Monday, April 11, 2011


There are many things that I love about ultrarunning but for me the best part of the sport are the friends I have made over 18 years of running. And, of all my running relationships the one that means the most to me is my friendship with Craig Thornley. Sure, we give each other a fair share of grief but in the end the friendship we have forged through a decade together on the trails is very much like brotherhood. So, before I get any more sappy let me tell you a bit about this past weekend.

You see, I fully intended to go down to AR50 to run a training run. Honestly and truthfully I simply wanted to have a good day running on Saturday, getting time on my feet and then following it up with another long run on Sunday. Well, I did the follow-up run on Sunday (30 miles rather than 40:) but I failed in my effort to run the Saturday race as a training run. And that was for one reason and one reason only, Craig Thornley.

I'll skip over the first 30 miles of the race because nothing really interesting happened until after Granite Bay (Mile 31). Someone in an aid station told me that Thornley was only 7 minutes ahead. I thought, "Hmmm." The gels were going down easy and I was moving pretty well so I notched the pace up a bit. At Mile 35 Matt Keyes told me the gap was 5 minutes. I ratcheted up the pace a bit more. Mile 40, they told me it was 3 minutes. The smell of blood wafted down the trail. I put my head down and ran.

Around Mile 43 I saw them, Craig and his pacer, Meghan Arbogast, and they were about a minute ahead. The trail was rolling nicely through trees and meadows at this time and I could just feel them coming back to me. Both of us had been passing quite a few of the fast early starters for the past hour or so but, to be honest, as soon as I saw Craig it became a two-person race. Neither of us cared about anyone else. It was one-on-one.

Soon after the 44 mile aid I moved up to their heels and popped a gel. Craig said something like, "hey Jiz, what took you so long" and then immediately slowed to like a 10-minute pace, just tempting me to pass. I asked him if that was all he had and he let me by. I knew what he was doing and he knew what I was doing. This was getting fun. I tried to put a bit of distance on him but I was waiting for the gel to kick in and was feeling a bit crampy. I knew if he saw me reach into my pockets for an S! Cap he would see it as a sign of weakness and try to pounce. But, I couldn't wait any longer so I took one, well, actually, I popped three. Within 20 seconds he was right back on my tail. I had shown weakness and he jumped. Neither of us said a word. We didn't need to.

A mile or so later and about a mile before the final climb started Craig let out some sort of grunt. I thought he was sandbagging but I figured if he wasn't this could be a time to get a gap. Plus, there was another guy coming back to us so I had a target. I ramped it up a bit. I didn't dare look back but I got that feeling that I was getting away. By the time I got to the Last Gap Aid Station I had 30 seconds on him. But, I stupidly blew through the aid without taking care of all my supplies and I killed ten seconds running back to grab a final gel. I saw them enter the aid station right then. I put my head down and ran.

In the end I think I beat him by 75 seconds or so but that really doesn't matter. What does matter, at least to me, is how the experience once again confirmed for me the value of friendship and particularly friendship forged on the trail doing what we love most. On this day, as on many days before, we made each other better, not only better runners but, more importantly, better people.

Thanks LB, for another great race! See you in May at Michigan Bluff!


Scott Keeps Running said...

This post makes me smile.

Like this: :)

Gretchen said...

I'm pretty sure this will go down as the best AR50 report out there. (Although, I haven't read Craig's report yet ...)You definitely highlight the best aspects of our sport with this one - the camaraderie. I love it! Nice work.

Thomas Bussiere said...

Great post AJW! The journey of getting to the finish line is so much better when competing with a close friend.

-J said...

Awesome post (and race), AJW!

Love how you didn't want to take an S!Cap because it might "show weakness"! Maybe you need to design a head/hat S!cap dispenser for more clandestine fueling!

Great meeting you this weekend; you and LB are great role models for competition and camaraderie!

Dave Mackey said...

Good to spend some time post race with you and your close friend Mr Thornley.. you guys are cool.