The first 3.89 miles of Sly is all climbing, with a few nice rollers, but straight up. What a way to start the race and really shock my legs and cause that dreadful dead leg feeling. I did my best and kept on trucking. I walked only a short bit, but I was secretly hoping that the next bend would bring relief and some downs or some flats, but nope I was still climbing. I hit the first aid station and quickly grabbed 2 triangles of PB&J and was off just as quickly as I came in. I was trying to stay with solid food as long as I could before I taking GU. A strategy that I am sure caused my extreme low so early in the race.After the initial 3.89 climb there is a gradual descent where my legs were alive and I took full advantage of making up some time. But just as I was getting comfortable there was another grueling climb that took the wind out of my sail. I kept on moving knowing there would be a nice long descent coming. As the second aid station neared I had the same plan in place, 2 PB&J and I was out. I had enough water in my hydration pack and I didn’t want to start drinking Pepsi this early in the race as I was only at mile 7.
As I continued on I found myself in the company of Eric, who I know from the last ultra training group. We talked for a bit. As we neared the single track I took the lead, but soon he passed me. My legs were not feeling right. I kept a nice pace, but backed off a bit.As we made our way around the lake my legs would come and go and I was just focused on keeping a nice comfortable pace. The views were gorgeous, but I dare not look to long as part of the trail had a nice drop off to the water. Going around the lake was very runnable and I was frustrated because I couldn’t find a rhythm. It had nice rollers that weren’t that large and the single track trail was smooth and for most fast, but for me it was just the opposite. Eric slowly left my sights as I slowed down, but not before the hornet invasion. I saw Eric fling his arms and I couldn’t figure out why, then I heard the buzzing sound and then I felt the searing pain as the hornet stung my wrist and flew into my face. I screamed and yelled out and then the guy behind me was yelling. I would say that in the line I was in more than half were stung.
After the invasion I had another runner on my heels. I mean he was really on my heels and he was doing everything I did. If I hiked he did, when I started to run he did and he stayed really close. This started to annoy me and I tried to pick up the pace, but he also picked up the pace. I was dragging this runner around the lake and I could feel my energy being drained. Usually having a runner trail me doesn’t bother me, but there is also a “zone” I need. This guy was invading my “zone “and I could do nothing about it. I finally stepped off the trail because it felt like he wanted by. As I stepped off he yells “Oh you are going to make me lead now?” and as he passes me he stops dead in the middle of the trail and doesn’t move. I am speechless, I manage to say “I thought you would run as it is a downhill” He starts walking and I am pissed off now, I tell him “move over than, let me by!” I retake the lead and just as I start running so does he. Really? Now, maybe it is just me but shouldn’t he have taken his turn pulling me for a bit, or was that asking too much? Eventually I make it into the next Aid Station with the guy right on my heels even though it is a fire road.Here I grab some Pepsi, but the Pepsi isn’t flat it is still bubbling. I decide against any food, as my stomach doesn’t feel right. In fact it is bloated and as hard as a rock. I think I am not processing my food or water and that is why I am feeling sluggish. At this aid station I ask the volunteer “How far is the loop?” He tells me 8 miles with an aid station out there. All I really wanted to do was turn right and take the path the 20 milers were running. I really didn’t want to venture out on this loop. I am at a low point and it is far too early in this race to be hitting a low. There is still a ton of miles to go and I had no clue how long this was low going to last. I slowly make my way out of the aid station; I was walking this fire road just trying to wrap my mind around this 8 mile loop. How tough could it be?
I knew my stomach wasn’t feeling right, so I slowed down my water intake and took a salt pill. I also knew I needed some fuel so I started taking my GU, hoping it would digest quickly. I also started having severe back pain with each running step. I continued on and hit the single track to be treated to a gnarly climb once again. I swear this 8 mile loop felt like 7 of it was climbing. I was passed left and right, by at least 7 male runners. I couldn’t pull myself together. I did know that this low would and could go away but I had to start readjusting my fuel. I focused on fuel and salt and positive thinking. I kept telling myself it was a training run, time on my feet was the most important thing, just keep moving, one foot in front of the other, and you can do it. Eventually I found myself running again.I was on a nice fire road with a runner just ahead of me. I was comfortable at this point just following, he kept going straight up a nice hill. I for some reason looked to my left and saw the orange ribbons and arrows. I yelled “Hey!!!” to him as he reached the top. He stopped and yelled back “Are you OK?” I ask him “are you in the race? Because the trail goes this way.” He comes back down, questioning me and saying he was just following the runner in front of him. Another came upon us and reassured us that yes in fact we were suppose to go the left. All three of us continue on the single track trail and those two guys slowly leave my sights. I am climbing again. I took some Tylenol a bit earlier to help with the achiness in my legs and the pain in my back. I keep telling myself that once the Tylenol kicks in everything will be alright. Stay comfortable and keep moving forward.
I finally make it to the aid station and am so relieved, only they don’t have any flat Pepsi; it is still in the can. I didn’t think that my stomach could handle the bubbles. I refilled my pack as it was running pretty low and it was also starting to warm up a bit. I was at mile 15 and I am still not feeling too hot. My legs were sluggish and not really responding, how long is this going to last? I left the aid station walking. I hit the fire road found myself run walking. Soon Robert passed me and I run with him a bit. As we neared the single track I tell him to take the lead, no really please take the lead. As he takes the lead I find myself walking again. I have a nice mile hike to the top, but a beautiful thing happened during the hike. My legs started to feel better and I found quickness with each step a new strength.My legs were slowly coming back. As I crested the top I started running and it was the most awesome feeling of the day. It had been a long and slow 5 miles of death, but I was reborn and ready to finish this race. I took off on the descent and slowly started passing everyone who passed me. As I passed I yelled out in excitement “my legs are back!” I was gaining speed and enjoying this newly found strength. I cruised into the Aid Station, downed some Pepsi saw that there were 3 guys there and I slowly and quietly left the aid station. I was feeling good.
This descent was a bit technical, but it was very short. I hit a fire road and kept on moving. I fueled with my GU and took another salt. During mile 17 to 19 I had passed everyone who had previously passed me. That was a superb feeling and one that carried me on. The adrenaline was unbelievable.As I neared the water crossing I saw on the other side Grahm. He was just making his way out of the water and I yell out to him “Hey!” He yells back “Hi.” But I am not sure if he knows who it is. I quickly cross the water and now I have a new target. I am now hunting and my prey is Grahm. I don’t push myself on this next section as it is a bit of a climb. Grahm is a solid climber and quickly puts some distance between us. I knew that I was a good downhiller and if I had any chance to catch him that was where it was going to be. Slowly he would come into my sights and then slowly he would leave them.
There was a road crossing with a Sherriff there to help us safely across. I asked him as I crossed “how far is the guy in front of me?” He responded “maybe 100 yards” sweet!!! I am gaining on him. I could see a runner in my sights, but it isn’t Grahm. I slowly pass this runner and then I see Grahm again. I am within striking distance. We hit the single track and I call out to Grahm “Hey, you know I have been hunting you for the past three miles right?” He says “I know, I can feel it.” He steps off the trail and as I pass I ask him if everything is ok, he is having some trouble with his quads and calves. I offer him some salt and or Tylenol. He tells me he is good. I continue on knowing that he is now hunting me and I am the prey. That fuels me and I hike with a sense of urgency more so than before.I am climbing and I know he can climb, I have to keep moving, don’t stop keep moving. He is literally 5 paces behind me now and he could pass me at any moment. I hike faster and as I round the next corner I see it. The next to last aid station. What a sight to see. I inhale 3 Pepsi and for some reason I had in my head that it was 4 miles to finish. When I stated that nice fact they were quick to tell me “oh No you have 7 miles to go.” Umm not what I wanted to hear and boy did that slow me down a bit. It was pretty warm and the volunteers offered me a shower. A shower, what is that? Oh you mean you have a hose to cool me down. I took that offer and that cool water was so refreshing, I was probably over heating a bit. Before I left I refilled my pack and had the best thing every, ice put in my pack. That cool water tasted so good and was so refreshing. Grahm came into the aid station and we chatted a bit, he sat down and I told him “I need you to go first so that I can hunt you.” I was joking and he said he was hunting me. I left and Grahm told me he would leave 15 seconds after I did. Ok so I had a 15 second head start with 7 miles to go.
I can do this, I am feeling confident. I am also climbing the fire road that has minimal shade. I find myself hiking to the side of the road that the shade is on and I go back and forth from shade spot to shade spot. The fire road was dry and dusty and hot.I run when I can and I see a few spectators, they tell me the next aid station is .5 miles away. I yell in excitement “Thank God” .5 I can do that. That .5 felt longer, but I made it.
The volunteers said “welcome back, and what do you need” “Um was I hear already?” “Yes this is the first aid station and you look much better now than when you first came through.” “ohh I don’t remember I choose to forget the first 3.89 miles, maybe I need some Pepsi.” I could have sworn I saw them at another aid station, but all I knew was I had 3.89 miles to the finish that was pretty much downhill. I chit chatted with them a bit. I told them I did TRT four weeks ago, and that this was a training run. I was pacing my friend at Rio in three weeks and then I had a 50 miler 2 weeks after that. Why I am not sure, it just all came out. The guy couldn’t believe I did TRT and told me that mountain races are tough but nice job getting the miles in. I saw another runner approaching and I quickly thanked them for being here and the talk. I was off, just 3.89 miles to finish.I was hammering this downhill stretch. But it wasn’t all downhill, it had some rollers which I power hiked but as soon as I crested I was running. I was transitioning pretty well and my legs were still strong. I was almost done, I could hear the announcer but I still had 2 miles to go. Wow, only 2 miles especially after the low I hit from 12-17. It is amazing I managed to pull myself out of that low. 1 mile to go almost there and it really is all downhill from here. I hit pavement and I can see the finish line. I cross in 7:01:41.4, 63 overall. As cross I let out a huge breath of relief.
This race didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to. But what race does? I learned a lot out there during my low point. I pushed through and managed to correct my mistakes. I learned that solid food really doesn’t process fast enough for me. I need to have a combination of solid food and GU. I learned that I am a strong runner and that I will bounce back, it just might take some time.It was time on feet that counted most, but the most memorable experience for me was when I came out of that low with legs that were alive and I slowly picked off each of those runners that had passed me. Even during my darkest moment I still have a competitive drive that will carry me to the end.