And then the race started. And almost instantly I went from being quite ambivalent about the whole thing to really excited about it. I didn't feel great, but I felt good. The competition was as solid this year as it's been in a few years. For the past couple years it's been just Eric Strabel and I, but this year Matias Saari was racing again for the first time in a few years and made it really obvious right from the start that he wasn't going to let Eric and I run away with this one as we had done the previous couple years. In fact Matias ended up setting the pace for most of the first 15 or 16 miles of the race (after Eric had done so on most of the first 2 or 3 miles going up to the pass).
Me? I just kind of hungout right on the heels of whoever was running in front. I ran in front a bit, but probably no more than 2 total miles before I took the lead for good with about 7 miles to go. I would have been more than willing to run in front and do some of the pace setting, but Matias really seemed to want to be in front, especially on the downhills which he was running really strong.
The climb up to the pass was much more relaxed than the last couple years, and once we got over the top still no one really tried to push things very much. I for one was very excited about this. I felt very confident about my chances if the race come down to a contest of who could outlast the others without anyone making a really strong push to separate themselves from the others. And this is exactly how it played out. Eric never seemed to be able to quite keep up with Matias and I on the flatter stretches and I just hungout behind Matias, feeling very relaxed, until finally at about mile 16 Matias pulled to the side of the trail and let me by (I found out later that he was dealing with some cramping issues).
I just kept pushing a hard pace and kept moving one step closer to the finish. I figured Eric was probably not far behind but I also felt pretty confident that my pace was going to be enough to hold him off. I didn't have a lot more left in the tank had I needed it, but I was able to keep a quick enough pace that I just didn't need it. I ended up finishing almost 2 minutes ahead of Eric for my 4th Crow Pass victory and 3rd in a row. I didn't quite get in under 3 hours, but I think the slower time was mostly due to the fact that we just didn't push very hard at all until after the river. I think had any of the three of us been running specifically for a fast time rather than to try to win the race I could have run several minutes faster in the first half of the race, and still likely finish the second half just as fast.
In all this was likely the most I have ever enjoyed this race. I'm not sure why I enjoyed it so much. Maybe it was because I didn't really expect to, or maybe because I felt so smooth and steady throughout the day. Whatever the reason though I sure am glad I decided to run it again this year. Don't know yet if I'll run it again next year, but with the race director talking about adding in some decent prize money it'll be even that much harder to say no.
It was also really amazing to share the race and the day with so many close friends from Juneau. The group of 8 of us who raced were quite the eclectic bunch with 2 in their twenties; 2 in their thirties; 1 in his forties; 1 in his fifties; 1 in his sixties; and 1 who will turn 73 this fall! Three of us won our age groups (would have been 4 but they don't even recognize a 70 and over age group because I think Glenn Frick may have been the first person over 70 to ever complete the race - and it's not like he squeezed in under the 6 hour time limit: he finished in 4:30!) Our 60 year old participant (Guy Thibodeau) came in just under 4 hours, something that I doubt there are more than a handful of 60+ runners in the world that could do, and Guy didn't even have a very good day. If a lot of these Juneau runners decide to go back to Crow Pass again next year that will be another thing that will make it very hard for me to say no.