I didn't discuss mytruegoal time with anyone before the race for fear of jinxing it. When we talked about SP on our training runs I would mention that I wanted to go under 9hrs30mins since my previous best was 10:07. It just seemed like the next logical time barrier. My true time goal, and what I was really planning for was a sub 9. My training had gone better than ever this year so I knew my fitness level could handle the pace but I still had to be smart about managing the race.
Peter and I rode down to the race together and met up with the Erik, Greg and Rich before the start. Greg and Peter had made a plan to stick together and gun for PR's below the 10 hour mark. I knew they were both capable of sub 10 but I didn't really thinnk they would be able to stick together for that long, just too many factors to contend with in a 9 to 10 hour span. We all lined up at the gate to paved bike path to get some last second instructions from RD John Bozung before he sent us on our way at 5am. A few minutes down the pavement and a front group of 10 to 12 of us formed led byScott Jaime . Shortly before the turn on to the trail the group was down to six that included Scott, Kevin Shilling, Dave Holt, Erik Storheim, Ryan Cooper and myself. The front 3 kept a torrid pace while Erik, Ryan and myself settled in behind and eventually lost sight of them on the winding singletrack. I had briefly met Ryan while we were signing in before the race when Peter had introduced us. I remember Peter saying "stick with Christian, he knows the course well". At any rate, I started chatting more with Ryan as we climbed to the 2nd aid station and got to know him a little better. As with most folks I meet in the ultra world, Ryan was super nice and he shared some of his vast racing experience with Erik and I. Shortly after the 2nd aid station the three of us became separated by a minute or so each and leapfrogged each other all the way to Pole Heaven (aid station 5) because of our frequent nature breaks (I think there was something in the water).
Just before aid station 6 I caught up to Ryan and left just before he did. I checked my watch and I was about 2 mins slower than my pace goal to this point, which made me quite happy since I still felt so good. Erik was no more than a minute behind as I started running up the 4wd road to Sheep Creek. The previous three times I've done this race I always walk this section, but today I felt great, so I just kept plugging along, happy with the pace I was running. I hit the Sheep Creek aid station whereKarlandScott Masonset me up with some red bull and potatoes before booting me out of there. Still feeling good at this point I decided to back off the pace just a little on the climbs and keep my stomach in order for the climb up to Windy Pass. About a mile or so before the descent into the Little Valley aid station Erik caught up to me and we ran into Little Valley together. I grabbed some gels from my drop bag, filled my bottles and picked up a third bottle before I left the aid station for the last big climb of the day. Erik was still getting his stuff together and I remember telling him that I was going to walk for a stretch and that I would see him in a few minutes. That never happened.
I walked, then jogged up the 4wd road, anxious to get to the real climbing. A little over a half mile after leaving the aid station I kept following the 4wd road on a slight right hand bend when I was supposed to bear left onto the singletrack next to the creek. I glanced down at my watch knowing that I should I have been approaching the switchbacks leading to the top of Wallsburg Ridge but nothing looked familiar. I started examining the trail for evidence of the runners in front of me and found none. I turned around and looked down the canyon I just climbed up. Feelings of anger and dread washed over me, I had no one to blame but myself. I looked at the altimeter on my watch before starting to backtrack and it read 8000'. I knew the top of Wallsburg ridge was a little of 8000' but I had no idea which direction I would have to go to find it.
Turns out I wasn't that far from where I was supposed to be.
I ran back down the canyon about 1.5 miles and 700' vertical before I found the trail I was supposed to be on. Anger drove my pace as I passed a few runners on the singletrack and washed out creek bottom. I caught up withBrian Becksteadwho consoled me then gave me some encouragement to get after it. I had no idea how much time I had lost but I decided to re-focus on my original goal of 9:30.
My anger fueled pace eventually found reality as I pushed up Bozung hill and slowed down a bit. I heard some voices from behind as I made my way across the small snow patches before Windy Pass, but I refused to look behind until one of them called my name. To my surprise it was Greg and Peter, well ahead of their sub 10hr pace. I explained to them that I felt like I needed some extra training for Hardrock so I had done a few bonus miles. They told me they were still aiming for sub 10 to which I replied bulls**t, we're going under 9:30. I now had some renewed energy as we passed through Windy Pass a little after 1:00 pm, still enough time to get under 9:30 but we would have to press the pace. Jim Skaggs and crew had us in and out there in a jiffy, but Jim was curious where I had been, having been informed by Erik that I should be in front of him.
The descent off of Windy Pass was awful, but the MRC express was like a runaway train as we ran every step to aid station 10. I think it's fair to say that I pressed Greg and Peter on the descent but once I hit the road I was hitting a low patch. Now it was their turn to press me all the way to the finish where we crossed together in 9:27, good for 10th place. Going off course sucks, but finishing up a tough day with my friends definitely made up for it. Erik ended up taking 4th in front of Ryan in 8:43 and 8:51 respectively. Shilling pressed the 2nd half of the course to overtake Dave Holt and close to within 2 minutes and change of Scott Jaime. Rich came through in a little over 11 hours to put the icing on the MRC cake.
Thanks to RD John Bozung and all the volunteers that make Squaw Peak such a great event. Full results postedhere .
In the end losing 30 minutes was a pretty bitter pill to swallow, but that's part of ultrarunning. In the grand scheme of things my fitness level made me feel a little more confident heading intoHardrock , currently #15 on the wait list...