2020 has gotten off to a varied start for me. For the first week of January, I skied in Big Sky, Montana for five straight days. I came back from there expecting to bounce back quickly. Unfortunately, the bounce back wasn’t very quick, and I still have some lingering issues. The issues are: my right knee feels a little off, my left hip is talking to me some, and my shoulders are continually sore. Nothing that rises to the level of true pain, but enough discomfort to make me a little worried. I am looking forward to this race today to find out if any of these issues are something about which to be concerned.
This winter has been another wet one. The past year plus has been wetter than normal with the only exception being the month of September. The past few weeks have really been wet. Fortunately, it is not going to rain on us today, but we did get a good soaking the past two days, so the course will be muddy. The temperatures are supposed to be rather nice starting out in the mid-30s and possibly climbing into the low 40s. I start the race with shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, hat, and light gloves.
Mile 5.9 1:00:09 (10:12 avg./mile) O’Shaughnessy Point
The course has been modified this year to remove Warpath, K2, and the Powerline section. In place of this, we get to go down to Oak Park. This first section, though, is basically the same as always. I get off to a good start with no issues. I am in a good position in the pack and have settled into a fairly comfortable pace. The mud so far is not too bad. At this aid station, I grab a handful of potato chips. My hands were cold early on, but they are doing well now.
Mile 12.7 1:25:12 (12:32 avg./mile) Bankhead
This section is where the difference from previous years begins. I am running well with my energy level still really high. I am maintaining a good pace and managing (mostly) not to get caught behind slower runners. We are still relatively bunched together as we go through the stone cuts. However, there is no reason to hurry through this section. About a mile out of the aid station, I find myself running with a lady named Kim. One interesting bit of information about her is that she got into the Western States 100 on her first try in the lottery. At this aid station, I am looking at the sandwich options when a worker offers to spread peanut butter on one of the jelly sandwich quarters. I agree, picking up two sandwich quarters, and he spreads the peanut butter. It isn’t exactly clean and neat, but most of the peanut butter gets eaten by me.
Mile 15.6 36:06 (12:27 avg./mile) Oak Park
After the aid station, it is nearly all downhill to Oak Park. Kim and I chat about races we have run and ones that we want to run this year. We are in a bunch of runners so the pace is not overly quick. But, since is it still the first half of the race, I patiently bide my time. At this aid station, my daughter, Amy is waiting for me with chocolate milk. It is Promised Land Diary brand, and it is truly outstanding. I drink about half of the quart bottle before thanking Amy and heading back onto the trail. This aid station is interesting because it is beside a little league baseball field and in a neighborhood. For the record, my halfway split time is 3:00:31.
Mile 21.7 1:28:42 (14:32 avg./mile) Old Railroad Bed
Kim hurried through the aid station ahead of me, and I find a new running partner to chat with as we climb up, up, and up some more from Oak Park. Joe is from Tennessee, and he has only run a handful of ultras. He asks me what my goal finishing time is, and I reply that I want to finish before 7 hours. I then tell him that I think we are in excellent shape to make this happen since we made it through halfway in only 3 hours. Joe and I run about half of the uphill, and then we are on the old Toll Bridge road. It is nicely rocky. Although we climbed up, there is more mud and water on the High Trail as we make our way to the next aid station. I tell Joe that the mud will be worse in McKay’s Hollow. He finds this hard to believe as we are sliding all over the place with the mud. We get into this aid station in reasonable shape—that is not falling in the mud at any point. I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters along with a handful of potato chips.
Mile 25.5 1:03:40 (16:45 avg./mile) Trough Springs
Running the old railroad bed is ever so slightly downhill, but the problem is that it is extremely rocky as the rocks were left behind when the rails were removed. I continue on a manageable pace telling Joe stories of races past. When we finally make the left turn onto Waterline, it is time to start to push. I pass a several people as I make my way up the waterfall on this trail. When I get to the top, I start a slow shuffle to the aid station. I am not sure where Joe is, but I suppose he will catch up. At the aid station, I grab two cups of Coke and some potato chips.
Mile 29.7 1:09:10 (16:28 avg./mile) Rest Shelter
Soon after leaving the last aid station, Joe does indeed catch up, but then I trip and catch myself with my hands in the mud. I do not yet feel the effects from the caffeine, so I encourage Joe to push on ahead. I tell him to keep pushing at this point if he wants to get in before the 7 hour mark. Several people pass me at this point before we start going down. Once the downhill starts, I warm up to the task. However, there are plenty of other runners in front of me, and I am not able to pass most of them until we get into McKay’s Hollow. I get into a really good rhythm and start passing people at every turn. I spy a gray-haired lady ahead of me and wonder if it is Sally Brookings. Indeed it is, and soon thereafter, I catch back up to and pass, Joe. He asks if we are still on pace, and my response is that I am. When I start the last uphill climb, Joe is right behind me. We get to the last aid station with about 17 minutes to reach our goal. I grab only a cup of Coke before starting the final push to the finish.
Mile 31.3 16:58 (10:36 avg./mile) FINISH – Lodge
Joe and I start out the final section running together, but then he pushes a little ahead. I am working very hard to keep a fast pace going. Will it be fast enough? Last year I did this final section in 16 minutes flat. I don’t feel like I am going quite as fast this year. I have my eye on the clock as I make one last scramble across a small wooden bridge. Coming up the other side of the bridge, I trip one last time, but quickly scramble up and manage to get across the finish line in the nick of time!
Official Finishing Time 6:59:57
151st out of 397 starters
This is my fourth finish at this race, and it is my slowest to date. However, with the change in the course making it a little slower, combined with the healthy dose of mud, I am completely happy with my time and especially my effort. It was a fun day to be out in the woods running with almost 400 of my closest friends. Joe managed to get in with over a minute to spare, and we share our congratulations and thanks with each other.
Typically, my next race would be Mt. Cheaha 50k in February, but I have decided not to do that one this year as my adult hockey league playoffs may conflict. I also want to ensure I fully recover and am able to get in some hard training before I go skiing for another week in March. So, my next race is going to be the Cooter Creek 50 miler near Charleston, South Carolina on April 11. This is the inaugural running of this race, and it is already advertised as a bit long at 52.69 miles. Hopefully, it will go well and be a great workup for my 100 miler in June at Kettle Moraine. Until then…
Never stop running,Darin
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