The race started off at 9:00, and I was excited for it. I didn't feel as sharp as I had at Marquette or Lapham last weekend but still felt like I could run a course PR (under 3:21). I had slept in my car the night before but actually slept pretty well. I wouldn't have a crew present at all, so I had one Simple bottle full of CarboPro and a sandwich bag with another couple hundred calories of powder in it to fill up half way. It was COLD the previous night and that morning, but about 15 minutes before the race started, the wind calmed down and the sun actually came out.
At the start, I chatted with buddy/nemesis/frenemy Sascha, and then took off. I was running behind a guy for the first half mile before passing him and finding myself in the lead. The race starts off with about .8 miles of road before ducking in to the woods. As soon as you're on the trail, there's a decent uphill stretch. Thinking back to Dan's "Trailer Principle", I eased up going up the hill and was immediately passed by Grahame. Grahame would lead, and I would be a couple steps behind him for the next 14 miles. Grahame was wearing a hydration pack, so he didn't need to stop at any of the aid stations. He and I literally ran continuously for the first half. I never felt like I was running a lot slower than I would have. I felt I was putting in a solid pace and effort and was staying steady.
Around the halfway point, the course leaves the Ice Age Trail (single track) and follows a gravel road for a bit, then hits up the Horse Trails. This was the first time we weren't on single track, and I took the opportunity to run next to Grahame for a bit. He was definitely working. So, at this point I passed him and decided to start upping the effort levels to try and gap him. I hit the steep loose gravel of the horse trails without hesitation and really started to hammer the flat sections. I've never felt that fresh at that point in a race.
By Mile 18 I knew I had the win. I also figured I had hammered enough of a gap that I could probably ease up the effort a bit. Yet, I didn't. I just kept working. The stretch from Hwy 67 to Piper Aid station has always felt really long and boring to me, but on Saturday it wasn't bad. I worked my way through it, and sure enough I was now only about 4 miles from victory...and for the first time ever, Ellie would be there!
From Piper to the finish, I ran sub-7 minutes miles. Like I said, I've never felt that solid. My last mile was a 6:13 (on the roads back to the start). My third-last mile was a 6:38. I just loved it. So. Much. Fun.
I actually got a bit emotional at the finish with Ellie. It was amazing to hug her at the finish, especially after a WIN!
And just like that, the only event left on my calendar is Glacial Trail 50 miler, in 26 days. Yikes.
26 Days to Glacial
8 Sep - 14 Sep
1,671 feet of gain