I have really tried to focus my recent training on developing my climbing skills with hill repeats and improving leg turnover with more speed/tempo workouts. An added benefit of the speed work has been the improvement in overall fitness and running form. I knew these aspects of my training would be very important to run well at GEER. I also hoped to be much more efficient in the aid stations as this has been a pariah of mine in past races. I went in to the race READY - I felt as good as I ever have from a confidence standpoint.
The weather was near perfect as the RD sent us off into the early morning towards the first big climb of the day. The first 25ish miles would be shared with 50K runners so it was important to keep that in mind as folks flew by early. My plan was pretty simple - run conservatively for 35 to 40 miles and then pick things up after this point. I am tired of going out too hard only to blow up halfway through. I am also tired of being sooooo slow, and wanted to have legs to really run late.
I settled in early and made good time through the early sections, which were a combination of single track trail, gravel road and a short stint on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I felt really good when I got in to the 25 mile checkpoint and quickly got what I needed and headed out. At this point the 50K runners were headed back so the runners were much more spread out. I continued to run easy down the Kennedy Ridge trail as the toughest climb of the day was looming. Ironically, the climb up Kennedy Ridge would be our final climb of the day so I tried to memorize landmarks. Upon reaching the bottom, I slammed a Balanced protein drink, filled my bottle and headed out. A short gravel road section took us to the climb up the Stony Run trail (miles 32 to ~40). This would be the hardest climb of the day but also the climb that I covered the fastest.
I "attacked" the climb (at least to the extent a mid-pack runner attacks anything) as I wanted to get it over with. I knew that after the mile 40 aid station, we had a nice 7 mile section that was completely runnable that I really wanted to cover fast. I made it up the climb in about 2 hours, which was really quick for me (perhaps too quick?). I got what I needed from the aid station and headed out to run the 7 mile section along Mill Creek. This was my favorite part of the race. We started out with about a 1 mile section down several switchbacks and then covered about 5 miles along the valley floor. The last section is about 1 mile along a forest service road to the aid station. In the two previous races that I have run on this section of trail, I have bonked badly here. I was determined to hammer this sections as best I could and ended up running the whole way, covering the section in 65 minutes. Really fast for me.
Next I took it easy on a 3 mile gravel road section to "save up" for the last big climb up Kennedy Ridge. I was pretty spent though as the hard efforts up Stony Run and down Mill Creek had taken a big toll. Not to mention I was at the 50 mile point and had yet to sit down all day. I put my head down and moved up Kennedy Ridge but knew that I was really slowing down. I just couldn't get the leg turnover I needed to make good time up the climb. I did my best to run the flats and covered the jeep road heading to the aid station well. I made it about 54 miles or so before I turned my headlamp on.
At the 56 mile aid station I grabbed some broth, filled my bottles and took off to get this thing done. I ran all of the jeep road but took it easy on a really rocky (think Short Mountain at MMT) section and then trotted into the last aid station with 5 miles to go. I checked in and out and took off for the finish. I have never had the legs or mental resolve to do this in previous races and I have to admit that it felt GRRRREAAAT (think Tony the Tiger). I ran about 95% of the way in only walking a couple of hills. In fact, I only stopped once to take my final gel with about 3 miles to go. I cranked the final half mile on the road and finished in 15:48, about what I ran last year. I picked up 6 places over the last 12 miles including 3 spots in the last 3 miles. The best part was passing someone about 200 yards from the finish!
Although I ran well all day, I really hoped to post a faster time since I thought my training had prepared me to do so. However, I gave it everything I had and did not waste any time during the race. The truth is, I am just not a fast runner and have to accept that I have a lot more to learn and develop before I will be. That is okay though since I am having lots of fun in the sport as I continue to learn. I try to give myself a break and remember that I have only been at this ultra thing for 15 months. In fact, 24 months ago I was 30 lbs. heavier and was struggling with road marathons much less trail ultras. The RD said the course was about 1.5 to 2 hours slower than last year and comparing times with last year generally supports this. So overall I am pleased with my effort.
I was very efficient in the aid stations, never spending more than 5 or 6 minutes and didn't sit in a chair throughout the whole race. Nutrition and hydration worked the best it ever has. Water/E-caps and a combination of gels and solid foods for the first 40 miles. Then I switched to a sports drink/water mix and ate gels and shot blocks (no solid food at all) for the final 22 miles. Throughout the race I drank a Balanced protein drink every 2 - 3 hours and ate some crystallized ginger about every 2 hours. No foot issues (only one small blister) and my Montrail Continental Divides worked perfectly.
This race was very well done. The course markings were as good as I have ever seen and the aid stations were well stocked with good food and enthusiastic volunteers. At the finish we had warm showers, hot lasagna and the most comfortable chair (wooden bench) my posterior has ever sat on. Definitely one to put on your list of races to do.