The alarm arbitrarily sounded at 5 AM on Saturday morning as I was already awake. I had spent the previous night toiling in sleepless limbo and soaked in the tension of pre-race jitters. These are the nights that I live for. I stumbled downstairs to begin the race morning routine of coffee, oatmeal and a warm shower. Stacey and the rest of my crew were shortly awake as well and anxious to get the day (and more importantly the Sylamore 50K) started.
We arrived at the start/finish about 30 minutes before the race start. I had already taken my usual VESPA 15 minutes prior and continued to stay hydrated with water and HEED. I welcomed the opportunity to visit with family and friends before the start and have a few laughs.
|Enjoying some banter before heading to the starting line.|
Those of us running 50K ambled over to the starting line shortly before the 7 AM start and were all more than ready to get going. The presence of Dave Riddle on the starting line meant that the real race in 2011 would be for second place. It was no secret that he had come to Sylamore to break the course record and that's exactly what he did. More on that later.
|The starting line.|
The pre-race briefing lasted all of 45 seconds and we were off. A group of 4-5 of us immediately separated from the field and made the climb up the road to the trail head. I tucked in behind Riddle, Ben Creehan and Tom Brennan through the first mile in 7:07. We made the infamous creek crossing and quickly found ourselves on some sweet Sylamore singletrack. The group of four fell into a rhythm and we covered ground with relative ease. Passing beneath monolith rock formations formed by years of water flowing provided a humbling comfort and perspective during the early minutes of racing. The aforementioned creek crossing caused BOTH of my shoes to come untied about 3 miles in. I stopped to tie them both and immediately lost contact with the leaders. I felt no anxiety whatsoever over this as it allowed me to settle into my own pace and just relax. I think I may have relaxed a bit too much. Taking in the beauty of Sylamore Creek, my right foot caught a rock and I went down hard just before approaching the Blanchard Springs aid station. I hit my left patellar tendon hard and was quite upset about it. I rolled into the aid station and barely acknowledged my crew because of my frustration. No excuse to be a punk. I still feel bad about letting something so insignificant get to me like the fall did.
|Whining to Ben about my left knee.|
I immediately began the climb out of Blanchard Springs and towards Gunner Pool. Kevin Leathers was taking pictures at the base of the climb and offered some words of encouragement that forced me to almost immediately leave behind the anxieties created by an aching knee. Thanks Kevin! After topping out on the climb I took advantage of the flat section along the ridge and picked up the pace a bit. The descent back down towards the creek provided the opportunity to let loose a bit and increase the pace even more. I arrived at Gunner Pool in good time and immediately apologized to my crew (particularly Ben!) for letting the knee incident get to me. Of course, no one had thought anything of it. I grabbed another gel from Ben and topped off my bottle and was on my way. On the road out of Gunner Pool I saw Billy Simpson who offered up some words and got me fired up. I felt like I was floating as the course returned to singletrack and headed towards the turn-around at Barkshed.
The section of trail between Gunner Pool and Barkshed is technical early and then transitions into a rollercoaster of beautiful, runnable Ozark singletrack. I saw Dave Riddle on his way back sooner than I had expected. We exchanged pleasantries and he was gone. He was absolutely flying! I spent the next few minutes just trying to process how fast he was actually running on that course. As I approached the last section into Barkshed, I passed Ben Creehan on his way back. He looked strong and was several minutes ahead of me. Shortly thereafter, I passed Tom Brennan on his back as well. I realized that I might be able to catch him in the second half of the race. I was feeling strong and staying on top of my nutrition and hydration really well. Ben and Stacey were waiting at Barkshed and filled me in on time gaps as I had no idea. I tend to get lost in the run and really don't pay attention to those details. Brennan was a couple minutes up on me and Creehan had about 6 minutes. Dave Riddle was in the next county at that point.
|Headed back towards home.|
The lower half of my body started to feel the effects of 16 trail miles as I made the turn and headed back towards Gunner Pool. I was surprised at how much time passed before I saw the 5th runner on his way to the turn. The out and back format of the course did provide some distraction at this point in the race as I passed many familiar faces. I passed along encouragement to all and received encouragement from all as well. Trail runners sure are a great group of folks! I settled into a comfortable pace and arrived at Gunner Pool in what seemed like no time at all. As I popped out onto the road, Stacey informed me that Brennan was right up the road and that Creehan was still about 5 minutes up on me. I flashed her a smile and headed up the road towards the aid station. It was awesome to pass my mother-in-law Cathy, my two girls, Eleanor and Myra and our friend Rebecca on the road. It's amazing what seeing some folks who mean so much to you can do for your morale. I refilled my bottle at the aid station and grabbed another gel from Ben. I caught a glimpse of Brennan headed into the woods.
|On the road at Gunner Pool.|
I entered the singletrack section and happened upon Brennan much sooner than expected. He is an exceptional runner who has won this race more than once. That being said, he could not have been any nicer about me passing. He came to a complete stop and gave me trail. He also offered up some words and a huge smile. What a guy! I continued on the way back to Blanchard Springs with a renewed pep in my step upon moving into third place. The race also includes a 25K option that starts one hour after the 50K start. As I climbed back up to the ridge I began to see quite a few 25K folks out on the trails. Just as the 50K folks had given me some energy earlier, the 25K runners did as well. Again, I saw a lot of familiar faces and was really enjoying experiencing all of the camaraderie out there on the trail. The descent into Blanchard Springs was an absolute blast. I am normally a bit skittish on descents but decided to really just let go on this section. It was so much fun! I seriously felt like a kid again!
|Enjoying the descent into Blanchard Springs.|
The second trip into Blanchard Springs proved to be much better than the first time I had been through. I was in great spirits, the legs felt awesome, and I was having way too much fun. I hit the aid station and then Stacey informed me that I was now only 3 minutes out of second place. I grabbed my last gel and hit the last section towards the finish line. I started to feel that maybe I could actually catch second place and began to try and make myself a bit more uncomfortable and push the pace. This five mile section is the most technical on the course and made my attempts at increasing the pace really difficult. I simply do not have the opportunity to train on technical trails and definitely could tell on this section after having run 26 miles. I continued to pass 25K runners and the kind words kept me moving forward. Finally, I began the descent to the creek crossing that would mark just over a mile left to go. As I entered the ice cold creek, I noticed Creehan only about 45 seconds to a minute in front of me. Ben Creehan is quite the runner and to see him this close got me fired up! I began to chase but he dug deep and responded. The climb towards the road proved easier for Creehan than me to navigate. He ran up with relative ease and I had to walk the last pitch to the top. My friends Tommy and Taylor were at the top of the hill and going absolutely nuts. I was now only 40 seconds down with .75 mile to go. Not exactly what you want a 50K trail race to come down to. I let loose on the downhill road section to the finish. I ran with all that I could and was gaining ground on Creehan the entire descent. My efforts proved futile. Creehan finished 20 seconds ahead of me for second place. He had an absolutely awesome run and put it out there to keep his second place. Dave Riddle won in a course record time of 3:31! Ridiculous. Creehan and I were 40 minutes back in 4:12. Quite the deficit.
It was a great day on some beautiful Ozark trails. I'm certainly pleased with the race and am looking forward to the rest of 2011. I have to thank my lovely wife Stacey for making all of this even possible by being so unbelievably supportive. My family and friends really are a huge part of me being able to do what I love so much. I also want to thank my coach, Ian Torrence. We've been working together for a year now and he's been a huge asset to my running. Thanks bro!
I also want to say thanks to everyone who actually read this. I don't know about you, but I need a beer now.
|Stacey and I|
|Our crew: Rebecca and Ben Knoernschild, Cathy Jobe, and Eleanor and Myra Boswell|