ahead with less than 10 miles to go, but I also knew that if anyone behind me found a really strong late surge that I might still be vulnerable.
And of course it was Miguel who found that surge. I was pretty sure I saw him storming down toward me as we dropped into Tennessee Valley (mile 45) but I kept holding out hope that maybe it was a runner in one of the other races as there was a 50k and marathon going on at the same time. And so I pushed on harder. Mostly knowing that it was Miguel and mostly knowing that he was going to catch me, but never really knowing for sure until he motored by me with about 4 miles to go. Of course I tried to stay with him for as long as I could but I just didn't have it in me. I hadn't faded, but rather Miguel was closing his race in epic fashion. It was frustrating to finish second in this fashion but there wasn't anything in my bag of tricks that could have held Miguel off on that day. Sometimes everything just comes together at the right time and that was the perfect time for him.
Overall I was super happy with my race. I finished ahead of more truly elite runners than I ever have in one race and it was a delight and an honor to race with everyone in this race. And now I feel like I have a much better understanding of how Tony must have felt about his Western States run. My race Saturday was a lot like his WS race. Strong and steady throughout, but just not quite enough to hold off a freak of nature like late charge. It certainly felt better to be that freak of nature as I was at Western States, but it's also really fun to be the strong and steady one who drags the pack along most of the day.