I tried to take it easy for the first long climb, and as such I had to sorta swallow my pride as I saw a surprising number of people ahead of me and not only ahead, but ahead by what seemed like a long ways. But I just sorta shrugged and thought "whatever....this is the pace I decided to go, so it'll have to work." My hydrate-early, hydrate-often plan was almost foiled when I downed my bottle in anticipation of a "self-serve" aid station at the mid-Gad restaurant that unfortunately did not exist this year. This was a bummer, since there was still an hour of climbing to go and I was already bathed in sweat, but I remembered from scouting the course that there was running water as we climbed up the Gad Valley, but what I didn't anticipate was that water I remembered was from snowmelt 3 weeks ago and there was no more snow so no more water! Finally, however we crossed a decent trickle about a half-hour later and I was able to fill up with water that hopefully wasn't laced with old mine arsenic or effluent from the tram station that loomed far above.
It was in here that I caught up with the venerable Luke Nelson of Pocatello who has been top 5 or so at this race several times in the past; he was clearly not havin' one after pacing a friend for 50 miles at Hardrock last weekend, and we chatted a bit about the implications of that; I told him that no one cared, and he countered with "except my big fat ego!" Indeed, and it was nice to see him keep chugging along to the finish; I'm sure that he was really tempted to drop.
Topping out at Hidden Peak in 1:45 I was in 26th place and felt good, and switched out the bottle for my Camelbak running vest that had more water capacity and my little featherweight BD poles strapped to it for the long climb out of American Fork that loomed ahead. I probably should have busted them out for the "descent"which included a stout climb and the Mary Ellen descent is pretty gnarly babyhead rockville, but soon enough the double track flattened out on dirt as we made our way towards the Pacific Mine aid station. This was an out and back section, which is the best way to see how you are doing relative to the people you're near. By glancing at the time that they went by I was encouraged that I wasn't too far back; apparently my conservation of energy on the climb and gingerly baby head descent strategies were shared by others.
The grind out of American Fork from 7500 feet to 11,000 (with another 500' descent) seems to be the crux of the race, and even though much of it was almost runnable, I decided to march hard on most of it and really use the poles, and that worked well; I found that I was hanging right with the guys who were still trying to run, but probably using less effort than they were, at a time when that that delicate line between going hard and conserving energy was wavy yet critical. About halfway up was another little spring bubbling out of the ground and having already drained the two liters I'd started the climb with I was a bit flummoxed; how to get water out of the "bowl" of the spring and into my Camelbak reservoir? I bent down to scoop some water into my hands, and immediately both my quads locked up and I almost fell over! Ok, now it's very clear that I gotta get some of that water. I then realized there was a trickle coming out of a pipe a little scramble below the road, so once I got my quads unlocked I sat there with my open reservoir watching both the water trickle in and the people trickle past me, which was a bit discouraging, but ultimately this extra time was fruitful because by the time I got to the next aid station I had sucked the reservoir dry again and was cramp-free.
Also in this section I made a point to not look up past the brim of my hat at the tops of Twin Peaks, Hidden Peak, and Baldy because they seemed sort of impossibly far up there, but as such I wasn't really paying attention and all of a sudden the nice trail I'd been marching up ended at a big cliff! I hadn't scouted this section and I knew the trail got a little gnarly on this ridge, but grabbing a tree branch and swinging out over the cliff for a better look I knew that the route wouldn't go vertical for a hundred feet (why did a pretty nice trail even go there?), so I charged back a couple of minutes to where I'd missed about 5 blue directional flags (that everyone else had seen) and rejoined the upward trudgefest.
|Topping out on Baldy after a long, hot, and mean climb. I'd like to think I'm starting to run here, but.....|
I had told Ash that way back in the day my dad used to cheer me on at track and cross country meets by yelling "Run Tom, Run!" which was an odd bit of encouragement/coaching; that's what I was doing. And as I started working my way up into the Cirque suddenly I heard a familiar voice holler "Run Tom, Run!" and there was Ash, who was invoking the spirit of dear old Dad after riding her bike from home to Snowbird and then running most of the way up the hill to a great spot to cheer from, since it was a pretty lonely start to the last mean climb. And in this case, the encouragement to "run" (vs walk) was actually legitimate! So I did my best.
One of the guys who had passed me during my unanticipated hydration break was just enough ahead of me to be a good goal but still in sight, and because we were nearing the end I pretty much gave 'er all I had - again leaning on those poles - and ultimately did catch him right at the top. When I finally left the ridge for the final grind up to Hidden Peak I was psyched to see Brother Paul, who marched along with me for a bit. As he did so my watch buzzed for the 26th time that day with a mile split. I declared to Paul "23 minutes.....well, that's great! I'm almost -but not quite - going 3 miles per hour!" Run Tom, Run, indeed.....
|I'd like to think I'm smiling, but the difference between "grin' and "grimace" is thin....|
A note as to my geeky wardrobe that earned me some well-deserved abuse (you know you're a geek when true geeks are giving you a hard time)..... I used a button down, loose-fitting shirt made of this new miracle fiber called "cotton" partly due to the suggestion by ultra vet Christian Johnson (he would not want to have credit for the button-down part!) that it would get wet and stay wet to keep me cooler, vs the other high tech fabrics that help evaporate sweat away quickly and therefore not let sweat do what it's supposed to do. The shirt worked great other than the fact the vest pulled it down my back a bit and I got a bit sunburned below my neck. And fortunately my one pair of equally-geeky calf-compression sleeves are a matching color! And not shown here were the cycling gloves that I wore for most of the race to make sure I didn't crash on the descents and actually use them. Therefore, my geekfest ensemble was quite complete.
The last "descent" took an hour and included some burly down scrambling as well as a stout, scrabbly climb, and I finally rolled into the finish at 6:35-and 16th place. I was a little surprised at the placing; looking at the entry list I was guessing that time would have put me in the mid-20's, but some of the really fast guys didn't show and a couple were pretty off so the field depth was a bit weaker than anticipated. I hung out in the finish area for a bit and finally moved out to socialize but standing up and moving put me over the edge and I almost fainted. Ash and Christian rallied to get some ice and a rag on my head and finally - after nearly an hour - I started coming back around; I think I literally was overheated and boiling over. It made me realize that the folks who were out there a long time that day had that much more time to have to deal with the sun and the heat.
Thanks to Brother Paul for hauling Ma Diegel up top, and of course thanks to Karl Meltzer for putting on a good show; the logistics of a race like that are daunting. And as always the volunteers are amazing; that's a super long day of standing around for those folks, and it was nice to see many of the local ultra-ites out there taking their turn at volunteerism. A good reminder that if I carry on with these silly self-flagellating events I should do the same.