I love this race. This year was my third time running it. The only year I've missed was the second one two years ago, and that was because I was attempting the Gnarly Bandit.
Well, fast forward to today, and I'm again attempting the Gnarly Bandit. The difference is that this year I used the race as a measuring stick and a long training run. It is at a great time of year, the trail is in good condition, and the aid stations are exactly where I need them.
This year's END-SURE 50k was heavily modified from last year's. While last year was an out & back that covered the hilliest part of the trail twice and included a short section on the road, this year most closely resembled the first year's course and had absolutely no road running at all!
We were bused to the start line well ahead of the 10am start. Fortunately, the race director was merciful and let us start early. I let a bunch of people go ahead of me at the start, and settled into a nice steady pace. I had the Zumbro 100 coming up in a few weeks, and wanted to be fresh for it, with no risk of injuries, so I didn't push the pace. After a few miles, I reeled in Melissa Budd and David Fielder, two amazing runners from Winnipeg. We would sometimes drift apart from each other, as we were each running our own race, but for the most part we ran the first half of the race together. Having company really helps tick the miles off.
After the second aid station, the hills started. I dropped David and Melissa, and began to do my "walk all hills and run everything else" strategy. With my highly variable pace, it didn't make any sense to run with anybody. Considering how well I was moving in the second half, I was surprised when I got passed by a guy who was flying up the hills. I guess somebody else sandbagged the first half of the race more than I did!
When we came within sight of the finish line, there was one more kick to the balls left in store. The 50k and 100k race had an extra 4 mile loop. Unfortunately for me, I thought it was a 4km loop. I sped up to a pace that I figured I could keep up for 5km, and tried to tick off the last bit of trail as fast as I could. Then I noticed Melissa coming up behind me. I wasn't going to let anybody pass me that late in the race (sorry Melissa), and having somebody breathe down my neck was just the kick I needed to push the pace a bit harder. But I just couldn't shake her. When we finally got to the last few hills, I took a glance behind me and noticed that the gap between us had widened. Thank goodness! I was redlining for far too long, and had misjudged how much race was left. I eased up slightly and coasted in to the finish. The 2nd last mile was my fastest of the entire race.
I crossed the finish line in 6:06. Nowhere near my PB of last year (5:41, on a much hillier course), but I was in terrific shape. I still had lots left in the tank and felt like I had a great training run. I'm sure everybody else at the finish line would disagree with my assessment, as my muscles stiffened up almost immediately.
What really makes this race great is the beer-swapping and camaraderie around the camp fire afterwards. Already looking forward to next year!