Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon
Place: 16th out of 72 overall
Today I ran my second Pilot Mountain Payback. This was my first marathon a year ago so after a year of training, and three ultramarathons, my main goal was to improve my time from last year. This was also a toss up as to whether or not I'd get to run as Summer is due with our first child on Tuesday the 21st. She could literally go into labor at any point so I was hoping all week that she would hold off on making her debut until the race was over. She did! And as I write this, we're still waiting. Now, to the race.
Same course as last year, we start at the Yadkin Island Park area, run through a creek 30 feet from the start, then run up and down trails to Pilot Mountain, then up the mountain, around the knob, down the mountain, and then back to the start/finish. It's over 4,000 feet of elevation gain so definitely isn't flat!
We headed to the start an hour before the race, picked up my bib and free copy of Ultrarunning magazine, which apparently planted the seed last year of the whole 'ultrarunning' concept. I had never heard of ultrarunning before this race. Now I know who my wife can blame.
The race director announced a few things to everyone and happened to mention my name and gave Summer and I a big congratulations for coming out to run under the conditions we were in. He had emailed me the day before the race and said that he had informed all the volunteers that bib #341 had a pregnant wife and if need be, would take a DNF at an aid station. So now everyone knew our story and I was known as 'the guy with the kid on the way' for the rest of the race.
The race started and we crossed the first creek. I was wearing my new Hoka Mafate waterproof trail shoes and Drymax socks so I was interested to see how all the creek crossings affected my feet. I didn't know how to pace myself for this race so I just ran by feel for the beginning. After the first two miles, I thought that I went out too fast, but said the heck with it and I was going for it. There is a baby on the way, so I used that as motivation to finish as fast as possible! I used the downhills to pass a few people (probably stupid to pass so early), but I really wanted to run my own pace and not be behind anyone. As I progressed through the road crossings, Summer, her mom and my parents were all there to greet me and take pictures. They were my crew for the day.
My gear for the day. Love the Hokas.
Creek crossing at the beginning.
Summer, my awesome crew, at one of the aid stations.
A little 'Boost' before heading up the mountain.
The first part of the race was uneventful. Up and down hills, running the downhills hard, and the uphills slow, seeing if my hill repeat workouts would pay off. Once I got to the half marathon turn around point, I changed out of my long sleeve shirt into my singlet. Temps started in the mid 40's but would be getting up well into the 50's and maybe 60. The next section would be the hardest. The first part goes up about 500 ft. in a mile, then a little downhill. The next section goes up about 800 ft. in 1.4 miles, ending at the summit. Obviously, this is the toughest part of the race. In training, I try to run these parts as much as I can but today, I was forced to walk a lot of it. I figured I'd conserve some energy this way as well. I used it as a way to meet a new runner who I talked with for a little while.
My temporary running partner, Robert and I walking up to the summit.
Sometimes it feels good to just squat.
For the second consecutive year, we were graced with some excellent weather for this race. The view from the summit is worth the trip.
Once I reached the summit, Summer informed me I was in 19th place or so. I enjoyed the view for a minute, sucked down a Boost meal replacement drink, and headed on. I love those types of drinks because of their nutritional value and liquid calories are my friend. But for some reason, it almost gave me a queasy feeling after I drank them. It seemed though after a few minutes my body 'absorbed' it, and everything was fine. Who knows. I didn't have this problem when I used Ensure in my 40 miler last October. Maybe I should just stick with what works.
After the summit, Robert, my new running friend, and I headed around the famous Pilot Mountain knob. The views are great on this part of the trail. After this section, we head down the back side of the mountain. A lot of rock climbers were out enjoying the south side of the mountain on a gorgeous February day. This section is mostly a lot of man made rock steps. Pretty hard on the knees and you really have to watch your footing or you could easily bust it big.
The trip down the mountain via the Grindstone trail can be pretty speedy. I said goodbye to Robert and picked up the speed and used gravity to take me down the trail. I was feeling good at this point and knew that it was only 2-3 miles before I hit the home stretch 7 mile run back to the finish.
The Pilot Mountain visitor's center aid station is across the street from the trail. I ignored it last year and did the same this year and just kept on trucking. On the 1.75 mile grassy ridge trail, I ended up catching up with another runner and we hit a big hill at the same time. We walked and talked a little and he said 'you're the one with the kid right?'. Nice guy. But once we reached the top of the hill, I took off again and was heading at a faster pace than he so I left him. One other runner was up ahead and his body language said he was either hurt or tired as I have found my body in that same position before. I went around him and just said to keep running strong. These were the last two runners I'd see the rest of the race.
Coming off the Grassy Ridge Trail about to hit the 7 mile home stretch.
Once I reached the Pinnacle Hotel Road aid station, which is the half marathon turn around, this meant I was headed home. I run this section all the time when I go out for training runs. I know it pretty well. And I was feeling great. I knew how many miles I had left, and I started doing some mental calculating to see what my finishing time could be. If I really ran hard, I could go sub 4 hours, which would blow last year's time out of the water and exceed my expectations immensely. So I turned on the jets (relatively speaking). In hindsight, I turned on the jets just a little bit too soon.
Feeling good about 19 miles in.
I ran two solid miles and then it happened. I started feeling bad. I was feeling tired, and leading up to this race, I knew it was on this section last year that I was doing what I'd later learn is called the 'death march'. Similar to last year, I didn't continue my nutrition in the last hour. I guess I was so focused on the finish that I didn't eat enough and ran out of steam. Lesson learned.
Coming to a road crossing, I had lost that wonderful feeling and was starting to feel tired.
I had a three mile stretch where I ran 11:09, 10:09, and 11:02, compared to the sub 10 minute miles I ran the rest of the race (except those going up the mountain where I had to walk). My last full mile I gathered it together mentally and ran a 9:43. As I headed for the finish, one more big creek crossing and it actually felt pretty good to get a little wet. With the finish line in sight, I looked at the clock and it said 4:01:xx. At that point, I was not in a hurry. No one behind me about to pass me. I saw my crew waiting for me, I grabbed Summer's hand and we crossed the finish line together.
My 9 3/4 month pregnant wife running the finish line with me
Saying thank you to our little baby for staying in there and letting me run and giving her a little kiss.
With a Garmin time of 4:01:48 and a gun time of 4:01:53, this was a 42 minute improvement on last year's time on the same course and a new trail marathon PR. I finished 16th overall out of 72 finishers. I am very pleased with my result and now I have a goal for next year to go sub 4 hours. And just so you know the winner finished in 3 hours flat. He beat me by an hour. I can't fathom that. Pretty amazing!
My parents and I after the race.
My mother-in-law who ran around all day and took pictures.
Summer and I comparing our bellies :)
Talking with Jason Bryant (yellow singlet). He won the first two PMPB's but got second this year. Jason has been a great person always taking the time to talk to a me being a new runner. His next big race is the Nueces 50 miler in two weeks.
Elevation profile for the race. I never get tired of looking at this.
Time to rest up and get ready for the Virginia Creeper Trail marathon in March!