6am. Time to race. The start line is covered with a number of recognizable faces. Tim Olsen, Dylan Bowman, Jorge Maravilla, Jason Schlarb, Seth Wold, Jamil Curry, James Bonnet, Jorge Pacheco.. to name a few.. As the horn goes off, we make our way up a quick climb and within a few hundred meters it was obvious that there would be 2 groups.. one going a bit fast and another that would chase.
After a few miles, the front group consisted of about 4 guys and about 2min behind was a every big name in the race maintaining a solid pace and keeping us in range. We were dropping 6:15min/mile at this point pretty consistently and I was starting to wondering if I was going out to hard. Every time the thought entered my head, I did a sanity check, and each time concluded... "it feels easy, so go with it".
Around 10miles, we hopped onto the Single Track and things started rolling. I took the lead on the first small climb, but it didn't last for long. Between miles 10 and 16, I am not sure how many lead changes occurred, but I can remember going from 1st to 5th back to 2nd.. etc numerous times. We were "scrapping it out" and if you took a breather you were gonna get passed.
Coming into the Mile 16 Aid Station, it was myself, Maravilla & Bowman. My plan all along was to come out of this Aid Station and charge the ensuing climb... so that's what I did. Before I knew it, I had a decent lead.. maybe 90 seconds. Once I topped the climbed, I snaked across the single track keeping a solid 6:30min/mile pace. Around this point (~25miles), I calculated my overall pace was around 6:30/mile avg pace and I was feeling AWESOME.
At this point, my only concern was a waterbottle "malfunction". For some reason, my bottle was leaking so much that within 5min of leaving an aid station, my bottle was empty. Considering how HOT it was (+80degrees), I was a bit concerned, but I tried to compensate by drinking a bit extra at the aid stations. What else could I do??
As I rolled into a steep down section and into the turnaround, I was still feeling very solid. When I turned around, I was excited to see how much of a lead I had on the rest of the field. I saw that Dylan Bowman was about 90sec back... Maravilla was about 5min back.... Tim Olsen was about 8min back.. and Jason Schlarb was about 11min back.
I worked this climb pretty well. Nothing too crazy, but my hope was to add to my lead coming back into the single track.
When I topped the climb, I hopped onto the single track and was ready to let it loose a bit. About 100 meters into this section, I snagged a root or rock???.. and almost fell, but caught myself. As I did this, my right calf & hamstring CRAMPED like crazy!!.. I mean it locked-up completely. I had to stop for about 3min and Stretch / Walk / Stretch.. I can only guess it was related to not getting enough fluids thanks to a "faulty" water bottle. During that time, Dylan passed me and was quickly out of sight.
I was CRUSHED!!.. For the past 10 plus miles, I felt I was on my way to a "win"... now I was just hoping I could finish. Man, I was bummed, but I pressed ahead.
Before I knew it, I thought I was feeling better.. so I pushed the pace a little.. and sure enough I locked up again.. I went through this cycle 2 more times before I concluded that I could no longer "push". During this stretch, Maravilla whipped by me like I was standing still. If I wanted to finish, I was going to have to find a pace that was slow enough that I wouldn't lock up... and hope it would be fast enough to hold off the rest of the competition.
The 10miles after my first cramping episode turned into a mental grind. I tried to keep my pace around 8min/mile as that seemed to be the "sweet spot" where I wouldn't lock up.. anything faster and I could feel the "grab" start in my hamstring and calf.
At mile 43, we started the final big climb, and after a few switchbacks, I see the flowing locks of Tim Olsen. Damn it. He was closing.. and closing fast. At this point, I decided to pick it up and hope for the best. After numerous switch backs, I had kept Tim consistently around 90sec behind, but I was running dangerously close to another cramping episode.
I came to the top and now only had ~3.5miles to go. I put it in cruise control and hoped for the best. Before I knew it, I saw Maravilla and I was closing on him quickly. At around 3miles to go, I had passed Maravilla.. I couldn't see Olsen.. and I am thinking, I am going to pull off 2nd place.
Unfortunately for me, that thought didn't last long. At around 2miles to go, I look down at my Garmin and I am running 6:20min/mile pace... I can also hear some heaving footsteps beating down the service road.. It's Maravilla and Olsen and they are ROLLING!!.. My legs are already on the cusp of full blown cramps, so any hopes of "going with them" is unrealistic. They pass me and quickly start putting time on me. (After the race, I found out they were running 5:20min/mile pace!!! - - ridiculous!!)