Ready or Not - Page 5
From Sherando Lake, the racers climbed back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway on four-plus-miles of rocky but runable tree-lined singletrack to the Bald Mountain Overlook Aid Station. A swirling, surreal fog enveloped the pack, soaking the runners in a fast-moving wet cloud.
"The fog was weird because one minute you could see the guys around you and what they were doing, then the next you'd be in your own world, wondering whether they were making a move," said Sharman.
The next 10 miles were constantly varied: singletrack to gravel roads to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"I'd like to trade places with you guys," Roes told us on the Parkway (at about race mile 26) as he appeared briefly out of the fog . "It looks like you're having a lot more fun than I am."
At about mile 31, coming off the three-mile Spy Run Gap gravel-road section, Mackey had a two-minute-or-so lead over Wardian, with Gall running third now. Mackey looked comfortable, but he wasn't. "I'm going to my `happy place,'" he said, sarcastically, as he ran by and disappeared.
At mile 33, runners reached the Whetstone Ridge aid station, from which they would run out and back on a 4.1-mile singletrack section lined with hardwoods, some showing the first tinges of fall color. By Whetstone, Wardian had closed the gap to about 30 seconds on Mackey, while the wheels had started coming off some runners.
Dave James had dropped at mile 26, due to apparent plantar fasciitis. "I've had an injury ever since the 100-Mile Trail Championships, and have been trying to hide it," he said. "I couldn't hide it anymore." Other DNFs at this point included the young Owen and, battling a back injury, Jason Bryant, 39, of Elkin, North Carolina, a versatile runner who had 2010 wins in Tennessee's StumpJump 50-miler and North Carolina's Mount Mitchell Challenge 40-miler.
Front runners in the rec field filed into the aid station, while crews and spectators awaited the elites' return.
"This isn't a Starbucks," coached aid-station volunteer Neal Gorman, a recent Charlottesville transplant and top-end ultrarunner, as one runner from the rec class stuffed his cheeks with M&Ms like a chipmunk. "Get moving!"
Then, as photographer David Clifford and I worked a hundred yards up the rising singletrack trail, we saw Mackey returning—walking downhill!
"I was feeling great, then I hit a wall and had nothing in my reserves," he said, saying he had only run about a mile beyond this point and sat down on a rock. "I knew I had to stop. ... You guys have any beer?"
Then, a flash through the trees. "Gels, water! Gels, water! Gels, water!" shouted Wardian, his voice echoing through the forest as he hauled down the trail, hailing his crew, which included his wife, two young sons and parents, at the aid station. Wardian was in and out in 10 seconds, tossing empty bottles aside, grabbing fresh ones from his crew, glancing at his Garmin GPS and bounding ahead. The longer he ran, it seemed, the faster he got.
Next was Roes, who appeared completely rejuvenated. "I feel like I know how to run again," he said. After moving from fifth to second place, he had one objective: to chase down Wardian for the win.
He was followed by a staggered-out pack of Flaherty, Basham, Sharman, Allen and Grossman. Gall now had bonked on the out-and-back, and dropped at Whetstone.
In the women's race, Crosby-Helms and Petrie were close at Whetstone, with Riddle-Lunblad several minutes back. (Experiencing an asthma attack, Felton had dropped around Sherando Lake.) Shortly after leaving Whetstone together, Petrie pulled away from Crosby-Helms, and built a lead from there.