“Why don’t you just win the damn thing?!” were the words of advice I received from Craig after discussing the women’s field and my time goals. If course record holder Tyler Stewart was a no-show, I felt I had a reasonable chance. I did not take the competition lightly in the least, but I did feel fit enough to improve upon my course PR from 2011 of 4:11, and low 4 hour times have won the race most years. I would try to keep my average pace below 8 minutes to get closer to that 4 hour mark.
Sunny skies, and cool, dry air were on tap for the day. Warming up among the nearly 1000 runners was like a ultra running family reunion, everyone coming out from winter hiding to celebrate the beginning of the season for many runners. I felt pretty good warming up, and ten minutes before the start I shed my warm layers, gave them to my crew of the day – Craig, Laurie, and Casey – took one preventative Imodium, put on my hydration pack, did a few strides, then packed into the start area for the countdown. Three women I was sure would give me a run for my money – Rory Bosio, Jen Pfeifer, and Gina Lucrezi- exchanged greetings and well wishes with me. And of course there are always the unknowns in the mix, but my focus was on running smart and running hard. I set my heart rate monitor to alert me if I went over 165, as I knew that it wasn’t sustainable for 50k.
RD Julie Fingar gave us a 10 second countdown, and off we bolted down the fast paved 1+ mile. Rory was at my side and we set a good clip, chatted a little about races we’ve done this year and what we are both had planned ahead. Each little downhill, I gapped her a bit, each little uphill, she sucked right back up. We hit the single track with me in front, and for a little bit she stayed back, then we played leap frog for about another mile. We caught my pacer from Western States 2012, Mark Richtman, where, following Tim Fitzpatrick’s advice, I told him “this is where I’m supposed to say you shouldn’t have gone out ahead of me!” At this point Rory and I were on the back of a train of men on narrow single track that was treed adequately enough to make passing perhaps not worth the effort, but after some time of feeling antsy, as it was flat and for me where I can get a good pace going, I said “Rory, we need to do something here!” Following her lead, we jumped onto the grassy trail side, cut in front of 5 men, and low and behold, the trail started to climb again. Gradually at first, but I had spiked my pulse getting around, and now I felt like a competitive pain in the ass to the men who were soon back on my heels, while Rory quickly pulled out of sight. I made an effort to squeeze to the side of the trail, and no one tried to push me over as they went by (including Mark), although I wouldn’t have blamed them. Eventually I got my breathing and heart rate back under control, and fell into a reasonable rhythm. We were a mere 4 miles into the race, so I didn’t need to blow up just yet. Unbelievably, Rory was completely out of sight. Wow, she put some burners on, or else she stopped to use the bushes. And behind me, Gina was close on my heels, catching up on the climbs, lagging on the downs.
Eight miles into the race we came back to the start/finish, through an aid station, many spectators, and an announcer. Here I learned that Rory was 2 minutes up, and that Gina was right on my heels, and my split was about 58 minutes – which was right where I wanted to be. Casey, Craig, and Laurie were cheering me through, and I was lifted by the crowd’s enthusiasm. Gina stayed close behind, but as soon as we hit the Western States Trail with it’s long downhill, I put some distance between us. I loved this section, reveling in the sweet single track, sunshine, and fast surface. I re-passed my friends that left me on the climbs, but still no Rory sightings. On and on I sailed, down to the hwy 49 crossing, where some very kind fan called me a young lady. The next aid station, mile 11-ish, I grabbed an S!Cap, drank some coke and blew on out. I had been taking a gel every 30-45 minutes, and sipping on the coconut water-gu brew blend from my pack. No one gave me an update on Rory, so I figured she must be pretty far ahead. Running on the lower quarry road next to the American River, I could see Mark ahead a couple hundred yards, but I wasn’t closing the gap. My garmin registered in the 7:20’s range overall so far, so I really had taken advantage of that last descent. Now running flat with some rollers, I kept mentally engaged with my effort, not allowing myself to get lazy. First and foremost, I wanted to keep under 8 minutes, and second, hopefully it kept me in the chase-game and the don’t-get-caught game.
The road section turned to single track, and gradually climbed higher above the river. Eventually I ran into Rory’s dad, who informed me she was up a couple of minutes. I could hear more going on behind me after I passed him, I figured it might be Gina, but I didn’t look back. Another aid station, I grabbed the usual, as well as an extra Gu. Finally arriving at Maine Bar, the trail took a fairly severe rocky ascent. I “ran” most of it, walking a step or two when it made sense, and ignored my ever beeping Garmin. Looking down I could see Gina, and I gave her a shout-out. When I finally reached the Western States trail that would lead me to the ALT aid station, I breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t caught me. I thought the trail would be flat, and probably on most training days it feels that way, but it had a fair amount of gradual climb to it. I pushed, pushed, pushed, my pace barely below 8 now. I cruised into ALT, mile 21, grabbed a gu, and gradually started to feel my legs come to life on the sweet contoured trail that would be for the next 3 miles. I caught a few men beginning to struggle, including Mark, who had injured himself and had to get to the finish in less than fine form. I flew into Brown’s Bar, hung a left and felt the brakes go on as I began the ascent up Goat Hill, the steepest climb of the race. One poor soul looked ready to weep when he learned that THIS was Goat Hill, thinking he had climbed it long ago. I kept after it, pushing the hike to the top to the encouragement of onlookers. Reports that Rory was ahead by a few minutes were interesting, but I didn’t get my hopes up. There were only 5 or 6 miles to go from here, and it didn’t seem likely I would speed up or she would slow down.
I grabbed a gel, drank coke, took an S!Cap and flew out. The course is not done climbing, and this time I remembered that there was a fair bit of rolling to get through. Hammering along when I could, pushing the climbs until my legs were burning, I called in the workouts Coach Ian Torrence has me do – Long Run Fast Finish – and knew I could make it with this amount of effort. Close to the final aid station, spectators were reporting to me that I was 2nd female, and that first was only 2-3 minutes ahead. I smiled and appreciated their support, but I wasn’t believing I could catch someone that far ahead with now only 2 miles to go. I calculated my over all time, and it did appear that I would at least get a course PR!
Gretchen Brugman was working at the last aid station, and as I came through she yelled “you can get her Meghan – she is just up ahead!” and for the first time I believed it might be true. An sneaky uphill grade presented itself, which got steeper and rockier. I remember racing Caren Spore here 2 years ago, trying to stay on her heels, working harder than I thought possible, and drawing from that experience, did not relent my own pace. Another onlooker making his way down the technical section said “she’s right up ahead” and sure enough, when I looked up, Rory was within hearing distance.
I wanted to throw up. Now I knew I had to keep up the fight and maybe fight even harder, and I knew I was going to hurt even more, and I knew that I could catch up to her only to have her take off again. The trail began to smooth out and level off, and when I looked again, I could see she was jogging, and looked to be pretty much done racing. Once on her heels, I asked “what’s up Rory?” “Go for it! It’s all yours!” I opened up my stride, and crested the climb.
I choked up when I realized I was going to “win the damn thing!” I’m 51 years old and I’m gonna win the damn thing. But it wasn’t over yet, so I quickly put away my little drama, ran the final stretch with a good kick, and crossed the finish line in 4:06.
Rory finished less than a minute later, ever gracious as I know her to be. Jenn Pfeifer was not far back, to round out the top 3.
Wins don’t come that often, and sure, there are all kinds of things I can say about strength of field, course conditions, blah blah blah, but instead I will savor the experience and appreciate how my body has been holding up, and how my curiosity for how long I will be performing at my personal level is still rather peaked.