It was Friday night before the race and sitting in the hospital at 6:00pm with my wife as I was typing an email to friends saying I would not be joining them at the race when she turned to me and said go home and get ready for your race now. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but considering she was losing memory to a concussion, it was the last thing I expected to hear or wanted to do. Long story short, after a lecture and prodding I drive home and finished packing and preparing for the race and the 3am wakeup call.
I wasn’t fully engaged on the trip to Willowdale but as I spent more time waiting for the race to start with friends Mike and Dean I started to get motivated. Running into more running friends in the gym, Todd, Mike, Scott, Shari and others I cant recall, the scene started to feel good- this is the fun part of all the work, getting together with our fellow warriors to battle it out with the trails (yeah ok, a bit dramatic).
All year my racing basically stunk, a lot of DNF’s (did not finish) surrounded by a couple of PR’s but not nearly enough consistency. The Stone Cat 50 was the first race that I had to finish, had to put in a maximum effort or deem the year of training wasted.
We went outside early to wait for the start- and finally a sea of headlamps came out of the gym. We missed the pre-race speech and apparently the marathon was going to start 15 minutes later so the 50 milers stepped up onto the field behind the Doyon School and we were off.
The race is a 4 x 12.5 mile loop with almost 2,300 feet of elevation gain in total. My only goal was to finish in the 12:30 time limit- I hadn’t run well enough all year to expect any kind of faster time but only a few years into ultra’s and my second 50 I would be thrilled to cross the finish line in time.
Loop 1- Miles 0-12.5
Starts are fun. For this race, no pressure, we walked across the field and I waited as the better runners (basically everybody) filed into the single track trail. Over the first few miles the main hills on the course are encountered, and I walked slowly up and down until we came out onto the main trail. I saw good friend Mike up ahead and checked my watch to be sure I wasn’t too fast yet. I was right on pace with a lot of easy running ahead. The main task on the rest of this loop was to eat, drink and manage my pace. I had to walk on occasion to slow down as some of the easier trail and early race excitement had me pushing too fast. The sun came up, the weather was cool and comfortable and I cruised into the field and the loop 1 turnaround passing by friends and enjoying the day. 2:30 Lap 1.
Loop 2- Miles 12.5-25
I headed back on the field to start loop 2 and as soon as I hit the trails something felt off. Actually, everything did. My legs started to feel dead, my chest hurt, I had a pain in my eye and I just wanted to go to sleep. Up and down the hills, it continued. I started to talk to myself- I was shocked how badly I felt and the quit talk started. Not just the race, but Ultra’s. I felt that bad. My pace started to drop off quickly and realized if this kept up quitting wouldn’t be necessary, by the end of loop 3 I’d be stopped for missing the 37.5 mile 9 hours cutoff. I finally made it to Fast Fred's Cafe- yeah- cool name for a race aid station- and took a break, ate, drank and talked a bit to a volunteer Alison, who I had met at another race. I finally headed out and immediately felt better. All of those symptoms went away and other than worrying about race cutoffs, I was sure I could cover the 50 miles. I ran down the hill to the cornfields and saw Theresa and Kurt who I met a couple of years ago at the Pisgah Mt 50k (I ran most of the race with Theresa) and it was a nice pick me up to the last couple of miles in the loop. I hadn’t been watching my time, but was satisfied to make it to the end of the loop in 5:30, a 3 hour loop two.
Loop 3- Miles 25-37.5
My mission here was clear- I needed to get to the end of this loop in 3.5 hours to make the 9 hour cutoff. Didn’t seem like a big deal but my loop two was 30 minutes slower than loop 1 and if that happened again I’d be pushing it. Nothing special was happening but I noticed I started to feel cramping in my legs. I took more salt pills, but almost halfway through the loop I had a major cramp that I needed to work out. I did it as I walked, sort of dragging the offending leg along on the side so I didn’t stop. There was no way I was going to stop and lose more time. The cramps never came back fully but I did need to back off every once and a while when I felt it coming on during this loop. Worse, after the mile 32 aid station, I twisted my ankle on some roots and then fell like a ton of bricks. I ran on, and kept what felt like a decent pace. I was sure I would make the cutoff but didn’t look at my watch over the last few miles and was very happy to finish loop 3 in 8:30, another 3 hour loop. I was pretty stoked to nail two consecutive loops at similar time which made me think I was managing pace well.
Loop 4- Miles 37.5-50
People kept calling this one the victory lap. For a change- I was sure I could finish the last loop in the 4 hours I had to meet the race cutoff. I sort of struggled getting my act together and joked around a bit with Dean, Scott and another guy who I hadn’t met and finally got moving. My only goal was to finish, and not get hurt. I moved along the same pace as the previous 2 loops and felt excited. Unfortunately, around mile 7 of this loop the spot on my ankle I twisted earlier started to get sore so I reduced the amount of running I was going to do to minimize the pain. It was sort of too late, but it hurt and I didn’t want to push it. It got dark and I eased off more as even with my flashlight I didn’t want to trip any more. It was damn exciting to finally come out on the final field to the finish line. I had run on this course likely 40+ times over the year so this was so familiar that it made it that much more fun, There were flares set up in the dark to light the way in- I ran by my friends and saw that my kids had driven down to cheer me on at the finish. I was so satisfied that I ran quickly through the finish line and didn’t notice my time. I did stop my watch so was able to see it a few minutes later. 11:39. Last lap of 3:09, which I was pretty pleased with having eased off a bit on the final loop.
I went to pick up my finishers jacket- which I can say is something that helped motivate me to finish. First, I was told I had been marked as a DNF in the marathon- then after having my kids vouch for me being who I was, I then was told they didn’t have an extra large, only 2x. After looking forward to this moment all year my face dropped- I was going to get a jacket that wouldn't fit and I wouldn't be able to wear. My friends told me that the sizes ran small and frankly, in a minute or two I realized the effort was the key and the jacket was just a piece of clothing. Hopefully I conveyed my thanks properly to the volunteers who had to wait around for me to drag myself across the line- after initially feeling disappointed. (And the 2x fits anyhow! )
I finished nearly an hour ahead of the cutoff, which was very satisfying. The weather was great, the trails in great condition and the GAC and volunteers did everything to support and encourage me throughout the race. Most of my friends beat or attained their goals. Pretty fully stocked aid stations and enthusiastic volunteers. The funniest moment of the day was when I got to the 45 mile aid station, and was standing around thinking of what I wanted to eat. While talking to the volunteer, I mumbled something to the effect that I really should just leave and finish. With that, Gilly, coach at the GAC, bellowed out “Yeah, Get out of here and finish!” As I left he yelled out “One more thing, RUN FAST!” Now that’s a coach ! A truly fun and memorable day………………