The 50 mile race started at 6 am and it was a field of over 200 runners, some of which were incredibly talented. Among this group included Salomon runner, David Riddle, Vertical Runner, Brian Polen, and a couple of other guys who had quite the running resume. Truthfully, my goal for this race wasn't to place high (although top 5 is always the ideal), but to break my personal best for the 50. The problem was that I hadn't run a 50 miler in over a year and when I did, I had anything but the best time on the course. The worry with the 50 is that it is at a much more aggressive pace than a 100. Although the 100 is twice the distance, I find that it is generally easier to pace yourself than a 50 as you have to be fast, but not burn yourself too quickly-something I did at the Capitol Peak 50 in 2015.
Not surprisingly the start was full of all kinds of jitters. The sun was up so I wouldn't need my headlamp, but the anxiety of runners was prevalent. Racing is bittersweet to me. Bitter in the sense that I hate being anxious and having external pressures on me (thanks parents) and sweet in that part of me still likes competing. The reason I got into the sport is because I enjoy being out in nature and getting a decent exercise in the process. However, the competitive nature in me also thrives and that is why I find myself entering races-to see how fast I can go. With the field that toed the start line this year, I should have known that fast times would be had. Below is a pic of the start
As soon as 6 am came around we all were off. Right away, there was a posse of about 6 of us that took off at the start. The beginning is very friendly. It starts on a paved road that goes through the campground. This lasts about a mile and then it is on single track trail in the Mohican wilderness. The 6 of us were moving at quite a pace. This tends to happen as you don't want to get behind people that are too slow, especially when you get on the single track. The reason for this is it is difficult to pass people and you start falling behind those that you know you need to keep up with. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't run a 50 in a while, but this pace seemed to be blistering. At first I wasn't sure if I registered for a 50 mile or a 50k... As we marched through the woods we basically were running all of the uphills as we headed to The Gorge Aid Station. These hills are short, but steep enough that I wasn't fully convinced that I should be running them, especially this early in the race. However, to not lose pace or look too much like a pansy, I basically mimicked the other 4 in front of me-nothing like giving into peer pressure! As I got to the first aid station I tied my shoes and refilled my water bottle. For this race I stuck with Orange Mud's VP1, which is essentially a single water bottle. With aid stations every 5 miles apart, I figured that was sufficient for what I would need. The other 4 runners all blasted off without stopping. I'm all for being as efficient on time as possible but also value taking care of oneself. I wasn't about to get myself on the wrong foot at the start.
I continued on and eventually caught up to them as we were heading towards the next station. The pace was moving very quickly. Earlier I overheard one of the runners in the group say that we were under 8 minute miles for the first 5 miles. I can't say that I was too surprised by that. When I got to the second aid station, I saw Terri Lemke-a bad ass runner who's son I ran track with (who also happens to run 200 milers). I patted her back and wished her well as she was endeavoring the 100 mile race. Shortly passing her, I came to Don Baun, my former high school track coach. He too was enduring the 100 mile race and wanted to give some level of encouragement. He wished me well and I went passed him. The pace was still moving really well. The 5 of us were beginning to separate a little bit but I knew that it was much too early to be concerned about place. Currently, I was sitting in 5th.
As I started to head to the Covered Bridge, the guy in the green shirt completely ate it. He tripped on a tree root and took a pretty hard landing. He quickly got up and pressed on. When it came to the downhills this dude just blasted past everyone. I consider myself more of an uphill climber but a somewhat decent downhill runner, too. This guy made me look like I was standing still on the downhills. We continued on and got to the Covered Bridge. By this point I was in 4th. Hickory Ridge was next and this is the worst climb of the entire race. I worked my way up and eventually caught up to the 3rd placer. He was moving at a decent pace and I followed him for a couple of miles. We made small chat but overall we kept our minds on other things (for me, that was laying down at the finish). Just passed the last aid station, I went around him and never saw him for the duration of the race (he eventually finished 5th). As I came out of the woods I could feel the heat and the humidity settle in. I saw all my family at the start, as well as Kyle Lemke, a good trail running friend and high school teammate. After restocking my GU stash, I saw that the 2nd placer, Joe, was also there. He suggested that we run together and push each other for the second lap.
We both left together and I was the one leading it. Joe had run a 50k before but never a 50 miler. He was running with David, the Salomon runner, who was about 5 minutes in front of both of us but decided that he wanted to break longer than David. Joe had run competitively at Shawnee State and is good friends with the 100 mile champion of both last year and this year, Michael Owen. We tagged along and this is when I started to get very tired. I'm thinking it was the humidity. I had been eating the entire race and am convinced that it wasn't from bonking. Unfortunately in Washington State, I don't get the high temps that we had (88 was the high for the race) but even worst, the humidity. Even in the shade of the trees, I was getting very tired. It was this section where I felt very slow and that the whole world should have passed me. However, we both pressed on and got to The Gorge Aid Station. I quickly got more water and headed out. Joe really wanted to get 2nd and 3rd together, but secretly I wanted to move quicker than we were (even though my body earlier said 'no way!'). Shortly after leaving this station, Joe started to fade behind. In fact, I never saw him for the rest of the race. As soon as I got to the next station, I quickly got more water and headed out. Thankfully I hit another high. Now it was to the Covered Bridge again. This is the shortest distance to any aid station and I felt it. It is basically all down hill and I felt tremendous moving through this section.
I hit the aid station and the workers were very helpful in getting me what I needed. I refilled my water supply and headed back out in the wilderness. Basically for every aid station, banana's were the main food. It is loaded with potassium (I guess runners are supposed to eat lots of that) and it is soft and goes down easily. One would think that of all the races I've run, I should have learned eating the PBJ sandwich wouldn't work. I kept chewing a single bite for probably 2 miles and decided that I would take a swig of water to push it down. Chewing those sandwiches is the equivalent of eating sandpaper for me. After marching my up Hickory Ridge, I continued on and was passing marathoners and other 50 milers like crazy. There were trains of people running together and passing them was difficult on occasion.
That is when suddenly, out of nowhere, Michael Owen passed me. I had a double take to see if a 100 mile runner actually passed me-he did. The USA 24 hour champion, Lewis Harvey, was right behind him too. Suddenly, my 2nd place position made me feel terrible! I started following both him and Lewis, and all 3 of us entered the final aid station together. This is when David Riddle, the Salomon runner, and current 50 mile leader was spotted. I think he was shocked to see me there as well. He had dominated the entire 45 miles and was trying to finish up at the last station. Basically it was the top two 100 runners and the top two 50 mile runners all at one stop. We quickly all got our gear together and headed out. It was a cool feeling to be with 3 top-notch runners. Owen, a wicked talented runner from Ohio, Harvey, a USA champion, and Riddle, an elite Salomon runner who has won huge events such as Ice Age 50 and JFK 50. Part of me felt that I had no place in this posse!
For whatever reason I was the designated runner for this group. I took charge for about a mile and that is when an unsuspecting tree root caught my foot and I took a tumble. The other three tapped my back and pressed on. I walked a little to brush off the fall. It was here that I hit another low moment. For some reason I began to justify and settle for second. Then the voice in my brain was shouting, "you just ran 46 miles and now you're just going to give up?" Thankfully the voice of intelligence redirected my intentions. I was on point for breaking my sub 7:30 time and in a position to potentially win this thing overall.
That is when I picked my pace up and tried catching them. Off in the distance I saw Riddle by himself. He was walking and I knew that he too was suffering. Both of the 100 mile runners passed him. I nodded at him and went by him as well. I was now back in the lead! I pressed on and got a huge urge to keep pushing forward. Only 3 more miles to go. The next two miles went by fairly well as I passed more runners, including the 100 mile leaders. I never saw them again and the victory was within reach. I came out of the woods and pushed the last road section to my screaming family.
I got to the finish line in 7:24:41, which averaged 8:54 a mile. Less than 4 minutes behind was Riddle. Of all the races, this one was by far the closest I have been a part of. This race I had my parents, sister, cousins, aunt, grandparents, and local friends all come out to support me at the finish-about 15-20 people. Again, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have such a supportive family. Although they don't understand why I do this sport (I don't entirely either), they are there to support those goals. Truly this was a reminder of the awesome family in Ohio that I have. Below is a pic of sister, dad, mom, and cousin from TN (his wife far right). Not pictured but there were grandparents, aunt, 3 other cousins, and friends.
Huge thanks goes to Ryan O'Dell, the RD, Don Baun for getting me into the sport, and of course, to all of my family and friends who came out. Lastly, is for Josh and his innovative running gear. Certainly couldn't have thought of better hydration gear to use. This race ultimately taught me to never discredit oneself. Sometimes life becomes a huge comparison game. One thing I've learned is comparison is the the thief of all joy. Had I come in and discredited myself against some of these other runners, I really do think that I would have psyched myself out. The underdog always has a chance-sometimes one just has to overlook the competition and stay focused on your own goal. Lastly, below is a pic at the awards ceremony.
Thanks for all who read this!