A group of three runners led the charge with a 4th off the pace by about 5 seconds. I found myself in the lead group with John and Scott. The pace was pretty comfortable and we quickly reached one mile in 5:41.
'Okay,' I thought... 'maybe a little quick but this is the race that is happening.'
Mile two brought some of the first foothills on the course, just little ramps that twisted up gently away from the Watauga River Valley. We reached mile 2 still as a group running a 5:44. I was beginning to realize that this was a little quick for me. Still holding out hope that the other two were feeling the same slight discomfort I held steady in contact with the lead group. This early effort was just beyond aerobic and perhaps things would settle before the big climb at mile 3.5.
After a little bit more of a serious climb to mile 3 (5:44 again) the course flattened and then began its first long gradual ascent. This is a good time to click over to view the elevation profile.
By the time we reached 3.5 I was off the back and the cable had snapped. I was in limbo with a gap on number 4, but unless those two up front blew apart on the upcoming climb this was to be a race for bronze. I was feeling pretty good, just lacking the leg speed of Scott and John. I counted my strides at about 1:1 3/4 to theirs. (What a revelation... those 50k miles shouldn't slow turnover down that much??? right???)
Mile 4- 6:20... still all alone and no one in sight, but with the twisty roads this is deceiving in all directions. Climbing the first serious incline the road was blocked... blocked. A mobile home was being delivered... backed in... and the entire width of the road completely consumed. The lead cycle had let the top group through and was trying to wedge his way by when I caught him. I was at a stand still... 'c'mon c'mon.' I was urging the frozen universe on...
In what seemed to be much longer than the 5 seconds it took, I had passed the obstacle and was back into the climb. It got steep and then it got steeper and I was staring the beast head on. Short choppy strides, striving for quickness and efficiency. I peaked down behind me over my left shoulder and to my surprise spotted another running, gaining quickly- in fact within 10 seconds. Motivation set in and I was pumping hard now... Pushing up to the stop sign to make the right turn. Soaking in the 3 steps of solace before the hill resumed at an even more impressive grade.
'Just a little further... This will all be over soon, just go for it, get to the top and then it is all down hill, just a little more pain! Go after this challenge...'
So it went. I resolved to go head on into this ridge top. In no time at all (after one more grade increase) I had peaked out, cheered on by the aid crew at the top and zooming down to the other side. Mile 5- 7:00.
I opened the gait, flew down through the winding turns and could now see the first two runners... I could almost touch them but knew they were out there a little too far. I had to take care of my race and go for this final two miles.
Don't let up, run a great mile... it is downhill, turnover, don't over stride. He will not catch you.
Mile 6- 5:08... hadn't seen that in awhile and when I last had it was not aided by a suicidal descent with flailing appendages. But in this case 5:08 was 5:08, if the pursuing runner broke 5-flat then he would have earned my spot. I could still hear his feet meeting the pavement as we crossed the low water bridge coming into the little climb back up to the highway.
Less than a mile... pour it out, under control. Get on the edge and get there first. DO NOT let him get a whiff.
There was nothing to save, nothing to wait for. You must take away the hope of the pursuer. For all he knows you are running on a cloud, not cringing at the stab of hydrogen ion build up in every cell from your nose to your toes. All he can see is that the gap is widening.
I see Lynnea at the edge of the finish. At the edge of another world which is vague, a shadow world on the borderlands of this tunnel I am moving through. She smiles and then the world comes into focus. I can see that she is proud and from that I am glad that she is there to share a triumph with me. She does not know what has unfolded in this race, but she knows that each race is a piece of a large mosaic. She can see through my effort that this day is a success.
Under my goal for finishing time today and of course thoroughly enjoyable. I fell short of the overall victory, taking 3rd and 2nd in the 30-39 age group (a double dip was handed out to all overall runners). I met some cool guys (Scott first overall, John second place) with similar training goals and stories.
Then Lynnea and I filled the Subaru with backpacks and we headed out to Mt Rodgers, VA and the Grayson Highlands area to hike and pet wild ponies and their baby ponies as we made our way up and up over ancient lava outcroppings and grassy highlands with vistas extending from Virginia to North Carolina and into Tennessee. We ate wild berries and shared a wonderful afternoon/ evening as the nearly full moon ascended.