Every year I look back as we ascend the first climb at the seemingly endless string of lights moving up the mountain. It is a sight I love. All these people out pushing themselves at 5 am on a December morning. It’s just a visually stunning thing to see, and I am not yet too tired too appreciate it at mile three.
After the early dark miles I found myself in around 20th place as I headed up the longest climb of the day at mile 15. There are about 30 switch backs all in a row here so I could see many of the runners ahead and behind me. Guys were hooting and hollering up and down the mountain at each other. Still lots of energy in the crowd.
Around mile 18 Jason Schlarb and Rivers Puzey passed me running pretty quick so I decided to hop on with them and roll up the hill. We passed a few runners along the way towards the top of the 2000 foot climb. Eventually I passed the Schlarb/Puzey train back and continued to be semi aggressive. I’d finished in the top 10 here once before and that was the goal again this year. There was lots of ground to make up on fast runners.
Mile 27-36 I would argue are the most difficult of the course. Steep ups and downs with lots of stairs highlight this part of the race. This is also where I began to feel the symptoms of the dreaded “bonk” come on. It’s a rather ominous feeling, lightheaded, stomach pissed. I was in about 14th place during this section and though I felt as if my race my take a downward spiral no one seemed to be passing me, nor was I passing any other 50 milers. It was a limbo of sorts with my race hanging in the balance.
I decided to stop eating for a bit as I didn’t seem to be digesting anything. A risky tactic, but one that has worked before. The mental and physical low decided to subside just in time and by mile 36 I felt much better, stronger and ready to put in a big push to the finish.
The Tennessee Valley aid station is at mile 44 with only one climb and descent left. I was in the dreaded 11th position. There are crews and crowds here. Lots of energy to be gained. I asked how far ahead 10th place was. My parents told me I had 3:30 minutes to make up; a tall order with so little trail left to run. But I really wanted that last spot.
A blanket clad Rickey Gates lurking
Coming up the last dirt road climb I could see loads of other runners. The problem was they were all in the 50k or the marathon races. It can be very hard to tell if any of them might be a 50 miler. Luckily I got some good info from one of the 50k runners a ways back that the guy ahead of me was wearing a royal blue shirt. This proved valuable when I finally did see a very distinct shirt running up ahead. That gave me the remaining energy that I needed to push hard all the way up the hill and make the pass into 10th right as we had begun the smooth 3 mile descent into the finish. I had to force myself to not look back until the very end (runners feed on those who turn their heads behind them).
Finishing TNF 50 in 10th place, 6 hour and 45 minutes was a good way for me to end my 2015 season. It has been one filled some ups, and some hard setbacks, but nonetheless I am still doing what I love to do; running, training, and racing in the mountains.
Check out the Strava Data if you are interested.
I am excited for what 2016 will bring. It seems like every year gets filled with way more than a year should fit. I will continue to be a member of the Nike Trail squad and I’ll be looking to race in the early season at Black Canyon 100k in February and Lake Sonoma 50 mile in April where the second edition of the USA Ultra Team Invitational will be held. Hope to see some of you all down the road out on the trails!