August 7th, 2010........8 hours. 1.17 mile loop....Atlanta August weather.....
For those that know me, I hold myself to very high standards in almost everything I do....work and play. So my reaction of others to the upcoming Hot to Trot was interesting. I'd had a good year of running......I'd gotten 4 or 5 overall wins including in last years Hot To Trot, my first 100K at Iron Horse, and the SweetH20 50K. But I am still a rookie. Certainly not a rookie at running......I can't even calculate the number of races I've run over the past 20 years. But a rookie at really long time/distance running.
I found myself in the unusual position of feeling pressure about a race. Some of my running friends had high expectations of me and this really shook me. When it comes to racing, my promise to myself is that I always give it everything I have on that particular day. I can't even remember sandbagging a race and have never had a DNF. When I'm done, I want to feel like I left 100% of me on the course regardless of the distance. But I am human and have good days, bad days, and am sometimes very well prepared and sometimes not so much.
I went into the Hot To Trot pretty well prepared. I am not someone that goes crazy on training for a particular race. I log 50-70 miles every week regardless and have not, for several years, done much terribly special to prep for an event. This approach has served me pretty well in the past but has limits.
It felt like a family outing when I showed up at Sweetwater Creek State Park for the race. I knew many people and made some new acquaintances as well. The ultra community is an amazingly cool group of people.
This years race was billed the "Clash of the Champions" as it was the 10th year of the event. All past winners were encouraged to attend and even got complementary entry. But looking over the entry list, I knew the race would be between myself and Jon Obst. He is an amazingly strong runner and I barely edged him at last year's event.
I had taped an 8 minute and 9 minute pace chart on my arm. I proved worthless for the entire race. I finished the first loop at 7:10 for a 1.17 mile loop.....and proceeded to keep that pace for almost 10 laps. It was gonna be a long day for sure. The hill on the back side of the loop that I plowed up for the first 10-15 laps started to feel like a real hill....which it was.
Managed to get a full lap up on John after about 25 laps but I knew it was going to be a touch day for me when I finished 30 miles in the first 4 hours. Not appropriate for August heat, my condition, and the terrain. After about 5 hours, I was hurting like I'd never hurt before. I had taken a small spill and it caused a massive knot in my left quad. That and a far too aggressive pace brought my pace to a shuffle instead of a sprint.
Back to that pressure thing. I finished on loop and told a good friend and GUTS member that I was close to done. With nothing but good intentions she said something to the effect of "come on, I've got money on you". I admit I about lost it. I was struggling, hurting, and ready to call it a day. This comment was the last thing I wanted/needed to hear. I wanted to hear "hang in there....you are doing great". Got plenty of those, but the pressure comment just didn't sit well.
After 3 more hours or struggling and a little reflection, I can honestly say I am more proud of my performance at Hot to Trot than any other race ever. I didn't win, it wasn't a time/distance personal best. But I fought off a huge number of demons to finish the race. It took more mental and physical effort than any other race and 53 miles and 2nd place felt like one of my best performances ever.