The course started at Lake Anza and repeated a 13-14K loop three times, then finished with a 9K lollipop-shaped out and back. The plan was to run the three loops in 1:20 each and the out and back in under an hour. I ran the loop in a practice run on Thursday and my time, as best I could tell, since I ran it with a slower friend and did all sorts of stops and starts on the watch, was 1:22. Under race conditions I thought I had a good chance to pull it off.
When the race started I was first out of the gate. I knew there was a steep downhill single-track section only 15 yards or so from the start, and I didn't want to be behind anybody who wasn't bombing down it, so I went first. I was alone at the head of the pack for 10 minutes or so, then roughly 10 people passed me before the first aid station at Wildcat Canyon Road, 25 minutes in. Maybe one other person passed me the whole rest of the race.
I hit the second aid station in Steam Trains parking lot after about 52 minutes. Then began one of my favorite stretches in the whole park--bomb down to cross South Park road, climb a tiny bit, and then there's an amazing mile on Grizzly Peak Trail with pretty much the perfect almost-imperceptible downhill grade where you can really let it fly all the way to Golf Course Road. After that there's a couple of steeper downhill sections to get back to Lake Anza. This last mile and a half or so was incredibly muddy. Incredibly muddy. Probably the muddiest run I have ever done, which I think is saying a good deal. There was a river running down one long section of the course as if a water main had broken. I of coursed loved all this and bombed down it without batting an eye.
I finished my first loop in 1:16:43 shortly after noticing that 5 of the people who had passed me were headed out in a different direction, meaning they were in the 35K instead of the 50K. I had really felt like I was running as fast as I could, almost without regard to whether I could maintain it for the whole race, so I was a little bummed I hadn't banked more time than just 4 minutes. I blew through the pass-thru aid station at the start/finish and began my second loop. It felt a little slower, and I think a guy passed me at about the first aid station on this loop. I could hang with him when we were both running, but he ran up the entire giant hill, which I only did in fits and starts. Regardless, I finished the second loop in 1:25:33. The third loop felt good--there were lots of runners from the 10 or 21K races on the loop and it felt really good to pass them or use them for pacing. The third loop took 1:26:27, which, even though slower, I think I felt better about than the second loop.
At this point I had 41:16 remaining and 9K left to cover if I wanted to break five hours. Unfortunately, this including climbing up the ridiculously muddy hill I had previously enjoyed bombing down. Due to poor traction parts of it were physically impossible to run up, and after that there was a long climb to the end of the turnaround. I was pretty much spent, so when I started being able to actually run on the return, I stumbled a few times, although not seriously. There were 10 or 21K runners on this stretch again, so it was helpful to be passing some of them despite having been out much longer. I bombed down the mudslide again, and finished in 5:10:30, setting a 50K PR and finishing fifth overall, easily my best placement ever at a PCTR event, but still over the arbitrary round number of 5:00.
When I crossed the finish line I felt spent, but within a few minutes I had energy again and was cursing having not spent it during the race. I think about my inability to trick the regulator in my brain a lot. (Remember this Radiolab?) Clearly I had energy left to burn, probably enough to finish in under five hours without even dying after crossing the finish line. But now ten hours later, I've realized that I've been pretty mentally out of it, so maybe I did spend most of my energy. (I managed to lose my water bottle between the finish line and my car, and I took an empty DVD case back to the library even though I haven't watched the movie and it's not due yet.) The race was pretty difficult, with 6,127 feet of climbing. (Check out the profile.) Being on my home turf and knowing almost every inch of the course was a big help. I probably gave it my best and had a very good run.
I got muddy.