Wednesday morning came with an epiphany. As Medora, ND is in the Mountain time zone, the race would start at 7:30am on my internal clock and not at 6:30am. 60 extra minutes, divided by 9, would give me roughly 6 more times I can hit "Snooze"! That night, I made my final "personal" preparations: cutting my toenails so that I would not end up losing any this time around. (post-race note: I have 4 bruised toenails that I will lose :( )
The alarm rang at 4:45am and I got up to stretch and loosen up. I drew the elevation profile of the race on my lower left arm, so that I could tell during the race when a big climb was coming up.
The storm ended up never happening, so I couldn't attach the "epic" label according to the weather. It did start out foggy which made the racing area look pretty monumental and I was exciting to get started. The fogginess would add to the overall humidity which made my shoes and socks extremely wet, which would later on spell some trouble in regards to major blisters on both heels. Christina was super supportive and I was excited to get started. The race director actually arrived late, but we had found our way anyway and the starting scene of this ultramarathon was as relaxing as it can be. He warned us of mountain lions and rattle snakes, but I only saw one dead rattler on the side of the road.
The race director said "Go" and people actually began shuffling their feet. It did take me 300 feet to overtake everybody who was in the mood of taking pictures instead of running (12 minute/mile pace :)).
The beginning started with a crowd separated by a 300 foot incline in the first half mile of the race. Everyone was off casually and by the top I was in second place of all runners, with the only guy ahead of me being a college cross country runner in the 50 KM who would surely outpace me. As far as I was concerned, I was in 1st place for the 50 mile race and was looking at my heart and GPS monitor to monitor my progress. I started hiking hard and descending speedy to build a 3 minute lead by mile 8, which was the first turn around point. I told the attending aid station captain that I was going out too fast as my heart rate was in the 170s and that was not sustainable for 50 miles. As this was a turn around I could calculate my lead to be around 6 minutes a little after that first major turn around, by mile 9-10. It was fun sprinting 0.5 miles at sub 6 min/mile pace, but I knew this was going to haunt me later. But you never pass up a chance to feel running fast.
At the point I reached the half-marathon aid station, I had slowed as my wet shoes and socks were intimidating me. As it was foggy and very humid I was worried about my feet being drenched in moisture. I took off my singlet and heart rate monitor, as it was indicating to me that I was going too fast (I was!). The second place 50 miler caught up to me at this aid station and as he was running with a backpack he didn't need to stop to refill his water, as he had plenty in his backpack. He easily gained 2-3 minutes on me here. As the race didn't offer any far reaching straight views I didn't see him when I left the aid station.
I reached the ridge from which you can see the start/finish area, but sadly the first place 50 miler had already passed me on his way out on the second loop. So I knew, I was at least a little over a mile behind him. That was an impressive move by him and it did intimidate me as he passed me by mile 13 and looked strong as in to extending his lead further.
I saw him when I reached mile 17 and he already took an impressive 1 mile (1 mile past the turn around) lead on me as he had already climbed the hill I was about to descend on. I knew I wasn't going to see him for awhile. It barely took me 20 seconds to turn around after I refueled on water on drank some coke. After completing the ascend, I saw the third place runner about 1.2 miles out and figured I had a comfortable 21 minutes lead over him. I tried to stay as afresh as I could but by the time of the turn around (mile 24) I had already a 34 minute gap to the leader.
My legs starting complaining to me for running the downhills and threatened me to quit at any given point. I had never run this much downhill before so aggressively and I was just about to embark on this second half of the course.
One of the race officials informed me that the 50km (31mile) leader had finished in an incredible 4:44h, I had the choice to drop down and take 2nd place and be done for the day when I arrived at the Start/Finish area at mile 32. Some twisted thought in my head told me that I would be quitting early on my 50 mile plans that day I turned around once more at the 32mile mark and went uphill on this ridiculous incline to begin the course anew.
I had finished the 50km in 6:03, which was well ahead of the eventual second place 50km runner, but I had signed up for the 50 miler and I was going to finish it no matter what. No excuses. No easy way out. Trust me, I was tempted. The blisters on both of my feet had grown astronomical and I felt them on every ascend as they rubbed against the back of my shoes. Christina had dry shoes and socks ready for me at the next aid station, but I was worried what would happen if I peeled of the layers and possibly break the skin on my feet. It wasn't "that far" to the finish (15 more miles) Next time, I will switch shoes/socks earlier.
The last of three loops was the most painful. By the time I had only 13 miles to cover (37 miles in), my uphill legs and straight-away legs had given out. I could run downhills fast still, but I was content keeping off 3rd place and finishing second in my second 50 miler.
I had reached a point where I met the 3rd place runner and he told me that mere 20 minutes earlier he had seen the leader walking and cramping. Oh happy day. I was so exhausted, that I wasn't sure whether to be excited about this or if I should be hating the fact that I should toe the line for running and cramping for another 2400 feet of elevation change. I bit my tongue and eventually reached the last aid station with 3.2 miles to go (mile 46). I was told I am behind about 10 minutes and I started going all out. At this point I had calculated a 62 minute lead over 3rd place that I felt comfortable that I could run fast until I cramped and still walk it in in 2nd place if I had to.
I power hiked the uphills, sprinted the downhills and "ran" (fast shuffled) the straight aways. I had a new found sense of competition and time was flying by. I got to the point on top of the ridge line from which you can see the finish area and heard the crowd cheering.
In my position, I wasn't sure if it was for me, or if possibly, they saw the leader turn somewhere close ahead of me. That meant for me that i needed to sprint. All out. Balls to the wall. I dumped my remaining water (less weight), tucked the bottles into my waist band behind me and plummeted down the ~350 foot descend of the last quarter mile. It was steep. I was going fast. At one point I thought my sore legs would buckle and I would miss the turn on the switchback and go "off-road", but I caught myself. I saw the leader by the finish area and knew I was going to be second. Finally the adrenaline rush hit me and I was enjoying a beautiful runner's high as I descended towards the trailhead. In a sportsmanlike gesture, the winner, Carlos, opened the trail gate for me, so that i didn't have to break my stride and I could finish in full sprint through the finish line. 10 hours and 3 minutes. The longest I have ever run. He had actually beat me by about 30 minutes, which only proves that you can never trust the aid station personnel on the times you are ahead/behind someone.
Running these distances are fun. Fun you wonder? How can this be fun? Ask anyone at Disneyland waiting for 90 minutes to get their crotch buckled tight by a pimply teenager to then go up and down a roller-coaster on a spine-altering and chiropractor-needing 3 minute ride. They say they have fun. Summa summarum, we are all a little nuts. It keeps our regular lives in balance.