This was the weirdest racing experience I've ever had. I keep looking back trying to pinpoint why everyone struggled so much yesterday and I have a hard time accounting for why everyone's times were slower... not a little bit slower, A LOT slower. It was hot and the course had an extra two miles, but that doesn't seem to explain why people ran 20 minutes to over an hour slower than their best times at this race.
The day started out a bit funky. For various reasons, participants weren't allowed to park at the starting line this year. We had to take a 10 minute bus ride from the county fairgrounds parking lot. Since it was going to take longer to get everyone to the start, the race start was pushed back until 7am instead of the typical 6am start time. Cory and I arrived at 5:45am to find a huge line of people waiting for the bus. We jumped in line, but when the bus came, not everyone could fit on it. So we waited 20 minutes for the next bus, which was supposed to be the last bus. During that time, about half the race participants showed up and got in line behind us. Needless to say more trips had to be made to get those people and the race didn't start until about 7:20am.
When the race started I knew I needed to get a good position before we got jammed onto the single track. Even though I was near the front, I still had to wait as a lined formed to get on the trail. The pace felt good and I knew people would spread out more as we crossed the creek. Even as we ran along the shaded creek bed, I started to get warm. Not a good sign. I kept expecting more people to come up and pass me, but I was pretty alone during this section. Compared to the stop and go line of last year, that was ok with me. When we got to the first aid station at mile 5 my water bottle was empty, which, for me, was unusual to go through that much water in so few miles.
The trail opens up to some double track after Aid 1 and I was starting to feel queasy. I dialed back the pace and let some people pass me. Amanda came rolling up next to me and even though I wanted run with her a bit, I just couldn't get my stomach to cooperate. Then came Siobhan and I was hoping so much to at least spend a few miles with her, but she was looking strong and I just let her go. But then I got the biggest surprise... CORY came up from behind me! He had followed a large group of guys who were just off the lead pack and they all went off course for a few miles.
The lost boys had taken a sharp left off the double track road and found some flagging that was part of the back-half of the course. Convinced that the flagging meant they were headed the right way, they followed it until they started heading up Windy Peak! Cory had run the course before in training, but he knew there were some course changes and thought it was possible they were doing the right thing. He tried to convince other guys to head back with him, but they wouldn't listen so he turned around on his own. He thinks he only added 3 miles, but the other guys added at least 5. Cory passed me at mile 7, but the other guys from that group didn't pass me until mile 15. This probably accounts for the fact that the 2nd place man finished in 4:49 and 3rd place finished almost an entire hour back. A lot of the guys that went off course just got discouraged and dropped out.
So back to my race. For a while I ran with Liz and that helped me take my mind off my stomach, but after we crossed Gap Road at about mile 10 I started feeling like I was going to throw up. I knew the worst was yet to come so I just tried to keep forcing food and electrolytes down. Then my hero, Colleen, sneaked up behind me, linked her arm with mine, and tried to get me to stop walking and start running. I tried to keep up with her until Aid 2 at mile 12 where she offered me an anti-nausea pill. I am not a pill popper... normally I resist taking ibuprofen or even daily vitamins. But these were desperate times and Colleen is a Nurse Practitioner so she knows her stuff.
When I mentally prepared for the race, I knew I was going to get sick on the Coyote trail climb and the Black Bear trail descent. It's the highest point of the course at over 9,000 feet and that just seems to be the elevation that does me in. I was disappointed that the nausea started sooner, but a few minutes after cresting the top of the Black Bear trail, the medicine started to kick in. I didn't feel great but as started the gnarly descent (the place where I bonked last year and about 50 people passed me), I started to pick people off. My goal for the first half of the race was just to take care of myself - to make sure that I had taken in at least 270 calories and that I had drank enough water.
When I got to Aid 3, it was hot. Between every aid station I had run out of water. Fortunately I had a tiny back up flask that I filled in addition to my handheld. I had worn a cotton shirt so that it would hold moisture better and I doused myself with water. As I headed up the Horseshoe trail I told myself that it was a new race. As a treat, I had saved my music for this section that I had sucked on last year. Specifically I had been waiting to cue up this song. I normally can't stand country music but c'mon THIS SONG!! I charged up the hill and passed a lot of people. I felt so good.
The mental high ended shortly after we got to Frazer Meadow and picked up the new section of trail. Normally I am all about new single track but it added an extra two uphill miles to the course during my least favorite section during the hottest part of the day. It was carnage, I started picking off guys who were walking slower than a toddler. After we looped around Dude's fishing hole we started a rocky, ugly, uphill section. This is actually my least favorite part of the course, I just tend to repress the memory of it because I always feel like shit here. Everyone I passed had run out of water. Finally after getting to the double-track burro trail with a mile left to the aid station, I took my last swig of water and tried to power it in.
Right before I got to Aid 4 at mile 24ish, loud thunder rattled the sky. Two years ago, they had turned people back from Windy Peak (and an official race finish) due to storms and I became terrified that they were going to do it again. I had not come all this way to get turned back from the last climb. I hustled through Aid 4 and since I figured it was about to rain, I didn't douse myself with water. Big mistake since it didn't rain until after I finished.
Last year I felt awesome on the Windy Peak climb and I ran a lot of it. This year, I had the worst muscle cramps of my life. I had taken 5 salt tablets and drank as much water as possible but I was just so thirsty. My calves were completely shot and I kept getting spasms in my shins. I started using my hands to push off my thighs, but constantly bending over while pushing at a maximum effort made me feel like throwing up again.
As I descended Windy Peak, I really wanted a buddy to talk to. I had spent the day feeling pretty alone and normally I run with the cheery mid-pack men who are happy to talk, but I hadn't seemed to make many friends. My main goal in the last two miles was to not throw up, but these men kept stepping aside to let me pass them and then I felt pressured to keep up the pace. Shortly before Aid 5 I let myself look at my watch for the first time. I was convinced that based on my effort and based on the fact that I was definitely in the top 20 women, that I was on track to get a PR. I was shocked to see that, with two miles to go 7 hours 25 minutes (my time from last year) had already come and gone!
I tried not to get bummed, but it was pretty disheartening. I was really hoping to go sub-7 hours this year, but with the heat and the course changes, it just wasn't realistic. I finished in 7 hours 40 minutes in 18th place. Place-wise I finished 13 spots higher than last year. Of the women that passed me during the race, I passed most of them back. Of the people that started the race 1 out of 6 of them didn't finish. Even the girl who won was 25 minutes behind her winning time from last year.
Spirits seemed pretty low at the post-race party this year. Everyone was beat and most people were frustrated with their times, myself and Cory included. I was really proud of Cory for finishing the race despite his extra three miles, but he was really unhappy with his time and placement. I was really happy with my effort but I am scared shitless for my upcoming 50-miler next month in Moab, It's going to be hotter, with more miles between aid stations, and with even more mountainous terrain.
This race is always an adventure, but this year it was so damn hard. Here are the results if you are interested