The day didn't start out very promising. We only made the 6:20am cut-off for picking up my racing number because my sweet wife insisted that we get a wake-up call in case my watch alarm didn't work - or didn't wake us up (it didn't). Then after some dithering on my part as to what to do with my bag with my shirt - and waiting too long for a bathroom - I found myself 50 meters back from the start line when the gun sounded.
Luckily, a 50 miler is a different kind of beast than the races I normally run. First - I didn't have to do too much weaving to get the pace I wanted. Second - I could see the leaders not too far in front of me the entire time we climbed up the big hill to reach the Appalachian trail. As we first entered the AT - I found myself around 20th place. The course stays on the AT for only a few miles - it then deviates onto a hilly road that appears to be used by hunters (at least when I did a run there several weeks ago). This was good news for me. I was able to pass a few more people by the time we got back to the trail - and I could actually see the second place guy enter the woods for the second time (around 5.5 miles) - I was in about 12th place at this point.
While I was out on the AT today - I came up with a new term for my ankles - "wankles". They are weak. I've never been a good trail runner because I turn my ankles pretty easily. My senior year in college I even had to tape my ankles before every indoor race because my ankles couldn't take even the relatively sharp turns of a 200 meter indoor track. Because of this - I am very timid on rocky trails - maybe I'm weird, but there's something about the feeling of my ankle being bent at a 90 degree angle that isn't very appealing.
So, to make a long story short - I lost a LOT of time on the AT. People were BLOWING past me. I knew this was going to happen - so, I was somewhat prepared psychologically. But, when the dude with tights that looked like Bozo the clowns hairdo passed me I started to get worried. Then the first woman passed me. I say first, because by the time I got to the 15 mile mark when we mercifully joined the even and flat C&O canal path there were four women in front of me. I ran somewhere around 2 hours and 20 minutes for 15.5 miles, which is the time that I would run 20 miles on a easy long run. It was rocky. Picture a field of boulders bordered by trees that produce slippery leaves. This hellish scenario sometime when on for miles.
So, by the time I got to the C&O I was frustrated and a little mad. I was somewhere between 30-40th place - running even slower than I had anticipated. The only thing to do to feel better is start passing people. So, for the next 10 miles I put the hammer down - I had a few splits (if the canal mile markers are to be trusted) that were under 6 minute pace. As I reached handmade sign that said "If you were running a marathon you'd be done by now" I realized that there was no way I could keep this up - and I had passed enough people that I was back into the top 20. So, my pace slowed but I was still under 7 minute pace for most miles.
Even though I slowed a little I kept on passing people who had gone out too fast. Psychologically this was very important. I didn't dare start counting down the miles until I was at least past mile 30. At mile 30 I realized that I could break 6:20 - which was fine in my book because it meant I would cover the last 34.5 miles in 4 hours. Every 5 miles I would check my time - and I kept on pace. That is until the course left the canal path for the hilly roads just northwest of the Antietam battlefield. My sub seven minute pace went to over eight. To try and put some energy into my legs I started downing energy gels every 15 minutes instead of every half hour. The road was lonely. I passed only two people in the last 8.5 miles.
But, as I got to 6 miles to go I started to feel better. And although when I looked at a video my wife took, I seem to be only shuffling along - I felt "dynamic". The last five miles were actually somewhat fun. With four miles to go I saw Melissa, Arjun, Brennan, and Kendra (my wife, who did a great job supporting me by the way). They gave me that last burst of energy I needed. I was able to pass one more guy in with 2 miles to go to get 8th place. The field was pretty incredible (below is a picture of me with Scott Jurek, the 7-time champion of the Western States 100 miler) - and I felt pretty good to be in the top ten with some well known runners.