The course consists of three loops of the ten mile-long single track Perimeter Trail, with about 3/4 of a mile in a mowed field and then some park road from a pavilion at the beginning of the race to spread out the field, and the same stub for the return. The track is mostly in the woods and gently undulating without much in the way of serious ascent or descent. There are a few tree roots and even fewer rocks, but nothing that requires much more than ordinary attention and not enough to distupt running stride. The trail has two stream crossings, but today the water is down. One stream is easy to leap over and the other has a log in it the enables a dry crossing. The course twice goes under a powerline and briefly skirts a pair of fields. There are two aid stations on the course, the first at the point where the loop begins and ends, and the second halfway around the loop.
It is cool at the start with temperatures in the mid-30s, but will warm to 63, so dressing is a bit of a challenge. I elect to start in my shorts, but wear a cap, gloves and my Miwok buff around my neck. Within a couple of miles I've taken off the hat but the gloves last a while longer. After the first loop I drop the gloves and hat at the aid station which also doubles as a place where runners can leave drop bags. The volunteers return all the bags and other items left at the station to the start before the end of the race.
A couple of weeks earlier at the Marine Corps Marathon I had success with a run seven minutes, walk one minute strategy and I've decided to use it again. I have some trouble figuring out how to maximize use of my watch for the cycle, but after about 15 miles I have it figured out. What the solution means however is that I routinely won't be flipping back to either the time of day or lap time functions on the watch. And that means that I won't know how I'm progressing.
The course is very well marked and since the footing is pretty good, one can spend some time looking at the scenery. There are no spectacular views as there are at other races, but the woods are infused with a golden light from from the mostly yellow and brown leaves on the ground and on the trees. A moment of inattentiveness allows a rise in the ground to catch my foot and I stumble and fall gently, dirtying my right calf, but without so much as an abrasion on either my leg or my hands. "Down but not out," I assure a runner who sees me fall, as I pop back up.
Passed the second aid station a runner tells me that trail bikers use the course. As if on cue a couple of riders come toward us. We'll see bike riders the rest of the day going in both directions, but all are unfailingly polite and there are no problems over sharing the trail. Later I meet a woman riding her horse in the woods, but mostly on trails that cross the trail we are running on.
I finish the first loop in 1:53. A bit quick I think. A flicker of a thought that I can go under six hours crosses my mind. On the plus side, the course is very runnable, I've now seen it all, and there are no difficult sections. On the down side is that there are still 20 miles to go, the day is getting warmer and slowing down is inevitable.
After I disposed of my hat and gloves I'd moved the buff to my wrist, but it it is hot there so I roll it up and wrap it around my head to catch the sweat which is starting to drip down.
About four miles into the second loop a photographer is busy shooting the passing runners. "What goes up must go down," he says of the rolling section of the course. "If the up lasts more than three hours," I reply, "call your doctor."
A little way past the second aid station, about mile 16, the first place runner passes me. He's done 26 miles to my 16. I try to do some mental arithmetic as to the ratio of our times, and figure that I'm about on my regular pace, which is to run about 54 percent of the distance covered by race winners when they are finished. Four or five more runners a lap ahead will pass me before I finish the second loop.
I finish the second loop in about 3:49. One loop to go, the 7/1 running has me feeling strong, and absent a catastrophic fall, I'm confident that I'll break my 50K PR of 6:37. What about six hours? I've got 11 minutes in the bank, but on the other hand, there is that extra three-quarters of a mile at the end.
I decide not to worry about. I've got the routine of using the timer function of the watch down so that I never have to look at either the time of day or the elapsed time. Run seven. Walk at the beep. Reset the time. When it counts down to six minutes, reset it again and run seven. Repeat. If I walk an uphill during the seven minutes, don't worry about it.
About mile 26 I finally hit the 'bad patch.' It is that point in an ultra when you start to wonder why you are doing it. Marathon runners 'hit the wall,' a point when they have depleted all their glycogen and start to have to rely on fat reserves for energy. It often seems that there is no recovery from the wall as it is based on physiology. Ultra runners don't seem to experience the wall. It may be because they are eating throughout the race, or are used to going longer distances or are better at pacing. The bad patch obviously has physiological components, but more of it seems mental. Today, it is a not-so-bad bad patch. It isn't very deep and doesn't last very long, maybe because I've been having a fine day. I avoid the temptation to glance at my elapsed time. I figure I should be able to finish under 6:10 or 6:15.
I exit the woods and get on the road to the finish. It is a long uphill and while I run some of it, I also walk a fair amount. Cresting the hill I can see the finish maybe 400 yards off. The red glow of the clock is visible, but it's too far away to see the numbers. My watch beeps and I take my one minute walk.
Finally I'm off the road and in the field. One hundred and fifty yards of tall grass, slightly uphill, to go. Someone is standing between me and the clock. Fifty yards to go and now I can see the hour number: '5.' Forty five yards and I can see '5:5' but not the unit minutes or seconds. Closer now. And finally the full clock: '5:59:42.' Sprint! Six hours is within range and sight. Cross the line. Gasp for air. Hands on knees. Did I make it? The race director comes over and congratulates me. "You were under six hours," he says. When the official results are posted the next day my time is 5:59:59. I finish 60 of 89.
After catching my breath I walk over to the pavilion for a Coke and a baked potato. I top the potato with cheese and a curried corn topping. And I collect my glass finishers mug to go with the hat I received when I registered in the morning.
When I get home I notice that salt is caked on the bridge of my nose and that my black shirt has salt stains as well. Fortunately I had taken two Succeed tablets during the race which helped replace - or contributed - to the salt I lost through my skin.