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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Race Report: Dick's Sporting Good's Pittsburgh Marathon 2011

Last year my race in the Steel City was a disastrous affair... I was undertrained going in, injured about half way through, had terrible weather, and there was even a bomb scare during the race. I finished that one in 4:08:16, my worst marathon time to date by over 20 minutes.

This time my only concern about training was that I might be overtrained and not fully recovered from the last couple of races. I was still fairly confident that I was going to set a new PR and in doing so, redeem last year's race. My time to beat was 3:40:58, the mark I set last October in Columbus. I have had two shots already this year at eclipsing that time, but was just a few minutes off in both efforts. April and so far May have been some really solid training months, and much more consistent than anything I have ever done before a marathon. On top of the confidence in my training, this is also a race that I have done twice before, I know the course, where the hills are, and exactly where I have struggled in the past.

Just to give myself an extra edge to appease the running gods, I even had my buddy Phil tattoo the skyline of Pittsburgh on my forearm... how could I do poorly at a race whose location is forever etched into my skin? That would just be bad form. 

Some of you thought I was joking... I wasn't.
All that said, my original approach was to hang out near the 3:30 pace group until mile 20, and then drain the tanks for the last 6.2 miles, giving myself at least 10 minutes shaved off the PR.

Pre-race preparations went well, I did a really good job of being intentional with my diet leading into everything, stayed hydrated, and even tapered a bit (more because of my work schedule than actually resting because it was a good idea, but it still counts). I met up with Alex and Elise at the expo, where I also got the chance to say hi to Ferkett, a Marine I served with who I ran most of my first marathon with. I didn't really have a plan for lodging or anything set in stone, so when Alex and Elise offered to share their hotel room with me, I accepted. I spent the night there and actually got a decent amount of sleep, but then again I always do when I am big spoon (thanks Alex). 

My fear of Pittsburgh traffic had us waking up just after 4 AM to head out to the starting line by 4:45. What ended up happening was us getting there at 5:15 for a 7 AM start. The weather looked to be reminiscent of last years... slightly cold for the time of year, dreary, and an oppressively consistent drizzle.

The long wait to start resulted in meeting someone who I only had know via the interweb previously, which was pretty cool. She recognized me (probably because of my stunningly awesome facial hair) and now I see the potential of a new running buddy, which I always seem to be in need of. She was running the half marathon at about the same pace I was hoping to run the full in, so the first few miles of the race I had the unexpected pleasure of conversation. 

Foregoing my original plans, I decided to, of course, start fast and stayed up with the 3:20 pace group to start out. Outside of the annoying weather and my shoe coming untied around mile 6, everything was smooth sailing. I stayed right up on the pacers as close as I could manage, and did a decent job of staying  on a consistent pace. I was popping gel every 45 minutes and had a pretty methodical hydration plan working out. This whole that time that I was in the groove, I wasn't letting myself develop too much comfort. The start isn't where I have problems, its the last 8 miles that I was worried about. To prevent a collapse I just stayed in the pack. I felt like I should fly down hills, but it was a bad idea, so I didn't. In ultras you use the features to your advantage, and your pace being completely consistent is impractical if not altogether impossible. This wasn't an ultra, it was a road race, and I had to run it like one. 

Though it was good to have some company, it was also nice for the course to open up a bit once the half-marathoners turned off around mile 10.5 to head back towards Heinz Field. Just after that though is the most significant hill of the course, about a 200+ foot climb that starts right as you get across Birmingham Bridge. It's not much of a climb compared to some in ultras, but those are ones you run/walk. When you hit a hill like this one at a sub-8:00 pace, it's hard to keep that quick pace going for you. I tried to keep up with the pace group, but they inched further away from me with every stride. Some of the other runners that had been around me started to fall back too, it wasn't a case of all the sudden they blazed up the hill and left us, it was a gradual process. I honestly got a little worried right about then, worried that it was another case of me going out too fast and burning out. I tried to put the bad thoughts out of my head and just keep my pace steady and keep the group in view for as long as I could. I knew if I was consistent enough and didn't drop off completely that it would be a long while before the 3:30 guys caught up to me, and if that happened I would just try to stay with them.

As I went it was amazing how many familiar faces I saw. I saw at least two or three people from C-bus and quite a few old friends from Pennsylvania. In previous years I had seen a couple, but this time around it really felt like a hometown race. The thing I loved about the Columbus Marathon last year was the familiarity... running past places I see on a daily basis and seeing my friends on and around the course. This was very comparable, despite the fact that it's been over 4 years since I ventured to Ohio. As I passed the Pittsburgh YWCA (cool because I work at the one in C-bus) I was still feeling pretty fresh despite being close to the mileage where I start to struggle. The gels were starting to become a great annoyance to my stomach so I ate a few pepto tablets and started taking advantage of the Gatorade and orange slices at the aid stations to get my calories in. I also began to foolishly project my finish time anytime I passed a race clock, I say foolish because regardless of what I calculate, it always makes me want to go faster.

As I reached 20 miles, I knew all I had to do was hang on for a 10K. It had been raining almost the entire race, which was a huge problem last year when I was wearing my Trance 9's that aren't made to get wet, but this time around I was rocking my Green Silence's that breathe a whole lot better and subsequently also drain water a whole lot better too. When I started the climb that I recognized last year as the place I had to pull over and do some self maintenance on my pulled groin I was a full half hour faster to that point than in 2010. As soon as I realized this it was like a second wind, there was no doubt in my mind I would be walking away with a new PR, but by how much was still up for discussion. The last miles of the race are for the most part downhill so I had that working in my favor too.

At mile 23 I was very disappointed that the bar that in prior years had given me a 20oz Solo cup full of Yuengling decided to give out much smaller portions, but alas I had more important things to attend to. I did get an awkward amount of applause around that section, because the supporters lining the streets were very much my demographic... crazily groomed, tattooed bar flies, who very much appreciated my ink, amazing facial hair, and elation at getting free beer.

Shortly thereafter I passed a runner who had been reduced to walking as I have been in the past. I was beginning to entertain the idea myself so the encouragement I offered him, "Hey man, you have to run this last bit, if not you're going to look back at it in an hour and beat yourself up over it. You can finish with a really good time still, you just have to push through the pain." was for me as much as it was for him.

As I rolled into the homestretch I came alongside an older runner, who was probably running his 200th marathon or something. We both asked how one another were doing, and it was agreed that we both felt solid. He told me we should push the pace, so we did for the last mile and a half. On the 6th Street bridge there was a slight incline so I opened up my stride. That's where I saw my co-worker and fellow Pennsylvanian (and comer upper of my Pittsburgh tattoo design), Katie, for the second time during the race. I said hey and commented that unless I trip and break my ankle that I had my PR. The older guy I was pacing with told me to gun it the rest of the way, and I took off on my standard end-of-race Medal of Honor run. I still don't understand how I manage to get the speed I do at the end of the races but it's an amazing feeling when you bolt across the finish line, especially at big marathons like Pittsburgh where the crowd sees it and you know their reaction is for you despite the fact that there are literally thousands of runners. As I hit the timing strips I even got a shout out for my strong finish from Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark who was announcing the finishers.

I finished with a huge improvement upon my PR, getting it done in 3:28:24, fueling future fantasies of qualifying for Boston and hopefully breaking 3-hours someday. After shedding my hydration belt and shoes I promptly left the finish line area and threw up large amounts of water and orange pulp in front of PNC park. This seemed rather fitting and I could probably create some relevant analogy from my vomit to the perpetually disappointing performances of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Special shout outs go to the following:

Staci Headings, my former coworker at the Hampton Inn who finished her first half marathon in 2:48!

Adrienne Anderson, fellow Columbusian and now real life acquaintance, rocking the half in 1:41!

Elise Varner, my good hometown friend and future ultrarunner (if I can talk her into it) kickin' the half in 1:49!

Nick Boyko, fellow Marine and friend, finishing the half in 1:59!

Erin Suda, my good friend and huge supporter in my 2010 effort, battling through injuries to finish the half in 3:00!

Heather Duncan, my favorite Air Force girl and nurse, helping her friend along the way to finish the half in 2:08!

Oscar Aguilera, fellow Marine and my favorite illegal alien, killing the full in 4:55!

Kyle Ferkett, fellow Marine and favorite hippie, finally being slower than me at 3:36!

Natalie Halapin, my biggest crush as a 15 year old and favorite red head, finishing her first marathon in a solid first time performance of 3:58!

Tony Previte, an old high school friend, running in the relay and providing a boost to me at the end.

Dan Croce, always in the crowd every time I run Pittsburgh.

Katie Gascoine, spending all day in the rain to support her Dad, and inadvertently me.

Race Stats:

Official Time: 3:28:24 @ 7:57/mi

389th of 4284 Overall

341 of 2645 Men

83rd of 456 Men 25-29

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Race Report: The Capon Valley 50K 2011

This has been a really great start to my race season in the sense that I'm about five races in and I have yet to run in an event that I have previously participated in. Usually my Spring is really quiet and Pittsburgh marks the kick off of my race schedule. With Pittsburgh just over the horizon and several races already behind me, I feel like I'm a stronger runner than I have ever been. There are still some deficiencies though... in my training, in the way I have handled nutrition issues, and in my approach to race day strategy.

Going into this last race, The Capon Valley 50K, I knew it would be the hardest I had seen so far this year. Up to this point I really hadn't done anything with much elevation gain or loss since the Masochist back in November.  I know I don't train enough for climbs, but it didn't stop me from forming the idea in my head that I could break 5-hours.

I had run the Tie-Dye 50K just two weeks prior where I ran a personal best of 5:23, so I was looking to make a pretty radical jump on a much harder course. When I think about it now, it seems stupid in a way, but I always show just enough fight in the first 2/3 of a race that it makes me believe the next one will be different, so why not keep aiming high?

I tried to convince some other runners to come down with me, but between the registration cost being a little higher than average (definitely worth it though) and the long drive away from Columbus, it ended up being just Mikayla and myself. She's been battling injury off and on for months now, but decided to still see what she was capable of. She, despite being from West Virginia, forgot that it can be a bit hilly in her home state. I was the one who was fully aware and simply refused to give the devil his due.

Driving down to the race start on Friday proved to be an adventure in and of itself as we were going to a very rural area without cell phone service or accurate GPS information. Mikayla showed up to my house like 3 or 4 hours late because she had to put in her weave or something equally as ridiculous as that, but I foresaw her sabotage efforts and we still made it down in plenty of time, even after thinking we were lost on more than one occasion.

After setting up our tents, getting our gear organized, packets picked up, and everything else taken care of, I went on a short 3 mile run up the road to get my legs loose... which felt like complete crap and actually kind of scared me... I think sitting in the car for so long threw me off. Once the formalities were over, Mikayla and I drove into town to get some pre-race carbs. We only had about three places to choose from, and I'm pretty sure we picked the most non-vegetarian friendly place of the bunch. I had a decent pasta dish, but it was super heavy with egg and some sort of cream sauce. That was probably a bad idea and I think I can blame some of my in-race stomach issues on that choice. Mikayla had a fish of some sort that we had never heard of... when we asked the waitress about it she said that the type of fish had a personality similar to a barracuda. I'm not sure that was relevant, but it sounded compelling enough that it was Mikayla's choice. I guess if you are a "flexitarian" you can choose to only eat animals with angry personalities?

Sleeping in a tent is actually my preferred pre-race rest... it's cheaper, you are close to the starting line, and it feels like an adventure. When all was said and done I probably clocked out for about 6 or 7 hours of decent sleep and woke up without an alarm around 6 AM. I had done pretty much all there was to do the night prior, so I simply drank a small coffee and milled about the area until the start.

I wasn't planning on staying with Mikayla or anyone else for that matter, so I began my race in the middle of the pack. We went through someone's yard, up onto the highway and then up a dirt road. I used the first stretch to get in position as I knew any passing would soon be done on single track which isn't always ideal. After shooting off in the woods we had a short climb and then a nice long descent into the valley. An early stream crossing had me disoriented as I looked down at my footing instead of up at the course markings, and I ended up leading 3 or 4 runners astray in addition to losing all the ground I had gained in the downhill (which is traditionally where I make my $$).

The beginning and the end...

It was probably only 45 seconds of lost time, and though a bit frustrating, it was early enough in the race that I didn't let it get to me too much. If I have any criticism of the race, I would say that it would have been better to use a solid color to mark the course instead of striped ribbon. The whole course was well marked in frequency of ribbons, they were just difficult to see in some lighting. After that slight mishap there were some nice variations of ascents and descents through mixed forest and open meadows. Most of the course was very runnable, but the diversity of it kind of thinned out the pack as different weaknesses and strengths were exposed. I am an average climber, a slightly above average grinder (the runnable sections), and as I said before, down hill running is where I shine. Some non-runners that might read this might question how hard it is to run down hill, but with a bit of experience you will soon realize that going down is sometimes just as bad if not worse than going up.

After several miles in and a few aid stations (that I pretty much ignored in the first half), there was only a handful of runners in my view. One who pretty much just swapped spots with me every quarter mile or so and then two who were some distance ahead of us and taking advantage of climbs. A big hill would come up and they would widen the gap on us, then on the other side we would close it back up again.

It became really close when we came to a section of gravel road that ran under the power lines. The roads were so steep that it looked as if the people in front of me were jumping off a cliff. I was running so fast that if I had fallen it would have almost certainly ended in a trip to the hospital, complete with broken bones. The gravitational momentum was bordering on the scary side, where I wasn't sure if I should try to slow myself down or just keep going with it. The gravel footing didn't help things at all, I would have actually preferred dirt.

When we hit Aid Station #2 just before 11 miles, the volunteer said something that I didn't quite catch as I refilled my water bottle. I didn't linger there but left the station side by side with the runner I had mentioned I had been switching spots with. He then informed me of the info I missed, that I was in 7th place overall, and he was, for the purpose of distinction only, in 8th. I couldn't believe we were that far up in the field, and on top of that we were well in range of catching 5th and 6th. We scurried along through some creek crossings, rejuvenated by our surprising placement.

I was hoping that the two runners in front of us were pushing each other faster than either wanted to be going and that they would both burn out, enabling us to overtake them. No more than 3 miles from the second aid station, one of them did indeed fizzle out, putting our competition now between our newly acquired 6th and 7th spots. As we made our way onward, we travelled with a pretty even pace through the still well varied course. My new acquaintance told me that he had run this race a few years back in 5:15 and his goal was the same as mine, to PR and break 5 hours. Looking at the results of previous years, I wondered to myself if we were going too fast. I still felt good, but I wasn't sure if I could keep it up or not.

Not too much after we passed Aid Station #3, there was a sharp turn past a hunting cabin where a man on the porch asked us if we needed anything. In retrospect I should have stopped for about 5 minutes and had a beer with our friendly spectator, it would have probably done me a world of good. Just past his cabin was a pretty nasty climb, it wasn't so much steep as it was long, which in my opinion is way worse... perhaps it reminded me of Long Mt. and Buck Mt. at the Masochist? This one can take 3rd place for things that piss me off and it's called North Mountain... I see a theme, do you? 

As we climbed, homeboy was pushing the pace and running more than I wanted to on this climb, I would imagine this was because our elusive prey was in plain view. Sometimes even though you are already gaining steady ground on someone, you trade your patience away once you smell blood in the water. I could say that I saw the mistake he was making and that's why I chose not to pick it up and follow, but I'd be lying, I was simply getting worn out. Ohio being flat isn't a legitimate explanation, it's that I neglected to properly train for climbs. Few as they may be, I could have found just ONE and done repeats, or found a nice tall building with a stairwell, or attempted to train on a machine at the gym. I didn't do anything even close to specific training in preparation for this race and it showed.

As I went up and saw the runners in front of me slowly vanish into the trees I could hear that I was being caught from behind. I was someone's prey now. I forced myself up the hill, running for any distance I could. When I reached the top I turned to see my pursuers and then I jetted down the hill. The descent was long, almost an annoyingly runnable stretch. I thought I would gain ground back but I didn't. One of the guys behind me finally caught up, and then I kept pace with him and distracted myself with his conversation. We turned out of the woods and onto a dirt road that took us down to Aid Station #4.

I stopped to refill my bottle and to down some bananas. We were at mile 19, well over the half way point, just 12 miles from the finish. Two runners passed me up who didn't stop at the aid station and then I ran with my new pacing partner, letting him lead. I was now in 10th place, which was still awesome, except for the fact that I began to buy into the struggle that my mind and body was trying to sell me. 

After a good stretch of mild elevation loss and really runnable trail we came to the next climb. My legs seemingly stopped working. They weren't hurting, they weren't even tight, it was like reaching for something that just wasn't there. I should have just kept them moving, looking in the distance instead of at the ground, playing my games instead of letting myself doubt. There was no way that I was going to drop out of a 50K after doing 20+ miles, especially when I was still in 10th and had less than 10 miles to go, but I lost the faith that I was going to meet my expectations or even do well at all. 

It's such a toxic thing your mind can do to you... and when you look back you always ask why you weren't able to give yourself a nice mental thrashing and plug on. 

Everything started to go wrong... I was annoyed by my ankle that was acting up, annoyed that my shoes were wet, the thought of eating another gel disgusted me, and I pretty much just wanted the race to end. Walking became more frequent, and not just on hills, but on runnable sections too. As people passed me they asked how I was doing, I gave different answers depending on what was pissing me off right that second... "Oh just cramping up a bit." "Damn stomach acting up." "Hitting the wall for a minute." "Shaking out some ankle pain." It was all mildly true, but the all encompassing truth was that I lacked the motivation to deal with any of those minor issues, which made them all really big issues. 

I tried running more, but I couldn't force myself to go more than a few minutes. Several times I straight up stopped on the course, which is a huge personal no no of mine, hell, I even mention it in the title of this blog... "Life is Like an Ultra... JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD." I stopped at one point for a solid ten minutes, even took my shoes and socks off to wring out water. I don't know what got into me, because I've ran harder races, further races, ones with more pain. At one point I had considered laying down on the side of the trail to take a nap and wait for Mikayla so I could help her (so she could help me) finish strong. I really considered it, but then I thought about the potential of her dropping out, which would result in me waiting for someone who would never get to me, and then I'd be swept off the course for a DNF. I immediately thought about what happened at Laurel last year and thought about how it would be a bad sign for this year if I dropped out of a 50K just a month before trying to tackle Laurel again. So I wisely kept moving forward.

Being a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I know that at least once a year my team will get crushed to the tune of 7 or 8 goals. Every team gets blown out at least once a year, and it's not that big of a deal usually since it's an 82-game schedule, but it still freaking sucks. Even if you're on top of the standings and the game has little meaning, even then, it still sucks. That's what I am writing this race up as, a lapse, a blowout, a suckfest. It was certainly a hard race, don't get me wrong about that, but I am a better runner than I showed last weekend. I got blown out, I shouldn't have, but I did. 

The last 4 or 5 miles were complete garbage. I walked a lot. The miles went by excruciatingly slow. People passed me left and right. I bitched a lot to myself. It wasn't until I reached the last aid station (which had also been the first) that I mustered up anything positive. The aid station volunteers noticed I wasn't sweating, which might be because I was refusing to exert myself rather than because I was dehydrated, but what did it really matter with less than 3 miles to go? After spending about 5-minutes sipping some Mountain Dew and conversing with the aid station people, I went on my way and actually conjured up some running. 

As I left the woods I was in full stride, knowing exactly where I was in relation to the end. I flew down the hill to the intersection where some local police were stopping traffic for runners and then took a left to cross the bridge and come into view of the finish line. The course cut across the same yard we started out on, one last stream to hop over, and then down the gravel road to the timing station. I crossed the line with a time of 6:01:48 for my fourth 50K finish. For all the crap I pulled on the trail, I should consider my time a blessing. From 7th place to 46th in the last 1/3 of the race was a hard pill to swallow. 

The good news in all of this is that I have at least two more 50K's to run this year, and with the distance quickly becoming a favorite of mine, I expect to have some sort of redemption. I have some big fish to fry this Summer with Laurel (77 Miles) and Burning River (100 Miles) which I think I am actually better trained for than a 50K at the moment, just because the strategy will be so much different. My first race after those adventures is another 50K, which I will be anxiously awaiting to tackle.

After sulking a bit like a little girl, I took a shower, ate some vegetarian lasagna that they had included with registration, and then went to inquire about Mikayla. I found out that she was still on course, so I waited outside to see her finish. I knew this was the hardest race she had ever attempted and I knew she wasn't anywhere near 100% going into it, so I was nervous that this might have been too much.

Nearing the cut-off, I was probably pissing the volunteers off with asking them every 2-minutes if Mikayla had made it to the last aid station. Once the time hit 9-hours they told me the sweep had begun and she had not made it to the aid station in time. This was proved incorrect less than 5 minutes later when I saw her pink shirt in the distance moving down the road towards us. I would have went out to encourage her to finish strong, but she shoved me aside and made a mad dash to the finish line and then immediately pulled a Brandi Chastaine just before doing a 50 pushups right there at the end. Freaking rock star.

Yeah, pretty much like this. 

Well next up is Pittsburgh for another crack at the marathon. I should be excited because there's a good chance of me getting a PR, but I have to drive in Pittsburgh to get to the race, and I HATE driving in Pittsburgh. I'll be hanging with the 3:30 pacers hopefully until the last 4 or 5 miles at which point I plan on making a break for it. Who knows though, anything can happen. Until next time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Race Report: The Tie-Dye 50K 2011

This race was an unanticipated add-on to my schedule. I stumbled upon it whilst looking up the results from the ORRRC Marathon and simply couldn't pass up the bargain price, proximity to Columbus, and of course the opportunity to kick trail.

Tie-Dye ended up being my first ultra of 2011, taking the place of the Capon Valley 50K that I'm running in early May. It didn't take much to get me excited about running this, just because I was already kind of getting road raced to death, but then the closer it came the more reasons I had to get really geeked out over it.

I found out that two of my friends and fellow runners, Rachel Nypaver and Steve Hawthorne, would be joining me there. I have really looked up to both of them as runners and also just as really great people since meeting them in December when I ran with Rachel and her sister Sandi during their "I Believe Run Across Ohio". The chance to run with them at Tie-Dye was something I definitely looked upon as a privilege.

I anticipated several other friends, running buddies, and acquaintances to be there too. One of the things I love about ultras that I don't really see in marathon running, is the really close knit community and the bond between runners, and circumstances leading up to this race really looked to be forming a special picture of exactly that.

One of my newest friends, Nathan Zangmeister (Zang), was set on losing his ultra virginity with this race and if you read my previous blog from the Bigfoot 50K, you'd know that I love seeing people fall in love with ultras almost as much as I enjoy running them myself.

Preparation for this race probably topped any of previous efforts in training and I actually took it much more seriously than I typically do, which is exactly what I was hoping for in packing my schedule. I had been making it a weekly habit of driving to John Bryan State Park (the race location) spending time hiking the trails with my girlfriend and her son, then running them for several hours after she left for class. I probably spent about 12 hours altogether out there before the race, hiking or running every potential route. To say I was well acquainted with the area by race day would be very accurate.

I was putting some serious trail mileage on my legs and knew more or less what I would be running into for race day. All these ducks lining up had me very confident that I could destroy my 50K PR. I had never really had the chance to put a solid effort into a 50K, so I was curious as to what I was capable of.

During the final days leading into the race I decided that my secondary goal to beating my PR was to run a sub-5 hour time, and if I could manage it I wanted to roll with Steve (who is a much better runner than myself) as long as I could handle it. Closely following the updates on the race website proved more necessary than normal because of the excessively rainy month we had been having. The preferred course took us into Clifton Gorge, which is stunningly beautiful with rock formations, waterfalls, and wildflowers. The problem with that route was that the Little Miami River that runs in the gorge was more than a little high... flooding parts of the course, destroying bridges we had to cross, and making some parts extremely dangerous... in the tune of 200 ft cliff drops.

Gotta die somehow... why not death by waterfall? Epic.

Last minute rain ensured that we would run an alternate course that was way less fun and not nearly as scenic as the original. (I scoffed at the RD's choice when I found out, but when I ran the original course two days later I came away feeling that he had definitely made the right decision.) Final prep going into the race went smoothly, though I would have preferred a little more sleep than I got the night before. I got off work at 11 PM and was planning on carpooling with Zang to Yellow Springs, which meant a 4:45 AM departure from C-bus. Oh the joys of waking up before sunrise.

Zang, myself, and his girlfriend began our journey with an hour long ride down I-70, rocking out to some Fleet Foxes if I remember correctly. Once in John Bryan we had more than enough time for last minute gear check, some pre-race banter, and the normal things of the like. Kayla had met me there to see me on my way and to meet some of my friends that were worse than an overly involved mother or aunt (Steve). I kissed Kayla goodbye and headed to the start line with Steve, Rachel, and Zang.

I honestly was a bit nervous to run with Steve and I almost considered not even attempting to run at his pace. I was more nervous for Zang though, because I didn't want him to go out too fast in his first ultra and pay for it in the late miles that would already prove to be a foreign experience for him. Despite all of this, I still decided to follow close behind Steve and gave no warning to Zang either.

We stepped off into our journey at exactly 7AM, and almost instantaneously a small group of about 5 or 6 runners formed a pack and jetted off at a pace I probably reserve for speed work. Just as quick, a second similarly sized pack developed that included Steve, myself, and Zang. Rachel had opted for the more logical strategy and was running her own race. We set off on a fairly aggressive pace that I guess started around 8:15/mi and leveled out somewhere still under 9:00/mi. We ran a short road section and then entered the tree line for a short loop. We came back to the start in good time and our pack stayed nice and tight.

The eventual female winner is the one in the back.

We then went through a stretch of grass and onto the mountain biking trails. As we descended down the access trail it became clear that this run was going to be a bit muddy. At the bottom of the hill we turned onto single track, and we were off. I had run and hiked this section of the park the first time I had went out there with Kayla and Braxton and remembered that the tight (and completely unnecessary) turns were akin to the feeling you would get from staying on a merry go round too long. In addition to that, the footing was reminiscent of a slip 'n slide, which made for some interesting acrobatics as nearly everyone had their feet taken out from underneath them unexpectedly. Zang gets my vote for best recovery though, early in the first loop he almost face planted, but caught himself just in time. Our group maintained our cohesion for an unbelievable amount of time, I was surprised at how good my lungs were feeling and began to believe I could keep it up. I was also really impressed with Zang, who was right there the whole time. Steve and two other runners traded turns leading up front, and no one was really pushing to go ahead on their own. I wasn't looking back much to see if anyone had dropped off pace, but it sounded like we had good retention and none of us stopped at the first or second aid stations. 

Not long after the second aid station, the course takes you out of the woods and within view of the start line, but only very briefly before you go back onto the trails for the most technical section of the course. Steve and I picked up pace and flew down the trail, this was the only portion of the course that would even remotely play to any of my strengths so I took advantage of it. This is pretty much where are group began to disperse a bit, and gaps opened up. 

Coming out of the first loop Steve was in 5th place overall and I was about 30 seconds behind him in 6th. This was about 12 miles into the race and we were hauling ass. Zang finished the loop about a minute behind me after which I never saw him again until the finish. He knew he went out quick and wisely corrected himself. As I was coming into the aid station I saw Mikayla, who was resting an injury to fight another day. She promptly insulted me, then took a picture of my ass which I presume is for Jeremiah who we all know is totally building a portfolio of such pictures that he began at the Xenia Marathon.

This isn't nearly as bad as when I accidentally snubbed David Horton at the Masochist.

Even though he got there first, Steve stayed at the aid station longer than me, so I went out ahead of him only to be caught on the mountain bike access trail a few minutes later. I let him go ahead of me and lead but I could tell he was starting to slow down a bit, which I was more than happy to follow suite with for a few miles. I was still feeling fresh and knew the whole course now, so I decided to pass Steve and see if I could gain some ground on the front runners (I had no delusions of actually catching them though). 

I ran almost the entirety of the second loop alone, except for one runner who had passed me a bit earlier. I caught glimpses of him in the distance and was attempting to return the favor. Although it never happened, it was the motivation that kept me running the entirety of the second loop. By the time I was making the last climb up to the start line I was really starting to feel fatigued. Looking back on it I would have to guess a combination of poor sleep and dehydration was starting to get to me. I finished the second loop in good time, sitting almost 4-minutes ahead of Steve, 15 in front of Zang, and happily in 12th place overall.

I had taken a long break at the last aid station in the woods, so I skipped the next one, but I began intervals of walking. I was alternating between walking and running till about half way down the mountain bike access when I was passed by two runners, so I decided to pace off of them for a bit. They were going faster than I felt I could maintain so I dropped back and tried unsuccessfully to play games in my head to get me to run. Then I found one that was legit. I could only take a walking break if 1) Steve caught me. OR 2) I made it to the last remote aid station. I knew Steve had probably gained ground on me because I had been slacking off, so I wasn't surprised when I saw him a few minutes behind me on another part of the trail. I yelled to him to get a status update as we both continued to trod down the now mess of a trail. 

Not long after that I caught a runner who refused to be passed, so we had a solid 20 minute battle back and forth before I gave up. He tracked me down after the race and we both agreed that that little competition was exactly what we both needed at that point in the race. While that was true, it also kicked my ass and I had to take a long break at the aid station to regain some sense about myself. Steve caught me there, but I knew I was starting to flatline and there was no way I wanted to get into another pace war like the one I just had, so I left him and went ahead(which was funny because he thought I was waiting for him there, which in turn made me look like kind of a jerk.). 

I tried getting into a groove, but couldn't maintain a pace. I was extremely dehydrated and it was a bit too late in the game to fully recover from it. It didn't take long before Steve caught up to me and passed. I told him hopefully I would see him in a few minutes, which was true, but it was at the finish line and not on the trail. 

I forced myself along as best I could, trying to string together some solid stretches of running, which really was all I could do at this point. A finish and a PR was almost a certainty now, with just a couple miles left and more than enough time to complete them in. As I came out of the woods, it was was like blood in the water and I started to charge toward the finish. When I was within view of the end, I managed to pull out as much of a sprint as someone could muster at the end of 32 miles. 

I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 23 minutes and 57 seconds and in 19th place overall... demolishing my PR by a half hour, despite a really really muddy course. Steve, who finished about 5 minutes ahead of me, was there to congratulate me on my PR and we talked with each other and some of our fellow finishers as we waited for the rest of our runners to come in. 

I asked Zang's girlfriend how he looked when he came through last and her report was promising, but I was a bit concerned that he was going to kill me for getting him into this muddy mess. About 20 minutes after I came in, Rachel came cruising out of the woods to take 3rd place female and 23rd place overall. 

Steve and Rachel watched a few more runners come in before saying their goodbyes and heading back to Parma, which is when I really started to wonder what was running through Zang's head at this point. I pictured him knotted up with cramps shaking his fist at the heavens and cursing my name. But just as I was talking to his girlfriend about my concerns, he came bolting down the hill towards us and the finish line shirtless and with a smile on his face. I initially thought he might be delirious, but quite the contrary, he was enjoying every second of it. A successful baptism by mud. So let it be known that Nathan Zangmeister is now a fellow ultrarunner, finishing his first 50K in a time of 6:19:14. 

Awkward looking picture. But I swear we aren't gay.

This race was a great start to my ultra season and really highlighted the adversity, the fellowship, and all the other things I love about running these things. I have full confidence that this is going to be a really good year of running for me. My goal for the next one? Break 5-hours!