Pisgah 50K Race Recap
What a perfect day for a long run in the woods! Believe it or not, I was actually a little nervous about racing a course I had done in the past, as this would be my first Ultra race that I had previously completed. This is why “expectations” can be such nasty things. I would expect to be much wiser and faster in my second attempt at this race, but all I really wanted to do was run hard and see some good friends! So because the fall classics (VT50 and Stonecat) filled up so quickly, Pisgah was an easy choice as an end of summer race. I was also excited to be there with my friend Mike, as this would be his first 50K race yet!
I was ready to roll with a new pair of Scarpa Spark “mountain minimalist” trail runners, Darn Tough crew socks (I’ve worn in every Ultra I’ve ever raced), EMS running shorts, my North Face tech shirt, and my trusty Ultimate Direction hand-held water bottle, and Julbo Ultra shades. No GPS as I forget to get it back from Chad! As per the usual, it was a little hectic getting all ready and set to take off- pinning the number on, grabbing energy gels (do I need two? Three? Maybe four, no definitely three…), thinking about the course, the competition, am I really ready, on and on, etc., etc… and then jogging over to the start, saying a few quick hello’s to friends and really embracing the newness and the blessing of being able to race, over the mountains and through the woods, under my own power- and just like that we were off…
Starts are so interesting. I have noticed the more races I have done over the years, the more my mind has drifted off as the gun goes off, maybe that’s what the experts call “flow”. Regardless, I started and, per the norm, ran out of the gate like Usain Bolt rather than say, Ryan Hall. Pisgah is interesting because the 50K and the 23K racers all start together and you don’t really know who’s who until the first major turn 2 miles in. So I just hung near the front, settled in, and made sure not to breathe too hard over the first few hills. Sure enough, I quickly realized the company I was in. There were three strong runners running next to me, and I recognized two of them, including incredible runner Brian Rusieki, who nearly broke the record at this year’s VT 100. As we neared the first turn off, I started to turn it down a notch and settled into a nice rhythm- letting the “really super fast” guys run away, and Hoping that I had built a bit of an early lead on the “still really fast” guys.
So from about mile 3, all the way to mile 25, this is how things went. Except for some nice aid station volunteers, I ran alone. As per the norm, the early aid stations flew by, and the later aid stations were more confusing and yet inviting at the same time- remember, lingering is the enemy! As nice as the aid station crews are, you can’t stay too long! Those 22 miles were beautiful and really did fly by… without sparing the boring details, the highlights were Brian’s wife (Amy Lane-Rusieki) offering some wonderful encouragement at aid stations and one of three songs playing on repeat in my head. (Also, FYI, Amy kicked my butt in this same race last year, she’s awesome!) The three songs are listed below:
1. “I will wait for you”- Mumford and Sons
2. “Song for you”- Jenny and Tyler
3. “Call me; maybe”- Carly Rae Jepson
Yeah, I was shocked too! But I blame Andy Chew for the last one, and, as crazy as it sounds, that song actually helped me maintain a good rhythm climbing the hills and keeping steady on the long flat sections of forest road. So then, upon hitting the Kilburn Loop aid station (mile 25.5) a second time, I finally started to see somebody behind me. He was in 7th place and I was 6th, at least for that moment in time. One thing I need to improve is how quickly (and decisively) I enter and exit aid stations, and after grabbing a bit of Gatorade and some more water, I headed off up the hill. Time to race! And I got excited to run with somebody for the first time in hours. We only had about 5 miles left, this was gonna be fun! Well, I wish it were that good! With a mouth full of fig newton, I calmly uttered, “nice job” and got my game face on as said runner flew right on by. After a few sips of water I began my chase- well, the only problem was, this guy was motoring! As we headed into the woods for the last few trail miles I saw him move farther and farther away. I gave a few hard pushes and then found myself walking up a long climb- after nearly 27 miles of racing, I had finally run out of sugar and needed to wait for the gel I had just consumed to kick in.
I charged down the next hill and still had some Hope of catching the mystery man in front of me, but at that point my body was just interested in finishing, not so much in going any faster. So I cruised through the last few miles, continuously thinking every turn was the last one before the last water stop and the 2 remaining miles of road to the finish, but the last few miles seemed to drag on and on. At this point, I was starting to become concerned I was becoming the prey rather than the hunter. I finally hit the last (Un-manned) water stop, chugged some Gatorade and motored down the hill onto the road.
The road was longer than I remembered too! Yet I was almost home, put my head down, and dug deep. I finally came to where the dirt turned to pavement and passed the Hammett house (always a bunch of people cheering on the front lawn) and tried to look strong and smooth heading up the last little rise. Upon cresting the climb, I saw a runner ahead and gave chase with all I had left. As I caught up I said, “C’mon, were almost there”- his reply was, “oh no, I’m already finished” and I finally realized I wasn’t going to catch the mystery speedster, nonetheless, I looked at my watch as I rounded the corner and cruised into the finish shoot, very thankful to have held onto a top ten and just crushing last years’ time!
It took a few minutes to gather myself, check my blood sugar, text my parents, and grab some grub- but after a few minutes, I wandered back to the start and saw the next finished, my new friend and running partner last race, Joe Holland. Joe and I shared some good stories and laughed at the days exploits- Joe was apparently inspired by me (as we kept getting lost together at the Moosalamoo 36 mile) as he had bought the same pair of shoes I had. Although Joe was looking for me on course all day, he was really pleased with his performance nonetheless as he crushed his goal of coming in under 4:30. Shortly after that Mike T. came in for his first Ultra finish! He was exhausted, but looked pretty solid and really held together well for a strong finish- it’s always nice to run with (or into) Mike at the races!
So 7th overall, a wopping 41min faster than last year and first in my age group (among an excellent group of New England runners). Couldn’t have asked for anything more! A huge thank you to Mark at Scarpa for the new pair of Scarpa Spark trail runners; and of course my friends at EMS and running buddies Chad Denning, Andy Chew and Mike T. for keeping my spirits up through a bit of a roller-coaster summer; Thanks to my parents and little sister, who constantly encourage and put up with a lot during my exploits in overcoming adversity to do these adventures; and finally thanks to you, for reading this. I Hope you have gotten a little glimpse into the whimsical and awesome adventure that is long distance trail running!