3:15 am the first of 3 alarm clocks ring. Not sure why I was so paranoid about over sleeping as I am not sure I actually slept I was so excited. I arrived at Algonkian Regional Park around 4:15 a.m. and the buzz was awesome. The weather was perfect, low 50s, Dave Matthews Band was cranked up in the start area, and everyone was milling about with their pre-race routines or hanging with old friends and I am sure meeting new ones. I don't recall much in the way of pre-race announcements just a 2 minute warning, a countdown and at 5am sharp we were off. The course would take us primarily on the Potomac Heritage Trail and through Great Falls Park.
The next 2 hours in the dark (headlamps on and the trails lined with green glow sticks) was fairly calm as everyone settled in to their respective paces. Over the first 5 miles the trail was wide enough where some were side by side in casual conversation but it was mostly quiet. Just footsteps, breathing and the occasional hoot and holler from someone. I was having a conversation with a woman named Cynthia on mile 2 when I saw the first tumble of the day as she snagged her foot on something and went down hard. A few of us helped her up, no blood, all smiles and off she went.
Once we hit the single track it was basically single file for the next 8 miles. Almost as if the group I was in was marching along military style through the early morning darkness at a nice steady pace on the flats and strong walks up the few hills we encountered. When the sun came up with its warm orange glow, I popped out of the woods along the Potomac River with a thin layer of fog floating above it and tall waste high brush on both sides of me. It was a perfect morning!
I arrived at the 3rd aid station (mile 14.8) where the course begins a series of three 7 mile loops through the Great Falls section which had the most technical terrain on the course. Although I walked all the uphills "they" say its runnable which was proven by Michael Wardian (3rd overall) who blew by me on an uphill section around mile 17 (It was his 2nd loop mile 24, unbelievable). Shortly thereafter I came upon Amy Palmiero-Winters (read her story, she is amazing) on an uphill section and walked with her for a minute or 2. Up until this point I had really been pacing myself just hoping not to blow my goal of around 10 hrs. I told her it was my first 50 miler and I don't think she had much sympathy for me. She told me not to cross the finish line disappointed, give it my all and leave everything I have on the course. I took her words to heart and gave it my all beginning at that moment.
Coming into the Great Falls aid station after some incredible views the last mile high above the Potomac, there was Tani with a big smile and what ever gear or food I needed. A quick refill and she encouraged me to keep it up. She motivates me in every race. It was on this 2nd loop around mile 24 I came upon Cynthia again (her mile 17). She was covered in dirt, obviously hitting the ground a few more times since I saw her last earlier in the morning. I walked with her for a bit as she was visibly frustrated and she told me she was OK just tired of falling. After a few words, I hope encouraging ones at that, Cynthia told me to get going and she would be fine.
Approaching Great Falls aid station to begin my third and final loop before heading back to Algonkian was awesome. Tani had amassed a huge group of friends and relatives to come out and they were all cheering me on. On top of that my friend Matt had come down with his family to pace me for the final loop in the Great falls section. Thanks to all of them, Diana, Tom, Jacob, Liam and Evan Willcox, Matt, Cori and Tucker Chmielecki, Andang Poeraatmadja, Iwan Poeraatmadja, Scott Martin (Milos), Yetty Cinta, Teaque, Greg and Dominic Shuey, Samantha, Justin, Jack and Matthew Holohan (we will definitely bring Jared & Kyle next year). After refueling and many high fives Matt and I took off and we had a blast. We took pictures (see Matt around mile 27.5), videos and had a few laughs along the way and just enjoyed the next 7 miles.
A quick side note on refueling. Each aid station was well stocked with a variety of drinks and food. My total consumption from when I woke up until the finish was 2 packs of oatmeal, approx. 400 ounces (water/Gatorade), 10 hammer gels, 8 bananas, 1/2 cantaloupe, 3 bags of potato chips, 1/2 potato, 1 orange and a couple hand fulls of gummi bears. I also shared a burrito with Tani at the finish. I burned approximately 6,000 calories during the race. (If you are wondering what ultra marathon runners eat for breakfast the morning after a 50 miles race, I have no idea, but my post race day breakfast is to the right)
After leaving Great Falls for the final time, the cheers from everyone faded quickly. As I exited this section of the park it was back to the solitude of the single track only this time I was basically alone. Over the next 3 hours I would pass or be passed by a total of maybe 5 people (some running the 50k others 50m). Several times by the same person. There was a bit of a back and for between me and eventual 3rd place women's finisher Jimena Barrera. She passed me for the final time with about 6 or 7 miles to go. I just realized as I am writing this, its the 2nd time she did this to me. She also passed me with about 5 miles to go at the Bear Mountain 50k where she finished 4th back in May (great job).
I knew I was going to come upon tough times during this race and from 40 to 45 was that time. It got to the point where I was just trying to run 100 feet at a time. I would reward myself with a walking break every 10 minutes or so (although eventually I no longer new the time because my Garmin 405 ran out of juice at mile 43). Once I hit the Sugarland aid station at 45.4 I told myself it would be a better reward to finish faster and I ran, shuffled, hobbled whatever to the end. I am truly amazed how much further you can push yourself when you think you can't take another step.
9hrs and 18min later I had completed this journey with a 32nd place finish overall and more importantly a new appreciation for boundaries. I am not sure what limits there are as I went farther and faster than I ever imagined would be possible. I am not disappointed!
By the way, Cynthia finished 10:28:)