My training had gone well leading up to this race, the Lake Balwin 52K race, but in the last 2 weeks I had noticed my hip had started to feel a little tight. Since my trip during the Manchester Marathon in April when I broke my scaphoid and had my hand in plaster for 8 weeks and the 6 weeks since, I still cannot put my body weight on my hand and haven’t been able to do much foam rolling, hip strengthening exercises or general mobility stretching. I also ran on the beach on Wednesday evening with my niece and nephew over from England which isn’t great for my hip due to the slant, so I went for a massage Thursday morning to help it. My initial pan was to go the night before and get a hotel with Brian but it was my sisters birthday that day so I couldn’t really leave. Luckily Andy was driving up in the morning so I hopped in the car with him.
I was expecting Michael Stork to be there and to challenge Andy and myself for first place, and you never know who else is going to show up that you don’t know, I knew Jeff was out of town. Brad gathered everyone for the start and we set of. I took up the pace at the front and decided to push the pace harder than I normally would As Andy usually starts well but fades later, but I also know he’s done a lot of ultras over the last 2 years and has learnt a lot so I wasn’t expecting an easy race. Despite the high temperature and humidity the pace felt comfortable as we ran sub 8 minute pace. The race consists of 13 laps of Lake Baldwin, a 2.5 mile loop with not a lot of shade. It’s a good course and the distance is easy to self support from a cooler at the back of the car as you finish each loop. I finished the 1st, 2nd and 3rd loop in first place with Andy right behind me. As a I was getting a bottle from my cooler Andy didn’t and past me to take the lead for the 4th and 5th loop. It was during the 5th loop I could really feel my hip getting worse and I knew it was going to be a tough race. We had started to lap a few people and also passed others that were now running some loops in the reverse direction. I’m sure it was quite a show watching me and Andy duke it out, swapping the lead several times but never more than 100 yards apart for the entire race.
I retook the lead for the 6th loop as I didn’t stop at my cooler and decided to try to put some distance between us to see if I could shake him, I knew it was still very early in the race but I wanted to test him. I didn’t look back until about a mile into the loop, in my mind I was sure to be about 1 minute ahead of him but I turned around and he was about 20 yards behind me. I led the 7th loop and Andy took over the 8th and 9th loop. The pace had slowed to around an 8:40 pace with the heat but I was happy for that as my hip was still screaming at me. During the 10th loop just before we go to where we run along the lake my hip got really painful and I almost pulled up, it felt like the pain I had during the Big Sur Marathon in 2021 when I had to stop and walk the last 9 miles. Andy was about 20 yards ahead of me at this time so I decided to keep going to at least the end of the loop, I wasn’t looking forward to potentially having to talk the last 7.5 miles in this heat. That was my slowest mile of 9:12. Andy was at his cooler and I decided to skip it and push through the pain and push the pace a little to see if I could drop him again and then maybe cruise along the remainder of the race to save my hip. Brian knows from my training, when I’m in pain I tend to increase the pace to try to run through it and often it works, I feel that a faster pace improves my form and therefore reduces the stress on my hip. So over the next 2 miles I dropped the pace another 25 seconds and was positive once again I would be at least a minute ahead. As we got to the lake section again I glanced back to see if I could see Andy and of course he was right there about 15 yards behind.
I was a little surprised Andy hadn’t tried to put on a surge during the last 4 or 5 loops to see if he could drop me, but I guess he was also tired and feeling the effect of the early pace and the heat, the feels like temperature was now around 100°. We now had 2 laps to go as I led out on the 12th lap. I knew Andy was faster than me at a 5K pace and he had just turned 30 the week before the race, some 33 years younger than me, so know I was thinking about my strategy for the last 2 laps. If he past me during this lap I was going to let him go ahead and as I crossed the start line I was going to turn and run the last loop in the reverse direction. Hoping that he wouldn’t know and by the time he saw me half way around the loop I would have got enough of a lead that he wouldn’t be able to catch me. If I was in the lead I knew I was going to grab my Gatorade for some extra energy, I knew the bin 1 mile out where I was going to throw it and where I was going to push with half a mile to go. I knew if he was still with me at the end he would probably beat me, so somehow I had to take the wind out of him so he couldn’t push or create enough of a lead he couldn’t catch me.
As we started the last lap I was still in the lead with Andy just yards behind me, Brad shouted he’s going to try to out sprint me and I replied “I know”. The last few laps were around 8:50 so I had to increase the pace. My hip wasn’t happy but I wanted to win so I wasn’t going to stop me, I pushed hard and we ran that mile at 8:16 pace but Andy was still right behind me. I knew I was going to have to dig deeper to try to drop him so increased the pace again and for the 32nd mile we ran a 7:42 pace, the fastest mile of the race so far. He was still there and I knew he wasn’t going to drop, I was waiting for his surge to pass me and sprint in but I felt strong and thought I would be able to kick in a fast sprint myself and retake the lead. Just as we approached the last bend before we see the final stretch to the finish line Andy kicked in and past me and got about 10 yards on me. It took me a few seconds to respond with my hip before I could get into my sprint mode. I still believed I could surprise him with my speed and catch him. Unfortunately I only closed the gap a couple of yards and then we were both running at the same pace as he crossed the finish line about 3 seconds ahead of me. Hi watch show the last ¼ of a mile we averaged a 5:59 minute pace and my Garmin said we reached a 5:18 fastest pace. An epic duel for sure, exchanging the lead several times, never being more than 100 yards apart and although I crossed the finish line in the lead 8 times to his 5, it was the last one that counted and he had it. We were both bent over and didn’t move for a minute or two, we had both given everything as we battled this out to the very end.
Although I was disappointed with second, it was my best time for this race beating my previous best in 2019 by 11 minutes, finishing in 4 :34:30, an 8:28 average pace. It was great hearing the support from the other competitors as we fought this out. The girls race also came down to a close finish with just 10 seconds separating first and second place. My hip was really bad after the race and I could hardly walk, I had an ice pack on it for the 3 hour drive on the way home and I couldn’t get comfortable, I had forgot to pack any painkillers to ease the pain. When I got home I took some and soaked in the bath for 30 minutes. This morning it took a couple of minutes to be able to lift my foot up to be able to put a sock on it to take my dog for a walk and I had a bad limp. Now I just have to rest and do what I can to recover for the next race in the series, the six hour race where I know I will be challenged once again. Thanks to the race director Brad and the other volunteers and congrats to everyone else racing. Of course congratulation to Andy for a great race and pushing me all the way to the end.