Rockledge Rumble 50K November 10, 2007
A day for redemption.
DNF, Did Not Finish, a year ago on November 11, I had to pull out of the 2006 Rockledge Rumble 50K, my stomach had waged a war and won, I gave everything I had for 20 kilometers and then had to call it quits, I walked in the finish and the race director was nice enough to give me a 30K finish time, but to me I had failed, this was the first time that I had to DNF a race.
Where the stomach issue came from I did not know, one month later in Las Vegas in what was supposed to be my Boston qualifying marathon I found myself vomiting the night before, sleepless and simply in no shape to race. The Las Vegas Marathon went horrifically as well, I manage to finish but was hours off my estimated race time. You can train your legs and your mind all year, but bad nerves and anxiety can still break a tuned body into pieces with pain.
This year the Rockledge Rumble fell on my birthday, this race has a very special place in my heart as I use to train every weekend on the course when I lived closer to the site. I have moved away since then but still have plenty of memories there, some good and some bad. I wanted redemption at this race, and I wanted to win. My good friends Ryan and Lindsay were running the race as well. This race was Ryan’s first ultra marathon back in 2005, and this race would now be Lindsay’s first ultra this year.
It was unusually hot and humid this November day. Last years temperatures had runners in tights, long sleeves and gloves, today most everyone was in shorts with a racing singlet on top if that. I surveyed the competition in the pre race meeting looking for trouble, there was one runner in particular that I was skeptical about, tall lanky and super skinny, he was built like a marathoner, I assumed this guy was going to smoke everyone based on his looks alone. It’s hard to gauge an athlete’s ability though based purely on look especially when it comes to this type of racing. In my opinion with Ultra racing, the older they are the faster, more experienced and more intelligible the racers become. Its unusual to encounter a twenty year old that blows everyone’s doors off, they simply don’t have the background that years and years of running hundreds on top of thousands of miles develops.
After saying our Ultra Pledge which is a tradition at the Rockledge Rumble we said our prayers and the 50K runners headed to the start line, the show was about to begin. I checked my shoe laces, checked my watch, wished Ryan and Lindsay a good race and turned on the jams and then hit it. The race had begun. I took lead immediately and was already dealing with the possibility that I may be going out too hard. We had started on asphalt and within a half mile we were in the trees dancing on the rocks. Trying to settle into my groove I had no threats from behind, I wanted to create a large gap from the start.
The trees were flowing past me one after the other, and the elevation climbs and descends reminded me of how challenging this course was. A runner was now running towards me. This runner had taken a wrong turn and had somehow managed to get in front of me and was now facing me, he had me very confused, we asked each other which way was the correct way and were both uncertain at this point. We started running backwards as we thought I had run the wrong direction. As I turned around and started running backwards we were met by other runners coming from my original direction, so he in fact was off course not me. Trying not to get upset I had lost the entire gap and was now running with 4 guys. The misguided runner took off in front of me and I followed closely. We passed up the other runners and proceeded to create a gap again from everyone else.
So there we were running away from the pack, we both had Ipods on blasting and did not utter a single word to each other over the next nine miles. Tactically I wanted to weigh this runner down, he was a strong runner. I evaluated his stride, his foot placement upon the rocks and generally every aspect of how he was moving, he was a fast climber and cascaded over the rocks like a slippery stream. He was not stopping at any of the aid stations he had some Gu in a plastic vile in his left hand and a water bottle full of some sport drink mix in his right hand. I stopped at every aid station for fluids and food as I was carrying absolutely nothing on me. By the time we hit the third aid station I realized I needed to sprint ahead and make up some of the time that way. For the last two aid stations I had to compensate for 45 seconds or more of down time for each stop, which only meant I would have to haul ass to catch him every single time. I felt if I gave him an inch then he would take a mile.
I remembered something very important that Bill Driegert told me about mountain bike racing he said “don’t go out first, let someone else lead, follow their line, let them make the mistakes, don’t be the bunny”. The same principles applied to trail running, so that’s what I did, I wanted the front runner to feel the pressure of being number one, set the line for me and if their was something a stray from the trail the mistake would befall him rather than I.
We were approaching the first turn around point, I stopped at the aid station and the lead runner again did not stop he just kept running, I took in some coke and some water and some Hammer Endurolyte pills. I was very happy with how things were going, the pace was fast, the gap that I wanted to create from the group was there and the lead guy was holding up well, so far everything was going smoothly. Back into the trees about a mile away from the aid station we found the third and fourth place runners. Everyone was looking strong but the third place guy had me worried. Built like a tank, he was moving like a freight train off the tracks, older more experienced and looking very determined his name was Allen Boyce, I had never seen him before and knew nothing of him.
As the race lead on I noticed that the lead runner in front of me had shortened his stride, his foot work started to slip on the rocks and his pace had slowed down. We were now eleven miles deep with only twenty more miles of rolling climbs and rocks to the finish line. It was a moment of weakness for him, a moment of fatigue and I knew it was time for the pass. I had ridden on his coat tails for the first third of the race and now it was my time to lead.
I took off quickly it was perfect, a flat section with fresh fallen leaves and plenty of coverage from the sun, the tunes on my Ipod kicked in and the Beastie Boys along with System of a Down got the juices flowing for some of my fastest miles of the day. Feeling no pain and seeing more and more runners coming my way got me pumped, I was in the lead now, the gap was growing and all I had to do now was keep this up for a few more hours. The sun blasted its rays upon me at mile fifteen, running up an old deserted road I could feel the heat was increasing and quickly. I prayed for more heat, the hotter it got the more it would slow down my competitors. I realized at this point though a water bottle was going to be necessary for proper hydration, I stopped at all the aid stations on the way back to the 30K mark which is where the turn around would take place.
I was excited to hit the turn around point, I grabbed some cookies and my Gatorade Endurance bottle which was 2/3 full. Heading back down towards the lake I would now be able to gauge what my position was, right before I reentered into the trees there he was, the freight train himself Allen Boyce( he was now in second place), chills shot up my spine as I looked into his eyes as we passed. He wasn’t like any other competitor I have ever raced against, he just had a look; to say he was determined is simply insufficient in describing him.
I later found out that Allen is fifty seven years old; he has run several hundred mile races and holds 50K times and marathon times that I have even yet to break, his age meant nothing other than experience. He is a master’s badass and I commend him and give him mucho respecto, I hope that when I am his age I can have such speed.
Allen Boyce, The Freight Train.
Allen looked too strong for me to start feeling that winning this race was a guarantee. My legs started to give out around mile 24, the hills were catching up to me and I started to slow down. I wanted to start walking but simply could not, normally in a 50K I get some walking in. The temperature was now increasing more, I started pouring water on top of my head every ten minutes, I had reached the second turn around and could now make one last final evaluation to see how far Allen was from catching me, to my surprise I had not lost any ground, I kept repeating to myself that as tired as I was, Allen had to feel fatigue as well. I had not lost and I had not gained any time, with that off my mind I could now settle in for that last 5 miles to the finish line.
My insoles were slipping inside of my shoes and I could feel the pressure of the insole rolling up under the arches of my feet. The water that I was pouring on top of my head was flowing all the way down my head to the soles of my shoes. This did create some discomfort but stopping to fix it was simply out of the question. Luckily my stomach was cooperating so far for the race and everything looked like it was falling into place. I finally had some time to let down my guard and reflect on the day, reflect on turning 27 and most importantly had time to reflect on Christina and Michael, Michael was on a plane to China at that very moment and Christina was in France sending me good vibes from a far. When I need a boost in any race I always think of those two. I had removed my headphones and turned the music off now. I wanted to hear myself think and breathe. The unfamiliar sound of the rustlings of leaves as I ran on top of them was a pleasant symphony of sounds. I cheered on other competitors as I ran towards the final destination, they offered encouraging words as well which gave me more strength to hold the pace up to the finish. I was now three miles away from winning this race; the salutations from other racers had turned from “good job, keep it going” to “congratulations”.
I could now here the sounds of the water as I exited out from the trees, within minutes I would be climbing the massive steps to the finish line and winning the race. A race that had crippled me last year was now the best birthday present I could ask for. Running along side the water I felt like a champion, I had fought for every mile today and it had paid off in the end. I made my way up the huge steps to the finish line and threw my arms up. I had done it finally; I won the race and set a new course record time of 4:16:30. What a feeling I was pretty exhausted but relieved more than anything, it was finally over. I went into this competition looking for redemption from a race that left me emotionally distraught from having to pull out and call it quits, this year I came back with everything that I had and managed to pull off a victory. I spoke with Allen Boyce after he finished a mere eight minutes after I crossed the line; he was a very nice soft spoken man who flew in from Oregon for the race. I shook his hands and told him he was the most intimidating ultra runner I have ever had the experience of racing with.
Ryan and Lindsay finished strong and were both in great condition, my hat goes off to Lindsay for finishing her first Ultra, she is now truly an ultra badass. Good job girl!
31 miles of rocks, dust and heaven
On an off note here I would like to encourage everyone who has not tried trail running or an NTTR sponsored race to check it out. The NTTR group is the most approachable and friendliest group of runners you will ever encounter. Please check their site for more information if you would like to become a member of their club.www.nttr.org
Thanks as always for listening,
2007 Rockledge Rumble 50K Champion