On a day when everything seemed to be working in our favor. I wondered if the runners might be going out too fast. In all my years in this park, I had never seen the trails so perfect. With a few days of hard rain following a long dry spell, the trails had drained well and left a soft but dry bed of pine needles that is a runner's dream. I found myself checking the runner's shoes as they came in after each loop to assess the damage and was quite surprised to see shoes dry and clean. Andy Jones-Wilkins had a new pair of shoes on that looked like they were fresh out of the box after 60 miles. It was cool when we started at 6am, followed by fog that hung so much humidity in the air that we could not duct tape our timing sheets down to the tables. It took a long time for the sun to cook off the fog, such that the cool air stayed with us longer than expected. By noon, it had warmed a bit, but still not too terribly bad.
Jorge Pacheco finished the 1st 20mile loop 1st in 2:31 on a 7:36 pace. Only 7mins back was David Bursler and Paul Frost. Another 2mins to Guillermo Medina and then Andy Jones-Wilkins. Connie Gardner came next in 2:50, followed 8mins later by Sue Johnston and Julie Fingar. They had all gone out fast. Jorge's 2nd lap was just a tad bit slower at 2:36 for another sub 8min pace loop. This time, Guillermo came in just 12mins back, followed quickly by David & Paul together and then Andy. Connie was another 15mins followed in 12mins by Sue and Julie together. Jorge's 3rd loop was his slowest at 2:43 for a 8:11 pace. It looked like it was starting to slip away. He had a pacer now, so we would see if he could hold onto it with some help. Guillermo was still 2nd but now 30mins back, with Andy moving into 3rd followed by Dave. Connie came in 30mins later, followed 20mins later by Sue, and another 5mins by Julie. 60miles had spread the field out significantly, but not all that much for the lead competitors. One extended break would lose a place or more and they all knew it. With the long out and backs, all of these runners would be seeing each other quite a bit and gauging the splits. Jorge's 4th loop pulled him back in with a 2:40 split and a pace of 8:02. None of us could believe that he was still on it. The 4th loop is critical, the toughest loop we call it. The final loop is the good-bye loop and easy to get the buzz going again, knowing you're done, no more out and backs, no more of everything that you had already seen many times. Guillermo was now an hour behind Jorge, with Andy closing and Dave still 30mins further. Connie in another 40mins, followed by Sue on the same 15min gap, and another 30mins to Julie.
Jorge's final loop was one of dreams. I could feel the entire course spin up. Everybody was talking. Each aid station was tracking times and with support staff passing from station to station, everybody knew. A high energy wave washed through the entire course from station to station. I could hear yells from across the lake as he went through each station. Everybody caught the buzz and was fired up. The other competitors were yelling as he went bye, from his closest friends to his rivals, every person sent him their energy and sped him along the way. It was amazing to feel this camaraderie wash across us all for Jorge's quest to snatch the pebble. We were all his for this loop. We watched the clock as it seemed to speed up. The closer he got, the faster it went. He lost the day's light just 6 miles out from the finish. He had 20 mins when he went through the last station 3 miles out. When we got the news, we knew he was losing the battle, but wondered yet if he could find some inner strength to push through the final miles even faster than he had already gone. He had to feel it, he had to know how close he was. We hoped he could find the way. Everything else seemed to disappear. Nothing else captured our attention. I had rigged a finish banner from some flagging and stood on the finish line looking for 2 fast moving lights to come out of the dark. All of us just stood there, our eyes flashing back and forth between the trail and the clock. The time we all had memorized by now was 13:16:02. As the clock rolled past 13:00:00 it sped up even faster. All we were watching were the minute digits now. When it rolled past 16 minutes, then we knew for sure that it was not to be. We saw his lights just as the clock flew past 13:16:02 and kept spinning. But he did not know what we already knew. He was flying down the trail and came in full of enormous energy to see that he had only just barley missed the 100 mile trail world record. I don't know if he saw our faces first or the clock, but the air seemed to come out of him as he checked his watch, then the main timing clock. He now knew! He had run the race of a lifetime, but the clock ran faster than he did. To run that grand and that strong and to feel the disappointment he felt, that all of us felt was so odd. he had just run a 13:16:56. His last split was another 2:43 for a 8:11 pace, a 100mi pace of 7:58. It was unbelievable, All of us stood there with him, in shock. I shook his hand and he got warm congrats from all, but it was 54 seconds short of perfect. Jorge has the manners of a humble gentle soul with the heart of a lion. Every one of us wanted so badly for him to have this thing he wanted, but there was nothing more we could do. I heard tell of him giving way to the other runner's all day and offering encouragement. I am not so certain that I have ever met a man that was at once this gentle and this tough at the same time. I wondered if this was how a true champion was supposed to be. I hope so. We could stand to have a few more champions like Jorge Pacheco.
We had an hour and 40mins to reflect on what had just happened before the next runner came in to finish. Andy Jones-Wilkins had pulled ahead to take the 2006 USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championship. At 14:56:55, he had become the Men's National Champion. Another humble and very nice man who also runs quite well. He was pleased with how it had gone and settled in to wait for his teammate Julie to arrive. Guillermo Medina was next in 15:54 followed quickly by Dave Bursler in 15:57. Dave would take 2nd in the Men's National Championship.
The women came in as they had pretty much run all day. All of them tough and strong, never relenting or allowing the others to do so either. Connie Gardner came in as she had gone out, in first at 17:04:00. She became the Women's National Champion. Sue Johnston came in as she had run all day as well, just 15 mins back in 17:18. Julie Fingar was 3rd in 18:03. There was plenty more to settle on the trails with only 18 hours gone, but the prime pieces had been picked.
When the sun dropped, it took all the heat with it. It turned bitter cold around Raven Lake, which is the loop we ran around, so quite a few runners succumbed to the cold with hyperthemic conditions. During the wee hours, our medical staff was in full swing with all the issues that arose. The winners got away with the fast start during the beautiful day, but many of the others paid for the aggressive start. Some rallied and some did not.
Our starting field was the largest in our history with 196 starters in the 100mi. 133 finished under 30 hours. The finish rate was less than usual with only 68% and 59 people under 24 hours.
Larry Hall took the men's 50mi win with 7:38:05 and the Women's 50mi race was won by Michele Jensen in 8:10:20. This race had 61 starters with 55 finishers.
Joe Prusaitis: RD