Wasatch Part 1. In Search of a Belt Buckle.

THE Buckle

I have to start this post by saying a huge Thank You! to everyone; not just my crew, but especially my crew, because without you, maybe I could have done it, but it would have been very disorganized and painful.  Also a huge thank you to so many friends and family who have always supported crazy dreams.  Because for me, this, these runs in the mountains and years ago, my 4:30 am cornfield runs in Champaign, became a lifestyle, a means of sanity, a way to see the world and something through which I have not only found myself, but met so many other wonderful people in my life.  So thank you, I finally have my belt buckle!

Grab a coffee or a beer, this one is long!

… It was approximately 5 am on Saturday morning, meaning I was 24 hours in to the race.  24 hours after I left East Mountain Wilderness Park in Kaysville staring up at the moon each time I had a second to glimpse away from the path in front of me.

“I need to get out of here.” I said, looking at my watch.  “I need to get moving.”

All of a sudden reality had set in, I had been in Brighton Lodge for 35 minutes, was in the middle of minor foot surgery and surrounded by my crew amidst noise and chaos that was drowning even my own thoughts. I became acutely aware that I shivering and approaching what they call “The Graveyard”.  If I sat there for too much longer, I might actually crash.  I was just over 75 miles in to my first 100 miler and all I had left to  do was get out the door.  If I could get out that door and 3 miles over the pass, then I could finish.

The next 15 minutes were a time period that seemed like forever, I couldn’t get out fast enough.  Brian finished re-taping my feet, we did a dance with the idea of taping my IT Bands and eventually dropped it.  I kept trying to finish choking down my ghetto coffee-mocha mix that B picked up on his way and sipping broth and ginger ale; the fact that I couldn’t really take in GU or sugar anymore was looming over my head.  I probably didn’t have enough calories, but at the risk of losing it, I couldn’t shove anything else in me.

Pacer Exchange: Trading Jenny for Eric

Finally I managed to get myself back together, trade Jenny in for Eric and get out that door.  At 5:15 am, Eric and I slowly walked up the hill towards Point Supreme.  Filled with a mix of being over heated, relieved, and nauseous, I kept my eyes on the dark trail and headed up.  Bit by bit, we very slowly picked off people who were clearly in worse shape than I, and slowly headed up.  Probably an hour later, I saw my second sunrise as we got up to Catherine’s pass.

Backing up to how I got to Brighton over 2 hours later than anticipated… Wasatch wasn’t going exactly as planned, but it’s 100 miles, there is plenty of time for things to go askew, I suppose it could have been worse.

Headlamp Trails: Start of the 2012 Wasatch 100 (Photo credit: Lori Burlison)

I fell in line with Mike and Adele by missing the official start of the race while in the porta potty.  No worries to be had, if a minute or two was going to ruin my race, then I would probably be in bigger trouble anyway.  The first 13 miles were flawless, smooth easy pace, occasionally fighting to get to a place in line that was “my pace”, but I had it pretty much sorted out by the time we jumped on to the Great Western Trail.  If you don’t know anything about the Wasatch course, or even if you do, now would be a great time to watch the flyover.  I didn’t take any pictures of the course, and I am more than certain that I’ll glaze over all the climbs as 1000 foot rollers, they flyover will give you a much better perspective.  From mile 4 to 10, it’s pretty much up, up, up and a really good time to take it easy.  Once up top, the sun was up and I fought my way over some of those big rollers on the ridge line.  I felt pretty great rolling into Grobben’s Corner around mile 13.6. From there we had 4 miles of fairly gentle downhill on fire road.  This part should have been easy.  This is where everything started to go awry.  I ran, fairly easy, and within a mile my right IT Band locked up; within another mile my left one went too.  The remainder of the way down into the Francis aid station I would run and stop and stretch with a little relief.

I could continue on and describe how the situation got progressively worse between there and Big Mountain, but the truth is that I was able to move at a pretty respectable pace until then.  While some of the nasty steep descents made me very conscious of a well known truth (once you wake up your IT Bands, the only place you can go is damage control), there was a large amount of beautiful mellow trail that I could run reasonably well on.  At that point the game became a balance of not blowing up but moving as fast as I could to minimize exposure; it was hot and things were certainly going to blow up later, might as well get as far as I could as fast as I could while I still could.  In the meantime, I let myself get lost in this section.  I took no photos of my own and the space out there was this personal section of joy.  I never really questioned my ability to get through it, I was simply just going to make it to Big Mountain and then everything was really going to start, so I just enjoyed the views, the emptiness and the open air.  Some photos of the course can be found here or here for perspective, but in short that section is a fantastic mix of alpine, aspen, scrub oak and high desert in what is probably a least traveled area of the Wasatch Front.    Every time I set foot out there, I continue to be amazed at what is just outside my back door.  I have a list of all these places I need to go to, just in a 6-8 hour radius from Salt Lake, but the list within the 1 hour local radius has grown immensely throughout the year I’ve lived here.

Entering Big Mountain AS

A little bit more than 10 hours into the race, I made it into Big Mountain.  Notice that I’m actually running at this point… yeah that’s the last time you’ll see me running (with two small exceptions) for 3 weeks.  This was the first time I saw my crew and they managed to feed me Jimmy Johns and give me a sponge bath and sunscreen application all at once.  Future crews take note, they’ve set the bar pretty high!

mmmmm…. Jimmy John’s (that was an excellent plan, btw)

A 15 minute stop there was well worth it, and I was glad to see my friends and see that they were, at the very least, pretending that they were enjoying themselves.  Lathered up in sunscreen, I headed out into what should have been a quick 13 miles with a net downhill but what turned out to be the most demoralizing section of the course.  If there was any hope of me running the rest of that course, the ridiculously steep and loose drop off Bald Mountain tore it to shreds, for the first time in the race I actually questioned at what point my knees would just lock up and stop moving.

Out of Alexander Ridge, as I phrased it “the Never Ending Road to Hell” we followed two-track next to an oil pipeline going the wrong direction for way too long.

Fortunately the Never Ending Road to Hell actually did end, and fed into some fun and pretty twisty trails through Aspens and over some creek beds and I had a brief resurgence in running before reaching Mile 53, my crew, my pacer and some warm clothes at Lambs Canyon.

After posing for an obligatory facebook photo…

Grabbing food and warm clothes…

Along with my super pacer!

We were off!

The section from Lambs to Brighton was the darkest of the race, literally and figuratively.  It’s post sunset, you’re tired, things are starting to fail, you’re cold and you start to think.  Getting up and over the pass into Millcreek was work, nothing felt good, I was naseous, I was tired, the uphill hurt, the downhill hurt… you get the picture.  3 hours later we made it to the Big Water trail head and I suddenly understood what the death zone of a hundred mile race looked like.  It was very cold and it sucked you in with the giant propane heaters. I looked around, drinking my hot chocolate and all of a sudden there were runners on cots with multiple sleeping bags over them, their sullen pacers gently telling them to get moving.  I looked at my watch, looked at Jenny and set a time limit.  I was not going to end there.  This next section all the way to the road into Brighton is by far some of my favorite trail in the Wasatch, so I did enjoy it.  The moon put on a nice show for us, and there’s something great about being on the Crest in the middle of the night.  The ups were hurting my left IT Band, the downs hurting my right… I didn’t have a win out of this one and seriously questioned my ability to make it.  I could make it to Brighton, the question was, would the descent kill me in the process?  Jenny kept me moving, often times telling me I was almost to the top of a hill when I wasn’t (and my brain kept muttering ‘um, yeah, nope’).  Thankfully Jenny and my knees proved my brain wrong and I was able to walk, at a decent clip all the way down to the Lodge.

Second Sunrise – I am on my way!

Back to that sunrise! We made it over the pass and boy, they are right, when the sun comes back up, there’s a whole new level of energy!  Once we dropped over that pass, I knew I was going to finish.  It was easier to finish the last 20 miles, steep drops and all than to climb back up out of Ant Knolls to Brighton.

Dropping Down Dry Fork into Ant Knolls AS

The morning alpenglow beautifully bounced off the canyon walls as we descended into Ant Knolls aid station.  The volunteers there were equally as awesome as all the ones prior, but they will hold a special place in my heart because they had pancakes and hashbrowns and coffee and camp fire.  Fantastic!  I ran into my friend Mike who regaled me with his story of somehow getting vomit in his eyes?!  That added for a nice distraction as we left and headed up one of the last (tough) climbs of the course.  (*In all honesty I like these better than the “little” stupid ones that never seem to go away).

Out from there, we gained more amazing trail, the Ridge Trail No. 157, which true to it’s name, bounces on and off the ridge, frolics through pine trees and aspens and gives amazing views of the Timp.  It was slow going for a run, but with Eric’s help and great attitude, I kept my sprits up and we made good time power hiking.  I’d try and run occasionally, only to take 4 or 5 steps and realize, that yes, it still hurt like hell.  By the time we got through Mill Peak and the nice trail, it was getting hot and I was ready to be DONE.

The Plunge… or something like that: the nasty loose steep stuff on the way to Pot Bottom

The really obnoxious section into Pot Bottom would be really pretty if it weren’t for the ridiculous pattern of nasty descending and steep climbing thrown in.  Each time I’ve done this, the section tries my patience and the race was no exception.  After telling Eric that we were really at the last part at least three times, we finally reached the next nasty drop into the aid station.  Well 7 miles to go!  That is 1.5ish miles of climbing followed by way too long of dropping down off-camber two track with giant loose rocks of “I can see the finish, now get me off this mountain!”


A bit of pleasant distraction on the way down

The thought of taking my shoes off and being in the shade became a very powerful motivator to move as fast as I could.  2 hour of that nonsense later, we dropped on to the road in Midway and shortly after, into the finish!

Wasatch 100 – 2012 Finisher 33:23:06

I think that was the most anti-climatic finish ever.  All of a sudden you go from wanting to be done, to being done.  No bells and whistles, friends and family just walking over to say congrats and then… then you don’t know what to do with yourself.  The thing I wanted most when I finished (no, it was not beer, or even coffee) was to take my shoes off.  That’s all I knew how to do.  I didn’t know how to jump up and down and cheer, or even what to do next, what to say, or what to think.  But I did know that my shoes needed to be off.  I think that’s where I left off, why it was so hard to think about the race, because I left my shoes off but didn’t know where the rest of it was and I didn’t start to figure it out until I put them back on last weekend.

Finish with Wonderful Friends and Family

In the post-race aftermath, I am running again.  The ankle, which proved to be the source of the IT Band madness, is better, the IT Bands themselves, seem better and the withdrawal is going away.  I’m still so overwhelmed at the wonderful support I got from friends, family, co-workers, everyone really, so thank you. Everyone except my dog, who is just now accepting me back into her life because we’re starting to run together again.  Before the race started I was telling everyone that I didn’t need to do a 100 again; I’m wondering how many bets were placed against that because everyone seemed to laugh “yeah, right.”  But I’ll stand by it.  Maybe later on, and if I did do it, I’d love to do Wasatch again, but right now I want to have my weekends back, go on runs with my puppy dog and pace Jenny when she does her first 100.  I’m guessing this will prove to be like Boston, I got my jacket there and don’t really need to go back; now I have my belt buckle and can put that one to bed. Although, despite my troubles on the course, I never puked, I never fell asleep… anywhere, I never had hallucinations, peed blood, or had any of the other woes that I think Adele assumed is par for the course in any ultra, so maybe I got gipped and need to do another (someday).  🙂

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Wasatch Part 2. The Aftermath.

No you didn’t miss anything, and no, I didn’t lose the ability to logically order number sequences.  I ran yesterday; for the third time since Wasatch, the third time in the last month.  Yesterday was a short jaunt, a 6 mile run from Brighton up to Sunset Peak, but it brought me back to the last time I was on the trail. Combined with today’s additional return to the scene of the crime, with a ride up to gain the ridge and on the Wasatch Crest, I finally understood that I needed to tell this part of the story first.  First, before I could put words to a race report.

An after the fact, fyi: Wasatch screwed up my ITBands pretty bad.

I’ve spent 3 out of the past 4 weeks growing patience in recovery.  I walked away from Wasatch, making plea bargains with my IT Bands, telling them if they let me finish, that I wouldn’t even try to run for a few weeks.  Little did I know how close to the truth this would be.  I spent the first two weeks making peace with this, if I didn’t run now, I could run later. Week number 3, to be honest, was stressful at work and even more stressful on me.  When you stop moving, your body becomes cranky in ways that your brain can’t comprehend.  With much relief, 3 weeks and 5 hours after I started Wasatch, I ran almost 2.5 miles around the local park.  A week of being sick derailed other plans, but about 4 weeks and a few hours shy of finishing Wasatch, I returned to scene of the crime.

I left the Brighton parking lot and headed up towards Catherine’s Pass… it was a cold crisp day, about 45 F, and not all that much warmer than when I left Brighton a month earlier.  That, however, felt incredibly close to zero.  This time, I ran up the trail.  I felt incredibly slow.  Painfully reminded that I had been reduced to almost no physical activity and on and off sickness for the past month; turns out there’s not a whole lot of oxygen at 10,000′.  But I was able to run!  My withdrawl symptoms slowly vanished and every footstep brought back a memory of all my training runs.

My bike ride today was much the same.  Brian and I rode The Crest, another not-so-subtle reminder that I haven’t done anything for a month (and I’m “racing” my bicycle for 6 hours next weekend!? (wtf!)).  Despite feeling out of sync with my bike, I needed that day in the mountains.  The route of travel was in reverse from what I covered in Wasatch, and the mountains glowing with the screaming yellow of Aspen trees, a contrast from hollow black night, only lit by the moon, that Jenny and I plodded through a month ago.  Still I could see the race in perspective, the gusting winds from Scott’s Pass Aid, the leftover campfire at Desolation, the top of the first climb out of blunder fork where Jenny had told me we were almost done climbing.

As I got into that ride, similar to getting into that run, I emerged and found myself for the first real time after the race.  There was something there still, more running, hiking, more freedom and the capacity to get lost in the mountains. Wasatch was this… The ability to set your mind to something and to be able to pick yourself up time after time to get there. The discovery that I had completed this huge distance, right here in my backyard, and there was still so much more to cover.  Then, finally, the realization that your body might trust you to let yourself go back out there again and allow you to put words to a 33 hour void.  Saturday, as I ran past Catherine’s  and gravitated towards Sunset Peak (maybe more aptly named Sunrise?), I found expression and gratitude for every little step, every little battle, I took coming out of Brighton that morning 4 weeks prior.

Second Sunrise (Photo credit Eric Dacus)