This was a race I had been looking forward to for a while. It's only 20 minutes from my house and I run these trails all the time. The race started at 8am and I didn't have to wake up until 6:45! Stone Steps consists of 2 loops, the first is 5.3 miles (which I think is more like 5.5, but have never actually measured it myself) and the second is 3.3 miles. The 5.3 mile loop is the most difficult, containing the to biggest climbs on the course in addition to plenty smaller hills. This loop is repeated 4 times. The 3.3 mile loop contains only of rolling hills and is completely runnable if you have any leg strength left (which I didn't after the first 20 miles.)
My original goal, set a couple months ago, was to get plenty of rest going into this race and try to place in the top 5. But after running hard at Farmdale last weekend I knew I wasn't going to be able to accomplish that. I still sit a goal of 5:25 and decided to stick with that pace until I no longer could.
Right from the start I tried to stay towards the front of the pack because I knew it would only be a minute or two before we were on tight single track with no room to pace. The first few miles went pretty well, but as I struggled up the stone steps hill, I couldn't help but think about how I would have to climb this hill three more times before the day was over. There is also a hill at the very end of the loop which is about 3/4 the size of the stone steps and equally as brutal. Adam told me this is called the "Gummy Bear Hill." There is one aid station on the course which is right at the start/finish line, at the beginning of each loop. as I hit the aid station for the first time, I was 4 1/2 minutes ahead of my goal time, which is pretty significant being only 5 miles into the race. I knew I was going to fast so I tried to slow down just a touch going into the 3.3 mile loop. At this point I was feeling good and hopeful that I could keep up my pace. I cruised through the 3.3 mile loop and was now about 8 minutes ahead of my pace.
I took more walking breaks on the second 5 mile loop and was still feeling good coming into the aid station at 17 miles about 5 minutes ahead of my goal. But this is where the wheels started wobbling. At this point I began to realize I wasn't going to reach my 5:25 goal but I wasn't totally wasted and I could still come in under 6 hours. I didn't get the soreness and stiffness in my legs that I usually do at this distance. Usually my legs become much less agile and I have trouble running even the flats. This time my muscles were just tired but my legs were still responsive and moving pretty well. I attribute this to the speed work I have been doing in the last month. It has really helped my leg turnover. At the 22.5 mile aid station I had finally lost all my cushion on my goal pace and was know three minutes over. I did get a nice surprise at this point when I saw my mom waiting for me at the aid station. I didn't know she was going to be there.
Going into the last 3.3 mile loop I started walking all up hills, just trying to conserve my energy so I wouldn't collapse on my final climb of the Stone Steps and Gummy Bear Hill. Heading out on the final loop (5.3 miles) I was confident I had enough time to finish under 6 hours and just did what I could to finish as strong as possible. The final two major hill climbs were pretty pitiful, Climbing up the Stone Steps for the last time, I actually had to stop for a second and catch my breath. Another runner caught me as We climbed Gummy Bear Hill, less than 1/2 mile from the finish. We bonded and talked about how much we hated those damn hills and jogged through the finish line side by side in a respectable time of 5:49:14, another 14th place finish, same as last week. I was pleased with my performance even though it was well off my goal.
This is a top notch event Directed by a pair of great runners, Dave Corfman (1 of only 10 finishers at the McNaughton 150 mile trail run) and Andy Jones (former North American 100 mile record holder, and I think he is still the 40 mile record holder) and the post race soups provided by ultrarunner/chef Heather Poast (finishing her first ultra at Stone Steps yesterday!) were fantastic!
Congratulations to Mike Rioux for finish 3rd in his first Ultra with a smokin time of 4:53 (I think.)
This is a pretty challenging course with two big hills repeated a total of 8 times. It was summed up quite nicely in an exchange between a volunteer and a runner post race.
Race volunteer says to a runner as he crosses the finish line, "So, was it everything you expected!?"
Runner, with his head down, hands on knees, gasping for air, looks up and replies with a single yet profound word "Fuck."
Full results can be found here