Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Two fun runs

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been part of a couple of big runs, both interesting in their own ways. 

Chris Adams asked me earlier this summer if I was interested in helping pace him for a section of the Wasatch 100. It seems like I’ve been running a little bit more each successive year, and while I still feel like I’m a long ways from being willing to tackle something as monumental as a 100, I have to admit that the prospect is a bit intriguing, if for no other reason than it means a bit of a leap of faith into a new realm.  Since I haven’t done it I don’t know, but I’d guess – and veterans concur – that the difference between running day-long 50 miler or a 100k and a 100 miler is huge (some might say: “it’s like night and day”) and not only is it tough to train for (doing a near-hundred mile run to train for hundred mile race seems to be inadvisable) but the effect that it has on your body and mind is nearly impossible to predict.  So yes, I’m intrigued.  So when Chris asked me to help him out, I was keen to at least get a taste. 

Our blistering hot summer seemed to want to put an exclamation point on its profound and prolonged heat spell, so even the first week of September was still in the 90’s, and race day was no different.  Chris had told me that he was most-worried about the 13 mile section that I was to run with him, because not only is it exposed and relatively low elevation, but it’s also done in the middle of the afternoon.  My natural reaction was:  sure, it might be hot, but it’s “only” 40 miles in and doesn’t have nearly the high-elevation vertical gain and huge quad-crushing descent that the last – critical – 25 miles has.  But as I waited for Chris to show at the Big Mountain aid station I saw that indeed, the heat was already taking a major toll; seasoned vets were coming in already badly crushed.  Indeed, this section was going to be a challenge. 

Being a newbie pacer I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do:  run in front and “pull”? Run behind and “push”?  Encourage, commiserate, cajole, berate?  Fortunately the latest issue of Trail Runner magazine came the day before the race and had an article called “How to be an effective pacer” which I read (but promptly forgot).  But as we eased out of the shade and comfort of the aid station  (and within a couple hundred yards I tripped, fell and banged up my knee and elbow!) I realized what was going to go down:  Chris was going to go his pace, and I was there to chitter-chatter merrily at him to keep his mind off his suffering.  Since I’d had plenty of good practice yammering at Tom McFarlane on our hike the week before (for that matter, pretty good practice my whole life) this turned out to be easy, though not surprisingly the normally-also-chatty Chris let me do most of the talkin’. 

Looking better than he feels, methinks. 
And so we trudged.  Walking all the climbs, trotting the descents, and sometimes trotting the flats.  The heat was oppressive, and Chris very matter of factly said a couple of times “I’m hurting bad”.  But there was pretty much steady movement, and we finally rolled into the party-disguised-as-an-aid station at the freeway crossing exactly on his desired schedule.  Team Adams was there to help him wash the grit off his feet, get him fed and rewatered, play with him (kids), and send him off on the mercifully-cooler climb up into the shadows of Lambs Canyon.
The Team Adams entourage:  Andrew McLean, Chris, pacer Andy Southwick, Denise Adams, Polly McLean, and a pack of smaller - but no less-rabid - fans.  And of course, dad Barney in the background.  
When Chris picked me up he was placed in the high 50’s, and the conservative pace that he took through our section resulted in him losing a fair number of places.  I asked if he wanted to try to use some of the folks passing us as incentives to go a hair faster, and he replied that he only cared about one person in the race.  I was quite impressed at his self-control; I know only too well the strange incentive that we get to “stay with” even random people we don’t know once it becomes a “race”,  However, in this case his strategy was correct; he ended up in about 41st place, well-ahead of many of the folks who passed us in that section and very near many people who were well-ahead of us then.  Well played, Sir Chris. 

And then this past weekend we did a completely different kind of run; Chad Bracklesberg spearheaded a drive to do a one day blast up Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah in the center of the Uintas with Christian Johnson and the Ultra Emilys:  Bracklesberg and Sullivan.  The weather was a bit dicey; I had returned from 95 degrees in Portland to find it raining in SLC, and the thunderstorms that week had been impressive.  And the Uinta range is infamous for being a thunderstorm magnet (my theory:  summer monsoons flow northward from Mexico and Arizona, and as the only E/W axis-ed range in the country the Uintas broad blocking swath offers up a perfect opportunity for warm air to rise and convect).     But a 4am departure and a forecast of simply wet without actual thunderstorms was encouraging. 

It was overall quite a pleasant outing; the Uintas seem to be characterized by long, relatively flat valleys with big talus/scree nobs at the ends and on the sides:

and we just chugged along up the valley, over a pass, into the next valley, and onto the bouldery summit ridge.  

While there was a bit of some fresh snow still in the crevices of the rocks up high, the sun actually came out briefly while we were on the summit:

 affording some limited views of the heart of the Uintas through the patches of fog.  It started to rain in earnest on our descent, slowing the pace a bit due to the slippery rocks and muddy trail, but as I had learned the week before, continuous movement tends to add up. 

Lemme see here....the top of Utah, Oregon, and Washington....only 47 more and I can be a coolguy highpointer too!  
Christian being a little less melodramatic on the summit than I.....
Any trip to Kings Peak will involve bumping into plenty of folks since it’s the High Point, and while most folks were fine, a few of them took the opportunity of our very-brief encounter with them to very loudly complain about the rain.  Uh, what part of “it’s been raining for a week and the forecast indicated pretty much a 100% chance of rain today” don’t you understand?  If you don’t like it or can’t deal with it – and clearly this was the case – why are you here?  Stay home and watch The Big Game!  Misery loves.....staying the hell out of the mountains where it might rain!  

Some amount of time after we started we arrived back at the trailhead, and I guess now I can officially say “I’m an ultrarunner” because apparently it was 28 miles!  I’m so excited.  And boy, those next couple of miles past 26.2….hard! 
Look at that powerful ultra running stride!

King's peak pics by Christian and Chad
A coupla fun outings.  Thanks again to Chris for entrusting me to accompany him in his darkest hour (he later told me his hurting was “the worst ever”; he’s a tough bastard, because I sure didn’t sense that!) and kudos to him for persevering and beating his goal – and a ton of seasoned vets – handily, and thanks to Chad for driving and he, Christian, and the Ultra Emilys for being fun pards. 

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