Brandon J. Baker - 4th under 30, 21st overall, 5:02:28
I had the privilege of traveling to my first Ultra-marathon was an amazing crew of CSC alumni and friends, aka- the orange and black fury of the Stepping Razors. I was hoping for
I found the course fairly easy after a relatively short drive ( >1.5 hours) and was feeling pretty good running around, getting numbers pinned, checking the course maps, filling bottles, all that fun stuff. I wore my Pearl Izumi triathlon shirt, Under Armor shorts, Timex hat, Oakley prescription shades, Darn Tough socks and size 10 La Sportiva crosslites- Advertising, nice! My plan was to use gels and water primarily, and make aid stations smooth and light, so I started with two gels in my jersey, one in the shorts pocket and glucose tabs in my left hand, hand-held H2O bottle In the right- I was a little concerned with some recurring pain in the front of my knees, especially the right one, but this would prove to be the least of my worries…
I hadn’t really had much for conversation before the start, except for a few nice people whom I parked next to and the sweet RD Chris who was very reassuring that they had plenty of snacks on course to take care of my diabetes J But as we lined up, I did get a burst of energy seeing a few familiar faces and slapping high fives with a few people and giving “irongirl” a hug. As much as I try to stay calm and stick with my plan, I always go right to the front when the gun goes off; always (well at least since I was a junior in high school cross-country). Although this was easily the strongest field of distance runners I have competed against this year, I quickly made up my mind to hang around the front till the 23k/50k split (a little over 1 mile in).
I have to admit, it was absolutely thrilling to be up there with the big guns; to listen to the conversation, to find a rhythm, to be where I have hoped to be for a very long time. As we climbed our second hill shortly before the split, I let them run away as the pace began to settle in and I began to find my steady, albeit slower rhythm. I spotted Kevin Tilton heading down into the woods to the left about 30 seconds before I took the left hand turn and really begun getting into the Pisgah forest and the adventure that was to come (all 31 miles of it).
I was very alone for the next 45 minutes or so. I felt smooth and fairly strong, and was focusing on going fast, but not too crazy- I would say I steady tempo pace. The course was awesome, well-marked and very runnable. The terrain was pretty consistent in its undulation, yet very soft and full of lush forest and a beautiful canopy of pine overhead. It occurred to me during this first stretch that we couldn’t ask for better weather to run in: 60+ degrees, mostly sunny. Thank You.
My first encounter with other souls was at mile 8.1. I first spotted two women at the first aid station, and then two runners popped out of the woods right behind me. One flew right through the aid station and began the climb; the other slowed a bit and was very friendly as we took off about the same time.
So here we were, deep in the woods, and we were about to hit a steep and consistent paved climb! The other runner was very encouraging as we climbed this hill and set out after the fellow just in front. Turns out the runner I was with was Scott Patnode, a runner I had run with earlier in the year at the Wapack trail race. I greatly enjoyed running with Scott and we went back and forth, up and down, into the next manned aid station at mile 17-
I was in and out of the aid station a little faster than Scott and told him I’d see him soon. Turns out I saw him later than I wanted to, but in much worse shape than anticipated. The next 2.9 miles were some of the hardest of the run (
Two runners started to approach behind me- It was Scott again, and new friend Amy Lane- Amy asked if I was ok, very kindly. I was not in a state of mind to accept the kindness, grumbled something, and attempted to bridge up to them as they went by… to no avail. I couldn’t wait to see that Aid station!
At mile 19.9, I hit the major aid station and grabbed some snacks from my Eastern Mountain sports plastic bag- Just then a runner came up to the aid station, but this was his SECOND time through. It was the amazing David Herr- and before I could even chew my last fig newton, in came Jim Johnson hot on his tail, these guys were killin it. I smiled in awe, and started my journey to catch, well, somebody.
As I hit the trail around Kilburn pond, I couldn’t help but think of the Clif Bar “comeback” video where Geoff Roes talks about sucking down a few gels and regaining his energy in Western States ‘010 where he came back to win the race. He said he felt a “primal energy” and I tried to harness that as I flew down a double track descent and thought for a second I could get myself back on a good pace. Well, I was not on for long, and as I started the second part of the lake, it was back uphill and I just didn’t have the power to go quick, instead I labored and hiked uphill for awhile, eventually getting caught by two more runners. I chewed on a few more glucose tablets and arrived at the aid station turn just over 4 hours into the race.
I fueled up and took off with another runner and a little over 5.5 miles left. I didn’t catch his name, but was extremely impressed by his solid cadence so late in the race. We ran together for awhile, but I still didn’t feel right and just found myself Hoping upon Hope that I could make it to the finish without having to ingest anymore sugar! Well, wrong again (Note: lower insulin levels starting three days before ultra-runs).
I hit the last aid station with about 2.3ish miles to go and almost entirely flat on dirt and paved roads. I chugged some Gatorade to prevent a last second low and hit the gas (as hard as I could at this point) Hoping to fly through the last few minutes @ an under 8 minute pace to finish strong. I still had hopes of being under 5 hours, but it was definitely a long shot. I felt strong and excited as I hit the pavement with about a mile to go and was even told by a spectator that I “seriously” had about three quarters of a mile to go. I asked him to repeat because I didn’t believe him. Finally, I saw what looked to be like a familiar road and rounded the corner towards the fire station, school and a good number of onlookers. I touched my heart to signify my thanks and smiled as I ran through the shoot in a solid 5hours and 2 minutes of running, my fastest 50k to date.
It was a gorgeous, late summer day. The simple reason as to why I didn’t finish closer to where I was (8th) 2/3 through the race was because I didn’t prepare my diabetes as well as I could’ve. Not just another long run- I got to be more conservative for the big show! Overall I can be pleased and ever thankful. After all, I just ran 31+ miles, how could any finishing time be upsetting. A special shout out to Scott Patnode, who really showed me great passion and camaraderie in the race, all the while finding his own undoing (an extra lap of Kilburn pond). Scott’s attitude and soul are what Ultra racing are all about- can’t wait to run with you again buddy!