Race morning arrived with good conditions - cool, clear, dry. I warmed up with most of Team Sunsweet and gathered at the starting line a bit before 8:00. The usual suspects - Bev and Joelle, plus newbies to the course - Caitlin and Devon - and a few other new-to-me female competitors - made for a stacked women's field. I had a good base going in, felt strong, and ready to make an improvement over the previous 3 years. And I wanted to beat Andy Jones-Wilkens (AJW) to earn a much coveted "Conduct the Juices" hoodie from good friend and ultra-geek Craig Thornley. I was sporting my new joy-sucker (aka - Garmin) that I had programmed with the specific distances between aid stations as well as goal pace ranges for each section, so that if I was going too slow or too fast, the thing would beep at me. I carried one bottle of liquid and a half-filled gel flask that I had mistakenly brought - leaving the full one in the car.
The race started after a loud count-down - and behind the fast men, out shot Bev, Caitlin, and Devon. Not wanting to die in the first two miles, I let them go, biding my time. Joelle soon caught up and ran with me for a spell, as well as Lewis, but they soon drifted away on the first climbs. My first two miles were under 13 minutes, but we were on pavement and a gentle downhill, so I felt in control. My compression socks, however, were already starting to fall. Poor form!
The course had been measured and found to be 1.6 miles short, and this amount was added into the first section of the race. Just over 2 miles on the pavement, we turned onto the trail and headed back against runner traffic below. I heard Dave cheering below to me, and AJW's booming voice not too far back. I anticipated that once he got warmed up he would bomb right by me.
Keeping myself under control, I could see Joelle ahead. I hoped she wouldn't put too much distance on me, and then I was passed by two more women - 'pink' (wearing bright pink gators), and green - I don't remember what but something she had on was green. Soon I was running up on "Tat Man" - one of the strangest experiences yet - his pace was erratic - fast, slow, fast, slow - and didn't seem to matter about the terrain. He told me I should keep up with Green - she had a good pace going, and gave me more advice about the runners way ahead. I did what I always do - ran within myself and planned on running strong for 31 miles. And try to stay ahead of AJW.
The course was relatively easy in this section - rolling trail, nothing too technical, until the somewhat rocky, technical drop down into the first aid station at 7 miles. I passed Pink and Green again, but knew they were close behind. The aid station volunteers and running fans were loudly welcoming as we bombed through. I hurried through, looking for Brian to say hi to as I went through, and barely saw him at the last second. Before we could cross Highway 49, the traffic guard yelled very loudly "STOP! STOP! STOP!" just to make sure we knew to wait. When we were given the okay, we crossed, I hit my lap button in 51 minutes - a little faster than I anticipated, so I was pleased.
I was leading a small train onto the trail, offering to move aside to those behind, but everyone was content as we were. This section was rockier than I remembered. I caught a runner and told him there was a train behind, and eventually some of us went past him. Pink was following, and as we emerged onto the road beside the river, she floated by on the downhill. I stayed calm, working at a good effort, and my Garmin was beeping at me. I wasn't sure what it was beeping for - too fast? too slow? The print out was too small to tell, and the thing continued to beep.
I was running fairly solo - a couple of men in front, Pink further ahead, and eventually we reached a significant but runnable climb. I was surprised to find that I actually closed in on Pink here, and after cresting, I remained about 30-40 yards behind her as we traversed the runnable trail to ALT1. As we cruised in at 1:58, we were told we were in 5th and 6th. Carol and Brian were there, cheering me on. I hit my lap button again, and had covered the 8 plus miles in 1:06. I passed Pink on the climb out, but she stayed close behind, and every flat or downhill, she closed the gap, and every climb I pulled away. I guess my pace was okay, as my watch quit beeping at me. Eventually we arrived at the Dead Truck trail, which was much longer and more technical than I remember, and I invited Pink to go by. She floated down in front of me, while I was slightly tentative, partly due to my decision to wear flats that were slightly slippery, and partly due to the vivid memory of breaking/separating a rib in a fall here two years ago.
At the bottom of the trail, the deepest creek crossing loomed. I actually stopped to study this one, as opposed to the all the previous crossings that were shallow and resulted in maybe on shoe filling with water. I definitely decided I was not going thigh high, and briefly looked upstream and found a reasonable crossing, then climbed up the other side. I eased myself into a faster pace as the trail was quite runnable. I wasn't that fresh, but patiently waited to get my wheels going, and after a bit they responded. Pink was out of site, but I knew that Ball Bearing Hill loomed ahead and I would possibly catch her there.
As predicted, I could see her not far ahead once the big climb started. I kept my focus on the ground, not wanting to look up at how long the climb was. My legs were serving me well, and I closed the gap once again. Cresting this climb, she was right in front of me. As I followed her into ALT2 at 2:55, I heard my watch make a fairly long statement before reaching the aid station. I later learned that I had covered the distance of the third leg and it started to measure the next. Not knowing that, I hit the lap button on the way out. I stopped at this aid station, filled a bottle with my EFS powder and water, passed Pink again, and headed back towards Cool. Now we were running against traffic, and it was fun seeing the other runners, cheering them on, and they cheering me on. One calf was cramping, so I managed to put my flask in my jogbra, get my S!Caps out, take one, and keep moving. The cramping persisted, so I took another. Finally, it subsided, and I felt strong enough to push the pace. Pink had dropped off and eventually I came up behind Devon. She looked back, said 'Hey Meghan' - I asked her what was up, and she was having a bit of fatigue. I asked her where the others were, she said not too far ahead, that if I had it in me I could catch them. 'Let me go by then!' I quipped. She cheered me on, and before long I was at Brown's Bar, ready to start the slog that is Goat Hill. Feeling fatigue, but not death, I kept going steady. My hike served me well, and before I got to the top, my Garmin sang out again. How curious, I thought.
I reached the top, asked for an S!Cap but was out of luck. I dug mine out, drank some 7-up and took a gel, hit my lap button and started the downhill, behind another runner. We tore down the hill, I was feeling inspired by the thought that it was mostly downhill to the highway 49 crossing. Then we came to a little grunt of a hill, and I powered up it. Then more downhill to catch my breath. Then another uphill - ugh - who put that there! And more downhill, and then yet ANOTHER uphill with a gnarly little switch back. I grunted and pushed and suffered a huge power outage, and watched my carrot float away. Wow, was I toast. I refused to walk, felt fairly delirious, but convinced myself that I would eventually recover. I looked at my Garmin and realized it had stopped at 26 miles. It had stopped before the summit of Goat Hill, so I had no idea what my current time or distance was.
Before I had my legs back, I heard a familiar pace behind me. Pink had closed in on me one more time. I touched her shoulder as she went by - 'Hey Pink! Great job!' She glided off for the final time. I kept my eyes up, took down one male runner who was more dead than I, and cresting the trail above highway 49, I cruised into the aid station to the sound of "Born to Run". I grabbed two cups of water, and lifted by the music, found the ability to run uphill awhile. During the race I had been waiting to hear the booming voice of AJW, and now more than ever, I hoped not to hear it. I don't think I could have held him off at this point. As the hill became more runnable, I picked up the pace. Happily, Ed was about 400 meters from the finish, cheering everyone on. Great to see his face at this point. I fairly flew the last bit of the race, crossing in 4:23.
Pink was there, and it turns out she has a name - Nicola Gildersleeve. Caitlin Smith impressed us all with her 4:12 win, followed by Bev in 4:17, Joelle in 4:19, and Nicola in 4:21. Devon came in soon at 4:25. I was pleased with my improvement, and with some mistakes to work out, feel that I am not done with this course yet. And I beat AJW and have the sweatshirt to prove it!