Start to mile 7.5
The race started at 5:30 a.m. after some brief announcements. I took what I learned at San Juan Solstice to heart, and did not let anybody block me from going the pace I wanted. In the first couple miles I could see 3 women running close together ahead of me. I knew Kaci Lickteig was up front too and assumed some other girls were sprinkled in there somewhere. Though we were going up, the trail was very non-technical and wide, so I ran a lot of it, stopping only when I thought I could power hike faster than I was running. Another woman trotted past me at a slow, but steady clip and I definitely noticed that she NEVER stopped to walk! She just kept truckin'- I was impressed! I tried to keep her in my sight as I made my way up the dirt road. As we started to descend, I noticed she wasn't quite as sure of her feet on the downhill and caught up quickly. I ran close behind her as we rolled into the first aid station, and we left together, me still trotting behind her.
The next section was a really nice, easy downhill and then up into the Cheyenne aid station at mile 11. Here I grabbed half a pancake and a couple banana pieces because I didn't have breakfast before the race and was already hungry. As I left, following the same girl, we passed 2 women who were walking out of the aid station. As we approached the entry to the single track, a guy making sure we made the turn told me I was 3rd female.
"Wait, what? What number?"
Kaci is just 10 minutes ahead, go get her."
I'll admit I thought Kaci was probably 30 minutes ahead already, but after hearing that I just assumed she was probably running easy as a training run for UTMB. One of the girls we passed just out of the aid station took off around us quickly, and I let her go knowing that was way faster than I wanted to go at that time. Okay, I told myself. 4th place. 4th place would be okay- who am I kidding, 4th place would be amazing! What are you doing, it's way too early to be thinking about this. Just run.
The trail got a little more technical as we climbed, and the woman I was running with wasn't able to keep her steady jog up. When she was running she was going the perfect pace for my hike, but when she stopped to hike, it was way too slow. I went around her and made an encouraging comment about catching up to Kaci. 3rd place.
Some men caught up to me (or did I catch up to them? Maybe both) on our way to the Pipeline aid station, which was advertised as being at mile 16, but my watch had 16.8 miles on it by the time we arrived. One guy had started puking on the trail, which became neon-colored projectile vomit by the time we made it to the aid station. Yikes! I was already starting to feel some soreness/tightness in my legs and wondered if I was making a huge mistake running as much as I was, where I normally would walk. I decided to trust my training and keep up the effort.
Miles 19 to 22.5
Deer Park had a drop bag, which was laid out nicely and I easily found my bag, grabbed a bottle of Skratch Labs, sprayed myself down with sunblock, and headed up the first out-and-back section, eager to see where the other women were. About a mile in I saw Kaci and the woman who passed us around mile 12 neck-and-neck. I cheered for them and Kaci said some encouraging words (which I would tell the Instagram world while I walked up the hill. I was maybe a little star struck). We climbed to the high point of the course, 11,800 feet and I was thrilled not to have headaches like at San Juan! As we headed back down, I saw 4th place almost immediately- she was probably only 1 minute behind. 5th place was also within striking distance, though she had a good chunk on 6th place.
Miles 22.5 to 29
Back at Deer Park I dropped my empty bottle and grabbed another one to drink during the next 6 mile out-and-back, as well as some potatoes dipped in salt and another piece of pancake. Since I was working harder than I usually do (in training OR in races), my body needed more fuel than I'd like to admit and I worked to keep on top of my nutrition. It was getting a little hot and humid and the salt was starting to cake on my face. I checked my watch at the turnaround, and I saw the 4th place woman a minute and a half after I turned- she was still hot on my heels. 5th place was now about 20 minutes behind, but there were still a lot of miles to run, and she looked strong. 3rd place would be so cool, but top 5 would be amazing. As long as you run your best and don't give up, placement doesn't matter.
Third and final stop at Deer Park, mile 29! I put sunblock on again and filled up my water as quickly as possible. I also grabbed my PB&J portables, but they were so big and messy I had a hard time eating them. I ended up stuffing them back into my pack after a few bites and not touching them again the rest of the race.
Feeling fantastic, I flew through the Pipeline aid station as a volunteer yelled after me "do you need anything??" all the while imagining 4th place also running hard. It was mostly downhill and flat and the Rosa aid station came quickly. There were quite a few 50k racers on Mt. Rosa and it was actually nice to see more faces. Everybody was friendly and we cheered each other on! This was the final out-and-back section, and when I saw Kaci I noticed she wasn't with the other girl anymore. We cheered for each other again, and I hiked as hard as I could up the mountain while storm clouds built. Fairly close to the top of the peak, I saw her! Second place! I could almost see some panic in her face as she realized how close I had become, but I was STILL focused on not being passed by the women behind me.
As I rounded the top of Mt. Rosa, the sky opened up and it started raining. I took out my jacket as the wind started whipping and pea-sized hail crashed into my bare legs, leaving little welts. I yelled out and shielded my face, thankful I was wearing a hat! I punched my bib at the summit and started flying down the hill- more concerned with not getting struck by lightning than racing. I slipped on some hail on the rocks and BAM, my first fall of the day. As I jumped up, I saw 4th place running uphill, about 5 minutes after I had been on the summit. She's slowed down a little. Go! A guy I had passed earlier cheered me on and said second place was less than a minute away. Sure enough, I caught up to her and she let me pass as I was a little more sure of my feet on the technical trail. I arrived back at the aid station, filled my water again and drank some Coke as she rolled in. We left the aid station together with her in front.
Miles 39 to 44
11 miles to go! I could tell she was determined to drop me, but for whatever reason I wasn't concerned. 2nd and 3rd felt the same to me in that moment. Neither was a win. Both were on the podium. When the trail was smooth I let her run away from me, but as soon as it got technical, I caught up and stayed right with her, but not ready to pass yet. I started thinking about how all the work I've done on my downhill running has REALLY paid off- first pacing Jeff at Hardrock, and now this!
5 miles later we were still together and rolled into the LAST AID STATION. I drank some more Coke and headed up the last real climb, still in 3rd place. I felt great except for tight calves/achilles, which felt like they could snap at any moment. I wanted to run and distance myself as much as possible from 4th, but I hiked up the hill until I couldn't stand it any longer and motioned second place to run with me up the last little bit. She didn't, but 2 minutes later went FLYING past me down the jeep road as I did my best to hang on. To my GREAT surprise, I caught up to her again, my calves screaming in protest. We ran a 7:54 mile 47, hikers and 50kers letting us pass and cheering. She pulled away again for awhile, but then slowed and at mile 48, stopped. She said something to me that I can't recall now, and it was with a huge sense of disbelief that I ran from her towards the finish, in second place. Second place!! I crossed the finish line in 11:15:10 (a new 50 mile PR incidentally, despite the 11,000 feet of climbing) and just stood there dumbfounded at what had just happened. When she came in 3 minutes later we high fived- I doubt I'd have run those last miles as fast if it hadn't been for her.
3 days later, I haven't run again, I still have a swollen, cut up ankle from bashing it on a rock on Mt. Rosa, and I can't stop thinking about what a cool weekend it was testing myself. It was emotionally exhausting to race for 11 hours and constantly be wondering if you're going the right pace, or if you're going to pass or be passed... but it also made the time go by SO quickly, and I'll never forget this race experience. HUGE thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers for putting on a stellar event! Only regret- not getting a photo with first and third.
Next up: Run Rabbit Run 100 miler and I can't wait!