This race report could be very short: I ran hard. It hurt. I was pleased with the result. That's pretty much how it went. It was another great day at Bradbury Mountain State Park, but, of course, I need to elaborate.
First, a bit of background. In 2007, D and I ran this race after first ruling it out, but then being "forced" to do it when two friends came to stay with us in order to run. I had only been running again for a couple months, and I really surprised myself that day. It all basically snowballed from there, and here I am just a couple days away from my second ultramarathon (more on that later). We missed the race in 2008 due to our vacation schedule, and last year was an utter disaster. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to racing this year, especially on the heels of my successful Scuffle and Breaker.
Race day arrived with the usual early start to get registration and the start/finish area ready to go. Perfect running weather for the race, and we had another strong turnout. Things were going very smoothly, so I had time for a short, 1/2 mile or so, warmup with D. Ian, our fearless leader, flawlessly rolled through the pre-race instructions, and we were off.
My strategy for the race was pretty simple: get out conservatively quick and relax through the Island trail, which is too technical to worry about pacing or place, and many people waste a lot of energy jostling for position and sprinting ahead in this first section. Mission accomplished. I let a number of people go by me in this section while I really used it as a warmup. No one would pass me for the remainder of the race. I felt very easy and comfortable when I exited the Island Trail, surprised to see my watch read just under 15:00—a couple minutes faster than expected.
Part two of the strategy was to use the less twisty sections over the next four or so miles to find my rhythm and start moving along. One of the drawbacks of my plan was that after going into the singletrack one step behind Jamie, he had put a good chunk of distance on me in those first 15 minutes. As I passed Ian shortly after exiting the Island Trail, I wished him well and said, "I need to go catch Jamie." I knew he was out there, but I wasn't sure where. I briefly pulled two guys along through Ginn, but my course knowledge and constant, but subtle, increasing of the pace left me alone by the time I crossed the Snowmobile Trail. I didn't see another runner until just before I reached the aid station. I decided to carry my handheld for the race, so I wouldn't need to rely on the aid stations. It was a good choice as I'd already downed a gel before the first aid station, and I was able to roll right through. Still no Jamie, though.
Shortly after the aid station, I focused on catching another runner, Dave, who was moving steadily. It took me some time to catch him, but my timing was perfect because I tucked in right behind him just after passing the Bat Cave. I figured I could relax a bit, after having done a lot of work while running alone, and let him pull me along. Admittedly, it was tough to maintain some discipline here because shortly before the Batcave Trail, I had caught a glimpse of Jamie up ahead. My watch told me he had about 25 seconds on me, and I really wanted to catch him. However, I wanted to stick to my strategy, which included a big surge once I turned right onto the Snowmobile Trail. That's exactly what I did.
As soon as Dave and I exited the Fox Trail, I moved around him a dropped the pace. I felt a little bad since I let him pull me along for a mile or so, but no friends on race day. Additionally, I knew that fellow Trail Monster Bob Porier was not far behind me and having never finished ahead of him in a race before, I liked the idea of trying to sneak away. I was moving very well (for me) up the Snowmobile Trail, when I finally saw Jamie just ahead of me. I was only a couple seconds behind him as I hit the aid station, and joked with Trail Monster Erik and the other volunteers to be quiet so Jamie wouldn't know I was there. He heard me, however, and the element of surprise was gone.
It still took me a little bit to fully catch him, but on the first bit of singletrack just after the Snowmobile Trail we were finally running together. In retrospect, I should have passed him immediately. Instead, I was content to sit behind him. First off, I was pretty beat from charging up the Snowmobile Trail and felt the need to regroup. Secondly, his blog totally psyched me out. Have you been reading that thing? DAMN. He has been doing some killer workouts of late. Workouts that I know I couldn't do. Granted, I got him in the Scuffle and Breaker, but, like I said, he's on fire right now. I said to myself, "Jamie's been crushing it lately, so just try to hang with him." So that's what I did. I sat behind him. Instead of trying to make the pass and go, I sat. Not exactly the most aggressive race tactic, but I hoped that I could hang a make a move just before the O Trail—the small intestine-like 2.4 miles of singeltrack that eats your soul at the end of the race. (In hindsight, even if I had passed him, I'm positive he would have stayed with me and gotten me anyway.) We chatted a bit, but then he'd open a small gap. I'd catch back up, then the gap would open again. Then he started offering every spectator and passer-by $10 to trip me. He must have had about $200 on the line.
As we ran the singletrack just after crossing the Link Trail, I suddenly found myself in a world of hurt. Jamie was slowly putting ground on me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Just past the final aid station, I decided to take another gel just to be safe, and, in hopes of having enough juice to catch him in the O Trail. I needed to regroup a bit. And, looking back, my chance to pass Jamie had already come and gone, but he was my carrot.
Coincidentally, chasing and hanging with Jamie had really fulfilled the next phase of my race strategy: go as hard as you can after the surge on the Snowmobile Trail and just try to hang on in the O Trail. My theory is that everyone runs slowly in the O Trail—it's far too twisty, turny and cruel—so even if you try to run it fast, you're not going to gain that much ground. I turned into the O Trail as my watch read 1:15:05. Now, I was chasing something else. "25 minutes to break 1:40," I kept chanting to myself.
The O Trail is the O Trail. I assume "O" is for oxymoron. It forces you to focus, yet you need to detach yourself from it or you'll go crazy trying to answer the question: "When will this end?" Even though it's at the end of the race, you can actually catch your breath because your forced to slow down, all the while, it destroys your legs. It will look smooth for a few seconds allowing you to run normally, then you'll stop short with a 180° turn over a rocky outcropping. It's physically and psychologically damaging. On top of that, I'm racing. I keep seeing Jamie somewhere in front of me, and Bob somewhere behind me. I must have seen Jamie 10 or 12 times in this section, but I had no real way to gauge how far ahead of me he was. I just kept pushing. I actually passed a couple guys as Jamie pulled me along. They didn't seem to be having much fun. After turning the calendar page, I saw the stone wall. Oh, the sweet, sweet stone wall. Only a few more yards until the end of the O Trail. I'd survived, and as a reward it was time to sprint to the finish.
I crossed the line in 24th place with a time of 1:38:23. Jamie ended up a full 50 seconds ahead of me. He crushed me in the O Trail, but I'll take it. There's no way I would have run that fast if he wasn't there. We congratulated each other at the finish, and the 2010 Bradbury Mountain Trail Running Series was in the books. Well, almost, we still had to get our Bradbury Bad Ass hoodies!
A quick look at the numbers for the Bruiser is pretty crazy. Kevin Tilton, after I browbeat him into running, took the win in a course record time of 1:22:totallyridiculous, bettering the previous record by 7 minutes. The top 7 guys all beat the previous course record. My time from Sunday would have put me in 5th place in 2008 and 2009. In 2007, that time would have been good enough for the win. So, yeah, the race was stacked this year, and that's awesome! Personally, I PRed on the course by 11 minutes and simultaneously ran 27 minutes faster than last year. Not sure which of those is more impressive. Going into the race I had hoped to run 1:42, but would have been happy with 1:45. I figured if things went really well I could dip under 1:40, hence the chanting. So, obviously, I'm thrilled with the 1:38.
For the series, I finished 6th overall with a combined time for the three races of 3:40:59. That total would have placed me second overall the last two years, but I'm not complaining because at the beginning of the summer, I had silently set a goal of breaking 3:55 for the series. So, yeah, the summer went well.
Speaking of "going well," D was the 4th woman, winning her age group, in 1:47:42 on a bad leg with a "I just hope to break 2 hours" goal. She finished third overall in the series for the women, and we are going to petition Ian to have a "Fastest Household" prize next year. (Hopefully, I can hold up my end of the bargain.)
Now, the race wasn't all rainbows and candy. At some point while chasing Jamie, I could feel a hot spot on the ball of my right foot. In the O Trail, I hit a couple roots or rocks painfully twisting the bottom of my foot on consecutive steps. It was then that I knew I had something ugly on my foot. It turns out that I developed a pretty good sized blood blister. See...
I feel like I've recovered well from the race, and the blister seems to be a non-issue. All good news. I've done a couple very easy runs this week as I now truly taper for the Pisgah Mountain 50k on Sunday. I'm ready.