Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sylamore 50K - Out Too Fast!

This was my fifth time to make it to the Sylamore Trail 50K.  I love this race.  It is simple and beautiful.  Starting from Allison, Arkansas near Mountain View.  The views are stunning as the race runs along the Sylamore River and up and over the bluffs over looking the river. 

Here's an example of the views.

I remember with great fondness the first time I ran this race.  I think it was around 2003.  I did not have that much ultra experience under my belt but my friend Darin Hoover said it was a great race that I just had to do.  Plus, Sylamore was a big race with nearly 200 runners for the 50K.  (That's big in the ultra world.)

Because I was a relative rookie I went out slow and then picked it up around mile 6 after the first aid station.  Sometime near the half way point I found myself in the lead!  I was so excited.  I just ran as hard as I could and hoped I could stay strong to the end and I did!  Man, I was on top of the world.  As late as May of 1999, I was a fat ass, beer drinking, football watching couch potato.  Now here I was winning an ultra marathon.  I would go on to win Sylamore the next three times I ran it so naturally I loved this race.

One year I won, it had snowed a good five inches on top of sleet.  I'll never forget that run!

Race start - year of the snow.

Temp was around 15 at the start!

Two years ago, I ran my best race here.  I went out very conservative and hit the turn around in 2:05 and then came back in 2:02.  I was flying.  There was also a $2000 cash prize to anyone who could beat the 3:40 course record.  I really did not think I could come close to that record but thought on a good day, maybe I could go under 3:50 or at least sub 4:00.

Last year a runner named David Riddle gave the record a run by clocking a 3:48.  When I got to the race check in late Friday night, my good friend Greg Eason (race director) told me that David was back and that he would point him out to me.  I told Greg that I kind of was afraid that Riddle would take me out to fast but I was also thinking that he may lead me to a PR.

So Saturday morning comes at last.  The race starts at 7 am and I just stay right by David's side.  The pace is pretty reasonable and I felt it was quite manageable.  I even felt at times like pushing it a little more as we went down the hill and across the river.  After crossing the river, I felt like David had definitely picked up the pace but I was not going beyond my comfort zone yet though like a car's RPM's, I was beginning to approach the red line, especially as David flew up the hills.

But as usual, on the downhills, I would catch up and felt like I could do this.  Then about four to five miles in to the race, David opens a little gap.  I thought I should just keep him in sight and still felt comfortable but within the next mile, I began to feel like I was red lining it a bit.  I stayed within site of David to the first aid station and then he was gone.  Ben Creehan from Missouri passed me up the first big hill after the aid station.  I was walking.  I had definitely red lined now.  My engine had shut down and said it was enough.  I gathered myself again and slowed down the pace.  I hung close to Ben until the turnaround but by then, I was really suffering.

The day was unusually warm and humid for February and I like cold and dry as do most runners.  But that did not effect David.  He blew past me coming back and made it the half way in 1:48!  I thought the heat and humidity would eventually do him in as it was doing me and he might just miss the record.

I'd rather run when it is 15 than 60 degrees!

The 15 miles back were pure misery.  I ran more comfortably and with greater ease over Hope Pass at Leadville 100 than I was running here.  My legs were just screaming at me to stop.  I thought many times of walking or just sitting down and taking a break but doing that obviously will not make it end sooner and usually will just result in prolonging the agony.

So I slowed to a slow everyday training pace and just held on.  Amazingly only one other runner passed me and I finished fourth.  I had gone out in 2:01 (not that fast considering my level of effort and the fact that two years ago, I did the second half in 2:02).  I came back this year in 2:22!  Oh how I suffered out there today.

Beautiful trail.  Best 50K around!

But, I was as proud of this finish as any of them because I had to really work for it.  For non-ultra runners reading this, you are right to think, "Why the hell would you put yourself through that?"  Most days are not like that.  Some days are just magical and I fly up and over the hills, through the trees and along the trail.  That's not to say that it is not hard.  I am definitely pushing the limits of my ability but it feels fun and if I am relaxed I feel like I can fly.  That is what happened in January at Athens-Big Fork.  That did not happen here. 

Finish line in sight - I felt like Lewis and
Clark seeing the Pacific - "Oh the joy!"

I was also in much great pain than normal after finishing this race.  Most races I will finish, walk around a little stiff for awhile and then get my lawn chair out and have some beer.  This race, I laid in the back of my truck in the fetal position for fifteen minutes.  It was only then that I was able to sit in my lawn chair and have some beer.  The day I cannot do that, is the day I quite running.

I still think I have a better Sylamore inside of me if are the stars are aligned.  We will find out next year.

As for David, he set the course record by nine minutes!  3:31.  He won $2000.  I am still trying to figure out where he cut the course on an out and back!  Absolutely amazing.  That is like running a 2:50 marathon on a trail over mountains!  And then running 5 more miles!

At least I do not have to think about that record anymore.

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