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Race Report: TNF Madison 50 mile

What a day to race! The conditions for the race on Saturday in Kettle Moraine Park were pristine: the start temperature was around 45 degrees, the temperature stayed cool throughout the first half of the race and didn't rise above the the low 70s until the afternoon (at which time I was already done!). With a 5am start time, most of the race was run without the sun overhead and, even later in the morning, the numerous wooded sections of the course kept the trails out of the sun. The trails themselves were primarily packed dirt with some grass, sand, and rock mixed in. All told, it was a day for record breaking (both the first and second place finishers broke the previous course record).

When the gun went off I paced easily and found myself alone in second place after a half mile. The single head lamp ahead was within 100m and on the first (brief) climb, at around the first mile, I pulled up next to a swift moving figure with a British accent. I quickly discovered that this British sounding fellow was Ian Sharman. Yes, Ian Sharman. So here I was, in the middle of the woods in Wisconsin, running with one of the top ultra distance runners in the world (a 5th place finish at the 2012 Western States should, without dispute, establish anyone has a top ultra runner in the world). The pace wasn't taxing, around 7:10/mile, so I figured I'd stick around and chat with Ian Sharman. I managed to do so through the 21 mile aid station, where Ian and I left with a slim lead over the third and fourth place competitors. We then entered the most undulating section of the course and Ian, with his impressive ability to descend lightening fast, put some ground on me. Shortly thereafter I was caught by our pursuers and, suddenly, I found myself in 4th place. But we were only at mile 24, so the race hadn't really begun just yet. I eased back, tried to stay relaxed, and cruised into the 28 mile aid station with a ~4 minute deficit on Ian and Mike (the eventual 2nd place finisher) and a ~2 minute deficit on the 3rd place runner.

After the turnaround I tried to focus on maintaining a decent clip back to the 35 mile aid station. I wanted to save my legs for the flats later on so I ended up power hiking portions of the ascents, and moving gingerly down the descents, on this seven mile stretch (subsequently, I lost a good amount of time on the leaders). When I arrived at the 35 mile aid station, I was trailing the leaders by 10 minutes and the third place runner by 3 minutes. I needed to start moving. I knew that a portion of the remaining course was fast (flat or downhill), so I picked up the pace a bit and, just a mile before the 40 mile aid station, I caught the 3rd place runner walking up one of the steeper climbs. Now in third place, I cruised through the 40 mile aid station and hoped to potentially move into second. But Ian and Mike stayed strong (more than strong) through 50 miles. My legs, which started to feel the effects of pounding descents at mile 20, were banged up and I was reduced to power hiking on steeper sections. Realizing that the leaders were out of reach, and that 3rd place was all but secured, I ran the last section of the course (about four miles) at a leisurely pace and enjoyed what was left of the race.

The outcome: 3rd place, 6:20:57 (7:38/mile), and a $350 prize! In truth, I believe that the course is 1 or 1.5 miles short, so my "true" fifty mile time might have been closer to 6:30:00. In any case, it was a PB by two hours and I had the distinct pleasure of taking advice about ultra running for over two hours from Ian Sharman. Not a bad day!

Final results here.
**It is worth noting that the race was quite a bit closer than the results reveal. The winning time was in fact, and Ian would readily admit, 5:57 rather than 5:47.
**Also, a short report in the Running Times here.

And, as always, thanks to the North Face employees and the many volunteers for putting on an excellent race. The pre-race and post-race activities, as well as the on course support, were fantastic! Lastly, thanks to my lovely mother and sister for crewing throughout the race; I couldn't have done it without them.

Ian and I at mile 16 (Thanks to Wes at the North Face for the photo)

50 mile podium (from left to right): Myself, Mike, Ian, Dean.

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