I've had a few days to think about my first ultra experience, and since this was my first one, I figure that I'll write a pretty long report about it. I'm guessing that I won't finish this all in one sitting because 1. I'm not that patient, and 2. I don't have a big enough chunk of time.
Audrey and I headed up to Afton, Wyoming on Friday afternoon. We checked into our motel, the Lazy B, which was a decent motel. After we put our stuff away we went for a little swim and then relaxed by the pool. Then we walked around their downtown, got some supper - I had a foot long grilled chicken on wheat from Subway. This was also my pre-race meal before the Utah Valley Marathon and it worked out pretty well.
I tried to go to bed early, but it really didn't work out so well. Probably fell asleep by 11:30 and woke up at 4:00 a.m.
When I got up, I took a hot shower, made some coffee and ate my breakfast of cereal and a banana. The bus that took the 50k runners up to the start left from Star Valley High School at 5:00 a.m. and Audrey took me at about 4:45 a.m. We said goodbye and she headed back to the motel, but she was going to meet me at the halfway point, so I would see her again in about 4 hours. - Break from report #1.
On the bus ride up to the starting line it was pitch black outside and I thought maybe I should have brought my headlamp. It ended up being light enough by the start that I didn't so I was glad of that. Our kind Bus driver lady asked, "Soooo, what are you all doing today?" She was a driver for the school and apparently the race director didn't exactly tell her what was going on. One guy piped up and said, "We are going to run about 30 miles up in the mountains." Her first response was that we were all crazy, and then she said, "Are any of you packin'?" To which one guy replied, "You mean packin' heat?" Bus driver lady, "Yeah, it's mountain lion territory up there."
Always a pleasant thing to hear when you are going to be running. After that nobody really talked much until we got to the start. We unloaded off the bus and on our way out Bus driver lady says, "Well good, I'm not so worried now that their are some locals up here." As if mountain lions will stay away if the "locals" are around.
I found the portapotties, made a quick pit stop, and then stood around trying not to freeze until we started. With about 5 minutes to go I took off my coat, put it in my drop bag, and made sure I had everything I needed for the first out and back. The course had to change this year because of snow and run off damage to another entry point. So the course became a double out and back, meaning that you run out 7.5 miles turn around to the start, and then go do it all over again.
When I was thinking about it, I didn't think that would be mentally tough, but as the race went on it made it really hard to keep going.
The race director gave us the go ahead and we started off. I settled into a very reserved pace and slowly made my way past a few people. The group spread out pretty quickly and after the first couple miles I found myself behind a guy who was from Jackson Hole, WY. I told him I was from Kemmerer, and he asked what I did for a living, so I got to tell him that I was a Pastor.
We chatted for a few more minutes until he moved off to the side of the trail to let me by. The first aid station was 5.5 miles from the start line which sat at 7,000 ft. elevation. The first aid station roughly sat about 8,800 I think, if I remember right from my Garmin. The first few miles of the course ran kind of a long a river with trees to provide shade, and then it opened up into this huge meadow. The wildflowers were about waist high and it was gorgeous in the early morning light.
Mountains rose up on either side of the meadow and I kept running the parts of the trail that were flat or downhill and walking the uphills. I passed a couple of people through this meadow area, and there were also 4 stream crossings in this section of the race. Since it was a double out and back it meant that I crossed them 4 times = 16 crossings. My shoes were soaked after mile 4.
Once you get through the meadow you make a pretty hefty climb to the first aid station. At this point I saw a guy who was decked out in Pearl Izumi (a running brand) clothing and shoes. I asked him if he was sponsored by them not knowing if they sponsored middle of the pack racers or not. I knew that they had some elite runners that they sponsored. He said no, but that he was the National Director for Sponsorship for this company. He oversaw the 7 elite athletes that they sponsored. I thought that was pretty cool, and I wanted his job.
I came upon the first aid station, which had to be packed in by horses, feeling really good. They had a ton of food setting out on this massive fallen down tree. M & M's, Twizzlers, Pretzels, Bananas, PB & J, Jelly Beans, some Honey Stinger gels, and other stuff that I don't remember because I didn't eat it. I really like Peanut M & M's while running, at least I found that out on this race anyway.
I refilled my waterbottle, grabbed some food and kept hiking on up the trail. It was a pretty steady climb from here up to the highest elevation point of 10,000 ft. - Break #2.
From here there were a couple of big drops. The first one had a pretty large snow field that we had to traverse around. By this point it felt good to be running pretty fast after hiking uphill so much. I almost ate it once going down the first steep descent, but managed to hold it together. At the bottom of the first one there was a small lake which we skirted around the left side of, and then headed back up and down into a longer descent where the turn around point was.
I reached the turn around point - roughly 7.5 miles - in 2 hours. Ate some more food, filled my waterbottle, and headed back up the 2 steep bowls that we just descended. I did some scrambling back up with the loose rocks and all, but eventually made it back to the top and headed down. The great part about this was that it was basically all runnable back to the start line.
From here until the next aid station I ran with a guy named Brendan who flies wingsuits I found out. We were bombing downhill enjoying the chance to go down instead of up. The trail was pretty rocky, so you had to watch your footing pretty closely or else you were a gonner.
This portion of the race wasn't bad. I felt pretty good and knowing that I was heading back to the start line felt good even though it only meant that I was halfway done. Nothing really spectacular happened from mile 10-16, just ran along. Oh, I guess all the 25k runners were coming from the start line. So I had to pass all of them on the trail - both of us trying to get to one side so we could keep going. And another one I just remembered, I wasn't paying attention, tripped on a rock and face planted right in the middle of the trail. It totally knocked the wind out of me, but that was the only damage.
At the start line/halfway point I came down to see Audrey waiting for me. What a wonderful sight that was! She was cheering me on and asking me what I needed and getting me all set to go back out. I took off the stocking hat I was wearing and changed into a ballcap knowing it was going to get hot. I also took 2 waterbottles with me instead of one knowing that I was going to consume more fluid because of the hot weather.
Looking back now I wish that Audrey and I could have seen the future/planned better. She could have ran the whole second half with me - pretty sure I would have finished with her pushing me on. But we didn't. I was feeling okay at this point - not bad enough to quit and not good enough to be completely optimistic about my next out and back. Audrey ran about a half mile with me until the trail took a steep upward track. We said goodbye, kissed each other, and I told her I'd see her in roughly 4 hours. 4 hours! Ahhhh! I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.
On the second out and back I listened to my ipod the entire time. In my head I was starting to get tired of being out there, basically all alone, and just hiking. The meadow that was so gorgeous in the morning now turned to a hot, muggy, horse fly infested nightmare. I was so sick of that meadow by the end of the race. Also, at this point I started to develop some serious pain in the back of my left knee along with some deep dull pain in my feet. I hiked along and ran when I could up to the first aid station again - roughly mile 21.
I wasn't doing so hot. I stopped there for a while, ate some food, sat on the fallen tree and decided I would try and keep going.
There is a book that came out this spring by ultraunner Bryon Powell called Relentless Forward Progress. I haven't read the book - maybe I should since I didn't finish my first ultramarathon - but the title became my mantra as I plodded up this mountain for the 2nd time in one day.
For some reason I thought that I had grabbed a couple of extra gels at the last aid station only to find out that in my exercised induced brain retardation I didn't. I ran out of food and water about mile 23. I was still about a quarter of a mile and 400 ft. of elevation gain from the top. I really couldn't see how I was going to make the drop down those two steep descents to the turn around and then make it back out. I started feeling really sick and a little bit lightheaded as well.
I sat down in some shade and tried to deduce what I should do. The entire race was already taking waaaay longer that I had anticipated - probably overzealous for my first one. I even asked a guy who was coming down how far it was to the top (stupid because I had already been there once, and I already knew how far it was, maybe I was just looking for some sympathy or someone to talk to?) anyway, he looked at me funny and said, not real far.
Well, I finally decided to head back down and not make it to the turn around point. In my head I knew I made the right decision - my knee was hurting pretty badly and I didn't want to be stuck out there and have to get taken in on horseback. I worked my way back down to the aid station carefully, not wanting to trip and fall. Stopped there for a while to eat some more and refill my bottles. - Break #3.
I slowly took off from the aid station with 5.5 miles to go until I was finished. Which meant I had to head back into the meadow of death. With about 4 miles to go I had a horrible cramp that started on the inside of my left knee and ran all the way up my leg. There was nothing that I could do to make it go away. I tried walking, I tried stopping, I tried stretching it. Nothing worked, and then as soon as it came on it went away. Glad that it did too, because there was no way I was going to finish with that much pain going on. On my way back down the guy from Jackson that I met earlier was on his way up, and he yelled, "Lookin' good Reverend!" It made me laugh on a few different levels - 1. I was not looking good. and 2. He called me Reverend. I don't think anyone else has ever called me that before.
The last two miles were probably the hardest of the entire race. Mentally I was so ready to be finished and physically the back of my left knee was throbbing with each step, my feet were killing me, and I was slowly running out of water.
I felt like I was just surviving at this point. With about a mile and half to go I came up on two 25k runners who were going pretty slowly. They asked if I wanted to go around them, and I said, "No, I'm doing fine right behind you, I'm just surviving at this point." They were nice enough to ask if I needed anything and I had run out of water, so they offered me some of theirs. I stayed behind them until the finish.
Audrey was there to greet me. It was so good to see her! I hurt everywhere and was happy to be finished. I hobbled over to the finisher's table and had to tell them that I didn't make it to the turn around and technically DNF'd (Did Not Finish).
Even though I didn't complete the entire race I still ran farther than I ever have before, 29.25 miles, I still was out in the mountains for almost 8 hours, and I pushed myself harder than I had before. I had some mixed emotions because I didn't finish, but what I did far outweighs the fact that I didn't finish.
After I reported my DNF Audrey and I sat in the river for a while, it was freezing! Then I went to get a hamburger and some cola. I also got my picture taken with Karl Meltzer. He's an ultrarunner who has won more 100 mile races than anyone else in the U.S. It was pretty cool to see him.
So, that's my race report. It was a pretty wild ride. As of right now, I feel pretty good. I've gone out for a couple of runs this week, but I can tell that my body is still recovering. Audrey and I are running a 10k on Saturday in Green River, so I'm hoping that I'm completely ready to go by then. That's all for now!