The first few miles was working out the kinks and getting into a good rhythm on the gradual gravel road. As we hit the single track about 3.5 miles into the race I would alternate between running and power-hiking, depending on the steepness of the trail. I crested the summit of Hardy Mtn and begun the approx mile descent of steep, technical terrain (I'm surprised I didn't twist an ankle or fall) to the aid station.
I hit the first aid station in 4th place (mile 5.5), filling my water bottle with Nuun and grabbed a GU. The slight downhill (half gravel road/other half single-track) to the start of the climb up to the summit of Hamilton Mtn took longer than expected. I pushed it a little bit but not too much on this part, thinking I would gain on the 3 in front while we started the climb.
The climb to the summit of Hamilton Mtn was steep with numerous switchbacks. The views were spectacular. I power-hiked some and ran some. I knew I made up some lost time cause I could see Joe up ahead. I still didn't push too hard as I knew we would be going up this steep climb again. I repeated over and over to myself........"Conserve. Be patient. You'll make lost time on the 2nd loop." Even so, I was still a disappointed that I didn't catch Joe on the climb.
The next few miles to the aid station went by quickly. Just as I was entering the aid station I could see Joe off in the distance going around a bend in the road. I grabbed a few GUs, an S-cap and drank some Coke and took off.
If I wanted to make up lost time on the 3 guys in front, I knew I needed to push the downhills. So after leaving the aid station for the turnaround/halfway point in the race, I found a higher gear and took off. I caught Joe about 2.5 miles from the turnaround. We ran together all the way to the turnaround - pushing each other - but at a nice comfortable pace. The 2 other guys were ahead of us by 4 and 6 minutes.
Joe and I didn't stay for long. My pace was definitely slower going up the gravel road the 2nd time around. Once we hit the single-track climbing up to Hardy Mtn, I was walking more than running. Joe and I caught up to the 2nd place guy - Michael Wedemeyer. But Hozumi Nakai caught up to all of us......and was looking STRONG. We all 3 passed Michael pretty much at the same time...me leading. I pushed the pace a little and Hozumi and I gapped Joe and Michael. I continued the pace but Hozumi was right on my tail so I stepped aside to let him pass. He mentioned something like I didn't need to do that but he was moving way too fast and I was clearly slowing him down. Within a few minutes Hozumi had already gapped me. I quickened the pace down the other side of Hardy on the steep, technical section, thinking that Joe and Michael would catch me.....but they didn't. I rolled into the aid station (mile 20ish) and quickly exited with a few GUs in hand. Just as I was leaving the aid station, Joe was arriving. I yelled, "Let's go Joe!"..... he probably not hearing me.
I got to within about 100meters of Hozumi (he had to take a pee-break along-side the road) but that was as near as I would get to him. I was struggling a little on the single-track leading over to the climb up Hamilton Mtn. I had spotted a Cliff Bar at the previous aid station and started slowly taking bites from it. My stomach began to act up but I knew I needed the calories. As a made the sharp turn to begin the steep climb up Hamilton, Michael appeared out of nowhere behind me, clearly making up time on the way over to Hamilton! His presence actually startled me. Hozumi wasn't going to be caught, he was just too strong today. I knew that if I hammered and made it up to the top of Hamilton before Joe or Michael, my chances of reaching the finish before them were pretty good. The second time going up the mountain seemed longer and harder, but I was able to manage a "fair amount" of running considering the steepness and switchbacks. Once I hit the top, I took off and started bombing down to the last aid station at mile 27ish.
I barely stopped at this last aid station -- just enough time to fill the waterbottle. I then started hammering the last downhill section. With a cramp here (groin area) and a cramp there (right-side of abdomen), I was able to stroll into the finish at 4hrs 55mins. 3rd place overall. Hozumi kicked some serious you-know-what and finished in 4hrs 50mins - 2nd place.
Great course! Great volunteers! Great competition! Great race James! Happy to be back racing again. James Varner's Angels Staircase in mid-August looks pretty cool. I just may sign up for that remote and brutal course.
Thanks Joe for pushing me out there....even tho you probably didn't realize you were doing so. You had me running scared those last miles.