You never know who’s going to show up on race day, but I had a feeling going into this race it might be me verses the boys. Frankly, this prospect appealed to me almost as much as having some stiff female competition out there. Just in case there were some speedy ladies in the crowd though, and after two weeks of relatively subdued running, resting and cross training post-Whoo’s in El Moro, it felt tremendous to rip off the start line.
I dialed it back a bit after the first mile, in lead woman position, trying to play it smart while keeping a solid effort. I wasn’t convinced that the guys accustomed to being near the front of the pack were going to be entirely happy about me being ahead of them and the possibility of getting ‘chicked.’ Predictably, within a few miles, some guys passed me. At paces in the mid-6:00s range, I figured I might be seeing some of them again (which I did).
When we hit a flat (but sandy) stretch, around mile 9, I could really start to unfurl my wings. It felt utterly amazing. I relish racing on these flatter sections and instantly found my happy place.
Glancing behind, hoping for company, I saw a runner a short distance back and recognized James Walsh, third place finisher from October 12’s Whoo’s in El Moro. We hadn’t connected at that race, but his race report was featured on UltraRunnerPodcast Daily News (as was mine), so I knew who he was. I’m not sure if I actually beckoned or only thought about it, but he pulled up alongside me. Since we each seemed to be cranking along to our own tunes we just ran like that for a few minutes, matching each other stride for stride. Eventually I dropped an earbud and introduced myself.
It’s a rarity that I ever get to run with anyone else. I train alone out of necessity, but even in races it seems no one wants the company — perhaps they’re running at a different pace, or maybe (guys) just don’t want to get chicked so they blow past me or whatever. It wasn’t true back when I was slower, and I really miss the company. James was executing a well-planned negative split pacing strategy that day, starting behind me but ultimately winning the race about 20 minutes ahead of me. For the next few miles though, we locked step and it was a real treat. A short while later, we came across an aid station before the Raptor Ridge climb and James politely sped off. I stopped to get some water and thought I might catch up but he was nowhere in sight. Dang, I gotta work on my hills!
Going in to the race, I’d looked at the results from previous years and studied the course profile, concluding that sub-4 hours should be doable. On the day, I hit the halfway point right on target at slightly under the two hour mark. However, this was after struggling a little the previous few miles, which left scant room for error for the way back. At the second turnaround, about mile 19, I started to smell the barn and perked up considerably. Encouragement from the rest of the 50k runners still on their way in definitely helped too (thanks all!).
By mile 27 my rhythm began to falter once more and my splits varied. One hard mile followed by a slower one, then hard again, etc. I fought the good fight, dug in and got to work. In the end, I came in slightly over the 4 hour mark (4:02:08), but was consoled greatly by the fact that I smashed the previous female course record and beat all but three of the men.