Even though I couldn't run the race that day, I had a great time volunteering, and quietly noted to myself that I needed to come back healthy in 2010 to experience the fun of the event as a runner. ...Even if it meant sacrificing my back to build Mt. Rose to get down there:
I hand-shoveled every bit of that snow to free the XTerra after the insane DC blizzards (yes, plural) last week. Mt. Rose ended up being so big, I'm tempted to hollow the thing out and use it as a garage for the rest of the winter.
It was indeed a pleasure to escape the snow on my 11 hour drive south to the race site in Florahome, FL, but any dreams of sunny 60 degree running weather were squashed with a race-day forecast of 30-50 degree range. Oh well. Still beats running with a shovel.
I immediately noticed Race Director Chris Rodatz's decison to give me bib #2 when I picked up my race packet at the pre-race briefing on Friday night. I wanted to make sure I returned that respect with a solid race the next day. After a quality night's sleep in the XTerra Inn (with my zero-degree sleeping bag to fend off the surprising sub-freezing overnight temps!), I was up and ready to go on race day.
Like most ultras, the roster of runners at the start was full of mighty impressive/inspirational people. Monica Scholz was down from Canada to run her third 100 miler already this year, an impressive enough fact on its own, but consider for a moment that she's actually planning on running thirty 100 milers this year to set a record. "Holy Crap!" is right. Phil Rosenstein was also in the field. A Badwater veteran like Monica, Phil also has a trans-continental run under his belt having made the run in 2008 to raise money for the Mario Lemieux Foundation. The unstoppable Hans-Dieter Weisshaar was there ready to run 100 miles...but then again, isn't he always?! ...and speaking of unstoppable, below-the-knee amputee Kelly Luckett was there running with her husband all day/night as well. Obviously the challenges of running an ultra w/ a prosthetic leg are apparent enough, but to attempt such a feat on terrain as rocky and rutted as Iron Horse? That's just flat-out Herculean. The sight of Kelly, bloody knees and all, relentlessly marching forward hour after hour into the freezing cold night was one of the most impressive examples of the human spirit I've ever seen.
One other runner I made sure to follow all day was a super nice Floridian named John Miles. John introduced himself to me at the pre-race meeting on Friday night. He recognized me from this blog, and mentioned it was part of his inspiration to run the Iron Horse 50 mile this year as his first ultra. Since the whole point of my blog is to inspire people like this, I was so grateful that John came over to say hello. ...and I took great pleasure in seeing him work hard during the race, particularly when we passed each other w/ about 5 mles to go in his race and he raised his arms up in triumph. I remembered the feeling of when I finished my first 50 miler, and it felt great to be able to cheer him on as he neared the finish. Congratulations, John!
I met up with Florida friends Chris and Erin Roman just before the start, and after the race began with a quick prayer by the RD ("May the road rise with you"), Chris and I continued our pre-race conversation through most of the first 50 miles as we ran a good chunk of that time together. The Iron Horse course consists of four 25-mile out-n-back loops. My goal was to run even 4-hour splits for each loop, but thanks to Chris and I getting carried away with our chatting, I lost focus on our pace during the first loop. When I checked my watch at the end of the loop, my only comment was, "What the hell did we just do?!?". We went 20 minutes fast. Oops. Time to insert an extended Aid Station stop and exaggerated shuffle over the next 25 miles to correct this problem. Proving I haven't completely lost my hard-learned pacing skills, after the next loop I pulled into mile 50 check point at 7:58. Much better.
With the pacing ship back on its charted course, it was time to check out the competition at the half-way point and see how the race was unfolding. The beauty of an out-n-back course like this is you get to see everyone else twice per loop. With the guys running the 50 mile and 100k options identified at this point, I realized I was running in second place in the 100 mile race, about 25 minutes behind the leader. The only thing I knew about the leader was his first name, "Joe", and he was running a focused and fast race. *Now that I'm in front of my computer, I realize that "Joe" is Joe Ninke, who in 2009 alone won ultras ranging in distance from 50k to 100 miles to 24 hours. It's safe to say he knew what he was doing out there, but I didn't need a computer to tell me that during the race: He looked strong and steady as he started his 3rd loop.
Wanting to focus on running a solid 3rd loop myself (especially after intentionally Cadillac-ing it on my second loop), I made my Utterli phone call update just after 50 miles and let everyone know I was going after Joe. I strapped on the iPod and found my rhythm on the "out" leg (miles 50-62.8). When I checked-in with the Aid Station volunteers at mile 62.8, they told me I was now only 15 minutes behind Joe. When I saw him at the far-end turn-around just after that, he was still looking strong and focused. I'd knew I'd done well to chop 10 minutes off his lead in the previous 12.5 mile leg, but I wanted to crank it up a notch and erase it completely on the trip back.
On the previous trip out (mile 50 to 62.8), I noted which sections were best for running fast compared to some of the other rockier sections. It would be dark soon, and the more I remembered about the terrain from the daylight, the better off I'd be. I decided the mostly smooth section of trail between upcoming miles 65.8 and 72 would be where I would hit the gas and try to catch Joe in one big push. I really didn't want to wait until the last loop to push the pace and end up being forced to decide this thing on the rocky sections.
With a deep breath while passing through the mile 65.8 Aid Station, I clicked up the volume on my headphones and took off. I executed my plan perfectly by running the next six miles in 50 minutes. When I still hadn't caught up to Joe (who was this guy?!), I decided to keep hammering the pace through the upcoming rocky section until I reeled him in. Great idea in theory, but have you ever noticed that running hard on loose railroad rocks is tough? If not, let my upcoming follies enlighten you to this fact.
Over the next 2 miles (72-74), I took two spectacular headers, one of which was a total Yard Sale. Naturally the big one happened at the absolute worst moment. The last bits of sunlight were gone and I was in the process of reaching back over my head to pull my headlamp out of my pack (while running, yes). Here's why this was an extra-super fun time to fall: Not only did it mean I dropped my headlamp and couldn't see a thing on this pitch black moon-less night, but it also meant the zippered section of my pack was open (since I was in the process of pulling out the headlamp) and a bunch of other stuff (gels, endurolytes, gloves) went flying all over the darkened trail. Awesome.
The first step to fixing this mess was finding my headlamp (ok, the first step was letting lose with a stream of expletives that would make a Def Comedy Jam performer blush, then I went about finding the headlamp). After a couple minutes of mistakenly reaching for about 45 different headlamp-sized rocks, I finally found the real thing in the brush on the side of the trail and was able to gather up the rest of my junk. So much for catching Joe on this loop, but once I got back to running, I was happy that I still had 25 miles to get my momentum back.
At the 75 mile check-point, I took my time putting on a warmer hat and shirt as the temps were back down in the low 30s. I had been running in tights all day, so my legs were OK, but as I found out on the last loop, even they would need extra attention to stay loose in the cold.
As I started out on the final loop, I was tempted to save a few seconds by not calling in an Utterli update at the usual spot on the west end of the course. I really wanted to focus on running hard to make up the time I lost on Joe during my rock-swimming episodes at the end of the last loop. Thankfully I remembered it's no fun for anyone (myself included) if I don't take a few seconds to do the little things during these crazy races to make me smile and appreciate how lucky I am to be out there. With my update call made, I tucked the phone away and got back to business...with a smile on my face.
When I saw Joe next at the mile 76.75 turn-around, I estimated he was still about 10 minutes up on me and was now running with a pacer. The cold was really stiffening up my legs, and even though I was able to run every step of this race at sub-9:30 pace, I needed to stop every 2 or 3 miles on this last leg just to rub/strech my legs for a few seconds. It was frustrating, but for some reason the damp cold in some sections was simply freezing my legs through my tights. Even with the stretching delays, I was flying past people left and right hoping that one of them would be Joe and his pacer. By time I got to the final turn-around at mile 87.8, I still hadn't caught Joe (who was this guy?!), so I asked the volunteers the same question I asked the last time: "How far ahead is he?". I was hoping for something like "He just left here 2 minutes ago", but they did me one better and said, "You're the first 100 miler to come through.".
I heard what they said, but I didn't totally believe them. Surely they were suffering from a little brain freeze and forgot that Joe had already come through. When I continued on through the next 3 mile spur section where I'd been able to see Joe on every previous loop and gauge his lead, I was shocked that I didn't see him at all. Maybe the guys at the aid station were right...or maybe, just maybe Joe and his pacer had kicked it up a notch and stretched out their lead to more than 3 miles and were already on their way back toward the finish. I convinced myself that this worst-case scenario was the truth, and with 10.3 miles to go, I told myself it was time to drop the hammer one last time and push hard through the finish. Regardless of where Joe was, I wanted to finish strong and be happy with my effort no matter where I placed.
I passed about 30 people in this final 10+ mile stretch, shining my headlamp on each face to see if it was actually Joe hiding behind a winter hat or running jacket. I needed to stop twice to rub some blood-flow into my hamstrings, but other than those brief delays I was moving pretty darn quick. With 1 mile to go the completely insane Painkiller came up on my iPod, and I found it appropriate to scream along with the lyrics even louder than my frozen hamstrings were screaming themselves. As I saw the lights of the finish line coming into focus, I realized how well I just ran the last 10.3 miles and was ready to congratulate Joe on a brilliantly run race if, in fact, he was still ahead of me. About 50 yards from the finish, RD Chris Rodatz asked "Who's coming in?". When I responded "#2", he surprised me by announcing to the crowd "Here comes the 100 Mile champion, Dan Rose!". I guess I won!
RD Chris Rodatz w/ me (and the buckle!) moments after I finished
Close up of the sweet sterling silver buckle (it's Heavy!). Tough to see here, but the FL and US flags are on the sides of the race logo. It's a really nice buckle!
My finishing time of 16:35 broke Brad Smythe's 17:11 course record from last year. Without the Big Fall and all the leg-warming breaks because of the cold, I'm 100% confident I would have run my 16-flat as planned, which makes me pretty happy since my training plan for France is right on track. I was obviously pretty darn happy to find out I won, but after getting my buckle and taking some photos, I started asking everyone "What happened to Joe?". After a couple hours, we were able to piece together the story:
Remember when I made that big push between miles 65.8 and 72, just before I had my big fall? Well, it turned out that Joe hit a rough patch during that stretch himself and ended up stopping for quite a while at the mile 71 Aid Station. Since I just blew through that AS without stopping, I didn't even see him sitting there. Later on when I thought I saw him with a pacer, it was actually someone else who I then also leap-frogged when they were stopped at an Aid Station.
So to clarify, for the last 25+ miles, I was chasing both Real Joe and Fake Joe (w/ Pacer) when BOTH of them were actually stopped for prolonged periods at Aid Stations behind me. Stupid me was too stubborn to believe the volunteers at the mile 87.8 when they said Joe hadn't come through yet. I still would have finished running the race just as hard, but it would have saved me quite a bit of mental stress if I knew I was in the lead the whole time. Oh well, it sure was fun to be in such a close fake race!
Running a smart and tough race himself, my buddy Chris Roman took 2nd place and ended up breaking his PR by an hour with a solid 18:24 finish. Steady and strong Amy Costa grabbed the women's title again (she was the overall winner in 2008) coming in about 30 minutes behind Chris in 3rd place overall. Proving he's one tough son of a gun, Joe got back on the ice-cold course after recovering for a couple hours and finished in 4th place not too long after Amy. The official results will be posted here in the next few days, I'm sure.
Aside from the cold and occasional toe-smashing rock, the race went quite smoothly for me. My Drymax Max Pro socks kept me blister-free for the millionth race in a row, and the mix of Hammer Gel (yummy new Montana Huckleberry flavor!) and Perpetuem kept energy flow consistent and smooth all day long. I had no low points and felt energized all day. Running 100 miles is almost easy when you don't have to worry about your feet or your fuel, thanks guys!
Did I also mention the winner of the race got a bottle of wine from the Tangled Oaks Vineyard which is just across the street from the race's Start/Finish line? You bet this helped with the recovery!
Big thanks go out to RD Chris Rodatz, his son-in-law Casey, and all the hard-working volunteers who braved the freezing temps all day/night and put on a great race. It was great to experience it all from a runner's point-of-view this year! Many thanks also to all of you who followed along on Utterli and sent some good vibes my way...I really appreciate it!