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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where's Waldo 2009

As the race approached, I was feeling strong and looking forward to seeing my ultra running friends and family. My best guess was the Joelle Vaught and Bev Anderson-Abbs would be my main competitors, but some lesser known names were certainly in the mix. The pre-race meeting was carried off in the usual jocular fashion, with Craig and Alan throwing jabs at each other, Curt letting us know that pink is the only color we need to know, Richard Bolt reviewing the USATF championship, and Jessie Malman announcing the inclusion of Where's Waldo in the Montrail Ultra Cup Race Series. With all instructions and thanks to sponsors, everyone made their way to a night of pre-race fitful sleep.

Awaking at 3:00, I mentally acknowledged the early starters, wondering if they got any sleep at all. I ate rice porridge, coffee, energy drink, and at 4:00 am, Brian and I were on the way to the start. Bright stars revealed a clear sky. At the lodge, I alternated trips to the bathroom with warm up jogging and drills in the dark, hoping I wouldn't fall before the race even started. Finally at 5:00 am, with headlamps and hand held lights, we were off.

My goal was to keep myself from burning out too quickly. I had splits that I would like to hit, but was only going to go by heart rate, splits be what they may. The dusty climb from the start was mostly happily shared with team mate and good friend Jeff Riley. We kept a reasonable pace and good conversation much of the way. Finally cresting and getting onto single track, I let my legs carry me quickly along the trail, passing folks that I knew I would see again - Sean, Lewis, William. Daylight arrived, I turned off the lights, and worked my way to the Gold Lake aid station. Arriving in 1:07, I was ahead of my split, and told that Bev was one minute ahead. I picked up an another bottle, left my lights with Brian, ate one gel, and headed to the road. Alone on the trail, I kept my pace according to my heart rate, and was passed by Lewis, then Sean, and finally Victor. On the South Waldo trail I met early starters running in the opposite direction, and finally reaching Fuji aid station, I was pleased to be right on pace, yet staying under control. Spotting volunteer Gary Stott, I handed him both bottles, asked him if he would fill them while I summited Fuji. He gladly obliged, and I set off for the short climb to the top. Very soon I met Erik Skaggs cruising lightly down, followed not too closely by men who appeared to be working much harder than he. Near the top, Joelle was coming down, and about a minute later, Bev. It felt good to be able to run most of this climb, and the welcoming committee of Craig, Greyson and Scott, at the top was not to be surpassed. One or two photos later, I was on my way down.

Reaching Fuji aid station again, Gary pointed out my bottles and encouraged me to catch those girls. I scooted out, feeling strong, and staying in control. The downhills I allowed the gravity to pull me quickly, the uphills I kept my heart rate in control. The trail was in excellent condition, and I arrived at the next aid station, again in good time. Brian was there, handed me a Vespa with some good encouraging words, Cindy filled my bottles, and I gave one to Brian. In the cool weather I was not needing so much fluid, and knew that one bottle would get me to the Twins aid station quite adequately. I was soon on my way, happy that my legs hadn't died early, as they had last year. I worked my way steadily up the Gold Lake trail, to Bobby Lakes trail, and finally to the PCT. Julie was monitoring this intersection, and she said Bev was 13 minutes ahead. I teased that Bev would be sorry later, and continued uphill. I felt like I wasn't going as well as 2 years ago, but not too badly. Looking at my watch, I realized I was falling off pace. Eventually I reached the "1/4 mile to the next aid station" sign, and as usual, found it to be the longest 1/4 mile ever.

Once there, I was greeted with great fanfare from Melissa, Keah, Dennis, and others. They quickly got my needs met, and got me out of there. I was about 4 minutes slow, but still felt strong enough. I had a little trouble getting comfortable running, but stayed patient, acknowledging that I had not been above sea-level but once since Western States. I finally came up and passed Chris about where he predicted I would see him, and his presence lifted my spirits. Eventually I was running in a good groove, and arrived in Charleton to a very animated aid station. Again, Brian was there, providing sanity and grounding and good sense - making sure I took two water bottles for the longer stretches ahead. I ate a little from the aid station, and was on my way, Gaby running beside me telling me that Bev was 17 minutes ahead.

Moving along in the next section was a bit of a struggle. Again, the elevation was probably a factor, along with running now longer than I had since Western States, but I wasn't concerned. I soon caught Victor and we chatted a bit, and I confirmed to him that we indeed were running at 5 or 6000 feet. Arriving at 4290, I made sure I ate a gel, filled both bottles, and tried to find something else that appealed. Some melon and an S!Cap, my bottles, and I was on my way. Victor had passed me again, so my eyes kept looking ahead for him. With the turns coming quickly, I was virtually alone. Finally on the long grind to the Twins summit, I heard someone behind me, and soon Sander powered by with his trademark power hike. He invited me to keep up - and I would have loved to - but before long he was out of sight. I took my trademark stumble/tumble in the dirt, and tried to brush off the evidence. In this remote section, it was quite comforting to look up and see two horse and riders volunteering for the race. They checked that I had enough water, and asked if I was okay. I replied that I was - not that I wouldn't appreciate a ride - to which they replied they could do that. I resisted the temptation, and slogged on. Near the Twins saddle, I finally caught Victor again. We cruised quickly down to the Twins aid station for the second time.

Dennis grabbed my bottles. I downed an S!Cap, a gel, some soda and melon. I asked where Bev was, and found out she was only 7 minutes ahead! Melissa told me to stay in my game, and I said it was the only game I know, and with great support and full bottles, I lit off down the trail. Not too far ahead I could see Sander, but never closed the gap. After a long downhill stretch, the PCT flattened, then began to rise to bring me to the Maiden Peak Trail aid station, where Brian and Bob had hiked in to offer support. Brian gave me another Vespa, and told me Bev was about 3 minutes ahead. I had my filled bottles, a gel, ate more melon and soda, and started the last long climb of the day. I was 12 minutes behind my splits, but was more concerned with whether or not I could catch Bev. My eyes strainging ahead, I was able to hike and jog much of the climb, but no Bev. I wasn't feeling all that great, but not dead either. Breaking out to the open near the top, the volunteer told me "10 minutes to the top". I left my bottles, and started the grind up. Gary was on his way down and said I was reeling them in - I knew he meant Bev, but didn't know who else. Joelle had not been mentioned to me for hours, so I knew she was way out of the picture. Very near the top, I finally met Bev coming down. "I'm on your tail girl!" I said. She mumbled something in reply, and I finally summited a mere 2 minutes behind her. Tommy was recording runners at the top and provided encouragement to go after her. I wasted little time getting back to my bottles, and onto the Leap of Faith trail, looking for Bev. Faster and faster I flew to the Maiden Lake aid station. The kindly women of this aid station got me in and out as quickly as possible. Bev had left only a minute or 2 ago.

Leaving the aid station, my legs were a bit fried for the climbs, but eventually they started to roll. Every turn in the trail I hoped to see Bev. I would not let up, even passing the urge to pee lest I end up losing to her by 30 seconds. Up and down, around turns, I finally reached the PCT again. I let it rip the best I could. Bev HAD to be there somewhere. The down hills were going well, but every flat spot was like running in sand. The Rosary Lakes in their cool beauty beckoned me to come in, but I resisted. I spotted Odell Lake, and knew I had 20 minutes to the finish. Still, I could not see Bev - I must have really scared her! Not giving up, I even imagined catching her on the final 400 meter stretch, throwing my bottles on the ground and tossing my waist pack to the side, and sprinting by her. Alas, it was not to be. As I reached the final stretch, Alan was there, did a little "Go Meghan, Go Meghan" dance and radioed in that I was on my way.

The last stretch is about the most open section of the entire race, and usually involves running on sandy ground into the wind, but with the crowd at the finish cheering my on, I did my best to "run pretty". I crossed in 11:07 - 19 minutes slower than my best, but much better than last year. Bev had turned on her after burners and beat me by 6 minutes, for which I gave her a deserved hard time about. Joelle had completely smoked us both, breaking my record by 25 minutes, running a stellar 10:23.

As usual, this race was supremely well run - Thank you Craig, Laurie, Curt, all the aid station captains and volunteers, and thanks to Brian and Bob for crewing.