There were several things I really like about this race. One of them is that the start area is a nice, quiet little spot, with plenty of space to sleep in the forest near the start line, and a small town a mile down the road, with anything you might need the evening before the race. I wish all races were as easy in this regard.
So by the time we started at 5am Saturday morning, I had had such a relaxing 16 hours in Arizona that it was really easy to feel comfortable and relaxed running in the morning darkness. To make things even more relaxing, there were no rabbits that took the pace out very fast so I was able to just cruise along with Dakota, Hal, and Nico for a bit. It felt really easy, and I was really surprised to get to mile 17 (exactly the 1/3 point of this 51 mile route) on pace to run about 7:45. The pace felt so easy to that point that I was certain that as long as things didn't come undone for me I could keep up that pace for the full race, and probably even cruise the last 10 miles or so a little faster. I was still feeling about the same through the mile 23 aid station, but then things went the other way really quickly, but also somehow kind of subtly.
The ironic thing was that just at the point that I started to not feel so great, I pulled away from Dakota (we had already pulled away from the rest of the field somewhere around mile 10) and would end up running the rest of the race on my own. From about mile 25 to the finish I ended up feeling like I was bonking almost the entire way. At some points it would get a little better, but I basically never felt even as good as average after mile 25. I had no specific problems, I just didn't have any energy. My stomach was a little off all day, so I was never able to really take in as many calories as I probably needed. And it got quite hot by the middle of the race. Neither of these things should have made me feel this bad though. I've run plenty or races when I'm only able to take in about 200 calories per hour as I did in this one (I prefer when I can get down 300). In hundred milers I think it's necessary to take in more than 200 per hour, but I've gotten through plenty of 50 milers in the past in which I only took 200 per hour and have felt fine. I've also run plenty of races when it's been as hot or hotter than it was in this one. It never feels as good to run in 80 degrees as it does in 50, but the heat alone has never made me feel this weak before.
At any rate, to make a long story short I just kept trudging along, putting one foot in front of the other. I walked almost all of the uphills in the last 20 miles. I walked some flats. I stopped numerous times. I stopped and laid down in 3 or 4 creek crossings. None of these things seemed to help. The further I ran, the weaker I felt. This was without a doubt the worst I've ever felt for 25 consecutive miles. If I feel like this on a training run I just turn around and come home. When I've felt like this in races I've either stuck with it and turned things around, or they've continued to get worse (Bandera 2011 and Miwok 2009) and I've ended up dropping out. This weekend I never really considered dropping out, but had this been a 100k or longer I'm not sure I would have made it to the finish. Perhaps the strangest thing about how I felt for the last half of the race, was that for the first half I felt about as relaxed, strong, and comfortable as I ever feel in the first 25 miles of a race.
The other odd thing was that within minutes of finishing I felt great. Today I have no soreness whatsoever. I just didn't have the energy to run fast and far yesterday. I was able to use my stored up fitness to fake it and get myself one step in front of the other to the finish, but it was one of the toughest days of running I've ever had.
In the end though, it was a super fun weekend, a great event, and somehow, even though I felt like I was going to pass out for most of the last 25 miles, it was still a really enjoyable and satisfying run. It's funny how feeling so bad can sometimes be really horrible (Bandera) and other times somehow be tolerable and even kind of enjoyable, as it was this weekend.