A funny thing happened on the way to the finishDecember 9, 2006
At the opening horn of the Sunmart 50-miler, the two Russians (Oleg Kharitonov and Denis Zhalybin) and the Italian (Giorgio Calcaterra) immediately charged into the lead while I followed at a discreet distance. In watching them from behind, I soon noticed several things. (1) Their pace was solid but not suicidal — perhaps conducive to keeping the pack together for a good long while. (2) The Russians were wearing full-length tights, which seemed like a bit much for the south Texas weather. (3) None of the three were carrying fluids. (4) None looked very smooth on the trail, stepping gingerly over the roots and proceeding cautiously down the short, gentle downhills.
This last point particularly intrigued me. When I do trail ultras, I tend to be respected for my road speed but hampered by my poor trail-running technique. This situation was completely the opposite: I had the least impressive road credentials of the four of us but (apparently) the most trail experience.
Anyway, I was running comfortably, enjoying the fact that I was in such distinguished company…. And then, about 3.5 miles into the race, the three foreigners went off-course. This part of the course is an out-and-back section on a dirt road, with an aid station just beyond the turnaround point. A few seconds ahead of me, the trio continued straight past the turnaround and past the aid station, as if heading for the Interstate. After confirming with a volunteer that I was indeed at the turnaround, I yelled out, as loudly as I could, “Oleg, Giorgio, Denis — turn around!!!” But they just kept running.
Another volunteer was dispatched in an all-terrain vehicle to chase down the wayward runners. Meanwhile, I headed back onto the course.
I spent the rest of the 12.5-mile lap, the first of four, wondering how long it might take them to catch back up to me. But by the end of the lap, my split time of 1:23:20 gave me a four-minute lead (as determined at another out-and-back section). That seemed pretty good! For lap two, I decided to try to maintain my cushion, so I ran a bit more aggressively and was rewarded with a 25-mile split of 2:46:00. Now my lead was seven minutes, but I was no longer feeling very fresh. I intentionally slowed down during lap three to reduce my chances of blowing up, and I finished the lap with a cumulative time of 4:12:25 and a 13.5-minute lead over Kharitonov. Calcaterra was even further back, and Zhalybin had now dropped out with an injury.
At this point, I recalled that the three-fastest 50-mile times in Sunmart’s 17-year history were 5:20, 5:33, and 5:38. The first two were clearly out of reach, but I ran the last lap pretty hard in hopes of beating the 5:38. I did back off in a few rooty sections because I was feeling slightly lightheaded and didn’t want to trip, but I ran an impressively fast closing mile (if I do say so myself) and finished in 5:37:39. Kharitonov wound up 2nd in 6:00, with Calcaterra 3rd in 6:11 and Hal Koerner 4th in 6:14. The top female finishers were Anne Lundblad (6:33), Kami Semick (6:42), Tania Pacev (7:15), and Christine Crawford (7:29). Complete results are available from DoIt Sports.
The Sunmart trophy is very beautiful but monumentally impractical. It’s a bronze statue of a stallion that’s about 1.5 feet long and 1.5 feet high and weighs 43 pounds. I wonder how many have been dropped over the years by weary runners with no upper-body strength. It will be interesting to try to get it onto the plane tomorrow.
A bunch of thank-you’s are in order here: to Roger Soler, John Welch (who provided the photo below), the Sunmart volunteers, and everyone else who makes the event what it is; to my Houston-based aunt and uncle and their daughter, for helping me out in numerous ways; to Liz, for letting me train for and attend the race; and to my aunt Beverly, for helping Liz with Phil while I was away.