Got there awfully early. I guess it didn't take as long as I thought it would to get going and drive there. Had plenty of time to stretch. Chatted with a few people.
This time, I lined up close to the front. Before the gun, I looked around at the folks up there. Tried to size up who the stronger runners were. You can sometimes spot them, just on how they carry themselves and what they're wearing (usually less than your average runner, even if it's cold). Tried to pick out a few and get a look at their bib number so I could tell who was running the marathon, and therefore, who I would have to worry about.
Almost immediately after the gun, I was in the lead. 0.3 miles in, no one was even that close behind me. "Wow," I thought to myself, "there's a chance I'll spend pretty much the entire race this way," (which is exactly what happened at Canyon Meadow). A couple miles later, I got caught from behind by a tall skinny guy with long hair, wearing red shorts and no shirt. His name was Jamil and he was running the half-marathon. As there was no one else close to us, and he was running the half, I thought to myself, "Well, I win."
Just about then entered the hilliest part of the race, and possibly technically the hardest. He was walking up some of the steeper hills. I wasn't, so I'd pass him, and he'd usually get past me again on the downhills. We kept going like that for at least a mile, never more than about 10-20 seconds ahead of each other. Every time there was a switchback, we'd see each other face-to-face. Until one in particular. I was in the zone going down a long hill, pushing myself and taking full advantage of the free speed, and when I rounded a corner, Jamil was just gone. I looked around. There were no ribbons (course markers) in sight. I stopped and waited. No one came.
I was lost.
I tried calling out "Helloooo!!" and didn't hear anything. I waited just a second longer, hoping against logic that I wasn't lost somehow, until I finally gave in to the fact that there was nothing to do but run back up the hill until wherever I got off trail. When I found it, it was very clearly marked. In fact, I didn't miss a turn, I took one unnecessarily somehow. I looked at my watch. My best guess was that I added about 0.5 miles, and due to stopping for a little bit, about ten minutes (edit: a half-marathon finisher felt the need to correct my estimate three weeks after the race, and on further inspection, it turned out to be much closer to eight minutes). There were now at least 4-5 runners ahead of me, doing a variety of events. Over the next several miles, I started passing them one by one.
I'd studied the elevation profile before the race, and I knew there was a gargantuan hill coming at mile 9 (lasting until mile 11, climbing 1,000 feet). Reaching the aid station at mile 8.5, the lowest point in the course, I finally realized, "You know, it doesn't seem like we've really gotten that much downhill." Nevertheless, I drank a little and headed up the hill.
To give you some context for this huge hill, here's the course's elevation profile:
Yes, they saved the huge-ass hill for the end of both loops. This course was EVIL.
The big hill was where I really started to shine. I passed the runners currently in fourth and third position, both of which were doing the 50K, leaving only Jamil and one other guy ahead of me, both of which were only doing the half-marathon. And, of course, I didn't mind getting beat by someone who's not in the same race. Ian, who is sponsored by North Face, was walking some parts of the uphills, but passed me when we headed down a particularly steep, technical descent. He was just bouncing down it like a friggin' mountain goat. Finished the first half in 1:43. Not bad, especially considering I "shoulda" been ten (edit: again, it was really eight) minutes ahead.
Ian ran with me for the first couple miles of the second loop, until I eventually got away from him, holding a slightly stronger pace. Once again, I thought to myself, "I win." All I have to do is hold pace, and barring disaster, I got this. No one even in my neighborhood was running the marathon. I started taking full advantage of one of the only flat areas in the race, with a slight downhill. Went into the zone. All of a sudden, I was in front of a parking lot that I recognized. Not from this race, but from Canyon Meadow. We didn't come here in this race. I looked around. No ribbons.
I was lost again!!!
This time, I didn't wait, just turned around and ran back. Added another full mile into my race. And like last time, I had to climb out. When I found the spot, just like last time, it was clearly marked, but I'd missed a turn, rather than taking one erroneously. For the second time, 4-5 runners got ahead of me.
Entering the steep hilly section in the thick of the woods, I walked a few of the steeper hills this time. Better to save my legs for the long one. But after a while, they just kept getting harder and harder. I really didn't remember them staying this hard last time, I seem to remember the hardest hills being done after a mile or so, and getting easier after that. And while I thought the long hill wasn't as bad as I expected it to be the first time around, I certainly remember it still being challenging. If the non-challenging section is this hard now, then the long hill is going to be....? I tried not to think about it.
By the time I started the long hill, my stomach and lower back weren't happy with me. Tight and sore. I could tell I wasn't even running with my normal gait anymore. And on top of that, it was hot. I was now neck-and-neck with a guy running the 50K, and we both walked large sections of the uphill.
"I don't remember it being this steep!"
"I can't believe I ran this whole thing last time!"
"Oh man, you were flying up!"
Once it started flattening out here and there, I ran some of the less-steep sections, but even that started waning. I just started walking more and more as we went, until I was walking almost everything. I think I could've run more, but I was having such a hard time getting my body to start back up once I let it relax a little.
I mercifully arrived at the final aid station, done with the long climb, only 1.7 miles to go. I hadn't planned on stopping, but did. I took a couple waters, then poured one over my head. Just as I was leaving a guy came charging down the hill, asking "Any marathoners up ahead?"
That got me going. I was back on, full strength. For the first time in 45 minutes, I was running my way again. I took off hard and didn't look back. If this guy wanted to beat me, he was gonna earn it.
With less than a mile to go, in the middle of a ridiculously steep technical descent, I heard footsteps behind me. Then I got passed. About ten seconds later, the wind came out of my sails. There was only about 0.6 miles left, and I probably walked half of it, even though it was almost all downhill or flat. I just lost my will to run. I weakly jogged across the finish line, headed over to the food tent, and laid down.
I had to force myself to eat and drink, which is a little unusual for me after these races. I did not feel well. Almost everyone who saw me asked if I was OK, and more than one said I looked pale. I was really OK (well, that's a relative term), I just felt like crap. This course had kicked my behind, and running an extra 1.4 miles didn't help. I laid down for a while. When I finally got up, I noticed that a few things actually made me smile. OK, I'm fine now.
Getting passed with under a mile to go, when I'd already done more than a marathon by that point, all but confirms that I "should've" won. But I really don't like saying that. Following the course is part of the race, and as a wise man once said, "What should've happened did happen." It's nobody's fault but mine that I didn't cross the finish line before someone else. And even after getting lost twice, I was still in front of that guy. Had I run my last four miles at a pace better than 10-12 minutes, I would've beaten him.
So I'm a little disappointed, but hey, I still came in second, I still won my age division, and I even beat the old course record. The competitive side of me, though...well, you know how it is. Even when you do well, it's frustrating when you know you could've done better. The best cure? Buckle down and do better!