I can't say this will be a very exciting recap, but I also like reading others' recaps when I first run a race, so I guess I'll just put one out there. First off, great organization, great race.
Two weeks before the race I met up with some of the Pagoda Pacers to run about half of the course. What we ran that day was from mile 2 of this year's course (clockwise around the lake) to 17. Lots of rolling hills in this section with one or two that were big enough to walk. It was a good preview of the course. Definitely the most difficult stretch of the course. The first two miles of Blues Cruise to get to that section are mostly downhill. The course is a good mix of single track, double track and a few farm roads. The course has a lot of farm land that has deeply grooved single track which is not my favorite type of trail to run. I always feel like I'm going to trip up on it.
One major plus was that Kym and the kids came to cheer me on and they were able to drive around and see me a lot. They were at the start, then I saw them at the mile 4 Aid Station, at backroad around mile 12, at the mile 17 Aid Station, mile 24 Aid Station, mile 27.5 Aid Station, and back in time for the finish. It was a great boost seeing them so often.
Leading up to this race my training was not exactly where I wanted it to be. Besides the 100K last month, I hadn't run more than 16 miles in almost 2 months. But, for the first 19ish miles I was feeling great so I just kept it up. What I lacked in physical preparation I hoped to make up in the confidence I gained when I ran 100K. When I reached the biggest hill of the course at mile 19 I was averaging around 8:15 miles. The hill here really sucked a lot out of me (I think this was skislope hill?). I've run tons of trails lately, but nothing with hills like this. While that hill hurt, luckily the layout of the course this year provided me ample time to recover. From mile 20 to 26 there are very few hills. I was able to get my legs back and continue with a decent pace. I ran with another guy for about 3-4 miles here, which was really the only extended time I spent running anywhere near anyone. He was stronger, and eventually took off when I stopped for a bathroom break.
From all the race reports I'd read in the past, I expected the entire last 11 miles to be as flat as miles 20-26. But, they weren't. There were lots of very small, slightly steep hills over the last few miles, with one very steep short hill, and then a hill that seemed to go on forever at around mile 30. My 8 minute miles slowed all the way down to a few 11 minute miles at the end. The mental game could not beat the physical. But still, I came in at 4:33:40, a 24 minute PR over my HAT run time.