The evening before the race was rich with friends offering support, love, and condolences over the recent loss of my husband Brian. I felt such gratitude, and there was no better place for me to be at that time.
Race morning was clear and cool and dark. I felt pretty good, energetic, positive. I enjoyed the camaraderie and pre-race energy. Sunsweet teammates Jeff Riley, Dan Olmstead, and Lewis Taylor were all donning numbers as well. John Ticer, my pacer and crew for the day, was there for instruction. I have him my bag with bottles and gels. We got started at 5:00 am sharp, and I ran the entire first climb, for the first time ever. I was stoked to feel that good, and had Joelle's CR splits on my brain. I cruised along the Skyline trail to the Maiden Peak trail all the way down to Gold Lake aid station. I was relaxed, feeling fine, and at 1:08. That wasn't particularly grand, but the day had just begun. Maybe I was being a little too relaxed?
I handed my lights to John, traded my empty bottle for a full one, and hit the trail for Fuji. I was again running sections I don't normally run, but not feeling like I was working too hard. Finally arriving at Fuji aid station up, I left my bottle with a volunteer to pick up on the way back down from summitting Fuji. My split here was also less than remarkable - 2:03 to Joelle's 1:57. But I was having fun! I got to the top, to the encouragement of Craig and Greyson, posed for a quick picture, then headed back down. Before I had gone 50 yards, here came Amy Sproston, looking very good. We encouraged each other in passing, and I focused on getting back to the Fuji aid station as quickly as possible. I met many other friends on my way down, which is one of my favorite things about this section of the race. I grabbed my waiting bottle, and hoped for a fast flight down to Mt Ray aid station. Behind me was Aaron - a friend of Amy's from the east coast, and we ran close to each other through the thick woods, steep down hills, through pothole meadow, until finally I had to take a bathroom break. I emerged from the bushes and surged the last bit to the aid station , just as Amy caught up to me. We got there at 3:22 - a far cry from Joelle's 3:12, and I realized I needed to let go of any CR obsessions and just stay focused and positive.
John was there with my bottles and offering anything else I might want. As quickly as possible, Amy and I left the aid station together, and took a couple of miles to get to know each other a bit. After reaching the Bobby Lakes trail, Amy pulled away, running ups and downs equally impressively. I, however, felt a bit sucky. I starting analyzing, and yes, I had a full plate the past few months, but the real problem for me was altitude and not training on the course. I knew it was early still and to just keep my wits about me. Turning north onto the PCT, I continued ambling on, looking for the Twins aid station signs, usually WAY too soon before the actual aid station. Thankfully this year there were no signs and suddenly it appeared around a bend in the trail. The volunteers were all over me, filling bottles, handing me gels, and reporting that Amy left 3 minutes ago. That didn't sound insurmountable, but I had no idea how she was feeling. I forged on, passing more early starters (go Erin and Annie!) eyes straining for Charleton Lake. I was pushing pretty hard, thinking it must be around the next corner. I finally arrived to one of the most electrifying aid stations of all. Craig was there again, asking how I felt. "A little tired, but not too bad." I 'posed' for a quick picture, then met with John. He had my bottles ready to go. Word on the street was that Amy was only 30 seconds ahead.
Charleton Lake - photo by Craig Thornley
I told John I was a little tired, but somehow he got my wheels turning. Shortly after, he spotted Amy ahead. We didn't speed up, just kept the good clip going. We soon caught and passed her. "John, just so you know, I am pretty sure I have never run this section this hard." I guessed we were at a low enough altitude in this section that I wasn't suffering from lack of oxygen, so definitely took advantage. We pushed the pace all the way to the aid station at 4290 - at 8:39 pace - the fastest I had ever run this section. Having a pacer was proving to be a good move. We made it out of the aid station of couple of minutes ahead of Amy.
John continued to remind me to take gels every 30 minutes, made sure I was drinking and taking salt. He would pull ahead and never let me relax. This is a long, seemingly unending section. Not so steep that it's all a hike, so many times John would break into a run, while I groaned inwardly but tried to follow suit. Occasionally I would look back, as would John, but there was no one in sight. Finally cresting to the Twin's saddle, we picked up downhill momentum all the way down to the aid station. Again, we were all business, filling bottles, bellies, and then flew out. The downhill felt good going south on the PCT, and soon I saw Victor Ballesteros ahead. He heard me coming and picked up a faster gear, dropping John and I for good.
The Pacific Crest Trail was slightly uphill now until we reached the Maiden Peak aid station. Finally we were greeted by voluteers, one of which was KMTR's weather man Joseph Galbraith (fun seeing famous people!) who ran ahead with my bottles to fill them and get us ready to get out of the aid station and on our way on the final, long climb up to Maiden Peak.
John led me out, and pulled me and pulled me all the way. It was quite a struggle, one of the slowest ascents I'd ever had. Still, I didn't hear anyone from behind. Finally getting near the summit, we were greeted by Hannah Shallice, who cheered and pointed us in the direction to the top. Nearly there, Aaron was on his way down. We exchanged encouraging words, and soon afterwords I heard him encourage another runner. Crap! It must be Amy gaining on me! I made it up to the top, checked in with Kelly Woodke, turned around and in about 1 minute ran into Amy on her way up! Yikes!
I carefully danced my way down through the loose big gravel. We passed by Hannah and onto Leap of Faith trail. Incredibly focused, I made it through the technical sections onto the scree hill and went as fast as possible. I was barreling downhill like a woman possessed, and just above the Maiden Lake aid station was greeted by Ed and Julie, the blowing of the warning horn that we were coming. Barb Ringstad and other lovely ladies greeted us. I was so concerned about being caught by Amy that I wouldn't even let Barb hug me. I grabbed at gels, frappacinos and Gu Brew, and as we were leaving, heard the warning horn, letting me know that Amy was nearing.
The slight uphill out of there about blew my wad. John said "My coach once asked me 'how bad do you want it?'" and my inside little voice said "not very bad" but as soon we hit the downhill section, my legs started to roll. I gained momentum and was able to push hard all the way to the PCT one more time. John continued to pull me along, only glancing back occasionally. I was afraid to look and asked John if he could see anyone, but he never did. Just like the 4290 section, I ran harder than I ever had in this section. I felt such relief when we reached the sign for the trail head, and turning toward the finish, cursed the head wind that always seem to be there at the end of this race. I crossed the finish line in 10:52, only 4 minutes slower than my fastest time, and a whole 29 minutes slower than Joelle's CR.
As I caught my breath and enjoyed being done, Amy finished just a few minutes behind. We had had quite a day and had given the spectators and volunteers a little excitement.