So my buddy Scott drops me an email during the week before the Pacifica 50k to see if I wanted to run it with him. Initially I was pretty stoked because those are some of my favorite trails. The Pacifica 21k (half marathon) was my first trail race ever and I have been back several times because there are nice sustained climbs (followed by nice sustained downhills of course) and really agreeable runner weather right by the ocean. So initially it sounded like a good idea, and then I realized that the race was like five days away, and it was on my "big" training week where I was aiming to run 126.5 miles. The way I planned my week I knew I would be going in with 82ish miles and near 9000 ft of climbing already on my legs monday through friday. It was unexplored territory for me in terms of attempting a hard long run on that kind of built-in fatigue. To add to my concerns, Scott was aiming for a 5:15 finish time on a course with about 7000 ft of climbing involved, a rather stout time for me on a good day. I also never ran a race with someone else before, but I knew we were pretty well matched considering we shared several hours worth of running around the lake at Ruth Anderson. So I resolved to take on the challenge and just try to stick with him for as long as I could and let the rest take care of itself.
The week of training actually went really well. I ran up Black Mountain three times during the week (the long way) and fit in other flat easy runs to fill out the mileage. Strangely enough my Black Mountain ascents kept getting faster all week and I seemed to be getting stronger, instead of the run tearing me down. I went into the Saturday race with some pretty good confidence and decided to just try and have as much fun with it as possible.
I met Scott and the starting line and pretty soon we were off. Scott and I settled into a pretty relaxed pace going up Mount Montara, just chatting away. Conversations went all over the place: kids, work, training, etc, it is great to have a peer with similar world views and goals because conversations flow so effortlessly. We passed a few runners but were not even keeping track of place or whatever, but we knew as we neared the summit that we would see the leaders coming back down towards us and we could get a feel for who our competition was. To our surprise there was only one guy: Kermit Cuff, a 56 year old dude, tiny in stature, but fearsome in competition. The guy looked fit: veins bulging out of his legs, no fat, total look of determination. I was impressed. The little guy was flying down that mountain! As Scott and I grabbed our rubber bands (to prove that we made it to the top) and started our descent I was pretty confident we were going to catch him. I always assumed that tall guys had an advantage on the downhills and I did not expect the guy to keep up his great pace down the hill. We were in no hurry though and knew this was a long race, so we cruised. We rolled into the main aid station and prepped for the "Hazelnut Loop". We never saw Kermit, so that was my first clue as to what kind of a runner he was. Pretty similar to me I think: Survive the climbs and fly on the descents. The Hazelnut Loop always gets me. You get done with the big climb up to Montara and almost take this loop for granted. But it is tough. A teaser hill at the beginning, basically a speed bump coming off Montara, and then a prolonged ascent up many switchbacks before a bomber downhill back to the main aid station. Again, Scott and I were still in chat mode, but I was putting in a lot of effort to keep the pace up on the climbs. We flipped back and forth to share lead duties and basically worked ourselves pretty hard - keeping each other honest. I was pretty spent by the top of the switchbacks, but the downhill brought me back to life. We neared the aid station and Scott made a remark that we were pretty well ahead of goal pace. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Again, no sight of Kermit, but John Brooks (the PCTR race director) filled us in and let us know he was maybe a couple of minutes up on us. So not much had changed from the top of the mountain. So now we headed out for Hazelnut Loop #2. I think we took this loop at a similar intensity to the last one and there was a little less talking towards the top of the climbs. The miles were adding up. On the way up the switchbacks I came across Greg Lanctot, the Quicksilver RC president: He was running his first race (the half marathon) since his pretty serious injury that has kept him off of the trail for basically a year now. We exchanged hi's and he tried to fill me in on our positions. I was feeling pretty spent by the top of the hill again, very thankful for the cruise to the bottom. As we flew the downhill I spotted him. Kermit was moving strong, but we were cruising just a bit faster. I caught up to him and he asked if I wanted to pass. I replied that he was setting a nice pace and that I would just try to keep up with him for a while. I think somewhere in there he got tired of me breathing down his neck, so he let me pass and I lead the three of us into the main aid station again. He was definitely in a hurry and was in and out of the station in no time to make the final climb up Montara again. Scott and I got our refills and snacks and started back up the mountain, chasing the rabbit who we now knew was running scared! It was at the bottom of the mountain that I felt it. That setting in of fatigue that is not fun to deal with. I tried to keep up with Scott on the climb, but my legs were just not responding anymore. I told him to keep it up and go catch Kermit and let him know that I was in survival mode at the moment. He kept clicking off his pace and got just out of sight of me, and I kept pushing as hard as I could.
Just as Scott would get out of sight, I would start catching him again because he would start to hike, careful not to leave me behind. Even when he had a good lead on me he would turn to me and try to start up a conversation. I realized that he was going to stick with me and he was just trying his best to motivate me up the mountain. I felt conflicted, but just rolled with it. As we neared the summit again we were greeted with a nice flowing fog that cooled me down, and I got a second wind. We made good progress towards the summit but I expected Kermit to be flying down the trail any moment because I was just sure that my slow climbing had killed our changes of catching him. Again, to our surprise, he was basically right there, maybe two minutes ahead of us! This put some more pep in my step and we got up to the summit, and started the glorious descent. We knew that was the last Montara for the day. I was on cloud nine during the descent. All of the sudden the cool foggy breeze and effortless flowing of the downhill allowed me to peek out of the pain cave for a while, and it was fantastic! I am pretty sure I was annoying Scott by this time because I was almost giddy with chatter. We pushed the downhill really well, but never caught Kermit. It was really nice to know that this was the last time we would be leaving the aid station before the finish though. Maybe four miles to go, one more set of Hazelnut switchbacks (no speed bump this time). It was around this time that Scott let me know just how far ahead of the his goal pace we were going. I didn't know what was going to happen over those final four miles, but I knew we could keep it together enough to finish with a pretty nice time. After the final death march to the top of the switchbacks (actually, we ran probably 90% of it - slow of course), we cruised down the hill without a sight of Kermit and decided that he had just ran a really strong race that day and deserved the victory. It is always a relief to hit the final bike path at the bottom of the hill, because you know you are almost there. Scott and I paced ourselves over the finishing mat with Kermit right there. 4:41 was our final time. It blew away our expectations and Scott was ecstatic about setting a new 50k PR on his home course - a tough course. It turned out that Kermit beat us by about 50 seconds. So he was right to run scared. We were on his heals all day long and he never faltered. Just a gutsy old guy.
I was expecting to hurt pretty bad after the race considering the strong effort that we put out, but oddly enough the pain never materialized. I don't know if it has been all of the volume I have been doing in the training lately or what, but the 50k just didn't beat me up too bad. I was very thankful. Scott's wife and 10 month old girl met us after the finish and it was fun to see the couple in that "first child" stage, and seeing the cute baby, which made me nostalgic for those days since I know they are over for me.
I put in a nice Mission Peak double with a bonus to the radio towers the next day to finish the week with 126.9 miles, 19.5 hrs of training, and 21000ft of climbing. Basically my biggest training week ever. Confidence is high.