Race morning arrived, I was up early to eat and do my last check on my kit and drop bag. We arrived at the start with 30 minutes to spare. Amber gave me a kiss for good luck and headed off to her duties as a aid station volunteer and sweep (She ended up sweeping 18 miles of trail at 5 months pregnant. My wife is a stud.) I wandered around saying hi to friends, wishing each other luck, and as the final minutes approached I made my way up to the front.
3, 2, 1 GO. We were off, moving at a fast pace up Foresthill Rd. The pack of 530ish runners all heading for the same single track. Thankfully there is more than a mile of pavement to spread out the field before we hit the single track. Though we were running slightly harder than I care to run at the start I knew being in the front pack would serve me well when we got to the single track and the creek crossing at the bottom of Volcano Creek. We hit the single track at the bottom of Bath road and spread out a bit. The light was still dim, making the footing a little tricky going down, so I took it a bit slower. Before long we were at Volcano Creek where slack lines were set up across the water and a safety person was in the water to make sure the runners all crossed safely as the flow of the creek was high and fast. We hit the other side and settled into a good rhythm of running and power hiking. I found my self keeping pace with Mark Austin, a runner that I had enjoyed climbing with at Silver State 50M in 2015. Before long we were coming out of the single track on to the fire roads outside Michigan Bluff where we caught back up with Bob Shebast and Riccardo Tortini. We all chatted a little bit until we began descending, at which point Bob and Ricardo were quickly off the front. I didn't feel I had the miles in my legs to begin bombing the downhills, Mark agreed, and we let them go. There was still a lot of race left.
Shortly we were in and out of Michigan Bluff aid station, only pausing long enough to drop some trash. Soon we hit the single track descent into Eldorado Canyon. We cruised the down and were soon at the bottom and the next aid, where I filled 1 bottle and grabbed a gel and hurried out to catch back up with Mark. We pushed the pace a little, chatting and enjoying the morning. The climb out of Eldorado is long with great views highlighting the ruggedness of the canyons. I think it was on this climb that I noted the bumper crop of poison oak lining the trail. It would be a miracle to not end up with its annoying rash. We popped out of the single track at Deadwood Cemetery, a place that I have fond memories of taking lunch and nap breaks with Amber. Soon we were coming into the Water Pump aid station, where I do believe one of the volunteers, from Silver State Striders, was the same one that had helped me get a rock out of my shoe at Castle Peak last year(I kept cramping every time I tried take off my shoe). We were quickly back on the trail. Mark said that the 50k front runner was 20 minutes up on us. Wow we thought, how the heck was he going so fast. Soon we hit the descent to swinging bridge where Amber was waiting to cheer me by. I have to give a big thank you to the people that worked on this section of the trail. I ran it 2 weeks before race day, and it was a mess of fallen trees. Down down we went, passing the 3 leaders of the 50k and Bob and Riccardo as they returned up the trail. It looked like we were within 10 minutes of the first guy, and only 3-5 behind Bob and Riccardo. We hit the turn around, grabbed out Hoka wrist bands and headed back up. The climb back up to Devils Thumb is a steep grinder and I was thankful to get it done in the still relative cool of the morning. At the top Amber was again waiting, and I stole a quick kiss.
Back at the Pump we filled water and headed out, back down into Eldorado. This is a long, 4.5 mile descent that is really fun. You have to watch your self to make sure you don't crush your quads or catch a toe and land on your face. Mark and I did a good job of doing both. The climb back up to Michigan Bluff was uneventful, and we started to push the pace a bit. Near the top I told Mark that I expected he would probably drop me in the near future, and that I had enjoyed running with him. He told me he wasn't feeling great and it was probably me that would be pulling away. We came into Michigan Bluff, i refilled and downed 3 extra cups of fluid and headed out, only to quickly need to walk to keep the fluids from coming back up. We walked for a few minutes then began to trot, then run again. We got to a short road climb where Mark pulled off to pee and I kept moving thinking he would catch up. By the top of the climb and the turn to Volcano Mark had not caught up, I looked back, didn't see him and assumed he had been telling the truth.
I allowed my self to bomb the downhill into the canyon and pushed the climb back up to Bath Road. Soon I was coming into Foresthill and saw the crowd of spectators and finishers of the shorter races. People cheered and volunteers grabbed my drop bag for me. I was helped with new fluids and cheered out of the aid station. The cheering and other runners gave me new energy, and by the time I reached the single track of the Cal Street section I was moving well. I knew that if I wanted to have a chance of staying under 11 hours and keeping 3rd I would have to put in some hard running. I tried to keep my focus, not let my mind stray to keep focused on the section at hand. To think of how far was still to be run would be folly.
I was soon at Cal 1 aid, filed bottles and hat with ice and was back on the move. I have run this section of trail many times with Amber, in fact it is the first run I ever did longer than 10 miles, and also when I learned to never trust a ultra runner on distance. I know it well and made sure to run the flats, downhills and easier ups, and to power hike and take in fluid/nutrition on the climbs. This is where keeping it together is important. So far my body was doing well, I just needed to make sure I stayed hydrated and kept the calories trickling in. Cal 2 came and went with some familiar faces from Donner Party Mt Runners. The next section is one of my favorite sections of downhill, it's fast and has good flow. I took advantage of the mojo this section provides and carried it on. It seemed to take forever to finally reach the bottom and the river, where the trail rolls along through grass and sand, always a energy suck. Soon I was on the fire road into Ruck-a-Chucky aid where I was passed first by Bob then Riccardo a couple minutes behind him. they seemed to be around 30 minutes up on me at this point. At the aid station I was quick to refill and made sure to down some extra fluids, knowing the return trip was going to be long and hot.
About 5 minutes out of the aid station I saw the 4th place runner headed to the turn around, Lon Freeman, who was looking strong. He had passed me after this point both of my previous times at this race. My stomach was angry from forcing extra fluids, and my left quad was threatening to cramp. My first thought was that he was going to catch me, and I started to have a little pity party. I'm guessing my sugar was low because I was resigning my self to easing off the pace and just cruise it in. I then saw Mark and he gave me a high five and told me to go get that podium. I ate a Gin Gin, then a gel, downed some more fluid and told my self to suck it up. Do I want a podium spot Yes....Then your going to have to hurt.
I pushed my self to run harder. I only had a half marathon left to run. I could do this. My energy returned. I also began to see more and more runners, including friends, on my return trip. Each time I would pass runners I would take energy from there smiles and give them a good job. Seeing friends and getting high fives always makes things better.
It was getting hot, and I kept wanting to pull my shirt up to let the air cool my stomach. After trying to keep it pulled up for a while it dawned on me that I should just take it off. Best decision ever. I ran way more comfortable with the shirt off. I dunked my head in every stream I crossed and did my best to stay hydrated. I was back through Cal 2 and still moving well, with purpose. I came through Cal 1, looked at my watch, and I finally felt like I would be able to break 11 hours. Now to just not get caught. I pushed hard the last 4 miles, constantly thinking that 4th was just behind me. My left quad and right hamstring both kept trying to cramp, each time I would slow the pace a little, eat a Gin Gin and drink, and each time I was able to keep moving. Each switch back I would glance back to look for a follower, never daring a look on the straights. Finally I heard the road that signaled the last mile and I realized I was going to pull this off. I pushed that last mile a hard as I could and it still felt painfully slow. Finally crossing the line in 10:45. Good for 3rd place and a PR at the distance.
I'm super stoked with how the day unfolded. I feel that I am racing and training smarter. I'm getting to understand how my body works best, and actually listening to it. I am again super happy with my gear choices. I ran in the Altra Lone Peak 3, which is a great shoe. My only issue is that I had to size up 1/2 a size. But after I got them adjusted right they have been great. I also wore my trusty Ultimate Direction AK vest. That thing has thousands of miles on it and is still comfortable.
I also would like to send a huge thank you to the entire crew that helped put on this amazing event. Well done. I also want to thank my amazing wife for supporting my running, Im looking forward to our next and biggest adventure, a little boy. I also am thankful my Mom and Dad were able to make it down to the race and hang out with Amber's Dad and Step Mom. It's so cool that they get on so well.