This weekend I was up in New Hampshire for my fourth consecutive Pisgah race. I was originally registered for the 50K, but a lack of long runs (3 to 4+ hours) had me switching to the 23K a few weeks back. I was excited to see what sort of time I could get in the "short" race. I ran 1:58 in 2010 training 30 miles a week, and now I'm at about 60 miles a week, so I was hoping for a big PR. My goal was 1:45, but I was hoping for even faster. The 23K was going to be a family affair with both my brothers, father (ended up not running due to injury), and sister-in-law racing. We all met up on Saturday night for dinner and backyard football with special guest Boj (running the 50K) joining us.
I drove down to Chesterfield in the morning with my dad and Boj, stopping for breakfast at D&D in Keene. There was a big crowd at registration. I picked up my bib and shirt (purple this year!), and chatted with Chris the race director. I then met up with my brothers and also Fyffe and Ferenc (both just watching today). Lot's of other familiar faces as well. The weather was spectacular, and the trails were dry, so it was a good day for a fast time.
Finally it was time to line up. I found a spot up front next to Greg and Eric MacKnight (who would be battling for 1st and 2nd), and at the gun, I found myself only trailing those two. Right before the first climb on the road, I was passed by a guy I didn't recognize. I passed him briefly on the hill, but he got ahead of me again and pulled away. Sitting in 4th place, I got some words of encouragement from Fyffe and Ferenc, before I reached the trail head. My dad was taking pictures here, and I opted to drop my shirt with him. I let it fly down the long hill and then began climbing Reservoir Trail. I thought that this is where I might catch 3rd place. I tried to restrain myself from pushing too hard up the hill. I found a lower gear and stuck with it. I reached the clearing and tried to catch a look at Monadnock as I pressed ahead.
Once the trail descends, the woods get really dark here, but at least it was dry. I felt like I was making good time, but I still feel too cautious on these screaming descents. About the time I reached the low point near a pond, I could hear someone gaining on me from behind. Ugh. Obviously, this person was faster at downhills than me, and I was debating getting caught up in a cat-and-mouse chase the next couple of miles (which happened in the same place to me two years ago). The next uphill is rather steep and sneaky long. I again made sure not to go too fast, and take my time, despite having someone on my heels. By the time I reached the top, I was comfortably ahead again. It didn't take long to hear him though. I blasted by the first aid station, hoping that whoever was behind me might stop. No such luck, and I navigated the single track here waiting for the impending Pisgah Ridge climb - probably the hardest on the course. I was able to hold on to my position and began climbing. The never ending hill is a combination of 75% steep, 25% not as steep. Before I reached the first clearing (and false summit) I looked back. I had put a lot of distance on 5th place. It was hard to pick up my pace on the flats and short descents as my body was still recovering. Then the trail continues to go up, and even more steeply. Eventually, I reached the true summit clearing and let out a short Elijah tribute yell. Besides bringing back memories of him, it inspired me to pick it up.
My breathing recovered on the long downhill, and soon enough, I was on the dirt road heading out towards Rte 63. I had been running really hard the entire time, and hoped I could keep it up for the duration. The end seemed closer. I had resisted looking at my watch up to this point. I almost peeked, but had the willpower to stop myself. I passed by the 2nd aid station, again not stopping. I didn't feel thirsty. I began the climb up the dirt road and near the top, I caught a glimpse of third place for the first time since mile one. This was enough incentive to hammer the downhill to the Rte 63 parking lot. I didn't see him, but my dad (who was taking pictures from the parking area) told me he was only 100 yards ahead of me. I was excited to begin the Davis Hill climb, hoping to catch him. This was not to be. I never saw him again.
Soon, I was in no man's land, battling my thoughts and my tiring feet. The trail goes from wide to narrow once you begin descending. It's also very technical. My feet were taking a beating in my thin-soled shoes. For the first time all day, I was wasn't running as hard as I could. Despite being my fourth time here, I didn't remember the trail between the mountains (Davis and Hubbard) being so long. More negative thoughts crossed my mind.
At last, I reached the climb up Hubbard Hill. I still didn't feel like I was at my best, but once I summitted, I got back to running hard. The steep descents on tired legs are tricky. At one point, I fell (I'm not sure I even tripped over anything). Good thing I picked the softest rock and root free dirt to fall on. I quickly jumped to my feet and resumed. I finally gave in and looked at my watch - 1:32. I knew I was close to reaching the road, and that I had somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes left. I was happy with this time, so I worked as hard as I could to get to the finish line. This included a painful screaming descent on the gravel road. Once the road levels off and becomes paved, I knew there was a soul-crushing hill to run up. I looked back to see if anyone was closing on me, and then ran up the hill. I peeked again at my watch, and my pace was right about 6 minutes flat. I tried to maintain that pace until the last turn onto Rte 63. As I made the turn I could hear people cheering at the finish line, but I could hear my kids' cheers above all others. This gave me a burst of energy, and I sprinted as hard as possible through the finishing shoot. Final time: 1:44:xx (waiting for results to be posted).
Post race, I was greeted by my wife and kids, and my parents. Greg came over, and I found out he had won and set the course record! The top three finishers were 1:28, 1:34, 1:42. I sat in the sun drinking plenty of water, gatorade, and coke (not hungry for food), chatting, and watching the rest of the 23K finishers, including Glenn and Jen. Eventually, it was time to go. We stopped in Keene for lunch at the brewery (and a much deserved chromium replacement beverage - Pothole Porter).
Overall, I was extremely pleased with my race. I was able to run really hard for almost the entire time. I didn't overdue it on the first hills, so I was able to run each one consistently. Next year, I will make sure to schedule in the long runs I'll need to give the 50K a good effort.
Pictures to follow.