The ending is really exciting, so keep reading...
After my scarlet fever and subsequent antibiotic treatment, my plan for the race was to start easy and see how I felt. I didn't really think I could win, and when Brian Peterson showed up to register, it was no longer an option.
Before the race, I was recognized by many as the husband of "that crazy pregnant doctor with the blog". At least that's what I took their double-takes to mean.
We started off in a pack of 6, with Brian Peterson already running way out in front. The pack included John Storkamp and Joe Ziegenfuss, with whom I have raced (or have seen race) a few times. A young guy from Duluth, Craig Hertz, looked really strong. Jonas Ryttie was yo-yo'ing a little ahead and behind the pack, whereas Rob Semelroth followed the pace.
I didn't feel good and was noticably more out of breath than the others. At maybe 8 miles, I was spit out the back of the group with Joe Ziegenfuss and then Jonas Ryttie. The front group seemed long gone. Before the turn-around, I got lost going up a hill to a house, and didn't realize that I was off course until I was running over a buried septic tank. I Ran back down the hill to see the front group (including Brian Peterson) coming back from the turn-around.
On the way back, the two-way traffic made the trail a little crowded. On the other hand, it was fun to see how close the women's race was. The Girl was near the back, going a steady pace, still without contractions. We talked for a little while, during which Joans Ryttie, whom I had run with since the turn-around, got out of sight.
The course is so undulating that it's hard to spot other runners. Even if you see other runners, the trail twists so much that they could be ten seconds or two minutes ahead. I settled into a content pace for the next ten miles, during which I didn't see another runner. I was starting to feel pretty good and felt a little runner's high. On the one hand, it seemed like I was in for a typical strong finish, but on the other hand, it seemed like it was going to be a very lonely fast finish.
And now it gets exciting. With a few miles to go, I passed John Storkamp, and then saw two spectators, who shouted "there are a couple of runners up there you can probably catch!". Interesting. Suddenly it felt like I was in a race again, and I sped up. Almost immediately, Rob Semelroth came into view. When I passed him, I saw that both Craig Hertz and Jonas Ryttie were up ahead in the distance. The former was being passed by the latter. I figured I could catch them, if I dug deep and started surging ahead.
The last mile is a long sweep around the perimeter of the field below the park headquarters. I could see that I was getting closer, and for a moment it seemed like I would get up to Craig and Jonas, but then they started surging up the hill, starting a long sprint. They were halfway up the last long hill when I got to the bottom, and a large part of me was quietly happy I didn't quite catch them. The two of them were forced to sprint/powerhike up the steep wall leading to the finish line. It was crazy to watch. Craig used long classic-ski style steps, whereas Jonas hiked with choppy, fast, short steps. Craig pulled ahead to take second and seconds later they were both rolling on the ground deep in oxygen-debt.
I thought the hill was terrible at an easy no-pressure power-hike and I can only imagine what if would be like to have to sprint against someone else in front of 50 or so spectators on a hill that steep.
I got fourth with a time of 4:15. All in all, a decent race. I've been regretting not speeding up earlier; I had a lot left at the end, and would have loved it if they turned it into a 60K. It's that feeling of "running out of trail to catch people". Maybe if I hadn't gotten lost, if I hadn't chatted with the Girl or if someone had shouted "you're about to catch a couple runners" a mile or two earlier...
Oh well, excuses and retrospections are always aplenty, and it's possible the other guys got more lost than me (after all, one little detour in a 50K is pretty good for me).
The Girl's very sensible DNF is well-described on her blog, of course. She had a good time, all things considered. We will definitely be back next year.