First race of 2013 I thought I'd have some fun at a race I'd done before. In fact, Willis River is the changed name of Swinging Bridge 50k with slight course modifications. Swinging Bridge was my first ultra, so this race has some sentimental value to me. That being said, I felt terrible during the race.
A lot of my friends were there and when I showed up, we started visiting and I may have forgotten to pack even close to enough gels for the run. We started off down the trail in about 50 something degree humid weather and quickly realized that it was going to be hard to stay on course. Myself and three other guys led the race and as we came around one corner about 3 miles in, we saw all these runners up ahead entering the trail from a side trail! So we went from top 4 to 15th or so. They didn't realize they were off course. That time we realized that we were right, and everyone else was off course, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. So we all sped up a bit and caught back up, and then the same thing happened in another spot where we were 99% positive we were all going the right way only to have people scooting in from a side trail and us having to catch back up. We got lost or off track, or stayed on track while everyone else wasn't on 3 more times on our way to the 10 mile turn-around. It was a little bit frustrating and we may have burned up a little bit more energy than we should have trying to catch back up to everyone who had passed us.
BUT! As we were running along after leaving the first aid station the four of us heard a jingling behind us. A husky that we figured belonged to one of the aid station workers had followed us. Then a few minutes later another dog, this time a white pit bull mix caught up to us and joined our pack. At one point he was following me so closely I accidentally caught him in the jaw with my foot. I just heard this little clap and when I looked back he was licking his lips and smiling at me while wagging his tail.
At the turn around we were down to three in the little front pack and we retraced our steps back to the beginning only getting off trail once. At least that was an improvement. On our way back, one of the guys dropped off the back shortly after passing the 5 mile aid station and the other guy dropped off about 2 miles from the 35k mark. I got back to the beginning first ahead of the 35k runners and started the last out and back section. 5 miles out, 5 miles back - roughly. I wish the dogs would have stayed with us, or just me.
I was feeling pretty crummy at the start of this section and just tried to relax and run everything. I was pretty close to being out of Hammer gel in my little flask so I just tried to ration that out in smaller increments. The trail was undulating so it was a little hard for me to get into any kind of rhythm during the short little kickers and descents. Though, just before you get to the turn around, the trail gets beautiful. It was dull gray and hazy all day - just stomping around the leaves, not really on any sort of trail, just blindly following streamers and markings - and then out of nowhere it was like running on a trail in the Pacific Northwest. I haven't been there but I've seen pictures and there were lots of ferns and moss. It was very strange but not entirely unwelcome. I hit the turnaround and filled my hand bottle and looked at my watch to see how long I had on the 2nd place guy. I passed him after running for 5 minutes, so I had 10 minutes on him. I figured as long as I didn't take any naps or pull the old tortoise and the hare, I could grab first.
The way back, I didn't really feel like running anymore so I just kept running so that I could be done sooner. I was chilly and wet with sweat and just not in a great place mentally. But I crossed the finish line in 4:25:03 in first. Not my fasted 50k, but definitely my fastest on the course by about 35 minutes. Last time I ran it I was first in 5:11 in -2 Fahrenheit. I'm proud to say that it was the slowest winning time in course history.