This may be a long one folks, or it may not, it will be hard to surpass the report from last year. You can only do your first 50 once and let me tell you the second time around is definitely different!
So here's the first entry of (hopefully) 3.
Started the morning off right with a 4:30 AM wake up call. I actually woke up at 4:20 on my own and hopped in the shower. Helped MT get her stuff around and we headed to the gas station to try and locate some food. Got back to the hotel and thankfully the staff was up early and I was able to score some milk for my cheerios. Had my tea and cereal and then we were off to the start.
Missed most of the pre race meeting this time around while we waited in the bathroom line. We cut it close with a last minute porta potty stop but were lined up and ready to go a few seconds before the start. Timing worked out well as it was cold and standing around at the start would have sucked. I didn't have my watch ready when the gun went off so I figured I would be about 20 seconds over for the day from what my watch said. I had a super secret goal to hit 8:40 and I knew it might be close at the end of the day and I didn't want to take the watch for granted.
Took us about 20 seconds to cross the start and we were headed towards the Appalachian trail. MT and I were running together and our goal was to jog up the first 2 mile hill like I did last year. I didn't want to waste energy but I also didn't want to get stuck behind slower trail runners once we hit the rocky single track of the trail. We both were feeling good and made good time up the hill. Somewhere a little over 20 minutes. As we hit the top and moved onto the trail I took the lead. We wound through a mile or so of Appalachian. It seemed like we had placed ourselves well as there wasn't much jockeying going on. After a mile or so of trail you hit the first aid table around 3.5 miles. I grabbed a sip of Gatorade and we moved onto the paved section of the AT. This is a long rolling uphill to get you back onto the real trail. This year it seemed a lot longer. I had remembered hitting the steepest parts of the path pretty quickly but you do some rolling miles first and then you walk up to the top. Most everyone was walking here. I knew there would be plenty of time for running later and we power walked to the top and onto the trail.
Met some nice guys through here. A few Cleveland locals and some Michigan fans. Met a birthday boy who swore to us when he got done he would be eating three birthday cakes :) I swear it's the people that make these races so much fun.
We got to mile 5.5 or so in around 56 minutes which I thought was similar to last year. We hopped on the trail and other than one guy who went flying by "on your left." It was pretty easy going. At times I felt like I was holding back but I figured better safe than sorry. I wanted to feel like I was running strong but not putting in a "race" effort. I am still not quite sure how one should feel if racing a 50 but I figured I shouldn't ever feel like I was pushing pace. The group thinned out as we headed towards Gathland at mile 9.7. The trail was a bit rockier then I remembered but I reveled in how amazing it was that I could run over this terrain and how fast my brain must be processing all the "information" the trail was throwing at it. I also find it neat to think that although over 1,000 people would run this race, all of us were likely to take a different approach throughout the day ending in none of us running the exact same course. Kind of a cheesy metaphor for life. Hey I was on the trail in the cold, it's okay to be cheesy I guess.
We picked up a couple of runners from Wyoming who talked more than me (I know hard to believe). They talked about all kinds of things entertaining us on our way to Gathland. One was a taco store manager. He rattled off Taco John's slogan ad for us as he almost bit it. I guess that's why I should keep my trap shut on the trail, but I felt comfortable talking and staying focused on the task at hand. These guys were wild, talking about running on drugs and crazy goth hashers they had met. Definitely an entertaining duo.
Made it to Gathland and after smiling for the photographers had my bottle refilled and grabbed the only nutrition I could find which was a cliff bar. I grabbed one for myself and one for MT as we headed back up the trail. The hill wasn't as steep as I remembered but still a good chance to walk and eat. I was fairly certain we were going faster than last year and I felt great so I was excited. Most of the way here was clear and we could run at our own pace. Once again there were sections where I felt I could run faster but the way wasn't clear and there weren't any real good opportunities for passing. We weren't talking much through here. Tried to stay focused. I pulled ahead on the downs and even ran some of the shorter ups that I normally would walk. I felt strong and I figured I should take advantage of my high points during the day.
I knew we were doing well when we passed our first trekker long before the switch backs. Last year we had seen our first early starters heading down into the switch backs so I figured we were doing well. As we headed into a rockier descent I knew we were less than 2 miles from the bottom of the trail. I was stoked. I took it easy on the decline only passing one older gentleman. I got to the switch backs and felt so much stronger than last year. I actually was held up this time as a long line of runners were moving slower than me. I just took my time around corners so that I could jog to catch up on each straight away. As we neared the bottom I saw my girl DM leading the pack in bright pink. She looked great, but I think she was very happy to be off the trail.
I passed DM getting off the trail and called out to Rootsrunner to try and switch out my shoes. In the mass of people I never found him and just assumed he must be up at the next aid station. I cruised through the last section of trail and watched two runners tweak their ankles. Thankfully I made it through the trail unscathed again this year. I glanced at my watch knowing that to have a shot at 8:40 I needed to be off around 3 hours. I was happy to see that coming out of the aid station I was at 2:57. I was excited as I grabbed an orange slice, a piece of banana and headed onto the towpath.