Sunday, April 19, 2015

Trifecta: an Exercise in Dumb Toughness

A wise man once told me, "If you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough."  That man is now running in a skirt once a month due to losing a bet, but the message still rings true.  This past weekend, in an act that most would describe as dumb and tough, I raced three races in one day.  In the evening was the Moonlight 5k, Half Marathon, and movie at the Badin Drive-In in Albemarle.  I won the half the previous year and got 2nd place in the 5k (winning the Double Feature award for combined time), so I was compelled to come back and give it a go at defending my title.  However, many of my students from my elementary school's afternoon run club were racing the Rhythm & Run 5k in Kannapolis the same morning.  I wanted to go out and support my kids, and the cash prize for first three overall was an added incentive.  Just like that, I was committed.
9:00am: Rhythm & Run 5k
The day was warm and humid, and it was only going to get more so as the day wore on.  I showed up in Kannapolis for a very abbreviated warm-up (I had to save my legs for the other races) and scouted the field for potential threats.  I saw Dustin Branham in his conspicuous, red DART singlet and waved hello.  Deep down, he and I were both thinking, "damn, I was hoping he wouldn't show up!"  Dustin had only been getting faster, and he was in top form after recently running a 1:27 PR for half marathon. He and I noted a couple more fast looking high school runners before we saw Fam.  Well, there went 1st place...
We three lined up for the start line in the front row, along with fellow Reckless Running Ambassador Julie Alsop, who had won the women's field at the race the past two years.  The high school runners were there too, asking direct questions about our 5k PRs to size us up.  Great...  Since I teach in Kannapolis and had previewed the course the previous week, I shared the important details with Dustin and Fam: fast, downhill first half, then a steady uphill, 100 yards of grass surface through Village Park, a tunnel under the Loop Road, a couple of hairpin turns, an awfull uphill in the last mile, then flat for the last half mile.  It was not an easy course, especially with the humidity.
At the start, Fam shot off to a predictable lead.  Also ahead of me were High School runner 1, Dustin, and High School Runner 2, in that order.  The first half mile was a good, open, flat stretch around the NC Research campus where I could nail down a sustainable pace.  Dustin and the HS runners were going out fast, and I was not ready to start chasing anyone.  Fam was way ahead.  In fact, he had left the lead, Segway-driving officer in the dust!  HS2 faded back to me in the first couple of minutes, and after his footfalls faded, he never returned.
Shortly after we crossed the Loop Road and hit the Baker's Creek Greenway about a mile into the race, Dustin passed HS1 and kept moving on.  My first mile was a 5:52, which meant Dustin must have been in the mid 5:40s.  That was fast, but a 5k isn't over until 3.1...  The greenway was fast and flat, and I could see HS1 struggling to hold his pace, especially on the gradual uphill leading to the end of the greenway at Village Park.  I passed HS1 with confidence on that climb and ran into Village Park with my gaze fixed on Dustin.  I was getting closer, but we were now past the 2 mile mark and he still had a few seconds on me.  Did he have enough left in him for a late race push?
I reeled Dustin in bit by bit on the grassy section before the tunnel.  I knew he would hear my footfalls in the echoing tunnel, so I made my move there and passed him before the double-hairpin walkway leading up to the sidewalk on the Loop Road.  I was now in 2nd place.  I tried to ignore Dustin and dig in on the big hill and maybe open up some distance between us before the flat homestretch.  It sucked, but it was over soon enough.  With 1/2 mile left, I saw that I had a chance for a good finishing time, so I opened up my stride.  The final turn gave way to a great straightaway, so I sprinted in for what was one of my top five 5k times, an 18:31.  Dustin came in hot for an 18:46, which was not only a big PR, but the fulfillment of one of his recent goals of going sub-19. HS1 finished about 30 seconds after Dustin.  Julie came in shortly after the 20 minute mark and won the women's race for the 3rd year in a row.  Fam had been done for minutes by the time we had finished.  DART had dominated with both overall wins and the top three spots on the men's side.
Fam (with Lil' Fam) in 1st, me in 2nd, and Dustin in 3rd, all winning cash money!



7:00pm Moonlight 5k
The 5k at the Moonlight Drive-In race event is what RD Peter Asciutto woud call the flattest, fastest 5k course in Stanly County.  The course profile was inviting, but the 80 degree temperatures with 100% humidity would add some challenge, especially considering I had raced a hard 5k 10 hours before.  The field for this 5k was smaller and less stacked, and only a few of them were racing the half a couple hours later for the Double Feature award, but I was not going to sandbag any of these three races.  After, if you're gonna be dumb, well, you gotta be tough.
Again, my warm-up was very short, just enough to shake out some of the gunk from the previous race.  I greeted fellow DARTers Bobby and Nicole Aswell and Sarah Ferris.  With very little ceremony, Peter lined us up, explained the simple course and gave us the go.  I ran out to an early lead (after overtaking an overzealous 10-year-old) and focused only on pace.  I could hear the footfalls of the 2nd place runner, but they were becoming more and more faint.  I tried to maintain a 6:00-6:10 pace, but with the humidity and latent fatigue from the morning, it was taking quite a bit more effort than usual.
The start of the 5k.  I developed an early lead after catching the blurry kid in front.

When I reached the turnaround at the halfway point, I could tell I had nearly a minute lead on 2nd place, so I felt pretty safe.  When I reached the second mile, he was nowhere in sight.  I considered easing up the pace a little to save some gas for the half marathon, but that notion just didn't feel right.  Besides, I was flirting with another sub-19 finish, so I couldn't in good conscience hold back.
After the turnaround in the 5k, I had a big lead.  Photo courtesy of Bobby Aswell.

I was going to be a close call for sub-19.  Once I made the last turn, I had about 30 seconds left.  The finish to this 5k was remarkably similar to last year's 5k.  I poured on the gas to break the tape at 18:53, the same time to the second as last year.  2 of 3 races were in the books.  I had a 2nd place finish and a 1st place finish, but with a half marathon left, I was not even halfway done, volume wise.
1st place in the 5k.  2 races down, 1 big one left.

9:00pm: Moonlight Half Marathon
Fellow DARTer and ultra runner Chad Randolph showed up to participate in the half, so I grabbed yet another short warm-up with him in the full dark before the race started.  I could tell from those brief 10 minutes of easy running that the legs were tired, and I was not looking forward to this hilly half marathon with my usual pre-race enthusiasm.  The temperature had cooled, but not by much, and the humidity was still high, making the air sticky and uncomfortable.  The competition was also more fierce.  I briefly met Michael, a younger runner who recognized my Reckless Running singlet because he had seen Fam train with App State students when he ran in college.  Michael was far younger than me, and if he had run for his college, he would be formidable.  Also present was Adam, a.k.a. Tall Man from last year's Moonlight Half.
I tried to shake the gunk out of my race-addled legs by jumping up and down at the start, but I knew I just wasn't going to feel loose again until we started running.  I was tired, but I felt like I still had 13.1 miles left in me.  After the go, Michael and Tall Adam shot off ahead in a mid-6s pace, while I settled in to a 6:50ish pace.  My ultimate goal was to win the half again, and maybe beat last year's time, but I was not going to do that by challenging the leaders too early.  Last year, I had let Adam and Rob get far ahead of me before I reeled them in.  No matter what distance the race, from 5k to marathon+, I always try to have focus on the long game.  Plus, my tired legs wouldn't have much of a fifth gear after the day's racing, so I needed to save it.
3rd position proved to be a relative no-man's land for the first few miles.  I could see Adam's blinky light ahead, and Michael was not wearing one, so I only saw him when he was in view of Adam's headlamp.  As far as I could tell, there was no one behind me for minutes.  As we made our way into Morrow Mountain State Park, I caught up with Adam at the 4-mile mark.  This was a lot earlier in the race than when I caught up to him last year, but the race was feeling longer to me already.  I focused on the barely discernible outline of Michael ahead of me, but I couldn't help but notice that Adam's footfalls were never really fading away.  He wasn't racing in my pocket like Benny the Belgian did at the Race for R.A.R.E., but he was close enough to be heard, so he was in my head.
The ceaseless, rolling hills became more and more pronounced as we neared Morrow Mountain, the capstone of this challenging course.  After making the hairpin turn leading to the steepest part of the climb to the summit, I tried to convince myself, "this is the worst part...it'll be over soon, harden the f*** up!"  The climb was awful, more so than I remembered, or perhaps I was just more tired.  I could see Michael and hear Adam still, so there was incentive to keep pushing, but the summit just never seemed to get any closer.
The elevation profile for the Moonlight Half Marathon.  Morrow Mountain looms like a giant middle finger flipping you off in defiance.

After an eternity of climbing, I reached the top a few moments after Michael and turned around for the downward plunge.  The pressure was on, and I couldn't let Michael or Adam gain too much ground.  Soon, I was cranking out gravity-assisted 6:00 paces.  I saw Chad near the bottom of the steep hill and he cheered me on.  He had a solid hold on 4th place, and he eventually would finish in 4th.  After rounding the hairpin, the mountain continued steadily down, giving back all of the altitude we had climbed leading up to it.  Suddenly, Adam's footfalls grew louder--a sound so unwelcome it was almost deafening.  My calves were aching from the bounding downhill, and I had given myself a side stitch from chasing Michael, so there was nothing I could do to respond when Adam passed me decisively.  We were over 7 miles into the half marathon, and that's the first (and only) time someone passed me during all the day's races.  I had more than 5 miles left to run on very hilly terrain, and anytime I tried to shift into a higher gear to pursue the two runners ahead, my body protested.  I could maintain a low-7s pace, but that was all I had left.  I felt bonked like the end of a marathon, so the only thing left to do was sustain the pain and bring it in for a 3rd place finish.
That's exactly what I did.  The last three miles were utter crap.  I maintained my pace, but every second was painful.  I finished with a 1:31:58, which was only half a minute slower than my time the previous year, but it was still my slowest and most painful half in over three years.  However, I did make the podium with all three of the day's races.  In fact, it was a solo trifecta; I got a win, a place, and a show.  Also, my combined 5k and half marathon times earned me a repeat win for the Moonlight Double Feature award.  So despite the agony I was feeling, it was a good day.  Long, but good.
Coming in for a 3rd place finish under the headlamp.  Photo courtesy of Bobby Aswell.

Me with Chad after the half.  Chad got 4th.  The trophy is the Double Feature 1st place award.

Some lessons learned:
1) Racing a hard, hilly half marathon after two sub-19 5ks is not the best idea.
2) Don't ever believe you can't bonk during a half marathon, because you most certainly can!
3) After a hard evening of racing, the 75 minute drive home through the rain in the middle of the night is the worst part.
4) Being dumb and tough isn't all it's cracked up to be...or is it?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Shaking a Shadow: Race For R.A.R.E. 10-miler Recap

When I won a free entry into Race For R.A.R.E trail 10-miler from the Run With Theoden Facebook Page, I thought, "sure.  It won't be a focus race, but it'll be a fun time on the trails."  I wasn't expecting to take it too seriously.  Of course, as is often the case when I show up to a "fun race," things got a little out of hand.
It was an unseasonably cold day for late March, cold enough to necessitate ear warmers, gloves, and arm sleeves.  Many racers were clad in leggings and long sleeve tops.  I was the only one in a singlet and split shorts.  One female racer remarked, "No matter how cold it is, there's always some guy in a singlet and split shorts..."  Guitly.
I lined up near the front of the pack, and as the RD gave us the go, I shot out in front with a couple other runners.  One was 5k participant who quickly faded behind.  The other was Benny, a young, tall Belgian with a long-legged stride.  After about a half-mile of smooth road, we shot into the sweet, single-track trails with me up front.  I wasn't planning from the start to be the front-runner; that's just where it felt right to be at the time.
After another half-mile, it was pretty clear that the race for overall winner was going to be between just Benny and me.  We didn't trade places at all.  He just stayed right on my shoulder and let me set the pace.  The trails were what I would call "fast technical."  They were hilly and zigzaggy enough to keep me on my toes, but not so rooty or rocky as to keep me from going fast.  And with Benny on my back, I was not of a mind to slow down.
Benny the Belgian chasing me as he did the whole race.

I kept thinking to myself "this guy is young, and young guys always go out fast.  After a few miles, he'll fade."  He didn't.  I almost wished he would pass me so that I could chase him for a change, but I wasn't going to just give him the lead, so I kept pushing.
The undulating trail took us up to the base of Spencer Mountain at the halfway point, and some of the hard climbs and rapid descents really began to wear on us...or at least on me.  After 6 or 7 miles, the Brussels Sprout was still on me like syrup on a waffle.  This is the part of a race that Greg McMillan would call the Go-Zone.  It's far enough into the race that the distance and the pace have taken their toll, but not close enough to the end to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This is where the strong racer makes his move and separates the men from the boys.  That's exactly what I was trying to do: separate the man from the boy.  Whenever I would see an opportune stretch of trail, I would surge in an effort to drop Benny.  No joy.  He never let more than one or two seconds separate us.  He was tenacious.
When I knew we were only about a mile from the finish, I had a foreboding feeling that Benny had me right where he wanted me.  I just knew he was going to stay in my pocket and try and out-kick me.  I did not like the prospect of trying to kick against someone half my age.  All I could do was push the pace and try to make him work to keep up.
We broke out onto the smooth road again, just over a quarter mile from the finish, and the challenge was on.  The sun was at our backs, and I could see Benny's shadow creeping up as he made his move.  I surged.  As we made it through the final sprint, I screamed as I let out everything I had.  It was just enough.  I beat Benny for the overall win by 1/3 of a second.  It was the closest and most consistently competitive race I've done in...well...ever.
Despite the feeling of being chased the whole time, the trails were super fun, and I had a great time.  I'll be back next year.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Skechers Performance GoRun4 Review

One of the perks of working a part-time job as a running retailer is that I get to know a lot of product reps.  When one of those reps is friend in your running community, all the better.  Lately, I've had the opportunity to run in a few Skechers Performance running shoes: the GoRun Ultra enhanced cushion trainer, the GoRun4 lightweitht trainer, and the GoMeb3 racing flat.  The GoRun Ultra is a soft, hybrid-lugged shoe that's extremely comfortable for long runs, recovery days, or general day-usage.  The GoRun4 is really more my speed as a trainer, and it deserves an in-depth review.  Given the shoe's versatility, I also will describe it in comparison to the GoMeb3.
 Full Disclosure, the GRU and the GM3 were sample pairs on extended loan from my local running buddy...er...Skechers Performance Rep.  The GR4 was a personal purchase from Skechers Performance.

Out of the box (looks and specs):
The most striking thing about the GR4 upon taking it out of the box was its weight.  Skechers Performance (SP) gives a weight of 7.8oz for a men's size 9 (I wear 9.5), but I think they feel lighter.  More on that in a bit.  The indicated heel-to-toe drop is 4mm without the removable sock-liner, and 8mm with the sock-liner.  If you prefer to train in lightweight performance shoes like the Saucony Kinvara or New Balance 890, this shoe is in your wheelhouse.  SP also offers the GR4 in a wide array of colorways.  I opted for the blue/gray/black option, and I think the shoe looks badass.
On the foot (fit and feel):
Even before you put the GR4 on your foot, you can tell that the material on the upper is going to be soft and forgiving.  SP uses a one-piece, nearly seamless upper that disappears on foot.  The sock-liner is removable for a higher volume fit, or to feel more of the road.  Since the upper is so forgiving, and the last of the shoe provides ample room, I chose to keep the sock-liner in the shoe for my runs.  That being said, the comfortable upper allows for pretty much unrestricted sock-free wear, so the Sockless Runner doesn't have to be an impostor.  The heel cup is soft, pliable, and non-restrictive, and there is a recess cut into the fabric of the heel collar for quick, pull-on convenience.  As far as step-in comfort, this shoe rivals the Pearl Izumi Road N1, the UnderArmour SpeedForm Gemini, and the Saucony Zealot ISO-fit.  Lots have companies have been experimenting with innovations in midsole technology and geometry, but the latest shoe tech trends seem to have been focused on making plush, comfy uppers.  With the GR4, Skechers Performance is right up there with the top brands on that front.
On the road (ride and performance).
One thing a lot of GR4 runners notice is that it rides a bit firmer than it looks.  In this way, it's similar to the Pearl Izumi Road N1.  However, like the N1, the firm-ish ride is also incredibly smooth.  Personally, in a performance trainer, I would take firm and smooth over cushy and soft any day.
Part of the smoothness of the ride comes from SP's proprietary M-strike technology, which both favors and rewards an efficient, midfoot strike.  The midsole contains two densities of Resolyte (SP's memory-foam-like, durable midsole compound), so the different color sole in the midfoot is a bit more responsive and more prominent.  While this prominence is less noticeable than it has been in previous versions of the GoRun, it's more apparent than it is in the GoMeb3 racer.  The bottom of the shoe comprises mostly exposed midsole, which keeps the weight down and contributes to the silky ride, but there are strategically placed rubber outsole pods to provide some road traction and extra proprioception.  The combination of the plush upper and the smooth-riding midsole really makes the GR4 disappear on your feet during the run, especially on hilly terrain.  Thus, the weight and offset mentioned above aren't features I take much notice of.  The way the weight is distributed throughout the transition, the shoe feels much lighter than it is.  In fact, it feels lighter than the GoMeb3.
Best uses (for me):
I've taken the GR4 on several runs, including medium long runs (10-12 miles), tempo intervals, and easy base days.  These runs have been mostly on rolling road routes, with a few miles here and there on minimally technical trails.  While the shoe is very versatile, it really shines when you pick up the pace.  The GR4 is a great choice for tempo runs, hill repeats, and longer races (15k-marathon).  I got to race the very hilly Ellerbe Marathon in the GoMeb3, and had great success.  However, at virtually the same weight, and with a smoother (in my opinion) ride, I think I would choose the GR4 over the GM3 for another hilly marathon.  I prefer something a little more featherweight and firm than the GR4 for 5k/10k races, but most people would really enjoy the GoRun4 as a 5k racer.  In fact, my friend and fellow Reckless Running brand ambassador Bobby Aswell has had a lot of recent success with the GR4 as his 5k racer lately, and he runs 50+ races a year.
Final thought
At $100, and with a lot of distinctive features that set it apart from other performance trainers, the Skechers Performance GoRun4 is worth a look for efficient runners or those who might want a fast-day shoe.  Bottom line, this shoe is legit.  Skechers Performance flexes its running tech muscles with this one, and based on how the GoRun has evolved over its first 4 versions, the brand shows its willingness to adapt and improve to the needs and wants of the running base.  Great shoe!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sustain the Pain: Ellerbe Marathon 2015

Last year, I ran the Ellerbe Marathon and had loads of fun.  It was six days after I had run--and blown up at--Wrightsville Beach.  This small, rural race was very old-school, like many of the other events hosted by the vaunted Mangum Track Club.  The field was small, the atmosphere was homey and friendly, and there was homemade chicken and dumplings waiting for all runners at the finish.  In a way, it's the complete opposite of big city Rock 'n Roll Marathons with expensive entry fees, retail-driven sponsorship and expos, and tens of thousands of runners.  I had such a great time that I vowed to come back and patronize such an awesome race.
A brief word on the course: Ellerbe is an all-road marathon, but it is very hilly and pastoral.  Far hillier, in fact, than any of the routes my local running group frequents.  The course is one large, beautifully orchestrated loop that starts and ends at a small, cinder-block constructed church, and somehow works out to be a certified 26.2 mile distance and Boston qualifier.  Few runners would seek out this course as a target BQ.  The long, relentlessly rolling hills make it very difficult for fast times.  It's futile to count all of the hills, but the most notable of them are at miles 9, 16, and pretty much all of the last 5 miles.  There are some equally dramatic downhills to zap the quads too, so it's an equal opportunities leg-crusher kind of a race.
Having completed my focus marathon goal back in October, I originally intended to run Ellerbe as a fun run like the year before.  However, after having some great races and workouts as of late, I decided to run hard and be competitive.  That never seems to take a lot of convincing for me.  The weather was less than desirable, but not all bad: chilly rain that varied from light, broken drizzles to cloud-bursting downfalls.  So chafing, blisters, and soggy shoes were in the back of runners' minds, but at least the cooler temperature wouldn't bake us late in the race.
And we're off!  I led the race for about 10 feet (bib #71).

We lined up at the start a few hundred feet from the church, and Mark Long gave an informal briefing, recognized some race veterans, and joined us in thanking the generous volunteers.  With a casual "on your mark, get set, go," we were underway.  I shot out with five or six other runners that comprised the front row and fell into a comfortable marathon pace.  The first two miles are the only consistently flat part of the course, so it was easy to dial in a pace and see how I felt.  Brian Kistner--a four time winner of this race--shot out way ahead after the first few meters.  I settled in with a tightly locked chase pack that included Rich Riopel (winner of Hinson Lake 24-Hour Classic), Levi Vanuga, Charles Bruchard, and Aaron Loder.  Everyone seemed content to let Brian gain ground for the time being.  We spent those first couple of miles shuffling positions but always staying locked together.  As we turned off the main road into the side streets of the small town of Ellerbe, Levi and Charles began to break off and give chase to Brian.  Aaron, Rich, and I stayed together not far behind and observed while maintaining a very consistent low-7s pace.
Brian (foreground) takes and early lead.  From left, Charles and Levi start to give chase, while Aaron, Rich, and I stay clustered together.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Spradlin.
Moments later, Rich (left) and I wave to photographer Kevin Spradlin.
After the easy first few miles, the course began to roll and things began to shake up among the lead packs.  After a long downhill, Brian had opened up over a minute on us, and Levi and Charles were about halfway between him and my pack.  Levi was looking to move up.  By mile 5, in the middle of the first real uphill, we could see in through the rainy gloom that Levi had taken the lead from Brian.  Charles was holding his own in a no-man's land.  Rich and I were still shoulder-to-shoulder, and Aaron was in contact, but drifting behind.  At a break in the terrain near the second water stop at mile 6, Rich made his move.  He broke away decisively and caught up with Charles in the space of less than a mile.  Our pace group had disintegrated, and the leaders were beyond view, but we were all still very aware of one another.  Between miles 6 and 9, the terrain rolls a bit more and trends uphill, with one significant climb in the 9th mile.  Here is where I started to gain some ground on Charles.  He would pull away a little bit on the downhills and I would reel him in on the uphills.  There were more and more uphills, so I was closing.
Me chasing down Charles.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Spradlin.

I was 10 seconds behind Charles when we reached the third aid station at mile 9.  We shared three or four miles together after I caught him.  Charles was running strong, but he admittedly was having a hard time with the hills.
On this part of the course, between miles 9-13, there were some of the best views last year, including one spot before a downhill plunge where you could see pretty much all of Richmond County.  This year, all of those views were shrouded in fog.  We were running through a cloud.  We even lost sight of Rich ahead of us, and we would not see him again.  I hit 13.1 miles in 1:33 and change, which I thought was a great split for this course, albeit a little reckless.  The second half would be hillier and harder.  I ran through the halfway aid station and settled in for the most challenging climb of the course.
Mile 14.5 is one of the lowest elevations on the course, and mile 16 is the highest point.  In fact, it's the highest point in Richmond County.  Naturally, between those two points is 11-12 minutes of hell.  I recalled this climb from the previous year, but it was worse than I remembered.  It's just one of those that goes on forever and gets steeper along the way.  You turn a corner only to see more up, up, up.  I was relieved to finally see the aid station at the top of the hill and grab a quick cup of water, but I was surprised by the unexpected ice in the water that nearly choked me as I took a swig.  Race photojournalist Kevin Spradlin snapped some shots and let me know that I was two minutes behind the runner ahead of me.  Was is Rich, Brian, or Levi?  Hopefully, time would tell.  I really wanted to get a top 3 podium spot, but with 10 miles left in the race, I would need to gain 12 seconds per mile on the third place runner.  And that was just to catch him at the finish.  I would have to do even better if I wanted to secure that spot with any confidence.  Although I was tired from the long hill, I still felt like I had the gas to keep the pressure on for those last 10 miles, so I pushed on.
Me taking a much needed drink...
...and spitting out some surprising ice cubes.  Photos by Kevin Spradlin
I turned over my legs to shake out the brickish feeling from the climb and chased an invisible runner.  Long before I had expected, Brian appeared before me.  I had cut into that two minute gap a bit, but he was not giving ground easily.  For at least 20 minutes, it seemed as if I was gaining no further ground on Brian.  I reminded myself that there was plenty of race left and to be patient.  In 2014, I passed no fewer than a half-dozen runners on the final, uphill five miles, and I was hoping that might be my window of opportunity this year too.
As we passed the infamous dog pen (meeting place of the traditional MTC shirt run)at mile 21, I noticed I was finally gaining on Brian.  We had just 5 miles left, and they were pretty much all uphill.  There were not many discernible landmarks, but when I saw an odd branch or rock on the side of the road, I used it to time the gap between the two of us.  It was less than a minute and closing steadily.  I finally caught up to Brian shortly after the last turn of the course onto Grassy Island Road, just over 3 miles from the finish line.  He was visibly tired, but so was I.  I focused on grinding out the remaining hills to try and build on my lead and protect my 3rd place position, but I could still hear Brian's faint footfalls on the wet asphalt for quite some time.  He was still very much a threat.
Grassy Island Road took one final downhill dip with about 1.5 miles left in the race before a last, agonizing climb.  The 8th and final aid station was at the bottom of this dip, and I bypassed it for want of saving every precious second.  30 seconds later, I risked a glance back, and Brian was running through the water stop.  It would be very hard for him to catch me, but he certainly could if I didn't keep charging, and I was nearing the end of my rope.  I glanced at my watch, which was just ticking over the 3-hour mark, and I realized I had a chance at a sub-3:10 (a BQ) if I just sustained the pain.  Originally, I thought it would be cool to get a 3:14:15 (for Pi Day on 3/14/15...you know), but a BQ on this course, while not needed, would be a much more fulfilling accomplishment.
Those last 9 minutes were sheer agony.  I was trying to hold off Brian while racing the emotionless, tireless clock.  When the church and the finish line came into view, I mustered as much of a kick as I could, but the result was not any perceivable acceleration.  The finish line just seemed to float there without getting any closer.  The eternity eventually passed and I found myself resting my hands on my knees while Mark Long draped a medal on me.  I finished in 3:09:22.  Brian finished 40 seconds later; I didn't even notice him cross the line.
The finish.  Full suffer mode. Photo by Kevin Spradlin.

Levi held on for the win in 3:00:26, and Rich finished strong with a 3:03:xx.  Chad Randolph, who was my ride and compatriot, finished in 8th place with 3:44, second in his age group.  Fellow DARTers David Moore, Sarah Ferris, and Joe London had good-but-tough races too, but just missed the homemade pottery age group awards.  Man, this race was tough!  But I love it, and odds are I'll be back again next year with some other loyal DARTers.  Run Reckless!
From left: Chad, Sarah, David, me, and Joe.  Go DART!
Kevin Spradlin wrote a recap of the race for the PeeDee Post that can be seen here.
My Strava data can be accessed here.
Enjoy!










Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Charlotte 10-Miler Recap: Truly Running Reckless

10 miles had always been something of a cursed distance for me.  Before last weekend's Charlotte 10-miler, I had registered for three 10-mile races and had to DNS all of them, either due to scheduling or inclement weather cancellations.  The first time I ever attempted to run 10 miles in a training run five years ago, I became sidelined with my first ever running injury.  From then on, even when I trained for my first marathon many months later, I would avoid the 10-mile distance.  I would run 8 or 12 miles, but not 10.  I needed to break the curse, and this year's Charlotte 10-miler was my chance. 
When I registered for the race, I figured it would be good, long workout.  However, after having some better-than-expected finishes at the half marathon and 10k distances, and some promising mid-week speed workouts, I came upon race day feeling fast and competitive.  At first, I set an arbitrary goal of 65 minutes.  Then, after checking with the McMillan Pace Calculator and using my recent race times, I found that 64:40-65:00 was right in my expected range.
The weather was what I like to call "trans-freezing (below freezing at the start; above freezing by the end)."  I historically race well in those temperatures, so I was content.  After warming up, I stripped down to a thin singlet and arm sleeves while most of the field wore tights and long-sleeved tops.  I knew I wouldn't feel the cold after a few minutes.  Many familiar faces were at the event.  Running the 4-miler were Sketchers Performance Rep Chris Lamperski, Charlotte area Running/Triathlon Coach Kelly Fillnow, and fellow DARTer Tara Owens.  Fellow 10-milers included morning running pals Hope and Michelle (mPod), Roberta Villnef (who is always a threat to win a masters or grand masters award), Chris Joakim, John Richards, Charlotte's most famous "wrunner (writer-runner)" Theoden Janes, Richard Hefner, early morning training buddy Kristy-Ann Joyce, female elite Meg Hovis, and fellow Reckless Running brand ambassador Bobby Aswell.  I love races with friends!
The race kicked off and I immediately fell into a smooth rhythm.  I glanced at my pace, willing myself to slow down to a mid-6s pace as the front-runners strung out ahead of me.  A long hill in the first mile helped to regulate the pace and thin out the herd a bit.  I counted heads; I was 13th or 14th once the positions had settled.  As always, I was shooting for  top-10 finishing spot (and maybe an age group award), but there was a lot of race left, and I usually make my moves late, as long as I don't do anything stupid early on.
I reached the first mile marker at 6:28, which was about as fast as I wanted to go for the whole race.  I was behind the then first place female (named Jessica), when Meg Hovis passed me with a fixed gaze on her.  "Go get'er, Meg," I urged.  Not long after, Will Isenhour (another common Charlotte racer) passed me but stayed in arm's reach.  Jessica, Meg, Will, and I formed a tacit pace group that would feed off each other for the majority of the race.  When we hit the second mile marker at 12:48, a 6:20 split, I could tell we were only going to get faster.
The next couple of miles were on the flat, arboreal McAlpine Creek Greenway.  The hard-packed dirt was a great surface on which to run, and trading places with the other three runners like a pack of Tour de France cyclists kept me running ever faster than I had planned.  When we emerged from the greenway and did a lollipop loop around a residential section, we got to see most of the field coming out from whence we came.  It was only then that I realized just how many people were running this race.  I later found out it was close to 700 runners.  I saw Chris J., Hope and mPod, Roberta, and several other folks cheering me on as I chased Meg, Jessica, and Will back down into the next, long section of greenway.
I passed the mile 5 marker at 31:40ish, which was faster than my 8k PR.  I was still feeling smooth and fast, but I couldn't help but think that the pace was a bit reckless.  Our group gobbled up a few other runners on the greenway, and each pass gave me a jolt of confidence that no doubt edged my pace faster each time.  Jessica and Will were still with us, but they were starting to lag behind.  Meg was determined to hold on to her 1st place female spot, so she kept the pace up.  I stayed on her shoulder so we could continue to work together.  We breezed through the 6th mile marker in 38 minutes and the 7th in under 44:30.  Generally, it's a good day when I race a 10k in under 40 minutes, and I had just done so by quite a lot in the middle of a 10 mile race.  After the 7th mile at sub-6:20 pace, I decided that there was no use slowing down.  I would just have to continue the reckless pace until I either blew up or finished the race.
"I'm going to push it for 8 miles and then just try to survive," Meg joked.  She was alluding to the infamous hill in the 9th mile, which gains 100 feet of elevation in under 800 meters.  When we got to the base of the hill, I pulled ahead.  As Meg drifted back, I shouted back to encourage her.  The climb sucked.  I resisted looking at my watch.  Each time I turned onto a different block, I was hoping to see the top of the hill, but no, it just kept going up.  For the first time in the race, I was having a hard time maintaining a rhythm.
After I reached the top of the hill, there was one straight, fast mile left.  It took me a minute to find my turnover again, but when I did, I let it out in a long, 1600 meter kick.  I could hear Meg's footfalls faintly behind me.  I wasn't competing with Meg directly, but I didn't want to get chicked in the last mile either.  I ran my last mile in under 6 minutes (which was aided by a very gradual downhill), and when the finish line came into view, I found another gear and ran the last 200 meters in about 35 seconds.  I watched the LED gun clock go from 1:02:59 to 1:03:00 seconds before I finished.  My official time was 1:03:06.  I had beaten my goal by nearly two minutes!  Lamperski was there to congratulate me and take my picture after I finished.  I was 8th overall and 2nd in my age group; right about where I was shooting to be.
Me after a fast finish and a very happily destroyed goal.

I donned my sweats so I wouldn't get chilled and went out on a cool-down run with my phone so I could snap some pictures of my friends.  Hope and mPod finished well, Roberta and Richard won their age groups, and Bobby, Theoden, and I each got age group awards.  Kristy-Ann demolished her expectations, which is a great note to go into her peak marathon phase for her race in three weeks.  Meg finished a few seconds after me and was the 1st overall female.  Lamperski destroyed the 4-mile race in an unfathomable 21:35, which was 90 seconds ahead of the 2nd place finisher.  Kelly Fillnow won the overall women's 4-miler, and Tara Owens won her age group.
Hope and mPod were a little too perky for the last mile of the race...

Technically, this was my 10-mile race debut.  But in this 10-miler, I set unofficial PRs for 8k and 15k, and I ran my 3rd best 10k, but since there were no officially timed splits for those distances, they don't count.  I plugged my results into the McMillan Pace Calculator, and my 10-mile time rendered far faster race predictions for all other distances from 1-mile to marathon than I had done.  Therefore, when distance and pace are taken into account, this 10-mile race technically was my best race performance to date.  Curse be damned!  Sometimes it pays to Run Reckless!

You can find my Suunto GPS data here.
Fun times with mPod and Hope.


Roberta won her age group.  Doesn't she look happy?

Bobby and me.  Reckless Running represents with AG awards.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Battered, Broken, and Beaten," or "A Fun Race at Uwharrie!"

I had never run at Uwharrie before.  I once had aspirations of doing the Uwharrie Mountain Run (UMR) 40-miler, but it always seemed to fill up before I could get in (before they switched to a lottery).  However, since Umstead a couple of years ago, I've been focusing a lot more on sub-ultra distances, particularly when trails are concerned.  I figured the 20-miler would be right in my wheelhouse to provide a nice, competitive challenge.  After last weekend's UMR20, I'm officially thankful I never got into the 40.
Packet pickup.  Photo courtesy of Dave Munger

The day could not have been more perfect for a long trail race.  It had been at least a few days since the last rainfall, and the temperature at the start was slated to be right around freezing.  Dave Munger and I carpooled to Uwharrie National Forest since he was running the 8 mile option, which would start an hour after my race.  The 40-milers would have an hour head start on me.  Having only heard stories about the trails at Uwharrie, my plan was to run fairly conservatively--harder than a leisurely mountain run at Crowders Mountain State Park, but not nearly pushing the pace as much as I would at the Whitewater Center.  I had heard that a good effort for the 20-miler should yield a time fairly close to one's typical road marathon results, so I set a lofty goal of being as close to 3 hours as possible.  That goal would prove to be lofty.
The elevation chart for UMR20.  It appears to be a cartoonish exaggeration, but it feels accurate when actually rinning the course!

Since I had heard that he first mile is something of a bottleneck (understatement), I toed the line fairly close to the front so I wouldn't be caught behind too many people.  At the start, I eased into position somewhere in the top 15 or 20 runners out of about 150.  There were about 50 meters of road before hitting the trail, which went immediately straight up on rocky, technical single-track.  I had to watch every step while maintaining a steady and consistent climbing pace.  I wasn't going to win the race here; I just had to low gear it to the top of this first mountain in the first mile.  Each subsequent switchback gave way to more rocky footing and more steep climbing.  I took my first walk break about 1/2 mile into the race.  The first and second females loped past me, continuing to run all the way up the hill and out of view.  I ignored them and walked for a good 100 or so meters.  Already, I was regretting registering for this race.
When I finally got to the top, about a mile in, I was pleased to find some relatively smooth running trail.  I should stress "relatively," because so much of this entire course is rocky, rutted, or steeply rolling.  I settled into my long-haul pace and ignored the runners that were widening the gap ahead of me.  I convinced myself that I'd probably catch up to at least some of them later in the race.  The initial long climb led to the inevitable long descent, so I tried to relax and not bomb the downhills too hard like I normally would do.  There was a lot of race left, and a lot of ups and downs still to come.
That's how the race continued for a while: a hard, steep climb followed by a treacherous downhill, the occasional upward glance to spot the white blazes on the trees to make sure I was on course, and the occasional trip, toe-stub, or all-out fall.  I didn't tumble on the obtrusive rock outcroppings or the downed trees on the trail; I more often stumbled on the less technical parts due to complacency and lack of concentration.  It took a lot of focus and brain energy to stay on trail and upright for the duration of the race.
About 5 or so miles into the race, I started seeing the back of the pack for the 40-mile racing field.  I didn't envy these tough bastards.  I already was struggling with the terrain, and they had a much longer day ahead of them.  Or perhaps they were smarter for approaching these trails slowly and carefully and I was the dumbass for trying to run hard.  Nonetheless, it was heartening to start seeing other runners on the trail, and trading greetings and encouragement beats staring at an empty trail ahead of you.
A couple hours into the race, as I neared the 13 mile aid station, I came upon my friend Jason Rose, who was running the 40.  He looked very relaxed--he wasn't even breathing through his mouth yet.  I hadn't expected to catch up to Jason at this point, but I later learned that he had been fighting illness in the week prior to the race, so he was running very smartly to have been looking as good as he was.  By this time, I was seeing many 40-milers, and I was gradually advancing through the front of the 20-mile field as well, one by one.  I continued to trip and fall, and I got lost a couple of times, but luckily, I was trading positions back and forth with a more experienced UMR20 racer--also named Jason.  It made me feel better that Jason was as turned around as I was.  Being from Boone, Jason was no stranger to the elevation challenges of the course, so I doubt he walked a single step of the course.  I ran almost the whole thing too, but there was a combined total of probably about a 1/2 mile that I walked over the 20-mile course.  Jason also stopped at all the aid stations, whereas I was self-supported with my gear vest and stopped at none.  So we traded places back and forth all day, using each other as motivators.
Miles 15-16 were the real crux of the 20 mile race.  There were many stream fords throughout the course, but the largest water crossing was three fourths of the way through.  This one was 4-5 strides across, with water up to the knees.  I dashed through it and hoped for some refreshment, but instead I profanely screamed "F*** me, that's cold!"
"refreshing..."

My shoes had drained of most of the moisture by the time I reached the last long hill--there would be plenty more short climbs--of the 20.  Boone Jason had warned me about this in our ongoing, mid-race banter, as had the Somewhat Legendary Ultra Runner (SLUR) Jeff McGonnell.  I settled into a low gear jog for the long climb.  After 2.5 hours of hard trail running, I knew I would not be able to run the whole hill, so I threw in some brisk hiking.  I passed and greeted SLUR Jeff about halfway up the hill.  Jeff was looking good on the climb.  He informed me that I was in 10th place and not far back from #9.  Later, I would find out from Jeff that a couple of other 20-milers behind me overheard him and started gunning for me after that tidbit so seek a top 10 spot.
I reached the top of the hill at a reasonable pace, but it took a lot out of me, even with the walking breaks.  With the worst of the race behind me, I just had to keep moving forward at a consistent pace.  That consistent pace was taking a lot more energy to maintain than it had a couple of hours prior.  I was feeling the aches and pains of overused stabilizer muscles (from the uneven terrain), bruised feet and joints (from various tumbles), and rubbery quads (from treacherously rapid descents).  I knew that the worst of the pain wouldn't arrive until the following day, so there was no point in dwelling on it presently.  I focused on my form and the trail ahead of me.  I caught a few more 20-milers in the last couple of  miles, but Jason eventually caught me and passed me, leaving me in 8th position.  I sensed the 9th place runner sometime during the last mile, and he steadily was advancing.  I didn't know who could have been behind him, and I wanted to maintain my top 10 ranking, so I surged to a pace I thought I could hold for the remainder of the last mile.
It was enough.  I finished in 8th place, 6 seconds ahead of my pursuer.  Less than a minute separated Jason (7th overall) and the first female (10th overall), so I certainly had people knocking on my door.  I was glad to hold them at bay, but I was even happier to be done!  I finished with a 3:14:03, which I think is very respectable on that terrain.  I was more tired and battered than I had been after any marathon, and after some ultras.  Katie Rose was at the finish (which was that halfway point for her husband Jason) and was able to snap a decent photo of me crossing the line.  She congratulated me and inquired about the race, but I had a hard time conversing with her without being doubled over with my hands on my knees.
An exhausted me crossing the 20-mile finish line.  Photo by Katie Rose.

I had a small collection of scrapes and bruises, and now that my body had stopped running, it didn't really want to start again.  Still, I count myself luckier than most.  Dave took a pretty bad spill in the first mile of his race (after climbing the same initial hill).  When he arrived at the 20-mile finish to pick me up, he already had changed, but he later shared a photo of his bloody knee.  Even worse, he badly pulled a glute muscle that has sidelined his running for the better part of a week.
Dave's bloody knee.  This wound proved to be relatively superficial, but the fall took an unfortunate toll for Dave.

 Jason Rose maintained his steady pace to finish the 40-miler with a smile on his face.  SLUR Jeff finished the 40 in just over 9:50, after a 15-minute loss of time due to some on-the-trail, DIY shoe surgery with a borrowed pocketknife at mile 23.  Ron Garsik, another fellow DARTer, finished the 40 in a fast 8:35--a 40 minute course PR for him.  I have profound respect for these and all of the other 40-milers.  I like to consider myself a decent, slightly competitive ultra runner, but I don't see a UMR40 attempt anytime soon for me.  UMR20 left me battered, broken, and beaten enough for one day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 2015: "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked."

January was supposed to be a "down month" for me.  After having finished my focus races in the last months of 2014, I was looking forward to an easy month before gearing up for Uwharrie 20 and Ellerbe Marathon this February and March, respectively.  So much for that!  January 1st was the fourth annual Tightwad 5k, which is a tradition of which I love to partake.  The 10th was the Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k.  I had been looking to improve my 10k PR for a while, so I figured this might me a good opportunity.  Then, on the 17th was the CRC Trail Race 13-miler, which is a perennial favorite of mine.  So with the month a little more than half over, I had three races on the calendar.  Some down month.
Tightwad 5k:
This event is kind of like a DART family reunion.  A bunch of local friends all show up, tired from the New Years Eve shenanigans, ready to go out for an unsanctioned (but somehow officially timed) race to run in the new year.  I had planned to treat this free race as a workout.  A sub-19 would be fabulous.  However, with talk of some serious competition coming to race--namely my old DURT teammates Dave, Stan, and Bobby A.--I decided I had to bring some heat.  Dave dropped out before the race to play it safe with a dodgy hamstring.  Bobby, though predictably unpredictable, would be running with his daughter Nicole, so I figured I'd be safe from him.  Stan was a threat.  To add to the pot, fellow DARTer Dustin came strolling up to join on race morning and made his intentions quite clear.  Dustin had been following the rivalry between me and Sam.  He clearly wanted in on the action.  Suddenly, I had a feeling that there were cross-hairs on me.  Great.
Having run countless 5k races on this course, I knew how to play to the terrain: bang out the first mile fast to milk as much out of the long downhill on South Street, try not to lose too much time coming back uphill on Avinger, then open it up after the turnaround on Pine for the last uphill-to-flat mile.  With a traditional lack of ceremony, Chad gave us the go, and out I went, shoulder-to-shoulder with Dustin for the length of the South Street descent.  He was going out hard just like I was, but we heard nothing from the field behind us.  I tucked in behind Dustin as we turned onto the greenway and drifted ahead of him about 100 meters later.  He was running in my pocket, literally within arm's reach.  I cautioned about the slickness of the wooden bridge and called out our first mile split (5:51).  He acknowledged both with ragged, single-syllable responses.  As long as he was feeling more winded than me, that was fine.
I grunted my way up the hill on Avinger, and Dustin's footfalls became quieter behind me.  It wasn't until I made my way to the turnaround shortly before the 2-mile mark (or where it would've been if those tightwads had put a mile marker out) that I had an idea of where Dustin, Stan, and the rest of the field were.  Dustin was about 10 seconds behind me, and Stan was maybe 15 seconds behind him.  All I had to do was kick out the last mile fast, and it was likely that I would start 2015 off with a win.  So that's what I did.  I ran up Pine without looking back, and I surged after turning on Lorimer in order to put as much space as possible between Dustin and me before he made the turn.  I was still against the clock though.  If I was to break 19, I had to keep the pressure on for the length of Lorimer.  My last quarter mile or so ended up being just as fast as my first downhill mile.  I broke the (imaginary) tape at 18:54 with an overall win.  Happy New Year!  Dustin came in about 20 seconds later, and Stan followed him by 10 seconds.  Since Dustin was a bandit, Stan was the official 2nd place finisher.  Stan's wife Jinnie was the first (official) female as well...pushing a baby jogger!  Dustin congratulated me, but for some reason, I think he still has me on his hit list.
Happy New Year!  First race = first win of 2015.  Picture courtesy of Chad Randolph

Joe Davis Memorial 10k + 5k:
I rode down to Fort Mill, SC with Bobby and his daughter Nicole.  Nicole was doing the 5k, but Bobby and I planned to do the 10k and the 5k.  Since they started at 8am and 9:15 respectively, racing both was an option.  It was a cold 19 degrees at the start.  The field for the 10k was large and competitive.  Charlotte running friend Mark K. was there, and I expected him to be leading the pack with a 36 minute finish.  Also present were high school twins Jared and Jacob C., who just plain looked fast.  From scanning the crowd, I figured I'd be doing well to finish in the top ten.  The goal, of course, was to PR and go sub-39.
This was be a tough course for the task.  After the race, I later would hear from another Charlotte friend (Rob), that there were 57 turns.  That's significantly more turns than most city marathons have. One section near mile 1 (zoomed in satellite image below) took us off the road, turning sharply down a coarse gravel path,turning even more sharply towards a short tunnel to the other side of the road, then sharply turning a couple more times before coming back up to the other side of the road.  To add insult to injury, we had to do the same section again in reverse during mile 3.  In addition, the course was full of rolling hills and very little flat.  It would prove difficult to find and maintain a rhythm on this course.
Seriously?

Once we got underway, I never really noticed the cold.  A lead pack with Mark, Jared, Jacob, and a couple other contenders broke off and clearly would be out of reach.  I stayed within a strung-out grouping that comprised the rest of the top ten.  There was very little passing throughout the race.  My position in the first mile was pretty close to my finishing order.  There's very little I can recall about this race.  Most of what I remember is: turn, turn, climb, descend, turn, climb, turn, descend, ad nauseum.  I did however find a rhythm.  According to my GPS data, I kept pretty even splits.  So even though the course was twisty and hilly, it was consistently twisty and hilly.  I was running sub-6:15 pace and waiting for my lungs and legs to give out, but they held on.  I crossed the line at 38:40, accomplishing my goal and setting a long overdue 10k PR.  9th overall, second in a 10-year age group.
Somewhere in the first mile of the 10k.  Picture courtesy of Bill Weimer.

The real duty for the day was done, so I had no expectations for the 5k.  I'd still run hard, but I had no time goal.  After shaking out my legs with Nicole before the start, I was feeling surprisingly good; the soreness from the 10k had not had time to set in.  After a quick start and a few dozen people shooting out ahead of me, I felt rather comfortable at a 6:10ish pace, so I figured I've give sub-19 a shot.  I at least wanted to match or beat my pace from the 10k (6:13).  I passed a couple dozen runners in the first mile and continued to pick them off intermittently for the rest of the race.  Since the 5k course was pretty much the last 3 miles of the 10k course, it was still fresh in my mind, and the race seemed to go by quickly. At around 2 miles, I pulled into 7th place before being passed by a lanky 20-something who settled in about 5 seconds ahead of me.  I tied a mental rope around him and let him tow me for the last mile.  He faltered in the last 200 meters, and even though he saw me advancing on him quickly, he made no attempt to keep ahead of me.  I passed him to regain 7th place 50 meters from the finish.  The course was short (2.95 miles by my GPS), but I finished in 18:17, which would have played out to around 19:10 if I had maintained that pace for a true 5k distance.  But I won my age group, so I left the event with some decent swag!
Reckless Running Brand Ambassadors, unite!  Me, Nicole, and Bobby after a fun day of racing.  Nicole won her age group in the 5k too.

CRC Whitewater 13 Mile Trail Race
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love this race!  Each year, I think I might take a break from it, or opt for the shorter 9-mile or 4-mile options the following year, but like Don Corleone, I always get sucked back in!
Every time I think about not doing the CRC Trail 13-miler...

One of the benefits to having done this race so much is that I remembered all the important parts of the complex trail course.  The first third was hard and fairly technical; the middle was the hardest due to relentless climbs and highly technical switchbacks; and the final third was the most tame--a good place to throw on some speed if you have any energy left.
I decided to run the whole race by feel.  I covered my watch with my arm sleeve and never peeked at it for the duration of the race.  I kept the lead pack within view for the first mile, before we got into the thick of the black diamond trail on the North end of the park.  As was with previous years, the first couple of trail miles were rife with calculated steps and aggressive, opportunistic passes.  It took a lot of brain energy to maintain good footing while trying not to get stuck behind other runners for long stretches of single track, losing precious seconds on the leaders.  I emerged from the North Main in what I thought was a favorable position.  I continued to pass runners here and there.  I resolved to pick my battles for this race; I was willing to use energy to pass people, but if someone tried to pass me, I wouldn't fight it.  As it turned out, no one passed me for the duration of the race, which makes this year unique among all the years I've run it.
About 5 miles in, the 13ers split off from the 9ers for an extra 500 meter loop while before rejoining the main trail (on which the 9ers had continued straight).  This allowed a few of the 9ers who had been behind me to be in front of me, which meant I had to make more passes in order to keep up my intended pace/effort.  I nearly busted my ass trying to get around my training buddy, AB.  He barked out some words of encouragement as I tried to open up some distance.  Hopefully, he and the other 9er with whom he was running would serve as a blocker for any other pursuing 13ers.
Before I knew it, we came upon Goat Hill, the longest sustained climb of the race.  Grunting through the switchbacks, I slowed to what seemed like a crawl.  I might have gone faster by walking, but I just kept picking up the knees and driving.  After three-and-a-half minutes of slogging, I turned at the top and tried to maintain my balance during a twisty descent on rubbery legs.  The climbing wasn't over.  The trail spat us out onto a muddy hill in the open, and I had to make my way back up to the top.  At least I could see some of the racers ahead of me in this exposed section.  Another treacherous descent ensued, and I made my way through the Carpet Trail to the Toilet Bowl.  This technical section was strewn with sharp turns and relentless climbs and descents that were just plain punishing after having exerting myself on Goat Hill.
The refreshingly pleasant Lake Loop made up the final third of the race.  Although I had been running quite hard and was feeling a little beaten up, I resolved to pick up the pace and finally find a rhythm on these last few scenic miles.  In years past, the front of the field had been so strung out that I likely would not see anyone near me on the trails at this point.  This year, I passed a couple of front-runners who were zapped from the 10+ miles of hard trail running already under foot.  At around 12 miles (there were no mile markers, and I had no reference of time), I came upon Cory Sundeen, who usually beats me handily at most local races.  He had looked so strong charging up hills in the beginning of the race, but now he made no retaliation to me passing him.  For the rest of the race, I just focused on keeping the tempo up and creating space.  When I broke out into the open on my way to the finish, I noticed some 9ers ahead of me.  Even though they were not competing with me, they served as a great visual cue to keep me pushing all the way to the finish.
I crossed the finish line at 1:38:25, which I thought was a pretty respectable time after not having checked my watch during the race.  Maybe I was in the top fifteen, or top ten on a good day.  As it turns out, it was a very good day; I was in fourth place!  That was good enough for first in my age group, and it was the best finish yet in the four years I had done this race and distance.  Next year, if they pull me back in, maybe I'll shoot for the podium!
1st age, 4th overall!  And I'm spent.