Everything went right. This was probably my smartest race ever, and all the other little things fell into place too. The weather was perfect, aid stations were exactly where I needed them, the course had a net downhill gain, and there may even have been a tailwind.
I let a bunch of people pass me in the first mile, so I was in seventh place at mile 1. I concentrated on doing what Zimmer said and running 7:00s for the first few miles. By mile 4 I had moved back up into fourth place. The first two downhill miles were over, and we'd had a mile or two of uphill that dropped some people back. On the gravel road miles (4.5 - 7.5), three of us swapped positions a couple of times between 3rd, 4th, and 5th. By mile 8.5, I moved into 4th for good, and by mile 10 (going uphill!) I moved into 3rd for good.
I ran with the second place guy in my sights for two miles and kept slowly closing the distance. We were shoulder to shoulder at 12.5, and I started my kick. I knew it was a little early, but I felt great. Everything had been going right all day. I was hurting BAD by 13, but I thought I was being followed so I pressed on. When I turned the corner and saw 1:28:4x on the clock, I started sprinting all out. I crossed the line at 1:29:04 and almost puked my guts out. I had to stagger around for almost a minute before I could breathe right again. I'd finished in second place, and I'd opened up a 15 second lead over the guy who finished in third place. It turns out he hadn't followed me after all.
This was the kind of day I'd dreamed of as a racer. I controlled my urge to start too fast, and I didn't worry about pace after the first couple of miles. In fact, I never looked at my Garmin after mile 3. I just used the course markers to know what mile I was in, and I focused on RACING the people around me. It was a lot of fun, and after the immediate pain wore off, it was especially exciting to have a huge PR.
This race was the complete opposite of the Country Music Half. Everything came together. All of the runs I've done with Bob and Phil around the Old Tom King Half course in PWP really paid off. I was strong on the downhills AND on the uphills because of those runs. I got a stitch in my side a couple of times, but something Amy had told me the day before fixed those. Exhale as long and hard as you can until you're almost going to cough or puke. Repeat that a couple of times and the stitch will go away. It really loosens the diaphragm up. I hadn't heard that before, but Amy told it to me on the drive up to Asheville. It was a fortuitous tip.
Note: This is the only race I've ever done that posted a Bear Alert beforehand. The two women in last place actually saw a bear cub, so they hopped in the sag van and waited until the bear left.