Race day was gorgeous. The sun was out and it was in the 40s. A little chilly for standing still, but great for running with cheetah sleeves. My legs were really heavy for the first half mile or so. I got passed by everyone and their mom as I waited for the chill to leave my legs. Unfortunately by the time I loosened up we were on the wet, rocky single track.
It was difficult to pass for the first couple miles but we eventually reached some wider sections and I got to open it up and just enjoy the run. The trail was initially very flat as it wound along Sylamore Creek but we started going uphill a few miles in, on the way to the first aid station. I was really excited to see what I could do on the climbs. The first climb was one of the biggest, though not as intense as running my Green Mountain repeats. It was mostly pretty tame climb-wise, the difficult part being that the trail was covered in 3-in diameter rocks covered in wet leaves. The unstable terrain slowed me down a bit and I turned my ankles a few times, but I was still having a blast. Closer to the aid station, there were some short stretches of > 20% incline but I powered on up those without trouble.
I grabbed some pringles at the first aid station, gave the volunteers my number and ran on through there, eating pringles as I went. I caught up with a guy in a green shirt (Jason) who had eluded me all the way up the first climb. I was closing in on him because he was walking some of the hills and finally caught him in a clearing. I hopped off the trail to pass him but didn't realize the field was completely covered in rocks and leaves. This would become a common theme for the weekend. Rocks covered in leaves, rocks covered in wet leaves, rocks covered in water. So as I was passing Jason, I stepped on an unstable rock and lurched forward, catching myself with my hand. Jason kindly slowed down and told me to get back on the trail, letting me pass. My forefoot was smarting and so was my hand. I was pretty concerned about the pain in my foot this early in the race, but it went away after 10 or 15 minutes. Whew.
This middle part kind of blurs together. I had a conga line of dudes running behind me and remember being stressed out by it, though I enjoyed talking to everyone. I found out that Jason was training for Leadville. Cool, me too! And I also met Todd from Shreveport. I started to slow down a bit going into the halfway point. It was heating up and I had really pushed the first few climbs. Todd got ahead of me going into the next aid station since I was slow getting through the stream crossing. The water felt really good on my feet, though I would come to dread water crossings later in the weekend.
I took my time at the 15-mi station. I took a bathroom break, filled up my hydration pack with what I didn't realize was Heed and finally took off. I probably should have dumped the Heed out and refilled with water but I didn't want to be wasteful and it was only like 1/3 Heed so I just carried on. As I was leaving I noticed that a woman had passed me while I was lollygagging at the aid station. I was feeling competitive. She was walking parts of the rocky hill that took us past the halfway point, so I did my Colorado thing and just ran, slowly but surely. If I had been more focused on staying on course and less on kicking ass, I would have noticed that I was being lead off course. Fortunately, we didn't get too far off before someone yelled at us that we missed a turn. We headed back down the hill and corrected course. I think it was less than a 0.1 mile mistake so nothing to cry about.
The woman and I were really battling it out now. I would catch up to her going up because she would take short walk breaks but she made up the time on flatter sections. It was a full out competition. We weren't even talking. She finally broke me going up the final ascent. I was doing my slow, steady run. And she was doing a walk/medium-pace run alternating sequence. Damn! Eventually we crested the hill and were approaching the last manned aid station. Apparently we had missed a turn and were supposed to come in on a trail, not the road, but it didn't appear that we had cut off any significant distance so I didn't feel bad about it. Again, I needed to pay attention and stop following blindly.
I managed to get in and out of the aid station quickly. I drank a cup of coke and a cup of water (because drinking my strawberry Heed was making me super thirsty) and headed out before my running nemesis (the friendly kind of nemesis). The people at the aid station said it was 6 miles to the last (unmanned) aid station and the RD had said earlier that it was 7 miles from the unmanned station to the end. I was a little deflated at the proposition of 13 more miles. According to my Garmin, that would make the race 33 miles long. And Garmins are usually short on wooded trails so that would make the race even LONGER! Damn. I was getting tired and thirsty. Strawberry Heed is really good at giving you dry mouth, in case that's something you're interested in.
So, I did what any normal person would do when faced with that situation. I slowed down to conserve energy. A few minutes later, nemesis came running by saying that she wanted to get ahead because she had to pee. Go for it! That was the last I saw of her. *sigh* Eventually Todd and Jason caught up to me. I think Todd had gotten off course which would explain why I had no idea where he came from. I don't remember if Jason had been with him or if I was just ahead of him at that point, but it was good to have company. I got back into my kick ass on hills/let the guys catch up on the flat parts routine, but at this point I was hiking a little here and there.
I ran on past the unmanned aid station, because I didn't need water, not even looking at the sign that said "5 miles to the finish". Already the distance to the finish had gotten shorter (from 7 to 5 miles) yet I didn't notice so I just kept plodding along at my slowpoke pace. So I was a little confused when one of the guys just came flying by me a few miles past the aid station. I just kept plodding along UNTIL we got to this steep downhill section, which consisted of these very large stone "steps". I recognized this section from last year's 50-mile course and knew it was REALLY close to the finish. I was confused, wondering if we were going to be diverted onto some other trail to add more miles? Well then Todd and Jason started speeding up so I had no choice but to get my ass into gear too, right?
Once we got back onto the paved road I really started running. What can I say, I like to finish strong, even if I have another ultra the next day! So us three stooges raced on to the finish line. I think Todd and Jason just let me finish ahead of them. Such gentlemen. At the end of the day, my Garmin read 29.3mi. And with a little GPS inaccuracy, I'm confident that we still ran at least the standard 31 miles. I ended up finishing in 6:02 and if I had known how much closer I was to finishing than I thought, I definitely would have broken 6. Even the 5 miles from the unmanned aid station was probably an overstatement. Based on time, I'm guessing it was more like 4-4.5 miles.
This turned out to be a 50k PR for me, which is pretty awesome considering my previous PR was on much flatter terrain. I MIGHT have run a little too much and a little too fast considering I had a 50 miler the next day, but I wouldn't have done it differently. I was just having so much fun after 6 months of no ultras. Plus, running at sea level was a real treat. After the race, I observed tradition and stood in the creek for 15 minutes. It was icy cold and felt glorious. My feet felt a little tender but I had no blisters so I wasn't too worried. Also, my legs felt amazing. No trouble spots anywhere. I was sitting at the cabin later that night, totally bummed that I had no reason to use my glorious, Leadville-made muscle balm.
Well anyway, I'm sorry I don't have any pictures. I was in full on race mode so I didn't think to take any. But I can assure you my cheetah sleeves were totally badass and gave me extra speed. The next day guys kept asking me if I was that cheetah girl. I guess I made an impression. Maybe if I wore them for Day 2 I would have been speedier, but I'll save that story for another day!