The weather was beautiful, the course was perfect and the result was much more than hoped for. An 80 degree day met about 50 of us for an early Saturday morning. Toeing the line I had one goal. To run patiently and allow my best performance to grow from this approach.
A group of 5 set the early pace and I found myself gliding at the tail end of this pack. One runner set out a bit further up and by mile 2 had a sizable gap of 45 seconds on me and two other runners. Soon it was myself and one other runner concentrating on efficient strides on up the 4 mile climb to open the run. By this time the leader was out of sight on the tight switchbacks. Around mile 3 I felt warmed and ready to exert a little extra energy, knowing a resting flat was upcoming followed by the last of the hills for about 9 miles. I picked up a small gear and worked the hill. Soon I saw the leader, he was coming back and I was cautiously grabbing hold of him with a mental lasso. My goal was to get on the edge of LT effort, catch the leader and run with him the rest of the way... until one of us could not maintain the required effort. We are here for enjoyment, for competition and to excel as best we can as runners today. This is the integrity of the runner. Not to measure one's worth against a backdrop of others, but to find our best through cooperating shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride.
By 3.5 and a half mile flat portion I had overtaken the leader and was wearily in the front with the motor bike. I had not wanted to be leading this early but I was not pushing, just flowing and nobody was there to go with me. I deduced that if I felt fine after that climb and nobody else did that the relative risk was low of being caught even with 12 miles remaining. I moved forward gently but assertively, greeting folks in their yards along the way as they walked their pups or washed their cars or smoked a butt... whatever they all do.
At 4 miles a one mile aggressive climb popped up. I ran it in thirds, progressively upping my effort to AT or slightly above for a short time. Then swooped down the other side with a stride transition preparing me for the 6 mile descent to the river. I wanted to make up time and also save the quads for the 5 miles of flat that round out the course. I popped a gel here and waited for the aid station to appear. When it did I was disappointed to find that the folks were not quite ready for runners and were simply enjoying the morning bird song. Not wanting to stop and wait I pushed on with hopes of two miles ahead.
An occasional peak showed that I was up about 45 seconds on the second runner. Mile 6 passed and I enter the shade and gravel. Mile 7.5 was just short of half way and the quaint scene was priceless with the green fields and abruptly rolling hills. I had a short exchange with an early morning starter whom was walking the course and set out for the aggressive downhill from 8-10.5.
Another motor bike made its way to the front and pulled ahead. In a few turns I saw the driver getting off and grabbing photography gear from his saddle bags. He quickly snapped a couple shots but apparently did not have time to get me in frame. I figured I was going pretty well at this point but really was not pushing at all, just falling down the slope and cutting all the tangents. Storing up my effort for the last 8k on the river road. Eventually the man got his photos and as the end of the downhill approached I grabbed my last gel from my pocket, oozed it down and hit the flat where I was pleased to grab Gatorade, stop a spell and drink the cup down. Then off I went adjusting to the feel of the flat, gravel road. at 12 miles I met the geese on the river's edge. I see them at the 3.5 mark going out on training runs and I use to be a little skittish of their honking. On this day though I felt as if they were my personal cheering squad. They honked with a passion as I breezed by them. I was beginning to feel some fatigue and reminding myself to not over stride. The mantra "relax. and move." (given by John Weswah) played on a loop and brought me the next 1.5 miles.
The final aid station was at 13.5 miles. I saw my beautiful better half there and she was accompanied by Lil' and Goliath who were a little confused as to why I was running by them on a strange road but still pleased to see me. I was sure happy to see them and knew that with no other runner in sight at this point that I just needed to get over the next 1/2 mile hill and then cruise it home for the final mile and a half.
I met the first part of the hill and felt the slight tension in the legs. Thinking about running tall and smoothly I pumped onward, crested the incline and then swung to the right and left as the road swooped upward again. This final stretch of climbing was the focus. I worked to the halfway point and set my eyes on the horizone 150m ahead. I pumped and pushed and glided upward, moving with my fitness until the land's incline gave in. I then zoomed down the backside and swerved the corners of the road bringing me back to the river. At the junction Lynnea waited again to cheer me on for the final 1200m. She helped to remind me of those tight shoulders and I dropped them and regained a relatively smooth torso. The finish was ahead and I dropped back into the parking lot at the elementary school happy to have completed the course in 1:42:30. Though a little off my goal time of 1:40 I was very pleased to feel so fresh at the finish despite running at a pace far quicker than what I anticipate at the Chattooga 50k upcoming.
I was able to meet some good folks and quality runners following the run and we shared some of our experiences from the morning as well as our racing plans for later in the year. This is a race I will be looking forward to running again next year!!! What a blessing it is to enjoy a lifestyle that lends itself to rewarding physical exertion and camaraderie between those whom were strangers such a short time before. This is why we run, this is what we miss when we don't run. See you down the road, whenever that may be.