After a lot of debating whether to make the three hour drive on race morning, I ultimately ended up booking a room in Southern Pines. I didn't leave until about 5:00 p.m. on Friday and the majority of the trip was in a heavy downpour. That was consistent with the forecast, which also said that race day would be dry and stay in the low forties for most of the daytime hours--great conditions for an ultra!
I arrived at the hotel (Days Inn) around 8:00 p.m., having eaten in the car. The room was adequate, probably not one my wife, Leslie, would have enjoyed. But what stood out from my brief time at the hotel was that for the first time ever when traveling to a race, the person at the counter asked if I was there for the race. This was not a "host hotel" and I had made no mention of it when booking. Usually, the hotel staff are totally unaware that a race is taking place, and Weymouth is a relatively small race in terms of participants. My only guess is that some other runners had checked in earlier and told him about the event. He noted that he'd lived in Southern Pines for ten years and had never been to Weymouth Woods State Park, despite the fact that it is probably ten minutes from the hotel where he worked.
Race morning had the feel of a routine I'd repeated many times before--because I had. The hotel has changed several times, but arriving at the Park, setting up my chair and supplies, and packet pickup and the pre-race meeting all had that comforting feeling of familiarity. Speaking of familiarity, Marie Lewis is like having my own, personal, race director. Though there are four people sharing that title at Weymouth, Marie was the one I spoke with when I first signed up in 2010 and has been the one part of my trips to Weymouth that hasn't changed. The weather changes, my outcome changes, but Marie does not. She does a great job, and if you go, expect that she will do everything she can to see you finish and make your race enjoyable.
This year, the directors elected to have a relay event at Weymouth, as well. Teams of 2-7 members would take turns doing laps, just like with some of the 12 hour runs I've been to. This made it interesting because in past years, my goal was to not be passed (lapped) by the leader, but on this day, I'd have to get used to people coming by quickly all day long. It really wasn't a problem and I don't mind sliding over to let people by, but the majority of them didn't let me know they were coming up. I don't wear headphones, but several times I wasn't aware they were behind me until right when they were about to come around. That said, it brought a lot of new faces to the event that may some day become ultra runners, now that they've had a taste of what it's like.
After the brief pre-race meeting, we assembled at the starting line. It's kind of like a dirt bike race where everyone starts in a straightaway and runs onto the loop course, but the straightaway is never used again. It gives a little time and room for people to thin out. It was weird to see people starting so fast in a 100K, but they were (hopefully) the relay runners who would only be doing a few laps. I had told myself I really wanted to get a slower start than usual and ease into the race. My goal, without wearing a watch, was to keep all my laps between 40:00 and 49:59. In my previous two finishes, I had two laps each time that were just over 50 minutes. Interestingly, only one of the four 50+ minute laps was on the final lap, when I had to run part of it in the dark. Anyway, I was prepared to not PR on this day, and knew that my old goal of finishing without a headlamp was out off the table this year.
Knowing there would be sand (and roots, of course) I went with my newish Salomon XA Enduro shoes that have built in gaiters. I had worn them on some shorter training runs and they are very comfortable. They have a good tread pattern and I was hopeful they'd serve me as well as my Salomon SpeedCross 3s had in past races. Up top, I had on a TRU shirt and my trusty old Freedom Park 24-Hour jacket which has had its share of wear-and-tear, but is still a good light-duty jacket.
There were two types of sand on the Weymouth trails this year. One was the fine white, grainy stuff like you find in the bunkers at nice golf courses--fitting with Pinehurst so close. The other sand was the brownish, clumpy stuff like we have in golf course bunkers where I play. I felt really well early on and even though I tried to hold back, I was still under forty minutes on the first loop. At 38:00, it was only about 24 seconds slower than in prior years. I wonder if the relay people were pulling me a bit.
After the second lap, the guy in front of me slipped over into the Visitor's center bathrooms. As he did so, David Lee (again timing the event) told me that that put me in the lead. I really wish he hadn't said that because then I start thinking ahead and I was only nine miles into a 62.5 mile race. I knew that unless the guy was having major issues, he'd be passing me back because I'd be making my own stop in there in the next lap or so.
So, however brief it could end up being, for the first time ever I had the lead at Weymouth. I'll note that the relay runners (and probably a few regular runners) had their chips attached to Velcro ankle straps. When I'd get passed, I'd look down for that sign of whether they were relay or individual runners. It didn't always work. Sometimes I couldn't see anything, often because their black sock perfectly matched the Velcro band. It was usually pretty safe to judge which race they were in by the pace they were running. If they passed me quickly, they were surely relay. If they gradually came around, probably individual.
As I ran my third and fourth laps, I noticed my legs were getting sore in odd places. I initially attributed this to the sand and uneven surfaces, but as I continued, I began to suspect my shoes. I've never paid much attention to the amount of "drop" in my shoes, only noticing that on a couple pairs I've worn that were "zero drop" my hamstrings would be sore the next day. The Salomon XA Enduros have 8mm drop and my SpeedCross 3s are 10mm. I don't know if that's enough difference to really notice, but when I finished my fifth lap, I decided I'd better change back to the SpeedCross to see if my soreness improved.
Through my first four loops, I had stayed within a stone's throw of my elapsed time for the prior two finishes. 2:33:51 this year versus 2:33:55 in 2013 and 2:30:02 in 2016. A bathroom break after lap four and the shoe change after lap five dropped me back quite a bit. That put me at 4:05:06 after six laps, versus 3:57:44 in 2013 and 3:52:37 in 2013. So, I was a bit behind, though I didn't have any idea at the time, but would the shoe change pay off?
For a while, I didn't notice any difference, but after another lap or two, the soreness did start fading. I was still sore as I would be in any trail run but it wasn't concentrated on my hips and hamstrings. Knowing I had made two "long" stops at the start/finish area, and not really knowing who the leaders were, I no longer had any idea where I stood in terms of place. That was fine as I was really hopeful I could just have a good race. I wasn't particularly well trained for this year's event, having had only one thirty mile run since Cloudsplitter in October (and that one had been a lot of walking.) So far, the Tailwind and a little food had held me well. Above the waist, I felt good. I knew I was coming into the dreaded miles 30-40 zone where things are always a bit harder, so I tried to focus on just gutting out the next few laps.
The ninth lap put me at about mile 40.5 and I emerged from that "dead zone" feeling pretty good. After looking at the splits, I realized why I felt better above the waist--I was running significantly slower than in those past years. After nine laps, my elapsed time was 6:37:23 whereas it was 6:11:35 in 2013 and 6:12:13 in 2016. I honestly didn't feel like I had slowed THAT much but the clock doesn't lie. At this point, I knew a finish was in the cards, but it might involve a lot more running with a headlamp than in prior years.
Somewhere on lap ten, my knee began to bother me--not a soreness but a sharp pain on the front outside--in an area I had banged on a rock during a fall years ago. It bothers me every now and then, somewhat at random times, but I was hopeful this was something that would pass.
It wouldn't. Laps nine and ten were the slowest I'd ever run during a WW100K finish, by several minutes. I was having to stop and stretch out my knee every few minutes and was having to walk quite a bit more than in prior laps. As I started my 11th lap, I knew this one would be telling. If I could "walk it off," I could gut out a finish, but I wasn't going to risk doing further damage by pushing an injured knee. I don't know a lot about knees but knew that DNF'ing Weymouth was highly preferable to causing damage that knocks me out of running for several weeks or months.
The 11th lap did not go very well. I was walking almost all of it. For a while, walking didn't bother my knee, but then even that started to be a problem. About midway through the loop, when I was a bit down on the realization that I'd probably be dropping, I heard the young woman ahead of my shriek out and turn around shouting "Who are you?" I was probably 30-40' behind her and taken aback. I looked up and saw what looked like a small dog coming down the boardwalk section of trail, just beyond her. I thought perhaps she recognized the dog as belonging to a friend of hers and she was just excited to see it. Then, I realized it was not a dog, but a large raccoon. She came back toward me and said she thought it was crying and asked if she could get behind me. I said it was fine and that I didn't think it was crying, but that was just a noise they make. The raccoon came to the end of the boardwalk and then stepped off and went into the woods--I assume to its den. We continued on. It did occur to me that seeing a raccoon in the daytime can sometimes be a sign of rabies, but it was certainly not aggressive and we were not too far from sunset, so it probably was nothing to worry about. Plus, he'd probably learned by living in a state park that people have food and he wasn't afraid of us.
So, I continued on, now almost certain this was the last lap. A couple times, I tried to run, but could only make it a few steps before the sharp pain returned. During the race, I had calculated that when I finished my 12th lap, that would be my 50th lap of Weymouth Woods. I would be finishing today one short of that milestone.
I came up the steps behind the visitor's center and made the turn around David's timing trailer one last time. I might have tried to walk the rest of the 100K but finding that even walking was bothering my knee, I just did not want to risk it. After removing my chip, I spoke to David and David for a bit and then talked with Marie a while. My trend of DNFing the odd years had continued. While talking to Marie, I was second guessing myself about stopping. Would it feel better if I kept going? I got my answer as I carried my stuff back to the car. It was now hurting worse than it had during the race. I don't know if one of those elastic knee braces would have helped, but it didn't matter since I didn't have one.
Since I compared my splits earlier in this writeup, lap eleven was finished in 8:35:45. In 2013 I finished lap 11 in 7:48:16 and in 2016, it was 7:52:19. I was almost, but not quite, a full lap behind my 2013 pace.
I'll plan to return in 2019 if all goes well. That will be the 10th running of WW100K and would be an "even" year for me, so if my trend holds, it could be a good year. If I can recover from UTMB quickly enough, maybe I'll even try to train to go sub-10 hours next time--but given my rocky finishing history, I'll be happy with a finish.
Here are the lap splits compared to my two finish years.
Lap 2018 2016 2013
1 38:00.0 37:36.1 37:36.6
2 37:26.5 37:32.3 37:50.3
3 38:09.1 38:22.1 37:11.4
4 40:01.8 38:41.8 40:18.8
5 44:09.2 40:07.7 40:53.9
6 47:07.6 42:27.1 42:55.3
7 48:51.2 44:22.6 43:03.8
8 49:54.3 46:29.1 46:22.0
9 53:29.6 44:17.9 48:51.6
10 53:40.2 45:52.1 50:17.5
11 1:04:42.6 50:48.9 49:48.5