Satisfaction personifiedAugust 1, 2010
At Friday’s pre-race check-in and pasta dinner, I spotted Meghan Arbogast and went over to say hi to her.
“So,” I said, “I think we’re kinda the favorites for tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I think we kinda are,” she agreed.
And then I looked toward the parking lot and saw Tony Krupicka walking toward us. “Um, I think the new favorite just arrived….” was all I could add.
The last-minute addition of Tony to the White River field eliminated any realistic hopes I had of winning and thus was disappointing to me in that respect. But it also refocused me on my years-old goal of breaking the 7-hour barrier.
After a relatively good night’s sleep, it was time to go. In contrast to last year, when I burst from the starting line and led the field through the first few miles, I felt a bit sluggish and settled into 20th or 30th place. My time to the first aid station, Camp Sheppard (3.9 miles), was 29-something, a minute slower than last year.
Next came the long climb up to Ranger Creek (11.7 miles). I never feel that great on this section. The incline is a slap in the face after the gently rolling terrain preceding it, and it’s depressing to watch the great uphill runners drop me with apparent ease. Also, the moderate altitude (most of the race takes place between 3000 and 6000 feet) offers an extra challenge for sea-level dwellers like me. Anyway, I made it to Ranger Creek in 1:42, still a minute slower than last year.
Continuing to not feel wonderful, I somehow got to Corral Pass (16.9 miles) ahead of schedule (2:26, vs. 2:28 in 2009). With this satisfying split under my belt, I might have relaxed a bit too much heading back to Ranger Creek, although this section is also a perennial challenge for me because of the two-way traffic and the need to return people’s greetings so as not to seem like an elitist ass. My split back at Ranger Creek (22.1 miles) was 3:07 (vs. 3:08 in 2009).
For the past two years, I had found the descent from Ranger Creek to Buck Creek (27.3 miles) to be gentle and relaxing — a chance to run fast with minimal effort before the strenuous climb to Fawn Ridge (31.7 miles) and Sun Top (37.0 miles). Yesterday, for whatever reason, the leg was less serene and slower than usual. I unhappily arrived at Buck Creek in 3:46 (vs. 3:45 in 2009).
With this unencouraging feedback from the various creek checkpoints, it was time to fish or cut bait. I stepped up the intensity, passed Adam Lint and Josh Brimhall, and got to Fawn Ridge in 4:29. I had again leapfrogged slightly ahead of my 2009 self (4:30). The ascent continued and so did my march forward place-wise. I passed Tim Olson, whom I briefly mistook for Tony because he’s long-haired and was running shirtless and in dark shorts, and then caught up to Scott Jurek, who was unmistakable in his fluorescent green top. “I love that singlet, Jurek,” I called out to him. “It’s like a giant bull’s-eye.”
Scott was climbing well, and I didn’t pass him until after we both caught Yassine Diboun, who was walking up some of the steeper parts (as most people do). I eventually pulled ahead of them; then came a prolonged downhill after the false summit, and they passed me back; then came the final switchbacks up to Sun Top, and I overtook Yassine again. I arrived at the summit hot on Scott’s heels in 5:24, now a whopping 5 minutes ahead of my 2009 split.
[Here’s me closing in on Scott as we approach Sun Top. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.]
I passed Scott a minute or two into the 6.4 mile descent on the Sun Top dirt road. He asked me whether we were on sub-7 pace and, not having the breath to explain the caveats of my calculations, I simply said yes. I felt pretty strong and smooth, considering the uphill charge I had just made, and the metal mile markers on the side of the road offered welcome updates on pace and distance. At Skookum Flats (mile 43.4), I was still 5 minutes ahead of last year (6:05 vs. 6:10), and Scott was nowhere in sight.
The final 6.6 miles are fairly flat but full of roots and rocks. Last year I came to this section thinking that I could blast through it fast enough to dip under 7:00, but I couldn’t. This year I had the time cushion that I needed as long as I didn’t trip badly or run out of gas. Fluid intake and foot placement would be top priorities until I was figuratively and literally out of the woods.
Finally, at about 6:56 flat, I reached the dirt road that would take me to the finish line. “Thank God!” I said aloud with nonreligious but profound relief. I finished, smiling, in 6:58:10 — 3:49 faster than last year.
My smile was not a smile of victory, as I had been trounced by Tony (6:25:29, breaking his course record of 6:32 from last year!) and 19-year-old phenom Dakota Jones (6:49:20!), nor was it a smile of having run the best race I possibly could have. But I had finally laid my sub-7 quest to rest, and I was awfully satisfied with that, and it showed.