Most long races at some point disgust you but I savor a special kinda hatred for this barb ridden, rattlesnake snake infested, inhospitably gorgeous backcountry course.
This guy Bryan, a local favorite(he's run sub20 at the born to run 100mile), takes off from the start looking determined and in good shape. I hang back and join a solid chase pack as the sun hits the boulder strewn hills above. I push up this steep single track climb to the first aid station and see Bryan there. More importantly, he sees me. If I can just scare him a little, and meanwhile stay within myself, he'll dig a hole he can't climb out of. I let him take off. Back down and up onto the other side of the canyon the trail is overgrown and unmaintained. Suddenly I spot Bryan a little ways up. I didn't expect to see him this soon and definitely didn't want to take the lead this early but when i pull up beside him and say hi he doesnt respond. Maybe he's the competitive new-school ultra athlete that doesn't understand the camaraderie typical of earlier generations. Or maybe his music is blaring so loud in his headphones that he can't hear me. I hang with him as we wind back down to the canyon floor. When we hit the tarmac he slows. At the aid station he sits down and begins asking his crew for a coke. I cant pass up an opportunity like this so I rush through. The course director passes me in his truck going up a baking dirt road. "You're looking a lot better than Bryan. Nows the time to make a gap." I try not to over-heat on the way out out to the big climb of the race. That's kind of a joke because baking in the direct sun under the inland coastal magnification makes the 95+ degree hot dry wind blowing in your face hard to compete with. The heat reflects off the ground baking from all angles. I'm feeling decent though so I figure that despite all the advice to be cautious and responsible, sometimes in life you should take a chance. The idea is to push yourself and see what happens. If you blow up then hurray, everyone loves fireworks and carnage. Just maybe if you risk it all you will be rewarded.
As we head further into remote backcountry the trail is spotty at best. It hasn't seen any foot traffic since the same race a year ago. It's overgrown for miles with the kinds of needle sharp barbs and hideously armored briers that have a penchant for working their way into and lodging themselves in every nook and cranny of your shoes and socks. Not to mention attacking your bare legs which are by now covered in poison oak. I run out of water on the way up to the turn around point at the top of the escarpment but find that I've got about a 5 minute lead on the chase pack. Bryan looks like he's in bad shape. It's that look in his eyes, he will drop at the aid station. Trying to put as much distance on them as I can I nearly stumble upon the nastiest looking rattlesnake I have ever seen. The tail of a silvery-black mature specimen as thick as my upper arm and about 4 feet in length is sticking out across the trail. I can't see his head and there isn't room to go around because to the right is a steep embankment and to the left a drop down the side of the mountain all covered in brush. The snake hasn't begun fussing so I take a couple steps back, get a running start, and leap past. The last I see of him is his neck coiling up and raising his head to strike. Further down the trail I stop on to wet my head in a pool. I'm hurting bad and out of water again. In this barren, dry, hostile environment there are accents of the most brilliantly colored blue wild flowers and vividly pink bristles. I savor these images while I work my way back to the canyon where the blacktop pavement has been preheating.
The heat is stifling. Just when I'm getting into a rhythm winding in and out of undulating track I am startled by a sudden angry hiss like an overzealous faucet has been opened near my feet. This rattler is even uglier! I see it's black head pointed at me it's neck wound 6 inches off the ground in striking position by the trail. His black split tongue methodically weaving in and out of it's mouth. I look for a rock to chase it away with but the trail has only hard packed sandy clay. I'm already running out of water but with no other option I spray the last of it at the snake and he scuttles off sounding very annoyed. Who's the big tough guy now? My mouth at this point has been increasingly parched and my throat burns. My kidneys throb in my lower back from all the sugar and lack of hydration. As I begin the final climb I plummet. I'm nauseous and faint. A hot wind blows from the furnace below and I'm having trouble walking straight. There's a breeze at the top and a view of the sun beginning to set over the vast surrounding canyons. I descend back towards the finish on beat up legs but still moving smoothly. I enjoy the views and even smile a little making a concerted decision to enjoy the end. If you're going to get snaked in the final stretches of a race, you want it to be done in style. Kevin doesn't disappoint. He comes flying past me out of nowhere and I try to give chase. Im red lining and he's DISAPPEARING down the trail. He put 5 minutes on me in 3 miles. It was an impressive finish. I was in so much pain and had absolutely no response. The only thing that kept me pushing was the fear of getting passed again!
After leading 95% of a race it's humbling and the regret is borderline cliche. I shouldn't have gone out so hard! I should have been more patient more confident! I shouldn't have wasted ten extra seconds at each aid station on the way back! It's the kind of a negative reaction you have from what is basically regarded as one of the worst things that can happen in a race. But Im really proud of my effort. I dug deeper than I ever have to try and keep a good pace through nausea, dehydration, and cramping legs. I never thought Id get close to 12 hours for this race. And even though it seems like the win was mine for the taking, this is a way better story right? If I had won there wouldn't be much to tell about or learn from. As it is theres a number of things to work on and that excites me. If I want to continue to improve I have to see my own weaknesses.
2nd place, 12:19:20
39 registered runners
8 runners didn't start
11 runners didn't finish
20 = official finisher
51% finisher rate
San Pedro National Forest
A friendly looking thistle