The evening was spent discussing various strategies for Theresa, who had last run 50k nearly a year ago, and whose longest run this calendar was the Boston Marathon in April. But she is strong, steady, and knows how to pace herself. For my strategy, I studied splits from the fastest times for women (hey, why not, right?) and inked them on my hand, hoping to be somewhere in the vicinity.
Race morning we were up eating oatmeal and getting ourselves ready. It was crisp outside, but not too cold. At the start, it was the usual fun connecting with the ultra community, especially sometimes training partner and friend, John "Hot Newman" Ticer who's goal was to not get chicked my me. On the men's side, Tony Krupicka showed up to deflate a few other top male runners, and the women's side, Amy Sproston and Pam Smith were the folks I knew the most about. Finally shedding the warm-ups and standing at the start, RD Scott McCoubrey described the course. "The race is pretty simple. See that mountain over there (pointing high at the range to our left)? You're going to run up to the top of that and then come back. Then you'll run to the top of that mountain (pointing high at the range on our right)? Pretty straight forward." He then sent the chuckling runners off.
I fell in behind Amy, not wanting to get too excited, keep in control. This first section is flat and twisty, and continued on through the beautiful thick woods to the first aid station. I grabbed a gel and a big drink of water, letting Amy and another woman, Ashley from Colorado, slip away. I was soon at the back of a train as we began the very long ascent. The train eventually became more and more condensed, and conversations flowed. I could see John in front of me, pulling ahead. I followed my urge to pass the train I was in, putting me in front for the women. I wasn't confident I would last, but I felt very good here, and felt myself gliding along, gapping one train and closing in on another and passing it as well. Pretty much alone for awhile, Ashley eventually caught me and we chatted and ran together for many more of the miles up. It was her second 50 miler, and I thought she might be in trouble when she asked if we were on the second climb yet and had not even finished the first.
The lead men started to appear on their way back from the turn-around, with Tony in 2nd place. Thinking he was being followed closely, I started to say "Good job guys!" but upon seeing only Tony, stopped at "Good job Guy" at the same time he said "Good job Meghan". I was a bit embarrassed that he knew my name and I called him "Guy". I finally arrived at the turnaround, filled my bottle, grabbed a gel, and seeing John, started back down behind him. Amy was not far behind Ashley and I. I saw more and more folks I knew on the out and back, and was very excited to see that Theresa was looking good and having fun.
We hit the water only aid station, I grabbed a gel and John and I scooted out. Ashley had fallen off the pace, so I was in the lead with no one challenging me at the moment. We hit the long switch back downhill section and I was enjoying the pace. I kept checking my time compared to Susannah Beck's record pace splits. I thought I must be getting close to the half way mark as I her split came and went, but it was not to be. It was an 'aha' moment for me. Fast is fast. Susannah Beck is fast. Very fast. Ah, genetics. I felt like I wouldn't even be in the same zip code if she were in the race by the time we reached the start/finish area for the beginning of the second part of the race.
But it was a race, and I was keen on keeping my position, regardless of the time. The first climb after the flat section was a burner. "That was special" I yelled back to Ticer, to which he mumbled "uh-huh". I felt strong and steady, ran when it seemed faster than hiking, and made it to the next aid station with less effort than in the past. I grabbed a bit of food, filled my bottle, and got out quickly, Ticer right behind. We picked up one more in our train, Matt Simms, and continued strongly all the way to Suntop.
John Ticer and I near the summit of Suntop - photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Excited to be at the final summit, I grabbed beverage and gel and hit the road. The long downhill ahead was beckoning, and I hoped to put some distance on John here. It was not to be. He caught me, and encouraged me to keep up. I was running fast, but soreness in my feet was starting to build. Not that it would have mattered as I watched John gently glide away. Dang - he was running well!
My stomach was urging me to jump in the bushes but somehow I convinced it to stay together. I made it to the bottom of the 7 mile downhill, and John was no where in sight. I had glanced over my shoulder and didn't see anyone in pursuit. I filled bottles at the final aid station and set about to put my plan in place - run hard for the last 6.6 miles. I was already out for over 7 hours, so my sub 8 goal was looking bleak. But my legs did feel strong and I pushed hard. Twisting in and out, over roots, eyes stretching ahead, I tried not looking at my watch more than every 5 minutes. This proved to be more difficult that I thought, and the final miles seemed to go on FOREVER. I was pleasantly surprised to catch a glimpse of John just ahead and when I finally caught him, he was thinking the same thing - will this ever end? I went ahead of him and kept pushing with him on my heels. Each bridge we crossed seemed just like the last bridge we had crossed, like some cruel joke. At last we reached the road that would take us to the finish. "Go ahead John! Don't wait for me." But he would not leave, and continued to egg me on to the finish. As I finally picked it up, he muttered "now that's what I'm talkin' about". We crossed the finish line in 8:10. Pretty far off from my goal, but a good 20+ minutes ahead of my best time here.
John and I finishing - photo by John Wallace III
Scott was there with warm congratulations, and I spent the next few whiles recovering and waiting for Theresa to finish. I thought she would be in under 10 hours, and at about 9:30 I heard John yell "It's Theresa!" We hooted and hollered her in, and I was pleased to see her Sunsweet Jersey covered in dirt and felt like I had handed her the torch for keeper of the dirty jersey. She had tumbled at least 6 times, but managed to be 7th woman and rake in $400. Pretty good for racing on a whim and somewhat "off of the couch".
Theresa Ridgway finishing 7th! Photo by John Wallace III
I was satisfied in many ways, but came away still wanting to break 8 hours on this course. Time to hit the gym.