Just returned from North Carolina, and man what a crazy ride. First, I must say that despite the freezing rain, treacherous ice immersing the 1 mile of singletrack on the way up to Table Rock Summit (3950ft), and hypothermic inducing conditions, people volunteered to sit out in it at every aid station (14 stations in 54 miles). Those people are really fantastic, and do it with smiles on their faces. Mark Rostan, the race director, and a few others put on one hell of an event. I am very fortunate that my body responded well, and wasn't plagued by injury. Most of all, I had a freaking blast out there, even amongst the pain and struggle! I think I'll go out on a limb and say that next to Laurel Highlands, this was the smartest, and most well executed race I've ever run. I was able to pull off a 2nd place finish with a time of 8:28:20, which I couldn't be happier about.
The race itself was intense with the weather and all, especially at the higher elevations. I mean, last year I had my shirt off it was so hot. This year, not so nice. Not stopping was the only way to stay warm enough. In fact, myself and a couple other guys behind me were the last people they let go all the way to the Summit, because it was so icy. I think it's safe to say that it rained for 75% of my experience out there. Unfortunately, this chaos got the best of a large portion of participants, who were forced to drop. That is life. I am definitely not a fan of "toughing it through it, no matter what". This is a really dangerous way of thinking if you ask me. I mean yeah, running far is supposed to hurt, but at the same time a person should be responsible for themselves, and not put themselves in danger. After all, it's supposed to be fun, not a miserable experience. And, you're in the middle of the woods. It's not like you can just walk into a McDonalds and call someone to come get you.
I am very lucky to have had such a good day. I stuck to my plan; take it easy for at least 13 miles (lots of climbing in a short period), no pushing until around 20, and no racing until the top of Table Rock (~mile 34). From the top of Table Rock Mountain, there is a ton of downhill. From this point on, I put down the hammer. I was easily doing a few 6:30 miles on those downhills, and flats. I don't wear a watch, so I have no exact figures, but I generally know about how fast I'm going.
I believe I was in 5th place at Table Rock (no splits posted yet). By mile 40 or so, I moved up to third. The last ~12 miles is all pavement, and not TOO hilly. At the ~42 mile aid station, I was informed that 2nd place wasn't too far ahead. I was in pain, but feeling strong and doing well with gels and salt. I thought to myself, "what would Timmy Olson (no relation, but one of the countries worlds best mountain/trail/ultra runners from Oregon) do right now"? He'd put his head down and go into "beast mode", as he calls it. I thought about David Johnston, John Logar, and Joe Grant running the 350 mile Iditarod while pulling supplies behind them. I though of my family. I though about my friends that truly believe in me. I even thanked God for letting me do this cool shit, and I'm certainly not religious.
And so it goes.
That pain is in your head, not just the legs. In those last 20 or so miles, the legs are already destroyed, and it's all about clearing the mind of bad thoughts, and focusing, but also forgetting. I eventually caught up with the 2nd place around mile 43 or so. He was really congratulatory. In fact, sometime after I passed him, his wife drove up to me and offered me these sports chews. That is the caliber of these people. We all want each other to do well. I'd like to think so at least.
I'd like to congratulate Avery Collins, 21, of Forte Wayne, Indiana for smoking that course. He finished 11mins 30secs ahead of me in 8:16:52. Your a bad ass, man! When I crossed the finish line, he was there, graciously waiting to congratulate me. Respect.
The next day (Sunday), I took a ride into Asheville, a hip little mountain town, and stayed at a great hostel called The Sweet Pea. Because my legs were destroyed, I elected to walk around town and go to a few of the various breweries instead of hiking into the mountains. I even watched some live music at a wine bar, while sipping on a fine glass of Malbec. Life is good.
Today I drove home all wide eyed from my experience down south....and got a speeding ticket in Tennessee. The worst part is that I didn't even know I was in Tennessee until the officer told me that he was with Tennessee Highway Patrol, all with a thick accent, and a big wad of chew in his lip. Yeah, I didn't argue.
Great people. Great Mountains. Great Weekend.