The Longest Day - Page 5
I launch myself into the Cal Loop (so named because it starts on California Street in Foresthill), 16 miles of trail leading down to the Rucky Chucky river crossing at mile 78. This is where the race is supposed to start (according to my now long-forgotten race plan), but I know that the last 38 miles of this race are going to be a brutal gut check. I'm running in third place at Western States, but that is far from my mind right now.
Every time I'm on the shady side of a ravine, I can run OK. When I hit the exposed sunny sections, the heat hits me like a brick wall. It is over 100 degrees, and my quads hurt so much that the only thing that even makes the pain bearable is pouring ice water (which I can ill afford to spare) on them. This was part of the race where I wanted to fly, but I'm wobbling. I run a just-fair 2:43 Cal Loop.
Leigh gets lost just before Ford's Bar, so only beats me to the river by a few minutes (and stops to change his shoes on the other side, after which I never see him again). But Kaburaki and Jez Bragg, a stellar young trail runner from the UK, and Kevin Sullivan, a completely unknown quantity from Massachusetts who clearly knows what he's doing, all run very well on this section, and, as I later learn, cut 10 to 15 minutes out of my lead, completely erasing any cushion I had on my pursuers.
As I start across the river, hand over-handing across a rope in shoulder-deep water, I see Leigh ahead of me just exiting the river, and three runners nearly in the river behind me. As it turns out, there are five of us crossing the river within a few minutes, and four of us in the water at once. The spectators are going nuts. The race is on.
The Home Stretch
As expected, the river crossing rejuvenates me—for all of about 10 minutes, until I overheat running up to Green Gate. I run most of it, but not as fast as I had envisioned, then hit my least favorite part of the course. The terrain is comparatively easy from here to Brown's Bar, but is mind-numbingly monotonous, following a relatively flat trail that winds in and out of small ravines, every bend looking exactly like the one before it. And every easy little bit that I can't run well is a nagging reminder of my failing condition.
Even so, somehow I'm running in second place at Western States. This does not last long. Kaburaki and Sullivan pass me like my feet are stuck in mud, and I go from M2 to M4 in about 10 minutes. Discouraged, I hope only to hold onto a top-10 position.
I am about seven minutes off of my desired split into the Auburn Lake Trails aid station, located on a dusty bend of the road in the middle of nowhere, and another six minutes off into Brown's Bar, a peculiar aid station run by local hashers who look at the race as a perfect excuse for a raucous party.
Those 10 miles kill me. As it turns out, though, M2 through M5 are all within about 10 minutes for this whole interval. No doubt we are all fighting our own demons through this section.
At Brown's Bar, the sun is finally disappearing over the hill, and I let loose and trust gravity to carry me down the steep, rocky hill to Quarry Road. Surprisingly, when I hit the bottom I see Sullivan rounding the corner just ahead, despite the fact that he had at least five minutes on me at Brown's Bar. I surmise that his quads are shot, and that if I can catch him by Highway 49, I might have a chance to edge him out. I summon the will to run—hard.