My father, Ashlee, and myself all made the trip to Hagerstown , Maryland on Friday evening after Ashlee finished with classes. It was a fun drive down as we sang songs to the radio, talked about life, and cracked jokes to pass the time. About 5 hours later, we made it to home base. We checked into the hotel, grabbed a bite to eat at Outback Steakhouse and then went to bed. With full bellies, we caught some sleep. While asleep, I had a dream about the race; we were running late and arrived at a school that was the wrong school and I was pretty bummed we went all the way out here to get incredibly lost. I had one of those running dreams where you do not feel you are going anywhere. Then, the alarm went off.
Night Before the Big day! (Mammut Aenergy Thermo Vest/Go Far Hoody)
We got all of our belongings and loaded up the old trusty van and headed out to the race site about 10 miles away. After my father almost made a few wrong turns, we were cutting it close to the time the race gun would go off. We had about 15 minutes and I had that déjà vu feeling I had in my dream the night before. I hustled with Ashlee and my father to the starting line as I was kicking off my warm-up pants and putting my bib on. I gave them both a hug and kiss goodbye and ran to the front of the starting line.
It was a crisp morning with temps in the teens and 20's. I felt decent considering I had no idea if I could finish the 50 miles with a month and was hopeful I could mix it up as best as I could.
With the start of the gun...we were off. I settled into the main front pack, ready to assert myself as best as I could. We hit the first 3 miles of rolling hills and about a mile into the race, began the climb up to the entrance of the Appalachian Trail.
There I am in the green hat!!!!
To be with a nice pack of 8, we all settled into a decent rhythm, and I just tried to remain relaxed and to really enjoy the moment. With the type of year I had, if was a true blessing to be here and to be able to compete at an extremely high level. As we crossed the road onto the rocky and leaf-covered Appalachian Trail, I was energized and talking with 4th place runner, Bobby Longnecker. We got to know one another as some of the Adi-Ultra team members shot out at a blistering pace on the trail.
Let me tell you people, the Appalachian Trail is ROCKY! Not Catskill level but pretty close. You have to concentrate on every footfall and you must learn to become comfortable with planting your foot on uneven ground. As the trail began to wind around, I was hacking a little and I could tell that this was freaking out the guys I was with a little as they probably thought I would not be able to hang for long.
Once we hit the bike path only a few miles after on the AT, the top runners started to fly by as myself, Ryan A., the top finisher from last year and Bobby Longnecker just hung back at the back of the pack which had numerous Adi-Ultra Runners and Eric Senseman. I knew that running smart on the AT would be my best bet for a successful time and finish. I found those two other runners that were running totally in control and having fun. We chatted and danced along the rocks of the AT for what felt like hours.
I was in about 9th place.
As I started catching early starters, I knew that we would be coming up to the end of the AT with the winding switchbacks. I was taking in a Boom gel every 45 minutes and had consumed three of them while on the trail and filled up with electrolyte drink only once. Then I had a moment. I recalled how I felt on my last trail training run before the race at Labrador Hollow Natural Area.
It went something like this....
The view from the Hanglider Spot
Down in the gulley
Mammut Red---Going for the selfie!
So this run began with myself trudging through muddy, slick trails. I started off coughing heading up the steep incline. It was tough. By the time I had pushed myself to the top of the high point near 2,000 ft at the Hanglider's Spot, I began to float, and run effortlessly. I was a wild gazelle, bobbing through the deep dark woods. The run was as if it was yesterday. And before I knew it, I was hitting the winding switchbacks and had separated myself from my two running comrades.
The rush of noice as I came down the switchbacks was exhilarating as I felt solid and was ready to open up my pace on the towpath.
About 16 miles gone and now began about a marathon (26.3) on the Towpath canal route. This would feel relatively flat in relation to the rolling sections of the AT. I sprinted through the screaming hordes of people at the base of the trail. It was like running through a wind tunnel of noise and excitement. I may have split some 5 minute pace through the aid station, the excitement was amazing.
I then hit the towpath and settled into what I thought was 7-6:40 pace based on feel as I have a Wal-mart watch. I was in I think 7th pace off of the AT and felt really good. I knew that the pack of runners that shot out ahead of me on the AT would be hurting later on in the race as I split a solid 2:00 first section split with reserve left.
I was ready. The towpath felt relaxed as I began to turn-over the legs. I think where people struggle with this section is that it is monotonous but smart pacing here is where this race is won. If you run the towpath the best and the most even in terms of effort, you will come out on top.
About 10k into the towpath, I passed a gentlemen taking a bathroom break! One down, 6 more to go. I took in another Orange Vanilla Boom energy gel and could feel the energy pulsating in my body! I know that sounds weird but these gels really give you exceptional energy.Then I came up about a mile after I passed one guy, I caught Jim Sweeney and another Adi-Ultra runner and as I saw them about a minute away in the distance, I became excited and began to reel them in. It was maybe a minute or two before I made my decisive move and kept pushing.
My pace was hot! I was running some 6:15-6:20's to pass the two Adi-Ultra runners but I felt like a million bucks! Would this be my magical day. By this point, I was not coughing and all of my Mammut gear (MTR 201 Pro Low, Micro Jacket, 71 shorts etc) was making my effort as comfortable as possible. In the heat of the moment I forgot to take in extra calories which would cost me later. I had no blisters thanks to my Fits Socks!!!!
Shout out to Mammut Fleece Beanies---Love them!
The gear that powered me to a solid finish!!!!
Then at one of the aid stations, I finally was able to connect with my Father and Ashlee!!! They told me I was in 3rd place and was only a minute or two from 1st. I felt great and energized some and headed out. I was running about the best race of my life. If I could keep my energy levels consistent, I could win this thing! This run, I never felt more moved before in all of the running I have ever done. I was fighting the odds and succeeding. I loaded up on calories and said I felt great and headed out on the hunt.
I kept pressing on: Ashlee and my Father were driving on the road parallel to the towpath cheering for me as I waived their way, It was exciting and truly a celebration of all of their hard work to get me over my bronchitis and sinus infection, their sacrifices of time, their commit to me and I was flowing with that energy, that power of love. I kept going....
Before I knew it, the next aid station, I could see second 20 seconds in front of me and 1st was only a minute away. I made a strong push to catch them. They also were moving well as it felt like the gap was not closing soon enough.
Then I hit a low point. 18 miles of perfection on the tow path and my faster miles were catching up with me.
I hit a low-patch from miles 35-38 where I went from third right into 5th in one fell swoop. I took a 40 second walk break and that set me back some spots in the standings. After that point, I could not regain much vigor and strength in my legs as I pressed onward towards the next check-point.
I was hurting pretty bad. I had moments of self-reflection with this being my last race of the year, I wanted to run my best and to celebrate a year of hard work and tremendous support from my family, friends and sponsors that have made my dreams a reality. As I hit the last 8 miles of tarmac, I was just praying my body would get me to the finish as my legs became sheer lead.
THe moments of the year:
The First snow in Cortland.
Memories from the Virgil Crest Ultra Marathon 50k!!!
In the Tussey Mountainback, I felt extremely sick with both a sinus infection and bronchitis. Somehow, I managed to run close to 5:30 50 mile pace for the 40 miles of the race before falling apart with 10 miles to go. Never before had my body completely shut down on me like this in a race. Without the encouragement and love from my father and my love, Ashlee, I do not think I would have finished.
I dug deep one last time and pushed forward. I had moments where I was able to get my stale legs to move again in the low 7's only to accept the urge to slow down. It was a grind the last 8 miles but as I neared the finish, I was elated to hold on to a 5th place finish in around 6:11. It was not my best time for the 50 mile distance though I was very pleased with how I hung tough. I will be eying this race in the future to hopefully run a time I think can be reached with my fitness.
A strong and valiant finish! 6:11 for 5th Place!!!
I was happy to be done!
It was an incredible year. I learned a lot about myself and in my relationships with others. I worked very hard and hit numerous set-backs. But when I look at 2014, I am very grateful for what I have.
I want to thank first my sponsors: Mammut North America, Acidotic Racing, Boom Nutrition, Craft/Karhu North America, Fits Socks, Redfeather Snowshoes, Red Newt Racing/MPF, The USATF Niagara Association for their continued support. Without you, I would not be where I was in 2014 and to where I will be going in 2015. Again thank you!
I would like to thank my family, my loving father, Charles Crosby and the love of my life, Ashlee Prewitt for taking the time and money spent to share in these experiences. I love you all. To a healthy and happy 2015!!!