My crew consisting of my wife Karen and fellow Pagoda Pacer Beth Witkowski woke up for the race around 2 a.m. and I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and laid their until around 2:45 a.m. I got dressed, checked all my gear and left the hotel. It’s maybe a 20 min. drive to the race start from the hotel. The day is finally here after entering the race on December 1st. The ride there is quiet with little talking and lots of thoughts going through my head like does everything feel good, did I train enough, did I eat enough for breakfast today (I ate 1 banana/almond butter in the car and a gel right at the start). I checked in, went to the bath room, said “hi” to couple of friends, gave Jason Lantz (last year’s winner/friend) a hand shake and 5,4,3,2,1 and we are off! Up the road hill we go! I didn’t turn my head lamp on right away because there was enough light from all the other head lamps. At the top of the road hill we hit the trail. Click on my light and find myself in the lead in the next couple of miles for awhile. WTF! This feels fast but if you don’t go you don’t know, right? After a while of being in the lead, I take a quick bathroom break and a bunch of runners went by me. Now I am back to where I usually am – chasing. Not sure what place I am in but that is fine with me, it’s about running my own race.
|Elizabeth Furnace – Mile 33.3 aid station|
Right before Elizabeth Furnace mile 33.3 aid station there is a big hill to run down and I could hear some people cheering the runners in front of me. When I go to my crew I let them know I needed to change my socks, clean my feet and apply more foot lube. My crew was right on top of things and helped me quickly change socks. While sitting there I saw Jason leave the aid station. Jason was running the sole division which means he had no crew or pacer the entire race. Back out on the trail I went for the next section. My crew knowing my focus, was kind enough to just let me run my race and did not tell me what place I was in when I saw them. Later I found out that I left this aid station in 3rd place.
|Jason Lantz pushing the climb with me following
Mile 43 – Veach Gap
Photographer – Aaron Schwartzbard
Indian Grave Trailhead mile 50.1 aid station I get my bottle filled with water, drink some cola and pushed the next section as much as I could. It’s another hard pack dirt/rock 3.9 miles. Looking back at my split I ran a 7:41 pace for that section.
|My crew Karen and Beth with fellow Pagoda Pacer Rick Moyer|
The downhill to Gap Creek/Jawbone 1 aid station mile 69.6 is very rocky. My legs were still feeling strong and I moved down the rocks fast. This is the aid station I dropped at in 2011 so I try to get out of there as quick as possible once reaching it;-) I try to run as much of the next section I can until the big climb then the power hiking starts. Once I hit the top of the mountain there are 2 red plates. One with an arrow pointing left on the first time up and one pointing straight the second time up. After running single track on this section it turns to a downhill dirt road and then asphalt. Running for a little on the dirt road we see a truck driving towards us making a lot of dust. It was the race director Kevin Sayers and volunteer Greg Zaruba. We waved, smiled and kept running.
|Refueling at the Visitor Center – Mile 78.1 aid station|
I heard some cheering coming in to the Visitor Center mile 78.1 aid station. This aid station is run by the TrailDawgs and saw a lot of familiar faces Angus, Pete, Gerard and others. It was another boast for me and, yes my crew! I sat down to get something to drink and off we go up a steep climb and then some flat running to the Bird Knob mile 81.6 aid station. Arriving here the volunteers were just starting to set up the aid station. All I needed was some water and cola. It’s a long downhill road once you leave the aid station and you can make some good time if your legs are up for it on this section and mine were. After the road section starts some more single track and I sat down on a rock to take another gel and an S-Cap(one of many gels and S-Caps throughout the race). I keep pushing forward and we arrive at the Picnic Area mile 87.9 aid station. I sit down drink some cola, my crew gives me my food and water bottles and I push on. I told Dave my pacer a couple of times throughout the race, for some reason, sorry for not talking that much this year. I guess I was concentrating more and just didn’t have the energy to talk. Eventually the single track on this section turns into dirt road section. Only running for a little while on the dirt road, it is dark now and we have headlamps on when we see some kind of foot prints on the road from an animal being wet and going from one side of the road to the other. David thought it might be a coyote. I thought it was a bear. Instead out jumped a dog in the middle of know where! We said Hello and went on running. We arrived at Gap Creek/Jawbone II aid station mile 96.8 and my watch read 9:22PM. My split from last year for the final section was 1 hour 28 minutes. I knew if I ran the same time I did last year I could finish in a high 18 something if everything went good. I came into this aid station, threw off my back pack and took a handheld. Still feeling good knowing it the last section, I push the last major climb of the day. I see the red plate at the top of the mountain for the 2nd time which means I go straight down. I focus really hard going through this very rocky section until I hit the road. I hit the road at 10 pm exactly. From hear it is downhill for around 3 miles. This was another hard pack dirt/rock road section until it turns to asphalt and that is when my blister broke. As soon as the surface changed I felt a burning sensation on the bottom of my right foot. It wasn’t that far to the finish after that. I had one more little climb up a dirt road, a little single track, over a bridge and around the field to the finish. I cross the finish line in 18 hours 30 minutes and 53 seconds for first place with a section time of 1 hour 9 minutes. WOW what a day!
|David Lister(pacer) and me
Photographer – Tim Toogood
After finishing I sit down and talk to a few people at the finish, eat something and then head to the showers. After cleaning up and changing I come back to the finish line. I try to lie down to get some sleep but my legs were uncomfortable in any position – so I decided to stay awake the rest of the day – for the entire 36 hour race. I was able to cheer for many of the other runners finishing the race along with my fellow Pagoda Pacers. There was some great conversation and I was able to meet some really nice people. My crew and I stayed for the awards and headed home around 5 p.m. Sunday night. We made it home well after 8 p.m.I am hoping that I remain healthy throughout the year and plan on returning to this trail next year to race again! See ya out on the trail!!!!