I made the three hour drive up to my brother Glenn's house on Saturday afternoon for the Pisgah Mountain Trail Race 23K. Pre-race festivities included a pasta and salmon dinner, night frisbee, Sam Adams, and guitar playing with Glenn, Gina, Greg, Jen, and Bojo. After a rather restless and nervous sleep in a house built in 1780, Glenn and I had a hearty 6AM breakfast with plenty of coffee. We stopped by to register a little before 7AM, got the last medium shirts, helped the director set up the tents, and then walked back to Glenn's for more coffee. We were then joined by the same group from last night and Clint. With ten minutes to go, we all walked over to the starting line.
At the start, I set out in a comfortable but quick pace. I felt out of place being so far up front, and even weirder when the leaders didn't get too far ahead of me. I knew that most of that group were running the 50K race, and couldn't believe that I was just in back of the 23K leaders - Justin Fyffe not included (already way ahead of everybody). The race finally spread out as the course entered the woods at the 50K/23K split. I couldn't see anybody ahead of me at this point, but heard footsteps getting closer behind me. On the Reservoir Trail hill I was caught by Brian Donoghue and we briefly chatted as he went ahead of me. Two minutes later, I was passing him as he slowed on this very long ascent. It felt good to get to the top and then run down the other side. Brian, who was a lot faster descending than me, passed me again. Thus began a back and forth for the next few miles. I reached the first aid station at the 43 minute mark (6.7 miles) - 12 minutes faster than last year! I gulped down some Gatorade and then began the grind up Pisgah Ridge. Close to the first overlook, I passed Brian for the final time. I kept running, no matter how much my legs were burning, and was pleased that I did not have to resort to hiking here. I forgot how many more uphills were in this tricky section. My legs were feeling a little tired, but I still had plenty of energy. Finally off the ridge, the trail became runable again. I reached the second aid station in 1:12 (9 mile mark) and I knew I had a great shot of finishing the race under 2 hours. After another brief fast section, the trail heads up Davis Hill. There's something about this hill - it's not too steep - it's just long, and my legs didn't like climbing anymore. I fought off the desire to stop and hike, and ran on. I was still trying to hit the straightaways pretty fast, but I could tell I wasn't going as fast as before. One more hill - Hubbard - and then downhill to Winchester Road. My body couldn't descend as fast my mind wanted to and I had a couple of stumbles (but no falls). Once on the road, I let my legs go as fast as possible on this screaming downhill. Upon passing my brother Greg's house, the road levels off and then turns for the worst - a hill that seemed way bigger than I remembered was ahead of me. I glanced at my watch and knew I had to run up it if I wanted to finish sub two hours. So I gritted my teeth, finished up the last section of road, and crossed the finish line in 1:58:47 - 5th place! It felt great to run a race and exceed my expectations. I was planning to be faster than last year, but not 17 minutes faster.
Post race, I relaxed, ate lots of food, and was feeling good. Eventually, I walked back to Glenn's house, showered, and join the rest of the group that gathered to watch the 50K finishers. I waited to see Greg go by - he set a PR with a 4:04, and as I was heading out I was able to see Bojo complete his 4:22.