Monday, September 14, 2015

Wasatch 100 report

So 10 months after I inexplicably applied to get into the Wasatch 100, 8 months after I won the lottery to get in, and 8 weeks of training, The Race Was On, so to speak!

Though it may be hard to believe that one needs to "prepare" many other thing besides just your body for something as simple as a running race, it seemed like there was a lot to do in the lead up to this outing.  And as I like to say, "when in doubt" (and I was very much indeed "in doubt!") "make a spreadsheet!" So I borrowed spreadsheets from the venerable ultra dudes Roch Horton and Chad Bracklesberg and morphed them into my own to keep track of "everything" associated with this event.  Having paced Chris Adams for the last couple of years and watched him manage his races and support team really well, I knew that having a good plan was a critical path to success in an endeavor where "so many things can go wrong."  I guess that's a good rule of thumb for life, and Ashley lamented to pacer Colter something to the effect of "if only Tom could manage the house as well as he managed this race!"  Ah well, we have our strengths, and we have our weaknesses.  

So with 5 drop bags in place for aid stations and the crew ready go go with their marching orders, I woke at 3am to catch a 4am bus from downtown to the start.   It may sound stupid for a hundred mile race, but the first thing I did when I arrived at the starting area was go for a warmup; I had been told that while you really didn't want to go out too fast, you also really didn't want to be too far back when the tight singletrack started kicking upward resulting in possibly navigating through traffic as people slowed dramatically, so I wanted my legs to feel ready to roll along the first three easy miles.  This strategy worked well, and I found myself in decent position and able to go my own very easy speed as we eased into the first, biggest climb of the day (about 4500 feet).  

As dawn came I was able to look around (but only a little; a pretty technical trail that demanded attention) and marvel at the beauty of this part of the northern Wasatch that - despite being only 30 minutes from home -  I had never seen before.  Since pacers are not allowed on the first 40 miles and my mind was wandering a little I spent part of my time looking around at my fellow runners and gave them various names:  there was "tall skinny guy", "chatty compression clothes guy" who was yapping with "obsessive runner girl", "Asian guy who speaks no English", "Guy clearly going out too fast and will blow sky high sooner rather than later", "Ubergeek Neanderthal Guy" (sporting multiple watches, two Breathe-rights, and possessing a really awkward, strange stride) and others.  Finally I found the very-normal and legendarily-nice-guy Jon Webb, a former SLC-er and current Boulder-based Hoka rep who had been giving me some pre-race tips, and we had a good time chatting before we moved apart.  

I had been told that the descent off Francis Peak at about mile 15 was fairly critical; a hard-packed dirt road that was about a 10% grade, and that descending it the way you felt like you could may turn out to be a insidious quad crusher many hours later.  I was therefore happy that one guy went blowing by me on the descent, since that was indicative of how smart I was! But in hindsight, the easy 7:45/mile pace (I did a quick check on my little gps watch that I otherwise did not engage) may have yet been too fast.  

Heat had been topic (so to speak) at the start line, and a couple of seasoned vets (11th and 23rd starts, respectively, with only 2 DNF's between them) admonished me to be careful and I picked up the insinuation that they figured I would go out too fast and suffer mightily in the heat.   I was determined to avoid this, but most of the miles after the first climb are east facing and the sun was indeed searing, but this was incentive to keep drinking and keep popping the electrolyte stuff even without a pacer to nicely remind me of that necessity.  But I felt very much well within myself, the splits were about what I anticipated, and even as a rookie sitting within the top 20 I felt like I was managing the race pretty well.  

However, as I came down the final steep descent to Big Mountain pass where pacer Aaron and Crew Chief Ashley were awaiting me I got a sudden, violent cramp in my left groin; the same place that had nailed me a few weeks prior on top of the big descent at the Bridger race.  I had just recently had another salt tab and again waited in agony for it to flow down to my legs, and sure enough the cramp subsided enough to the point that I could limp down into the Big Mountain aid station where Ash had the elixir:  pickle juice!  I love that stuff, and apparently there is documentation that it might be the best ticket to non-cramping there is?  In any case, after a quick refuel Aaron and I charged (well, not really) off up the hill back into the woods and the heat.

That section is notorious for bringing people down hard; there are lots of short, sharp climbs, there's a long descent down the aptly-named "Baby Head Ridge" that is pretty gnarly, it's low elevation and west-facing in mid-afternoon so it's roasting, but at least there's a hot breeze blowing to further dry the body out!
When you see ad photos of people bounding down slopes like this in their Salomons or Merrells.....they aren't "running" 100's!  
A couple of years ago - on an even-hotter day - the Alexander Ridge aid station looked like a MASH unit when I came through with Chris (who had declared "I feel as bad as I ever have in my life!") but this time it was pretty quiet.  I was eating food and gulping sodas, and a nice volunteer said "do you want a potato rolled in salt?"  It sounded pretty good so I said sure and took one.....that pretty much had about a half an inch of salt all the way around it.  Moments later I got up, checked out of the aid station, walked about 50 yards.......and blew my guts out.

Everyone has vomited; it is awful, but it's part of being human.  But for some reason I seem to be an unusually dramatic puker.  I remember once cutting my head open badly because I

was puking so hard that I was banging my head on rocks on the ground.  Poor Aaron could only stand there aghast as I got full body-buckling heaves and an extraordinary amount of fluid came raging out, which was a little disappointing:  "hey, I need that!"  But just as abruptly as it came on, it passed, I stood up, said "I feel much better" and off we went!  I had gotten the beta from Roch that there was a spring a mile away and I had scouted the location a week prior, and the cold water gave me even more life. But considering that I was now passing my former longest-mileage day yet was not even yet halfway through and already had some issues was a bit disconcerting.

Onward we trotted, with the ever-interesting Aaron keeping me entertained until we rattled into the Lambs aid station, where I was surprised to see a big contingent of (mostly little!) folks cheering me on!
I needed all the help I could get to get dragged up the road!
My crack pit crew pretty much gave these guys a run for their money:

cleaning my feet, changing my socks, feeding me, watering me, changing my shirt, etc.

It was here that I left Aaron and picked up Colter
A true "team" in our matching outfits!  Colter couldn't bring himself to wear the dork headband, however.  
The story typically goes that once leaving the oven behind and entering the cool air of Lamb's Canyon there's a bit of revival, and sure enough I began to feel much better, even as we did a pretty healthy climb up to the pass overlooking Mill Creek.  Back down on the Mill Creek road I had a chance to meet "Tall Skinny Guy" who turned out to be local Jason Eichhorst and his pacer pro skier Brody Leven, and we all had mutual friends and much to chat about.  Jason told us about some poor bastard who was puking his guts out a few hours earlier; I let him go on about it for awhile before I told him it was me in a different shirt; he couldn't believe I was still rolling after seeing my heavefest. 

Brother Paul awaited us atop the Mill Creek road, and I got another surprise visit from the little people of Team Martin who plied me with succulent grilled cheese sandwiches; I assume being little kids they love grilled cheese, and they in turn probably assumed that everybody - including strung-out runners - liked grilled cheese sammies too!  

It seems that ultra runners like to talk a lot about their "feelings", in that how they are feeling at any given time over the course of a long course.  So therefore I must as well, I suppose.  I felt pretty dang tired, sore, and whupped  -at this point around 60 miles - but was still able to move along at an ok pace, and even though Jason - cheating with an inseam that is at least 6" longer than mine - moved ahead, I felt like I was generally maintaining an adequate pace, and though there was some solid sufferage, it was tolerable.  Paul took some of the burden of keeping me entertained off of Colter until he turned back right around dark, and onward we chugged, with Colter regaling me with tales of books he's read, climbs he's done, and probably other things I missed, because in this period I had developed a habit of "needing" to make some really weird growling, grunting, and sighing noises as I ate, drank, and periodically battled waves of nausea, which Colter cheerfully ignored and kept gently pushing me along.  

Just after dark I rolled into the next aid station to find yet again Ash popping up to cheer me on and deliver the Magic Pickle Juice, and she brought along veteran Desolation Lake aid station provocateur Lauren Scholnick to provide both leg massage and "encouragement" that a drill sergeant would envy!  With her words literally ringing in my ears we trudged off again into the night.  

Veterans say that the Wasatch 100 race "begins at Brighton", but Logan-based Nate Hough-Snee thought I looked like this

But in my own mind I looked much more like this:

Brighton is notorious for being a huge vortex that runners get sucked into and have a hard time leaving, so though I didn't stay outside - as had been my stated goal - I did stay just inside the door and outside the fray, and my crack team again got me set up and out the door in speedy time (but not as fast as "Ubergeek Neanderthal Guy" who burst through the door and yelled "number 48, IN AND OUT!" apparently to show everyone how Ubergeek Neanderthal Guys roll!)

Colter was likely quite relieved to be done with me and head for bed, while Ari had the unenviable job of dragging my ass "home".  A half an hour above Brighton I told Ari that I wasn't really sure if I could finish, and he said "Dude, if you leave Brighton, you kinda have to finish".  I thought about this for a bit:  the course went up to 10k feet then dropped over and into a virtual Nevernever land that yes, had aid stations, but these were oh so very far from my bed, and since I was still lucid enough to understand this and agree, I realized that it was going to be really hard, but that yes, I was going to finish.

Not surprisingly, this is where my lack of training this summer really started taking its toll, especially on the descents.  About 10 days earlier I tried to really light it up by going nearly all out on a familiar 10% grade descent and did well, and had been trying to do a lot of descending in general, but between my quads, shins, and hip flexors, I was not rolling the descents at all, and knew I was starting to lose time and some places.  But I went as fast as I could without getting to the point of full muscle meltdown that our friend Andy Dorais had experienced a couple of years ago at the Leadville 100   (that video has haunted me since!).

The final 20 miles were pretty painstaking, and Ari proved as worthy a pard as I knew he would be by keeping tabs on my eating, tolerating my continued weird noise-making, dealing with my shit (literally), bending down and grabbing me around the chest after a crash to haul my full weight back to my feet because I couldn't get up on my own power, telling me dumb jokes, finding the route though a few miles of cow pastures, and shuffling through the night.  With less than a mile to go a couple of headlamps came outta nowhere and I thought that Ubergeek Neanderthal Guy was hunting me down (he wasn't; it was another guy who was finishing strong), so I gave 'er for what felt like a fair bit which made the finish that much more crushing-feeling.
My head exploding at the immensity of the effort
 Everywhere-Girl Ash was there at the finish hollering away again, and I don't know if it is a physical or emotional "release", but after running a hundred miles I had to almost be carried a hundred feet to the car (where I continued to make weird noises).

Even though running is an individual event, I learned the value of a running team in high school, and this event takes it to a different level.  I am certain that I would not have finished this outing were it not for my strong support squad;  I felt a little sheepish to rely on them so much, but it seemed like they got a kick out of it.

Thanks Gents, and of course Pit Crew Chief Ash
Though I was trying not to feel too much pressure, I knew there were tons of people out there in The Interweb land who were "following me" and sending great vibes.

A provocative outing for sure.

distance: 100 miles
vertical:  a lot
crashes - too many
blood - surprisingly little
blisters - a few, but not debilitating
shoes (for fellow geeks who are interested): Hoka Challenger ATR (the whole time, tho I had others queued just in case).
suffering:  much, but I guess not too much, since I finished.
weird power food-like products:  definitely too much, but I guess enough
realtime and virtual cheering sections - surprisingly large and enthusiastic!
volunteers:  too many ridiculously nice people giving way too much of their time to count!

1 comment:

  1. I laughed out loud more than once while reading this. So good. Well done you. Also: you're insane.