Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pisgah Mtn 50K AKA USATF NE 50K Trail Championships

Sunday morning was the Pisgah 50K. This was going to be my 4th attempt at this race. I used to do the shorter 23K, but when I turned 31, I figured I'd run 31 miles. I haven't dropped down to the short course since. Every year before the race I think to myself,"I should do the 23K, I could possibly break the course record, I'm not really ready for the 50". Then I remind myself how epic and fun the 50K is. When I finish the 50K, I always end up realizing that the race is indeed epic, but not that fun. I have cramped every year due to lack of true long runs, and I vow to be better prepared every year.

This year I did most of my homework. I got 4-3hr long runs, 3-2+ hr runs, and a multitude of runs that were over 1.5 hrs. The only thing missing was a 4hr run or two. Oh well, ready or not, here I come.

Race morning was ideal, cold and in the 40's with no humidity. Perfect racing weather. I was excited for the race and really pumped that it was going to be a real family affair with my dad and Glenn doing the 23K and my older brother, Jonny, doing the 50K for the first time. Jen was supposed to do the 23K but she was feeling sick. I also had many of my Keene friends running and I knew that the 50K field was gonna be the deepest ever. This was gonna be epic!

Race time: I took it out not too hard, but none of the 50K guys went with me. I heard someone remark that it was too fast, but it really didn't feel fast. I heard every one of the guys that I expected to be fighting for the win talking behind me. There's nothing wrong with talking in a long race, you're not taxed aerobically, but I just didn't feel like chit chat, I came to race! Fyffe joined me and gave me some words of encouragement and a high 5 and I split off onto the Southwoods trail in the lead. It wasn't long before David Herr, Jim Johnson, and Kevin Tilton joined me. With Jim and Kevin just a few seconds back trailing, keeping an eye on us. We would stay together for a long time. These are the guys I fully expected to go with me, I really thought the other guys in the field would go out a little more conservatively and pick off the dead in the last 5miles. I was hoping I wasn't one of the dead.

The Nash trail was pretty uneventful and it has the way of fooling you into thinking it's going to be an easy day. David was running right next to me and we both noticed some pretty fresh moose tracks. He sees a lot up where he's from. We hit Dogwood Swamp and David went to the front and was climbing fast. We were moving well. We hit the aid station at the Reservoir Trail parking lot in 58min and I stopped to fill my hand held bottle, I also dropped my gloves. David and Jim didn't stop at this station and got a small gap on me. Kevin was still a couple seconds behind me. We started the switch back road climb and I still felt great. This is a pretty intimidating hill, but it only takes 4 and half minutes to climb. We turned onto the Chestnut Hill trail with Jim leading and David hot on his heels, then me a couple ticks back, and Kevin right behind me. I noticed that Jim was climbing this hill hard. I felt uncomfortable for the first time in the race and we were barely over an hour into the race. I let them go a little bit, but would close the gap on the descents. I was trying to conserve my climbing legs. Jim looked like he really didn't want to lead, he took a wrong turn and was relieved of his duties by David. I pulled up right next to David. We cruised into the Chestnut Parking Lot aid station all 4 of us together.

We started the climb up Old Chesterfield Rd., and I was feeling great on the very runable uphill. Jim and David were really fast out of the aid station, but I caught them without much extra effort. I also took a gel and an S cap. My legs were really feeling great and I was enjoying the fact that the 4 of us were part of something pretty special. I could tell we were moving fast and nobody seemed to be hurting yet. At the turn on the ski trail, I checked my watch and saw 1:32, in training running from my house, I reach this pt around 1:50. We were definitely running well. Now started the climb up the Reservoir trail. I was running stride for stride next to David and Jim and Kevin were right behind us. My body was feeling amazing. I was feeling very confident, but I knew the race really doesn't start until the Kilburn Loop. Slowly but surely, I noticed that Jim and Kevin were letting us get a little ahead on the climbs and would be slower to catch us on the downs. I also saw Kevin stumble once which could be due to fatigue, or just bad luck. I heard Jim talking to Kevin about his legs starting to twinge and these things boosted my confidence even more. Of course, David looked like Rocky Balboa, like an unbreakable piece of iron.

We hit the Pisgah Ridge trail aid station, with David and I a few seconds up on Jim and Kevin. I took the lead and started the climb up the ridge. I felt pretty good, but not great at this point. We had been running for 2hrs now. A little over half way done. We hit the ridge and Kevin caught back up to us. He is one heck of a climber. Jim was only a few seconds back and when we rolled into Kilburn we were pretty much all together. I filled my bottle with Coke, took a gel and another S cap and was off. Kevin and David flew out of the aid station. I thought to myself, "no way, it's too early, don't go." I let them go, I was still feeling good and running fast, but they were really cranking. I thought that maybe they were making a mistake. Jim went by me, obviously wanting to cover the move and stay in the race. I remarked that we still had 11miles to go. And there I was now firmly in 3rd place with the leaders really hammering. I had to run my own race, I wanted to survive the uphill on Kilburn Loop and Davis Hill. I kept Jim in sight for a while, but eventually he disappeared around all the turns and bends. A couple min later, I saw Jim again, but it wasn't Jim, it was Kevin. I caught up to him right before the Kilburn aid station#2, and I told him to hang on, only 5miles and 3 climbs left. I knew exactly how he was feeling. I felt that way last year at that point. He was in for a tough finish. I hoped that maybe he would run with me and we could push for Jim and David, but I suspected this late in the race he was gonna just go into survival mode. Seeing him in this state only encouraged me, however. I thought, "if this could happen to the best climber in the field, it could happen to those two guys, anything is possible". I pushed on stopping for more Coke and a gel.

Time for Davis Hill. My favorite place in the world to cramp. I hadn't walked yet or cramped, but this hill always does me in. I saw Jen and Ferenc in the Kilburn parking lot as I hit Davis. They told me I was 2 min down. I ran Davis pretty well, but I could tell I wasn't moving super fast. I knew that the only way for me to win this thing was for Jim and David to have a disaster. On the back side of Davis on the rooty and rocky section, Ben Nephew came flying by me. I knew there was no way I was going with him. He was like a rocket. He gave me some words of encouragement and disappeared. I was still running with no cramps, but he was blasting off. I knew now for sure that I would not be winning the race. Time to finish in a good time.

I hit Hubbard and had no major problems, again no walking. I looked back a few times thinking that Brian Rusieki would be next. I hit my road and ran down and got some serious cramps in my legs, but was able to still run at a good clip. I ran by my house, which is always tough not to stop at, and past my neighbors who gave me a cheer. I ran the road hill with no problems, glancing back a few times. I finally rounded the turn after the stop sign and hit the tape in a new personal best for the course in 3:47:28 for 4th place. I was very satisfied with my race.

Post race: I had fun talking with everyone after the race and cheering for my bro, who finished the 50K in 5:19. We hung out at my house and cheered for the 50K'ers running by. Next year, I will definitely get a couple 4hr runs and try to get a little bit faster. This year was a fun and epic race.

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