The road to the start line of the Rock/Creek StumpJump was a long and rocky one. Returning from Africa, I was still very hesitant to start training at full steam having just recovered from a left tibial stress fracture. I figured that I had roughly six weeks to get in shape to run (not race) 50k and would just take it day by day. The main difference in my training preparation for this race from any other trail race was that I trained as a trail runner. I ran roughly 80% (~80-85miles/wk) of my weekly mileage on trail. I left my watch, track workouts and tempo runs at home and went on feel day by day. Working in the emergency room at night did not leave me a tremendous amount of time during day light hours to train so most days I found myself up at 4-430am and getting in the mileage before my 8o'clocks.
Two weeks out from the Stump, Kristen and I went over to VA to run in
a trail race put on by Odyssey called the 40mi Rampage Run. Kristen ran the marathon and took first overall female in route to setting a new c
ourse record. We both had a blast sleeping in the back of my Suburu in the race start parking lot the night before. I went to VA to figure out my nutrition for the Stump, figuring if I could run 40miles then 31 should not be that difficult. The race went well, as I took the lead (overall) in the opening 50seconds of the race and ended up taking the overall in the 40mi in route to setting a new course record. All told it was a great day for Team Wazungu.
Side note: I had another wild life spotting, this time a black bear, in the final two miles of the 40miler (~43miler)... Seriously!
Coming into the StumpJump I was feeling extremely worn down, but confident in my overall fitness level. (The weekend before I had logged car to car in the rain an impressive 2hr 18/19mi tempo effort up Grandfather Mtn on trails.) I
knew that I had Friday to rest up for Saturday's race. Kristen and I got in late on Thursday after an eventful week of exams, late nights in the E
R and running in the freezing fall rain. Friday morning Kristen and I went out and ran the opening three miles of the course then proceeded to eat 2 loafs of banana bread while writing lab reports before heading downtown to the expo. R/C did an amazing job of putting on a first rate expo and pasta party which was followed up by a highly entertaining slideshow from Ultra-Marathoning Icon, Dean Karnazes.
Saturday morning came after a rather restless night. Coming into the race I had a few things in mind as far as how I would approach the competition. I knew the field promised to bring some strong talent as Bryan Dayton (Vasque runner and StumpJump course record holder) was returning. From my training, I knew I was close to 4hr/StumpJump shape and if I had a chance at the overall I would need to isolate Bryan early in the race. So when the gun went off I jumped to the front and pushed the pace through the opening three miles, wanting to see who would be foolish enough to join me. After three miles I looked u
p and recognized that only Bryan and
Nick were around. Perfect! So I slotted in behind Bryan, happy to allow him to dictate the pace while I sat back and focused on nutrition. We came into the rockhouse aid station a minute or two down on Nick who had taken over the lead. Not wanting to chase, Bryan and I allowed Nick to get out to a six minute lead by the halfway marker. The 10mi lolly pop portion of the race is the fastest/easiest part of the course and having ran the course six weeks prior I figured this would be the time to recover and wait to attack
on the way back through the rockhouse at mile 20. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan. Jeff and Andy ran up on us about a mile out from the rock garden and instantly moved past Bryan at the aid station. On the next climb (~1200m) I took the lead and looked back, realizing that Bryan was slotted in at 5th position. Knowing that it would be hard for Bryan to respond to an attack, having to go around Andy and Jeff, I charged up the hill. Still 14miles out from the finish line and six minutes down on Nick, I figured it was time to throw up the Hail Mary and go for the W.
At the time I figured that I could gain some time on Nick through the rock garden and loose the three runners behind me. Out of the rock garden I ran like a man possessed to catch Nick. Having spent the prior hour eating and drinking b
ehind Bryan I felt like an Ricky Bobby on lap one of Talladega coming through the rock house for the second time. I got the report that I still had four minutes to make up on Nick with on ~8-10miles left in the race. After some quick math, I knew it was time to roll thunder and make up 30seconds/mile. I threw utter caution to the wind, going totally light weight, leaving my water bottle and nutrition behind (NOT ADVISED). By the suck creek road crossing four miles away I recieved word that I was roughly 45seconds dow
n heading into the final two climbs of the day. I took the next climb easy as to not cramp and to get my mind right for the final push home. It was on the downhill that I finally caught Nick. I turned my music off and ran silently behind him for the next uphill mile listening and observing everything he was doing. At the mushroom aid station I put in a slight surge on the uphill and saw no reply. I then layed into it and ran for the finish.
The final climb off the trail and around the school was emotional for me. Growing up only three miles from the race start and having idealized the winners of this race since its conception nine years ago, to say I wanted to win this race badly would be an understatement. I am happy I could bring home to bacon for Team R/C and Team Wazungu.
I am thankful for such incredible competitors and friends who make this such an amazing event to come back to year after year. Growing up three miles from the start line, it feels like coming home every time I have the opportunity to run on the Cumberland Trail. Kristen ran an inspiring race, setting a PR for her first 50k ever with her last two miles being her quickest. I want to thank the event staff for the countless hours spent turning this race into one of the premier trail races in the country.