There was a point around mile 60 where I thought this might just be my day. I had inadvertently ended up in the lead on a section of the course that played into my strengths and I felt downright awesome. Of course, mile 60 is still quite early in the grand scheme of 100 miles, but I could not help but think that I might be able to pull this one off if I could just maintain through the night. Then Karl took me to school. Studying how he executed his race last weekend is like reading a textbook. It was a masterful run. I feel like I’ve learned more from losing to Karl than I have from any other experience in my ultra career.
The race started as it always does, if only several hours later. The usual predawn gun was substituted with a warm afternoon and 1pm could not come soon enough. There was a good amount of conversation mixed with heavy breathing as we made our way up and over the ski hill on a very direct line. Things strung out quickly but I fell in with Jason Schlarb and Dave James until the bottom of the Fish Creek descent where I stopped to drink from the river on what was shaping up to be a hotter than expected afternoon. I stayed about a minute back of the lead pack until the first stop at the High School aid station around mile 20. In all, I felt perfectly subdued, if a little warm, as we began the climb up Emerald Mountain on the other side of town.
Up to this point, I had been housing gels like a person suffering from hypoglycemia, so my energy was very strong and consistent. Tim Olson and Mike Wolfe were not feeling so hot, so I slowly pulled away still some distance behind Jason and Dave who had already opened a commanding lead. I ended up third at the Cow Creek aid station around mile 30 and wisely grabbed a headlamp earlier than anticipated.
On the ensuing climb, I got word that Dave and Jason had already built a thirty minute lead, so I was shocked to come across Schlarb stretching on the trail a short time later. He reported that his legs simply didn’t have it that day and that he would be dropping at the next aid station. He was shirtless, sans headlamp with daylight and warmth fading fast. Still nearly 90 minutes removed from the next aid, I was a bit nervous for him but he fell in behind me and was actually moving well as we climbed back to the top of Emerald Mountain from the opposite side. We ran all the way back to Olympian Hall together and, somewhere along the way, he apparently reevaluated his decision to drop which I was happy to see. Unfortunately Jason went awry a short time later which ultimately led to a DNF in his first attempt at the distance. Major bummer.
Jason’s error left me in second place significantly behind Dave James as we began our climb back up Fish Creek. Daylight was long gone and I fully embraced the darkness that would be my world for the next 10 hours. I climbed strong and steady and arrived back at Long Lake aid in a very good head space, still feeling relaxed. Surprisingly, Dave was still at the aid station when I arrived. He was dressing for the night section, foraging the aid tables, and really looking quite good still. We said a few words to each other as we exited and were soon greeted by Karl who was blazing into the aid station maybe 3 or 4 minutes back. He looked freaking awesome.
I knew I had Dave at that point and didn’t want my new position as race leader to pressure any early surges. I just focused on staying smooth, steady, and relaxed. After a fairly flat 5 mile dirt road section atop Buffalo Pass, the race course began trending downhill. In looking at the course profile prior to the race, I knew that this descent would be very important for me. Being someone who typically does well going downhill, and remembering how good Karl had looked an hour earlier, I made the conscious decision to gas it just a touch with the intention of opening a bit more of a gap before the final 50k.
This particular descent was a long thirteen miles at a railroad grade so I knew it would be punishing. With that in mind, I didn’t fully let loose but held back to what I felt was a slightly aggressive hundred mile speed. I hit Dry Lake aid feeling like I was on fire. Though I hadn’t seen Karl, I was certain that I had given myself a bit of extra cushion so I wasn’t too concerned when I hit a pretty ugly patch with 5 miles of descending still remaining. I’m not quite sure what happened, but my stomach just wasn’t in a good place and my legs were beginning to feel the effects of an hour of solid downhill pounding.
Getting back to the High School and seeing my crew was a major morale boost but I knew I needed just a little bit of a hike break. Unfortunately it turned out that I hadn’t gapped Karl at all in the first half of the descent and that he reeled me all the way back in over the previous five miles. I was shocked to see him come into the High School just behind me. I jogged out of the aid before him but began my hike break as soon as the trail took the slightest uphill trajectory. Karl quickly overtook me and sped out of sight in an instant. He was an absolute gentleman and gave me some encouragement as he went. I knew I’d rally and told him that I was fine, still fully confident that I might be able to make a race of it in the early morning hours.
Unfortunately it was not to be for me. Karl proceed to gap me by 25 minutes on the ensuing 13 mile climb we’d just come down, and had 40 minutes by the time it was all said and done. What an animal. I enjoyed the rest of the night out alone on the trail and was very happy and proud to get it down after 20 hours of battle. Timothy was not too far behind which was great to see. Both he and Karl are such great champions. It’s an honor to compete against men of their stature. Lizzy Hawker is a freak and my boy Duncan Callahan may be the toughest dude on the circuit. His race report is a must read!
Major thanks to my crew! I’m blessed to have loved ones so committed to my cause who share a mutual passion for the sport and a curiosity for pushing what’s personally possible. I’d encourage all those interested to check out an article written by my radically talented older brother about the importance of finding and following your passion no matter what the sacrifices. It touches on our sport and provides a beautiful, but not necessarily intuitive, perspective on endurance that both athletes and non-athletes can identify with.
Finally, thanks to Fred, Paul and all the volunteers for putting on such a great event. I had a great time and think it’s a shame that others weren’t so lucky. I’m very confident these guys will have it all dialed in by next year and will again put on a great show.
As for me, it’s time for a little bit of a break. I’ll be looking forward to seeing everyone out in The Bay in a few short months. Until next time. Fire it up.
Karl’s Post-Race Interview. Must See. It’s hard to believe I’ve already complete five 100 mile footraces. Then I remember Karl has WON 33.