Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A surprising conclusion to UA Mountain Series 50k at Killington

I've been doing ultra and trail running for many years now, so it isn't often that I have a race result that surprises me.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at the conclusion of the UA Mountain Series 50k at Killington - and gosh darnit, it's nice to surprise myself from time to time!

Brian and I decided last minute to jump into the UA 50k at Killington only a few days before the race.  First off, we weren't completely sure how the recovery would go after the Ragged Stage Race.  However, an equally large factor was the hesitation to jump into a large corporate race that monopolizes on the amazing terrain that we have in New England.  As a small time RD (who does all my RDing in the evenings and weekends, cause I've got a 'real job' that pays the bills), I am not always the biggest fans of these corporate ventures.  However, Brian was tempted by the prize money structure for the 50k race ($1,500, $750, $250 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd)...and I had to admit that I was tempted by that also. 

The race looked to be right up my alley, boasting of 10,000 feet of climbing over the 31 miles.  Given that the previous weekend's 50k (ok, it was closer to 35 miles) had half that elevation and took me over 7 hours, I was anxious that I wouldn't make the 8-hour cut-off for the race.  Oh well, at least I'll start and see how far I make it before I get pulled from the race.  Will any female actually be able to finish this?!?

I was pleased to see many familiar faces in the crowd, including Sarah Keyes and Kirstin Scott.  Knowing both their fitness levels, I considered that I likely didn't have a chance in hell of finishing in the prize money!  But, it would be great to have some fun on the Killington trails no matter what.

The race started off by immediately climbing up Killington for about 2 miles.  Even with my aggressive pace to run what I could (heck, the race had just started!), those were both about 15 minute miles and I was sitting in about 5th place female.  It was hands-on-knees hiking.  This is going to be a long day...

However, a few miles later and we had a few steep and slick downhill stretches (where trying to stay upright was the major goal), a fun single track trail section and some more climbing, and I worked my way into 2nd place female with 3rd place directly behind me.  Sarah was way ahead, having shot off the front at the gun.  Following the first aid station, I enjoyed a gradual uphill and downhill as we ran the connector to the base of Pico Mountain. 

After an aid station at the Pico base area (~mile 8), we retraced our steps on the Pico/Killington connector, and I was able to see that Brian was in about 5th place but looking strong.  I also saw that Sarah was way out ahead of me, and that 3rd, 4th, and 5th were all within a minute behind me.  Luckily, I joined forces with a local runner to cruise the uphill back over to Killington as we swapped stories about cross country ski racing.  I was doing what I could to put some time between me and the next females - I'd love to finish in the money for the day!

We returned to Killington (~mile 12) and I was surprised that I was moving much faster than I initially thought I was - I might actually reach the finish line under the cut-off today!  The trail shot steeply down to the base of Killington, and during a short out-and-back I could see that Sarah had built herself a solid lead, but at least I had similarly built a lead on the next females back.  2nd place would be a great result for me, Sarah's unbeatable!

The course wound through some mountain bike trails at the base of Killington, and suddenly I heard a runner behind me.  No!!! I thought I was running a solid pace, so how was someone catching me here?!?  Luckily, it turned out to be the lead half marathon runner, since we were apparently sharing a few miles with that race.  Try to match his tempo - let him pull you along.  He slowly pulled away, as did the 2nd half marathoner.  Darn, how slow am I really going?  I was glad when we turned off the half marathon course another mile later, so I could settle into my own rhythm. 

At about mile 18 we reached the low point of the course.  I kept seeing runners ahead of me on little 2-way sections, but couldn't tell what place they were in or how far ahead of me they were.  However, following the low point aid station, I settled into my power walk - we would be climbing for most of the next 7 miles to reach the high point on the course at about mile 25. 

After a few miles of power hiking, we once again merged with the half marathon runners - only this time we were surrounded by the mid-pack of the race.  I was able to use these runners to focus on, and one by one I would power past them.  At some point, I looked up and swore that I saw the light blue and white singlet of Sarah ahead of me, but with all the half runners I was sure it was just someone else with a similar shirt.  I mean, come on, it's freakin' Sarah Keyes...there's no way I'm reeling her in!

However, I kept my eyes peeled for a flash of the blue singlet and tried to slowly catch up to this mystery runner, using the thought that it was Sarah to maintain focus and intensity through these middle miles.  As the trail had a quick half mile downhill, the blue shirt runner got out of sight - see, you were imagining things...did you honestly think you would catch Sarah? 

I reached the mile 21 aid station, and was surprised to see Sarah just leaving the aid station - my eyes were correct and I was running her down.  What?!?  I caught her just out of the aid station, and walked a for a minute with her to check in.  Of course, she said she was doing well and having fun...but given that I had caught her, I knew she was off her game.  I ran ahead, telling her that I would likely see her on the next downhill.  Now's the time to work - gotta make this pass stick.

The next 3 miles were steady uphill and there were plenty of half marathoners to catch.  You just made a $750 pass - run like you deserve $1500!  I was doing my best to aggressively run the moderate ups, and only power hike the steep ups.  I was flying by half marathon runners - saying hello and encouraging them along the way.

About a mile into this climb, one of the half marathoners picked up his pace to run with me.  We started chatting, and he was running his first ever trail race.  His name was Jose and he was from Canada.  His enthusiasm was infectious, as he encouraged me to stay strong...he said he decided to run with me cause I looked like I was in complete beast mode.  After a mile, I thanked him for keeping me company on the uphill, and confided in him that I had just passed the lead female for the win, and I was kinda crapping my pants about being in front of her.  From then on, he was fully on my side - he was going to cheer his heart out and be as enthusiastic as was needed to get me to the finish line in first place.

At mile 24, the half marathoners turned towards the finish and the 50k runners continued up the mountain.  I said goodbye to Jose, and made him promise to wait at the finish so could give him a hug (and toast a beer to him).  Wow, Jose was key to get me out of my head and help push me on that climb! 

I kept imagining that Jose was with me as I pushed the last mile to the high point of the course.  I snuck a peak behind me at one point and could see several runners just behind me - and didn't dare look long enough to identify if Sarah was with them.  Darn, I'm only a minute up on this pack, and they can work together to track me down.  I'm officially running scared now!

Cresting the high point of the race, I let my legs go on the downhill to let gravity do as much work as possible.  The course turned up again, and I pushed to remain running through this section.  Finally, I cruised into the aid station at about mile 27, where the half marathoners had previously turned to the finish...I was so happy.  It must be all downhill to the finish - you got this!

I did my best to push the downhill, opening up my stride and allowing the mountain to pull me towards the finish.  The trail turned up for a relatively short but steep power hike section, and I powered up with all my might.  This has got to be the last climb - push it!  I was grateful as the trail turned down, and cruised by half marathoners as I confidently ran the slick grassy section. 

Finally, I could hear the finish line music and see the finish line just ahead.  I've done it!  Just around the corner...and, wait, why does the 50k go up this freakin' hill?!?  Ugghh!  I power hiked up and up, waiting for this last climb to be over.  After a half mile of climbing, I saw a stake in the ground that we were supposed to run around and then return down the climb.  Am I at an Andy Weinberg race?!?  COME ON...but at least it's all downhill to the finish at this point.

Down the hill, through a short single track section in the woods with the finish line music thumping through the trees, and I was nearly home.  At the next intersection, I saw Jose waiting for me - he had finished already but came out to run me in the last section.  I would cry right now, cause the finish line is just to my left but the 50k course is taking me to my left and up another hill...but I have Jose's enthusiasm to carry me through the finish.  Man, he's a life saver!

After a quick loop with Jose, we were finally headed to the finish line...for real this time.  I can't believe I did it!  Brian's not going to believe I pulled this one off...

All in all, I ran a strong race and felt solid throughout the day.  I was humbled by the spirit of running that Jose showed, especially when he came out after he finished to help me through my last mile - he was a complete stranger to me, yet he became my alley out there.  And the finish podium was so was just one of those days that surprises you, and where you feel like all your hard work and dedication pays off!  It's nice to surprise yourself from time to time.

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