I'm pretty good about knowing what I'm capable of and this race is just confirmation. Going in to this race I predicted mid 7.20s. I had clocked a 7.52 5 years ago and I knew my training combined with experience would put at least 1/2 hour into the time bank.
Dave Horton invited me to stay at his house so he sent one of his students, Jaime (hime) to pick me up. He thought with our names we'd make an instant connection, which we did. He took me straight to Liberty University where Horton was teaching his class and promptly put me in front of them... uhhh.... On the spot I didn't have anything to say and maybe that was the point because Horton didn't want me to dig up all the dirt. Anyway, I joined them on their daily run up and around a local peak up to 1700 ft - good for the jet lagged legs. It was nice to get to know the kids and see how they idolize him and most of all to see the environment Horton has built at Liberty. Not only Liberty but the whole city of Lynchburg.
After all the pre-race festivities it was time to start thinking about the race and here's how it played out:
The morning of the race (3:30 AM EST) I was suprisingly alert yet calm. Maybe it was all that O2 in the air but I had a good feeling about this race. And not to be crude but part of the pre-race success is getting everything moving in the system (aka a BM) - got that taken care of relatively early so things were clicking. Took the bus out to the start and I was bundled up in 3 different layers. Snow was forecasted with highs in the 30s where we were going. After the warm up I stripped down, taking a chance that I would be moving thus avoiding any chill - good call.
I gotta admit, I forgot how runnable this course is. The start of the race up through mile 6 is all asphalt and fast. I ran very relaxed and tucked in behind the lead group of about 10. When it got light enough I started to observe tendancies (ie who was running hard up/down and who looked uncomfortable). I hate to say it but I felt 8 of the 10 were strapping themselves to stay out there either on the up or down. That really made me settle in and wait till the half way point and see who's left. By the time we got to the 14 mile aid the group was wittled down to 4 with me about 20 yards back. Horton commented "this is exactly where you should be". By the time we reached the 22 mile aid station there were two guys in front by 10 yards and now the hills start. One guy, Alex Barth, had started to make a gap as soon as the rolling hills started, I chased him and noticed he kept looking over his shoulder. That told me that he was trying to make a gap and yet I was keeping a steady pace over the same gap. Finally, the last longish uphill he started to walk and said "man, where you from?" "Colorado" "oh, well, now that makes perfect sense".
Getting into the halfway point in 3.40 was a little slower than I wanted but that was part of me waiting to see what was going to happen out front. I had run everything up to this point and with how good I was feeling I had every intention of running everything else. As I left the halfway point it starts climbing with the biggest climb of the day and Horton stopped me in my tracks and said "be smart". A runner can really blow up here and I understood that but as good as I was feeling climbing I decided to run every step. It hurt a little but I later found out that I'd made 10 minutes on the next runner. Five myles later entering the loop at 4.45, I had 13 minutes so the gap was growing and I was feeling strong and steady. I ran the loop in 46 with most everything snow covered, which means the white trail markers were harder to follow. I exited the loop and was very shocked to see Jeremy Ramsey in street clothes. He was going to be the main competition but had suffered some sort of sciatica and had terrible pain shooting down his hammy's. If Jeremy had still been racing I believe the winning time would have been lowered by another 5 or 10 minutes for the sake of pushing each other.
For the next 4 or 5 myles was rolling dirt road and I was building steam, charging up the hills and letting it fly on the downs. I thought I had a shot for a 7.10ish finish so that was a little motivation. I arrived at the mile 43 aid in 5.57 and 7.10 was still in touch but then I realized I was running "Horton myles" over the last 7.... which translates into 9 or so. Getting to the last aid in 6.44 and only 2.9 "Horton myles" I knew (from past experience) would take around 45 minutes - all down hill. Sure enough 44 minutes later I finished and feeling very strong.
In the end, I was steady all day. I ran everything, save it a 20 yard section around mile 45, but running everything was the key to clocking a decent time. As far as nutrition is concerned, I diluted 4 EFS liquid shots in water and that is it for the entire day. Each aid I drank one full cup of water, knowing it was cold and harder to drink. I want to thank Horton and his wife, Clark Zealand, Horton's entire running class, and all the aid station volunteers. This race is a classic and must be put on the list. Coming from the West, running on the East is totally different experience and always a treat.