Man Against Horse
I changed my morning plans several times, finally planning on getting there 30 minutes before the start, but I didn’t really give myself enough time to get ready and ended up pulling into the ranch with less than 15 minutes until the start. I didn’t know what to expect as far as parking, so I was pretty worried. There was almost no organization to the parking so, somehow, I ended up about 20 feet from the starting line! I had somebody take a picture of me under the finish banner and headed to the starting area, as I approached, I heard a familiar, “Andrew!” There was a pack of PATRs ready to race, I had no idea Noel would be there, I was expecting Rene. I met Michael and some others for the first time (sorry, not good with names). And after the obligatory selfies, we were off.
The start is a gentle downhill and the only cutoff is at about 18 miles right before the big 7 mile downhill. I knew I wouldn’t gain any time on the uphill and was willing to risk some burnout to make the cutoff, so I went at a pace that I knew would be a little draining. Rene mentioned she was worried about my pace too, it’s not often I run in front of her, but I think it was a good strategy. On the long road to the climb, I got passed by all of the horses and most of the runners, then a bunch of the half-marathoners, some of them didn’t know they would be coming up on the 25 milers and were a little confused how I would be so far ahead and so slow. It was exciting and a little bit scary to have all those horses coming by, some went by very fast, others trotted by, some were freaking out behind me. One rider gave me a warning, “coming by on the left, please don’t wave, my horse thinks you are trying to shoo him away,” she had just found that out this morning. The horses were turning over all the rocks and putting holes in the soft parts, which meant I had to pay a little more attention to my steps, but it wasn’t too bad.
The first 8 miles were headed away from Mingus which was not great for my mental attitude, but the expansive views were awesome, especially since there were a lot of clouds. The morning weather was perfect for me, I didn’t feel like I needed any more warmth or a bigger hat for the sun, which is good because I couldn’t find my bigger hat. The terrain was kind of boring as it was mostly ranch roads, with some washes. I definitely would have appreciated gaiters at that point. There were a few parts where they had dumped gravel on the road to combat the mud or snow or something, which made it pretty crappy, but mostly smooth sailing.
The next section was scrub brush with a little bit of elevation gain, very gradual, there were three runners that I kept passing and getting passed by, we ran together a bit. The aid stations were sparse and I was suprised that there wasn’t any cheering going on, it was odd to run past people just watching us run in the middle of nowhere, no clapping or encouragement. One more aid station before the climb and I finally couldn’t resist the candy, I had a peppermint patty and peanut m&m’s. Shortly after leaving the aid station, I see a guy sitting on a rock with his vest off, he had come in sandals and said he was used to running in pine needles, and we were definitely not running in pine needles. He had set out on the 50 miler, but he didn’t have much chance on making the cutoff at this point. I hope he went back to the previous aid statuion, as it was much farther for him to go forward. He said he had regular shoes waiting for him there.
Now, we’re heading uphill. I was prepared for an insane climb, but it turned out to not be that steep and the terrain was easier than most of our PATR Tuesday runs. Still, it was slow going, but I was still feeling good. I got my first tarantula sighting in twenty years, glad the people in front of me pointed it out, or it might have been the first tarantula I ever stepped on. I was passed by somebody going fast with no water, I can only imagine they showed up late and should have been ahead of me the whole time. I think there were 5 people behind me at this point and I didn’t feel like I was going to slow down soon. I kept my eye on the time because of the cutoff, which didn’t seem as much of a given as when I started the day, but it certainly wasn’t lost yet. I finally made it to the checkpoint with 40 minutes to spare. Stephanie was there to meet me and that was quite a boost. Less of a boost was everybody behind me catching up while I got water and leaving before me! Rene and Michael showed up and left before I did, it was good to see them again.
I thought the rest was donwhill, but apparently there was some more climbing to do. I ran into some hikers and they said. “you are almost to the top” I said, “I thought I already passed it!” I think I had already passed “the top”, but it wasn’t too far until I was trending downhill again. There was another aid station, which I didn’t think I needed, but I took some more water anyway, which ended up being a very good thing. I imagined myself striding down the next 6 miles, but it was a little more technical than my tired mind was comfortable with, so, while it was definitely easier, I was not going fast at all. When I got to the end of the steeper downhill section, I saw I had almost been caught by the last place runner I wasn’t too concrned about my place, but I love comptetion, so I had in my head to stay in front of him… then I would think, it would be fun to have a running partner, then I thought it would be amazing to have a sprint finish for DFL. He came a little closer and drifted farther back over and over throughout the last few miles, but never caught all the way up. I saw the last aid station in the distance and heard footfalls coming fast behind me. I thought for some reason that all the 50 milers had already passed, so I could only imagine it was that runner starting his sprint way too soon. When I turned around, it was a horse rider going insanely fast, straight at me! She moved to the side and said sorry while she blew past the checkpoint. At the checkpoint they told me the first place 50 mile runner (Nick Coury) had already come through an hour before and she didn’t have a chance… none of us knew they would credit her 75 minutes for required breaks for the horse.
I carried on and eventually saw I could catch another runner, Michael had hurt his ribs the night before, so he was walking slowly. We encouraged each other as I passed, we had plenty of time, since my tired running is only a little faster than his injured walking :) .Then I was at the finish line, with PATRs and my wife cheering for me, what a great day. Next time I’ll be sure to pack a chair and more food to sit around and cheer and socialize.