Monday, June 20, 2016

Eastern Divide 2016: Chasing the perfect day (and some windmills).

If you want to make an omlette, you gotta crack a few eggs.

On the drive to the starting line Saturday morning, Brett read us Zach Miller’s recent blog post “If I’m Honest” that talked a lot about giving everything you have to a race. Miller lamented the lack of blood and guts and willingness to lay it all out on the line he sees all too often in racing. Combine that with the refrain from a recent article by Laz (that was basically a requiem for the lost art of going out too fast) running through my head and we had all the makings for a special day at Eastern Divide. Oh, and Kirby calling me out in the pre-race email. Yes. That too.

Oh, and Reeve (The OG Bad Idea Club President) was here too. When you put all that together, I knew I had to burn the ship on Saturday. I knew I had to run the race harder than I’ve ever run a race before. I just HAD to see what was possible. I HAD to toe the line with the mindset that I would blow up and walk the final miles if needed. When we lined up at the Cascades trailhead, I knew I was heading off in search of the elusive “perfect” day.

So, here we go: EDU 16.

After a fun morning of hanging out at the trailhead catching up with good friends, Brett, Chris, Erik, and I lined up near the front of the pack. I kissed Ginger goodbye and said thanks for everything and got locked in.

The plan was simple. Run the first climb just shy of the limit and then fly down the forest service road and stay in contact with the head of the race (Not the top 3, we KNEW we had to let Frank, Mike, and Jason go). I knew we just had to stay in contact with the top 10 and see what happens.

The first 5 miles felt great. We ran easy up the climb and hiked a couple of steep pitches to save the legs for the first road climb and the first long decent. We passed Jordy and Sean (Thanks for making the course AND working the RAVE Station, btw) near the top of the climb in a tight pack that represented 9-15 place. Jordy shouted encouragement and Sean made me laugh. I was happy. The legs felt good, and the first climb didn’t hurt me too badly.

We rolled right by AS 1 and powered up the first road climb. Chris, Brett, Erik, Ian, and I started reeling in the faster guys like Joe Dudak and cool dude named Brad as we rolled through AS 2.

On the long, fast forest road section, our pack stayed together. It was weird to be in such a big group dropping sub 8 miles. I have to admit it was stressful. Losing contact would mean losing 10 spots in the race. I tried not to think about it, and just tried to think about running smooth, eating, and drinking. Chris, as always, helped me stay relaxed and focus. We always run faster together.

Somewhere along the way, a strong local runner gave me a some good natured ribbing. He said, “You’re kind of a big guy to be in this group.” I smiled and said, “I’m representing for the fat kids” and laughed it off telling myself he was just appreciating how fast a guy who can actually lift something heavy when needed could move. Inside, I told myself, “I’m gonna make him pay on the next climb” and I smiled.

Fast forward a bunch of low 7 minute miles and we hit the long road climb. To me, this is a one of the best parts of the course. You’re at mile 16 and you have a long, steady road climb. The kind that suits someone who runs in the mountains every day and enjoys a bit of suffering. Chris asked me, “Where’s the walking stick?” A reference to Brett’s strategy from Umstead. I just grunted, “There isn’t one here. We are solidifying a top 10 finish on this climb. We are going to put some space between us and that pack here.” Chris accepted my strategy and pushed the pace. Chris, Brad, and I pushed ahead hard on the climb. We hit AS 4 like a cyclone. I grabbed a fresh water bottle filled with gels and tailwind, chugged some Coke, said hey to Andy, dumped water over my head, and took off chasing Brad (Thanks, Andy). Chris followed quickly behind me, and we settled into the chase. Hoping to keep Brad in sight. The goal was simple. Put time into the others and try to keep Brad in sight until we got into the techy trails again.

That was not to be. Well, the second part. Brad proved too fast for us, and he outpaced us to the woods. When we got to AS 5, Chris and I were still sitting 6 and 7. Joe Dudak was chasing hard, but we didn’t know how far behind he was (which was waaaay too close for comfort, as it turns out). Kirby kicked us out of AS 5 and off we went.

I kept thinking: “I think this might be THE DAY. I think I can sustain this til the finish line.” Chris and I don’t talk much when we run. We just settle into the pain cave and shovel coal into the hopper to fuel the pain train.

We hit the burly climb from the techy trail up to the meadow, and shifted down into powerhike mode until we hit the top. Brad was nowhere in sight, but we couldn’t see Joe behind us either, so it was all good.

We rolled into AS 6 (The RAVE STATION) happy to see Chris Clarke (a local legend) along with Jordy, Josh, Jill, and the other awesome volunteers. Sean (Mao Mao) was MIA. All I wanted was to fill my handbottle and get rolling. I was worried that the clock was ticking on how long I could sustain this effort. I knew we had to move. Jill was right on time with the pitcher to fill my bottle. I grabbed a handful of something and an orange slice and took off as fast as I could yelling “Thank YOU!” over my shoulder. I’m sorry I didn’t stay longer to laugh and say thank you properly to everyone. It was a great AS (like all the Aid Stations as EDU). The volunteers are amazing and deserve a lot of thanks. Thank you again to every volunteer that so generously gave their time Saturday, so we could be knights and chase our windmills.

Chris and I ran hard through the next section of techy trail. To be honest, I had given up on chasing Brad. I knew if we hadn’t caught him yet we weren’t going to reel him in. But, I did know that anything is possible and someone else could blow up. Plus, the goal was a 4:30 finish and top 10. We had to keep our eyes on that prize. We did.

We hit the last forest service road connector section and opened it up until we went back into the woods at the 1.5 miles to go road sign. 4:30 was slipping away. But, we kept pushing. Chris and I stumbled and staggered through the boulder garden. We looked at the lake over our right shoulder and closed the final miles as hard as we could push.

As we hit the final climb to finishing road section, my legs were cramping. Quads screaming, I heard a noise behind us down the hill. There was Joe Dudak smiling up at us. “Guess, I was too loud. Was trying to sneak up on you,” he called.

“Oh, #$@$ NO!” I said to Chris. His legs replied: Let’s go, T! Chris took off and smashed the final steps into the clearing. A quarter mile to go. We hammered it. Legs cramping, I made my final effort to outrun reality and find that elusive windmill. I pushed as hard as I could and caught up to Chris. We sprinted to the finish line. 6 and 7!! 4:34. We did it! A huge course PR for both of us. Joe came in right behind us. He was smiling and just generally being an awesome nice guy. Great race, man. 

We found the elusive perfect day. We cracked some eggs. We poured blood and guts out all over the trail. I like to think Zach Miller and Laz would be proud of our race. We left nothing out there. We didn’t cheat the gift. We made use of the perfect day we had been given. And, I’m grateful for it.

I sprinted across the line and gave Ginger a sweaty, salty, smelly hug. So happy to see her. 

I gave Chris a huge hug too, and slurred a grateful thank you to him for pushing me all day.

Then, we commenced to hanging out with our amazing friends and their families.

I was proud to see that Reeve had crushed the 8 mile race and came in second. Ginger had a great day and a solid finish in the 8 mile too. She’s amazing! Brett had an 1 hour and 45 minute course PR and came in right after us.

So many people did amazing things at EDU. Locals Frank and Mike came in 1-2. Erik ran a tough race and finished his first Ultra in a long time. Dan Woods did us all proud and had a great showing at his first 50K. (So proud of you, Dan). Josh Starner stuck to his plan, and ran a smart race leaving it all out there. Royce became the only 5 time finisher and had a great day after a post- Umstead injury. Matt crushed his first 50K. Jim Trixler had another great showing as he preps for his first 100 miler in August. Adrienne represented VT Ultra and had a great day. My main man, Nelson came though smiling and inspiring like only he can. Bryan Jennings had a great first 50K (Bryan, it was great to re-connect with you and Peggy). Julia was 2nd female and 7th overall in the 8 mile. And, so many other people accomplished their goals.

We all owe Kirby and the volunteers a big debt. Thanks!!

After the race, we went back to our house and had a great cookout. 

It was so fun to have our friends and their families hanging around, eating, talking, and just being awesome. Ginger and I are so lucky to have such an amazing community. Thank you to everyone for making our day special.

Then, we ran the Sundown 5K. Jordan and Andy laid down sick times. And Chris won the combined (unofficial, but I'm sure he did. He SMOKED the 5K). 

Thanks to the folks at Runabout Sports for putting on a great race. Thanks to Stephen and Heather for letting us borrow strollers, so X and P could race with Reeve and Ginger. 

Look at Ginger pushing that stroller like a champ!!

 And here is Reeve showing us all how it's done! I was chasing him from the start. 

Thanks to Kirby for getting Reeve a late entry to the 5K. And thanks to everyone for a great day. I loved every second of it. I continue to be amazed at how lucky I am to have such an amazing wife, a great family, and the best friends in the world. Thank you all for making life grand and chasing windmills possible. And one last shout out to Jordan and Brett for putting in so many amazing miles with me this year. Without you guys, I couldn’t have put this perfect day to use. 

And Kirby, thanks for the motivation, man. You put on a great race. I

f you haven't run, Eastern Divide, be sure to sign up next year. Kirby's race is amazing!!