An early start (breakfast at 3am, leaving at 3:30 to pick up Chris, Adam, Jenny and Tansy in Keene Valley) made for a nice quick drive to Wakely Dam, where we met up with the bus that was bringing runners from the finish line and got our race packets. Jenny ran last year but this year she'd be driving the car around and meeting us at the finish. We milled around for a while at the start, changing and getting our gear sorted out for 5-6 hours of completely unsupported running.
Most runners were wearing backpacks or waist belts to carry their water and food, but I decided to go light and carry two handheld bottles, one for water and one for Gu. The 22oz bottle I carried included a Bota filter, which allowed me to dip from the streams and drink immediately without having to treat for Giardia: it filters it out as you squeeze the water through the filter on the top of the bottle. In my other hand I carried a 10oz bottle filled with 8 GUs and some water to dilute it. I also carried two GU packets in my shorts, and in the small handheld strap pockets I stuffed a pack of Clif Bloks, some ginger, three salt caps and a protein bar.
Howie had fallen back a little bit but was still not far behind me sometime around mile 5.5 when I crossed a bridge, went to drink from my bottle, and stopped dead in my tracks as I slammed full-speed into a sawed-off tree that was protruding out into the trail, hidden by a branch (and the bottle in my face). It caught me directly in the left quad, leaving a circular imprint about 5-inches in diameter and almost ending my race right there. The pain was immediate and excruciating, and I yelled back to Howie to watch out for the tree, cursed a few times and limped along, hoping I could walk it off.
It quickly became clear that I had suffered a very deep contusion and would not be walking it off any time soon. Running was extremely painful when landing on my left leg and only slightly less so when landing on my right leg and engaging the left quad to bring the leg forward. But running was possible, and that's all I needed to make the decision to continue on. I wasn't sure if the pain would diminish later in the race (it didn't), but I had trained hard and didn't want to miss my chance to run Wakely, which I'd been wanting to do for years. At this point the trail began to climb, and that in addition to my pain and anger-fueled adrenaline surge was enough to drop Howie (or maybe he stopped to pee or eat or something). I wouldn't see another runner for the rest of the race. It would be a lonely and painful 28 miles.
I was able to keep my pace pretty close to my goal for the next 10 miles or so, but the effort it took due to my ruined quad was so much higher than I had anticipated that I knew my time goal of under 5hrs was out of the question. I had scouted the first 13 miles and the final 12, but the middle 8 were unknowns and they proved to be very difficult, with rugged footing, many downed trees to hurdle, and a tight brushy trail that made running slow or impossible in places. My pace had settled a little under 9:00/mile through the first 16mi, but it dropped precipitously after that, bringing my average up to 9:35/mile by mile 23. I was still in the lead but had no idea who was behind me, and I was going slowly enough that I was sure someone would be passing me at any minute.
I knew that I wouldn't have it in me to race at the end, and if anyone caught up to me I would let them pass without giving chase, so I made a plan to keep moving as best I could until the top of the final climb, around mile 26. If I still had the lead after that I would push hard to the finish despite the pain. I didn't want to settle for second after pushing through so much pain to keep the lead throughout the race.
This year we would continue on for another 1.2mi to finish at the Piseco Airport. I had been looking forward to the pavement as a chance to run without having to use my quad to lift my foot, but the slightly downhill pavement turned out to be terrible, and I stuck to the grass on the roadside as much as possible. As I neared the airport I looked back to see that nobody was about to pass me and was about to start walking it in when the first cheers from the finish line rang out across the field. The great reception from the wonderful volunteers and spectators kept me running, and I crossed the line with a smile on my face thanks to their enthusiastic welcome. My winning time was 5:19:26.
Jenny and Tansy greeted me with huge smiles (can a dog smile?) and I hosed off and grabbed a soda, happy to be done running for the day. My quads hurt like they had when I dropped out of Western States at mile 78, but this time I had run on them for 28 miles after the pain set in and felt like I had redeemed myself in some masochistic way for being a wimp in my first 100. I settled onto the grass to wait for Adam and Chris and hung out with Jenny and the volunteers.
Courtenay Guertin and David Mitchell came in close together for second and third and I kicked myself for pushing so hard when it turned out I had a 25 minute lead. Of course, now I'm glad I gave it my best--I'm sure the pain wouldn't be any better if I'd gone 20 minutes slower. Not long afterward my friend Adam appeared on the road, and Jenny (his wife) and I got up to cheer him in. He ran Wakely last year in 6:42, so to see him approaching the finish around the 6hr mark was very exciting. He finished in 6th place with a time of 6:04, happy to have run so well but bummed because he'd lost at least six minutes after taking a wrong turn in the West Canada Lakes, ruining his chance of breaking 6hrs. Chris followed four minutes later, taking 7th place in his first ultra and cementing a great showing from the Keene Valley crew!
We broke up the car ride home with a swim in Lake Pleasant and a stop for ice cream in Pottersville. I'm currently having trouble walking, but am pleased with myself for sticking it out when I could have given up. I hope to recover quickly but fear it might be a week or more before my quad is back to normal. It was worth it, and I hope to go back to Wakely for an attempt at the elusive "perfect race" in the near future. Thanks so much to Jenny Mugrace for driving and crewing, and props to Adam and Chris for your excellent performances.