Moab Red Hot 55k Race Report

Moab Red Hot 55k – February 16, 2013

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Davina at the start.
Davina at the start.

I signed up for the Moab Red Hot 55k back in September after Davina asked me if I wanted to go on a running road trip with her. I gotta admit, I was a bit reluctant to make a 9 hour drive ‘just’ to do a 50k. But I wanted to support Davina in doing a run that interested her, and honestly, the run really did look pretty cool. Or Hot, as it were.

Through a variety of circumstances that led me to believe I might be on my own to make the trip, I had to consider whether I wanted to do the run regardless of Davina or not. Through encouragement of my ever-supportive husband and some soul-searching, I decided I was excited about the run regardless of who I would end up traveling with; and besides all that, it fell in perfect timing as a training race for the upcoming Antelope Island Buffalo Run in five weeks.

Anyway, long story short, Davina did decide to start the race despite not being certain that a finish was distinctly probable. Not only that, she decided not to drop down to the 33k, but instead chose to tackle the 55k and do her best to make the four and a half hour cutoff at mile 17.

We drove from Nampa to Moab on Friday and started getting excited when we began to see the red dirt terrain of southern Utah. Never having been to this type of country before, we were in for a treat. Not only was the terrain looking amazing, the weather forecast was 100% perfecto for running.

We hit the packet pickup late Friday afternoon at a restaurant in Moab. With ~800 runners signed up, we expected a chaotic and crowded scene, but experienced exactly the opposite. We were the only ones picking up our packets at that moment, and the process was organized and efficient, run by an ample crew of outdoorsy and fit looking people. I expected a little more schwag from a race with a hefty entry fee ($83 early/$95 late) and major sponsors, but we got the standard tech tee in a La Sportiva Mountain Cup cinch sak with a Hammer Gel and the usual assortment of race advertisements, and that was fine. I figured our entry fees went toward the massive shuttle system required to accommodate parking for such a large crowd because they definitely did not go toward the finish line food, extra schwag, or finisher awards. We had been told that sponsors had provided a lot of raffle items, but that process required 1. That you could remember/find your raffle ticket after the race, and 2. That you would stick around for hours and hours waiting as they would call small groups of numbers periodically from noon throughout the afternoon, neither of which we could or wanted to do.

Race morning, we parked at the Gemini Bridges Road intersection with the highway and then walked the ¾ mile up to the start area.  When we had scoped out the start location Friday night, I was alarmed at the SIX portapotties that would need to accommodate nearly 800 runners. So, it was the BEST surprise that when we arrived at the start area right at 7:15 am, there was…wait for it…NO LINE. Pre-race with no portapotty line just rocks. I did notice that the lines by 7:45 am were pretty long, though. The race-morning packet pickup seemed to be going efficiently, and we checked in with the lady in the orange vest to let her know we were there to start. I appreciated the ample supply of water and piles of Heed FIZZ tablets available to runners at the start. Davina and I each drank a cup of FIZZ while we were waiting around.

We had arrived right at 7:15 for the pre-race briefing that had been advertised to take place at that time, but that ended up not really being the case, as it was maybe 7:30? when race director Chris Martinez megaphoned a very short briefing consisting of course markings to follow and a near-bewilderment at the stellar and dry condition of the course.

The morning was cold, in the 20s, but we knew it would warm up at least into the mid-40s (I think it hit 47), so we dressed in layers. Still, I couldn’t believe all the skinny little people trotting around in shorts and singlets.

Mountains and red rock in the same view!
Mountains and red rock in the same view!

We knew about 800 runners had signed up, but it sure didn’t seem like it. The start had a very low-key, draw the start line with your toe in the dirt, sort of feeling, even as Dakota Jones drove his little red truck right through the start line throng to his special up-front parking spot about 15 minutes before the start. Supposedly, a bunch of other elites were there, but I didn’t recognize anyone, not that I was really looking. At the last minute, we stripped off our sweats and put them in drop bags for the finish.

Darian spotted us about 30 seconds before the call of GO and quickly gave hugs and snapped a picture of us. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him again after that, but it was a nice boost to see him for that moment. He ran the 33k and we were sure he had finished and departed long before we got to the finish.

We started way in the back of the pack, nice and easy. I turned to Davina and told her to have fun and have a good run. It was the last time I saw her until the finish, and I left her wondering if she would be there when I finished or not. “There” would mean she had not made the cutoff, and “not” would mean she was still out racing. I hoped I would be the one waiting for her.

Soon we started up the first little climb (about a mile) up and around the side of the mesa that would take us into the backcountry and the famed Moab trails. The north facing slope of the first road was slick with snow and some ice, but other than that and one other little stretch on wind-swept Metal Masher, that was the extent of ‘conditions’ for the entire course. A runner could not even ask for a more perfect day for a run – dry trails, not too cold/not too hot temps, sunshine, gorgeous scenery…the Red Hot 55k on this day had it all.

I covered the first 6 miles to Aid Station 1 in 58 minutes, which I was super happy about. It was good running, with just two little hills to get us warmed up for what was to come. Not having run this race before, and not having a Garmin to give me heads up regarding impending aid stations, the surprise of the first aid station was fun because I didn’t think I would get there so fast, and the surprises just kept coming all day long. There wasn’t one aid station I was having a meltdown over wishing it would come sooner.

Grabbing a handful of chips, a mini Almond Joy (which remained uneaten), a quarter of pb&j, and a couple cups of cola, I quickly exited Aid 1 in about 30 seconds, eating and drinking as I walked up the little hill out of the aid station. Soon we made a right turn onto the loop we would complete before returning to that first aid station which doubled as Aid 3.

The section between Aid 1 and Aid 2 was one of the neatest parts of the course. We climbed up the Metal Masher trail and got to experience the slickrock for the first time. I caught whiffs of juniper and was enjoying my surroundings so much. We reached the top of the rim and could look down and see the start area we’d left a couple hours before. The trail was very technical and rocky, requiring a lot of paying attention, but the red dirt was a dream to run on (soft and cushiony when it wasn’t rocky), and the type of terrain was all new to me anyway, so I didn’t mind any of it. In addition to that, I was appreciating the way I was feeling – not super fresh or springy, but still having good energy and the spirit to work hard. At least I didn’t have leaded legs. I pushed up all of the climbing, running everything except the more extended and steep climbs, and ran quick and easy on everything else. I felt really good through this section.

Slickrock!
Slickrock!

Arriving at Aid 2 (13 miles) in 2:28, I was stoked. Again, coming upon the aid station was a surprise, and I grabbed another couple cups of coke and some chips and walked on through. The trail monitor sitting at the junction a couple hundred yards up the trail said the best part was yet to come on the Gold Bar and Golden Spike trails between Aids 3 and 5. But I had to get through the next 4 innocuous and less-interesting miles to Aid 3 and the cutoff first.

I had to walk a bit after this to get myself situated for the rest of the day by taking my top shirt layer off and putting my hat and gloves in my pack. I also took the opportunity to make a quick call to John and give him a report of my first two aid station splits. I knew Amy back home might be interested, and it was motivating me to know that people might like the updates, even just from a 50k. But then, all organized and ready to go, I kicked it into gear and ran strong on the lightly rolling dirt road miles to the next aid station, checking into Aid 3 (mile 17) at 3:20.

The typical pain in my hips and hammimes had set in by this point, but I went all “AK” (Amy King) on it, and just kept running and tried to make it look good even though it hurt like running around Lake Lowell. My arrival at Aid 3 was particularly uplifting because I had definitively made the cutoff (4:30) and didn’t have to worry about that anymore. However, I was aware of my tendency to not push without the necessity to do so, and I vowed that I would not fall into that trap today.

I thought about my parents, always supportive, and my dad undergoing a stem cell transplant at the VA in Seattle. I thought about Davina back there on the trail, hoping she was having a good day and overcoming. I thought about my training partners Sam and Amy, who I figured were running together without me. I thought about my friend Amber who had to give up coming with us to Moab to rest her injured ankle so she can run Antelope Island. And I thought about my ever-loving hubby who gives me so much love and support, so much more than I deserve. And all of this thinking kept me running – out of respect for those who can’t; out of love for those who support.

And then the “big” climb of the day came. From about mile 19-22, we climbed vast sheets of slickrock, some of it requiring hands to brace, some of it in step form, but all of it technical and beautiful. The thing about slickrock it this: in pictures, you see people running across it, and it looks like it will be all nice and smooth and lalala. This is not the case. Slickrock can be smooth and nice running, but only in very short sections at a time. The rest of the time, you are stepping up onto it, stepping off of it, tripping on the grooves, leaping over crevasses, navigating the 45 degree angles of the surface, and always watching your footing because it’s very much not smooth – more like a dimpled, bumpy roller coaster for your feet, a very challenging terrain for someone with ‘iffy’ ankles like myself.

Anyway, I was rocking the climb, and no one passed me going uphill. I was leapfrogging with a few people who were better technical downhill and flat runners, but I caught and passed them all on this climb. I don’t know how this was even happening with my lack of hill and trail running in the recent winter months, but it was, and I was grateful for the gift. Come to think of it, I will attribute my strength to the CrossFit I’ve been doing 2-3 times per week.

At the race high point.
At the race high point.

I reached the high point of the course at mile 21 (or 22?) at Aid 4 with a time of 4:30 on the race clock. This aid station had been driven in by very kind and brave people in Jeeps and sat perched on the side of the massive hill overlooking the valley of high desert shrubbery and rock formations. The day was perfect but felt quite warm compared to the cold temps we have been used to running in, and I knew it would be a pretty long stretch to the next aid, so I decided to fill up with water one time for the day at this aid station. Between that and taking a couple of pictures at the summit, I was there about 5 minutes, which was time well spent. After facebooking the picture a runner took of me on the rim (I know that’s obnoxious, don’t judge) and texting John my last two splits off my trusty old Timex Ironman, I got down to the business of tackling the non-straightforward, EKG-shaped descent on the Golden Spike trail into the next aid station.

This was by far the most difficult portion of the race. The entire seven miles was composed of angled slickrock face, slickrock ‘steps’, striated and broken rock, and large rock drop-offs and caverns to traverse. I just did the best I could. It was hard to get a rhythm going with the technicality and constantly changing demeanor of the rock. Some of it was friendly; some of it clearly hated human beings, runners in particular. I was leapfrogging with a girl who was clearly struggling mentally, and I found myself drawing strength from that, knowing that I was doing good with running in the moment and not being frustrated with a long aid to aid section.

The piece from 21 to 28 miles took 1:44, and I arrived at Aid 5 at 6:14, downing two cups of cola (open note to all race directors: serve name-brand soda!!) and a cup of Heed, which would be all I’d need to get me to the finish. Considering the advisement of a veteran Red Hot runner I’d talked with a few times throughout the day, I judged that I would have a chance at doing the last 5-6 miles (no one seems to be able to say if the course is 33 or 34 miles), in an hour and ten minutes or less, so I set my sights on a sub-7:30 and focused on not letting up on the intensity. I ran 95% of the last portion of the race, only taking one walk break on a very monotonous flat road section and then sort of walk-fast stepping through another incredibly beautiful but treacherous big-rock drainage. We slid on our butts down a 5-foot slickrock dropoff to the amusement of some course “monitors” and said goodbye to the big expanses of rock for the day. After this, we had just two miles left of the mondo-rocky Poison Spider trail to take us down into the river gorge and the finish.

Climbing to Mile 21 aid station.
Climbing to Mile 21 aid station.

I had been running strong since Aid 5, but I really resolved to run my heart out the last two miles unlike the many people I passed those last miles who were just walking it in. I had a race to finish, and I wanted to make myself and my friends proud!

I hurtled dangerously over the rolley rocks down the grandiose mile and a half into the river gorge, hoping and praying I would not crash at this late hour. Again, no one passed me on this section, and I re-passed a guy who had caught me on the last downhill slickrock, leaving me to finish in focused silence. The switchback road leading down into the gorge was rocky but very runnable for someone who is nimble and paying attention. I don’t know if I fell into the ‘nimbe’ category, but I was paying attention, and I could “smell” the finish, so I ran as hard as I could down, down, down, and finally came to a couple sitting on a high rock who advised me the finish was right around the next corner! I couldn’t believe I couldn’t see it from way back at the top of the bluff.

I rounded the corner to the finish and there was just a mashup of people and tents and it was all a blur except for the very sharp focus I was giving to the rocks underfoot. I did not want to crash so close to the finish line with all these people watching. And then I heard it. Davina’s voice. Go EM! My spirit sagged  a little bit, knowing her race ended early. But she met me at the finish, and I hugged her and said I’m sorry, and she said she had a great day and was happy and had no regrets.

For me, my ankles held up, my mind held up, and I finished the Moab Red Hot 55k in 7:20, in what was one of my best executed races and definitely my best 50k.

I wanted to hear all about Davina’s race; but first I ran into Ninja Turtle Eric Lee who I first met at the IMTUF 100 in October, and then I had to greet a couple of ‘trail friends’ who were finishing behind me, and then we headed over for the butternut apple bisque soup that was being served to runners (it actually tasted really good), and we had a nice chat with some friends Davina had met at the Salt Flats 100 last April.

Friends at the finish.
Friends at the finish.

The finish area is staged on a ledge just above the highway at the bottom of the Colorado River gorge. It’s really a neat setting with good atmosphere, complete with raffle prizes, music playing, food vendors for spectators, a beer garden, a massage guy, and lots of sponsor booths. It might have been nice to hang out in the sun for a while and watch people finish and listen for our raffle numbers, but we were ready to drive up to Ogden for the night so we wouldn’t have to do the whole drive on Sunday. We caught the shuttle that took us back to our car at the parking area 3 ¾ miles away from the finish and then hit the road.

Our trip to Moab was a quick trip with a long drive; a fun weekend full of good friend time and superb trail running. The Red Hot 55k is a low-key race where the course is the star. If you’re looking for an early-season race with a healthy challenge and good organization, you should sign yourself up next year.

Here are the things I did right that made this race so good for me:

  • Stayed in the game; didn’t get impatient; didn’t wish for the aid stations to come sooner.
  • Focused on running every part I could and power hiking everything else (and I mean power hiking – no one passed me on a climb the whole day, but I sure caught a whole bunch of people that way).
  • Fueled to the needs of the day – my stomach was feeling ‘borderline,’ so I kept the intake to mostly pop and some shot blocks after the halfway point, but still, I didn’t let myself get too depleted.
  • Never allowed myself to have a ‘slog’ section. If I could run, I was running, even if it was slow. This goes very closely hand in hand with the fueling piece – you have to fuel adequately to avoid the bonk.
  • Looked around and appreciated my surroundings at all times, adding maybe 10 minutes to my overall time taking some pictures and having people take a few pics of me. It was worth it for this sort of infrequent opportunity to visit someplace so heavenly.

Splits:

  • Aid 1, 6 miles, 58 mins
  • Aid 2, 13 miles, 1:29 (2:28 race clock)
  • Aid 3, 17 miles, 51 mins (3:20)
  • Aid 4, 21 miles, 1:11 (4:30)
  • Aid 5, 28 miles, 1:44 (6:15)
  • Finish, 33-34 miles, 1:06 (7:20:54 – my watch time, not official race time)

January 29, 2011 – Wilson Creek Frozen 50k Trail Runs

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Funnest Time Award - 10 Mile Finishers

The first (possibly annual) running of the informal trail gathering dubbed the Wilson Creek Frozen 50k (and 20M and 10M) can be considered a great success. No one got permanently lost, for most of the morning the really bad mud stayed at bay, only one person reported blood (with pride and a great description of the fall, of course), and many milestones were achieved.

R-L, Top Three 50k Finishers

You never know what you are going to get in the Owyhees this time of year. It could have been epic mud or blizzard conditions. It could have been 0 degrees with a -20 windchill. Turns out, we were blessed with a best possible case scenario for course conditions overall. For the first half of the day, a blanket of chilly fog kept the ground mostly firm, so the infamous Wilson Creek clay mud only attacked the small group of 50k runners who were braving the 10 mile loop in the afternoon. Chill wind was nowhere to be found. And above the fog, 50k and 20M runners got to enjoy the most spectacular views in the brilliant sun from Wilson Peak (elev. 5363’).

Runners Descending from Wilson Peak with Soldier Cap in the Background

Even at a small, informal gathering like this, inspirational stories abound. One girl finished her first-ever 50k and was so excited about it. One guy ran his 4th 50k in as many weeks to celebrate his birthday two days later. The 50k winner took his first-ever win, amazing everyone with his speed, even after accumulating several bonus miles on an unflagged section; and then he hung around until late in the afternoon waiting for everyone else to finish. Truly cool guy. Two ladies ran the longest distance they had ever run, tacking 5 miles onto 10 mile run on their own. One lady ran her first trail run ever, on a challenging course no less. She can’t wait to go back. Many others accomplished something great for themselves that day. I am so honored that I was able to share this beautiful country with an awesome group of trail runners.

Donna, Laney, and the Course Sweeps!

This run would not have happened without three people: Davina Jackson, Sam Collier, and my husband John. The three of them spent the day before the race marking trails, and Davina and Sam swept the course, clearing course markings and making sure no one was left out there at the end of the day. Special thanks goes to Davina’s parents for manning the aid station for the morning and taking pictures until John got done running. Thanks to everyone who brought goodies to share at the trailhead, also. Thanks last but not least to Mike and Leone at Shu’s Idaho Running Company for sponsoring this run with great schwag bags and race numbers.

Maybe we’ll see you all next year???

Race Directors Em and Davina

For complete run details and results, visit www.emilyberriochoa.com/Frozen50k/

Sam after a slight mud incident.

2009 Big Horn 50k

JUNE 20, 2009: First Ultra

Bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible. –Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

My first ultramarathon was everything I thought it WOULD be, but better, and none of the horrible things I thought it COULD be. I have struggled much over the last months with how to write this story – the race was so good, and seemingly so uneventful. What is there to tell? But really, there is much more to this race than the third of a day I actually spent running. This race report really starts back in September of 2006, three months after I gave birth to Little M.

I was taking a requisite non-fiction writing class at BSU. Writing about my feelings or my bad childhood like everyone else either bored me or didn’t apply to me. I was fat and out of shape and I didn’t like it. A coming to Jesus meeting was forthcoming. Now that I was done having kids, what was I going to do with the rest of my life? This six-year phase of childbirth and nursing was about to come to an end, and then what?
I used my writing projects to help me sort out these questions, turning to what I knew and had sometimes loved, writing these words to start out one of my essays:

I’m a runner. At least that’s how I perceive myself in athletic terms. Since my sophomore year in high school, I have nurtured a love-hate relationship with running. When I’m running, I hate it. When I’m not, I love it. Lately, I have become obsessed with this conundrum. I truly aspire to be a runner, not just someone who thinks about it a lot.

Having two babies in the last five years has been a detour to my running success. I’m a slug, yet I still have the desire to be a serious runner, and I am slowly getting back into it. But to some extent, running is my fantasy – I do a lot of running in my dreams. Still, I had to begin somewhere. In order not to shock my system with too much exercise right off the bat, I started with the mild step of reading about running. In doing so, I discovered ultramarathoning.

And that’s how it started. With Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man and Pam Reed’s The Extra Mile. The reality was the elephant in the room, though. You wanna’ be a runner, lady? THEN YOU HAVE TO RUN! And so my ultra journey began.

Map of Big Horn Wild and Scenic Trail Run 50k (~31-32 miles):

The race start, complete with flag and the National Anthem:

See you in 30 miles!

The race started right out with a crazy climb that lasted about a mile to the ridgeline. As you can see, I started right in the back, just ahead of the people who started out walking. Most of us were soon hiking.
Somewhere around mile five or six before dropping down into the Kearns Cow Camp aid station in the valley. Thanks to Laurel of New Hampshire for taking this picture of me and for pacing with me those first six or seven miles.

On top of the world.

Loved this gnarly trail section at mile 7 or so dropping down into the first aid station.

Mile 9, Kearns Cow Camp AS: Looking back at the aid station, famous for its bacon on the grill, as I was leaving with a handful of potato chips and best wishes on the six mile climb back out of the canyon up to the start of the race.

At the tail-end of the six-mile climb back up into the start area after the first 14-mile loop.

Mile 14, Head of Dry Fork: As I came into the main aid station after completing the first 14-mile loop three and a half hours later, I asked my dad and John for the extra socks out of my drop bag. They both looked at each other. Do you have her bag? No, didn’t you get it? Turns out, they had been back up to the van, but they had both forgotten to grab my drop bag – they HAD gotten themselves snacks and changes of shoes and socks, however. Hahaha. Good thing I wasn’t really desperate for anything in there. I had some bandaids in my Camelbak which I put on my big toes in what turned out to be a futile attempt to prevent blisters under my callouses, refilled my Camelbak with water, took a potty break, grabbed some snacks, and I was back on my way, into the wild unknown of the next ~18 miles.

Along the run, I talked to a number of people who said this was their first ultra. I also talked to a few people who were more experienced – as I left the Dry Creek AS, I took a break from running up the hill out of the station to walk with a couple of “seasoned” ultra-men. After learning where I was from, they suggested that I come up to their neck of the woods to run Le Grizz 50, near Kalispell, MT. About the easiest 50 you’ll ever find, they promised. Hmmmm, seriously considering it. 🙂 Turns out, my dad DID do this one, running a very impressive 10:22 in 0 degree temperatures on October 11, 2009. It’s on my list for next year…

Here is the road leading UP out of the 14 mile Dry Creek aid station:

I think this was about 18-20 miles or so, just before the big descent into the Tongue River river bottom. A nice man offered to take this picture of me. You could not have asked for a nicer day. The skies were clear and the temperatures were moderate (a little hot at the end down in the canyon). One of the most spectacular days imaginable in a race where one of the hallmarks are the scenic vistas.

Not too long after that picture was taken, coming down from Upper Sheep Creek (Mile 19) to Lower Sheep Creek (Mile 24), I gave up all hope of completing under my pre-race goal eight hours. I gave that time up as completely unrealistic and unattainable. My pace slowed to a stutter. I was doing 20-25 minute miles going DOWN! On a descent of at least 15% grade, it was all I could do to keep my legs moving one in front of the other. There weren’t too many people around me through this section. Well, I should say that I did see a number of other people, but my encounters were brief as they careened past me like I was standing still. I was actually catching up to one other person, an older man who was in about the same boat as I was. At the point where he was about 20 feet below me, his legs failed him and he took a nasty, dust-boiling fall. I got to him as fast as I could, which took about an eternity considering how my legs were failing me also, and he had managed to stand up by the time I reached him. Luckily he was fine, and I kept going ahead of him, slightly comforted by the fact that I wasn’t the worst off of all people on this blasted mountain.
Mile 24, Lower Sheep Creek AS: I was never so happy to come in contact with other human beings as I was at the moment in time when I spotted pieces of color through the trees and heard cowbells and cheering voices as I neared the Lower Sheep Creek aid station. When I actually ran into the station and realized the cheering was for me, I nearly had a breakdown. I was so relieved that I had made it down those miles of descent, I was on the verge of tears. But I willed myself to pull it together. People who run aid stations at ultras are literally like angels. They are selfless, happy to see you, incredibly helpful, supportive, encouraging, and they tell you that you can keep going even when you doubt the veracity of their words. I handed my Camelbak to a guy right when I walked in and went to peruse the food they had laid out on a tarp. I decided that I could live without food at the moment – nothing really sounded good – and I had a GU packet that I decided to down instead. The lovely people there advised me to soak my bandanna in the river crossing just beyond the aid station, because I was at nearly the lowest point in the course now, and it would be hot heading into the canyon just above the river. There weren’t any spots to actually access the river except for that point right there at the aid station. Even though I had been using my bandanna as a hankie for most of the race, I heeded their advice, knowing they knew a lot more than I did. I washed out the bandanna in the river and tied it around my neck. Ahhhh, heaven!
This was the view coming down into the river bottom.

Leaving the Lower Sheep Creek aid station, I realized that I felt completely rejuvenated. After the terrible lows I had felt the previous five miles, I now felt 100 percent better. I had cold water on the bandana around my neck, I had been cheered into the aid station like I was the only runner on the course, I had been informed that there were only about 7.5 miles left in the race – what! in my addled brain, I thought there were, like, at least twice that! – and that horrible downhill section was over. I could do this!
Mile 26, Tongue River AS: I wandered into the food tent looking bewildered. The girl behind the table asked me what sounded good. I don’t even know, I replied. Watermelon, she said. Watermelon with salt. That’s what they are eating right now. Apparently I looked like a “they” because she salted up two slices of juicy watermelon and handed me one for each hand, sending me on my way. I was dubious, but figured she knew more than I at that point, so I headed out, slurping down the salty melon.

Rolling out of the Tongue River aid station at 6:55 (or so) on the race clock, with approximately five miles to go, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I DID have a chance to come in under eight hours. For me to do it, though, I definitely could NOT just walk it in. I’d have to give those five miles everything I had. At this point averaging a 12 min/mile pace felt like a 7 min/mile pace on fresh legs. I told myself I had to run five miles in an hour. That’s it – just one more hour. I truly didn’t know if I would make it, but I had tentative hope. At least it was plausible.

The salty watermelon wasn’t half bad. Eating something juicy and cold was pure heaven at that point. I knew I had a tough five miles left to go, and I still needed a lot of fuel, fluids, and salt to keep me going. Up until this point, the course had traveled mainly on forest service roads, ATV roads, and single track trail. Now we were getting close to Dayton, and this was where we met up with civilization. The last five miles was essentially a hot, dusty, straight shot to the finish, and we had to contend with cars to boot.

The next three miles were all about patience. And putting one foot in front of the other. And getting passed by guys who started two hours earlier than I did and literally sprinted past me on their way to finishing 50 MILES, not kilometers.

Mile 29, Homestretch AS: This aid station was like an oasis in the desert. The kind people asked if I wanted an Otter Pop, and I practically said “DUH!” It tasted really good at first, when it was all frozen, but as it thawed, it started getting really sugary and warm and didn’t taste good whatsoever. But it really hit the spot for a few minutes. From my obsessive pre-race map studying, I wanted to think that the Homestretch aid station was only about two or three miles from the finish, but I would not believe it until I heard it. For the second time that day, I was surprised and relieved to learn that I had fewer miles to go than I had anticipated. They said there were only 1.8 miles to the finish! Aaaaagh. I could “smell the barn,” as the ultrarunners say.

However, the road just kept going and going. It was seemingly interminable, just folding out in front of me like a never-ending dusty treadmill. I willed myself to keep running at a good clip, allowing for walk breaks through shady spots, and whenever I’d run enough that I felt a walk was warranted. The last five miles of the race basically looked like this:

Shortly past that last aid station, I caught up with a guy who was walking, looking like he was in no hurry to finish. His running was done. As I passed I said, Come on! Let’s go… He was like, You want me to run? I said YES, we’re too close to the finish to slow down now! Come on!

I was grasping at straws. I felt that if I motivated this guy, I would not be so focused on my own pain. He reluctantly started running. We talked a bit – I found out he was from Alberta, CA, and that this was his first 50k too. I pushed the pace, glad that I was not doing this all by myself anymore. Finally, he said he was done. He needed to walk. With about a half-mile to go, I left him behind and kicked it in, running solo to the finish, blowing past this walker who had toasted me on that killer downhill section between miles 21-26.

As I rounded the corner into the park entrance, I was greeted by John taking my picture. He snapped a few of me, and then turned to run to the finish. “RUN” I hollered at the top of my lungs. I could have beat him too, if I could have taken the same shortcut he did. 🙂 John said he knew I was feeling good because I had enough energy to yell at him and joke even as I was still finishing.

He was right. I had an awesome race. My execution of my first trail ultra left nothing to be desired. I had set the perfect goal – challenging enough so that I would have to push to achieve it, but not one that was so challenging I would never have a chance at it, leaving myself without any goal and mentally defeated when the unrealistic time came and went.

You don’t know what your body is capable of until you test it, said Nikki Kimball on her rocky 5th-place finish at the Western States 100 this year. (It was the first 100-miler she entered that she did not win.) And after 7 hours, 55 minutes, and 24 seconds of hiking and running, covering some of the most beautiful country on this planet, I knew what I was capable of on that day.

I remember finishing through a giant cloud of greasy smoke from the hamburger BBQ right by the finishing chute, which you can’t really see in these pictures, but it was there, and it made me want to hurl. But nothing could dampen the sense of satisfaction I felt at that time. To this day, I have no regrets about this race. There’s only one first, and what an unforgettable first it was.

As you can see from this picture, I was finding it hard to stand.
But I forced myself to not collapse on the ground and lay there comatose for the rest of the day as I felt inclined. Instead, I made my way over to the riverbank a few feet from the finish to soak my toasted feet.
That was like heaven on earth right there, and it revived me a little bit.

At one point a while after the race, I was talking to a couple of people, and I’m sure they were nice people and very interesting, but I had to excuse myself because the world was getting dark and warm and narrow, and I couldn’t stand up straight for fear of passing out right then and there. Doubled over, I staggered over to one picnic spot and laid down flat in the cool grass while the spinning stopped and the blood flow returned to my head. It was probably 45 minutes to an hour after the race before I could eat anything, and then only in small increments. But I knew I needed to keep the fuel and liquid coming in. I forced myself to get through some of the pasta salad and hamburger from the post-race picnic.

I had no regrets about the race in general, but I do actually have one little regret – that I was so self-consumed after the race with all my nausea and lightheadedness, I did not remember to go over and watch for and cheer for Laurel from New Hampshire as she finished. I noticed later that she finished in around 9:18, a great time, considering she had only run one marathon, back in 2005, and this was her first 50k also, at age 52. Good job Laurel. I’m sorry I didn’t come and run you in like I had wanted to!

To quote a line from a writer in Ultrarunner magazine: Fast and short is for the birds. I’m hooked on ultras or at least wild and scenic trails.Amen, sista’. For me, once you go trails, you never go back. My first ultra was everything I could have asked for or expected, but 100 times better. The people were nicer, the views grander, my mentality stronger, my time faster, the downhills more painful… Here’s a list of stuff I perceived as remarkable from the race:

  • I never once fell, even though I did witness other people fall.
  • I ran strong to the finish.
  • The stunning views from the top of the world.
  • Running 30+ miles through some of the most beautiful of God’s creation.
  • The blisters under the calluses on my toes.
  • Amazingly friendly, helpful, encouraging, decisive, and efficient aid station volunteers.
  • The ultrarunning community. Ultrarunning is a sport where the slow-packers can mingle with and absorb vibe and wisdom from the fast dudes, super-experienced runners, and even the elites.
  • I got passed by some speedy 50-milers in the last five miles (the 50-milers had started two hours and 18 miles ahead of the 50k-ers), and probably before that, but those last five miles is where it became painfully evident.

From being involved in the ultra community through the Ultra List email group for almost three years, I have heard from many runners that ultrarunning is unique and special because of the people. So it was not surprising to find out at Big Horn that this was so true.

One of the highlights of the entire race was meeting the Heaphys, a beautiful couple from NW Montana who were down to use the Big Horn 50k and 50M as a training run for the Hardrock 100, possibly the toughest 100 miler out there – run July 11 -12, 2009. The Heaphys are ultrarunners extraordinaire, having finished the Hardrock 100 ~10 times each, and of course a zillion other impressive ultras. Margaret was running the 50k race on a bum knee as an easy training run to test out how her knee would hold up for Hardrock, and I led her for about half the race, but once we got to the five mile descent from the top of the mountains down into the river bottom, she schooled me on the downhill running. Man. I have a lot to learn. Margaret finished a couple of minutes ahead of me, so I think I was running a little stronger on the flat section at the end, but it was on the downhill where she just blew me out of the water. Here I am at the end of the run with Margaret, a true class act.

From an email by Mark Heaphy to my dad post-Hardrock: Well, Margaret and I both finished Hardrock again. It was Margaret’s 9th and my 11th. Margaret’s goal has always been ten…so if she does it next year we may not do the run anymore….we’ll see. Margaret had probably the most suspenseful run of the entire field. She finished with about two minutes to spare. We ran the first twenty or so miles together and then we split up. She was very sick and vomiting. She barely made the cut-offs but toughed it out (it has always been like this for her). In order to finish under the 48 hour cut-off she had to run the last leg in the dark in a time that most of the top finishers do…and she did. Everyone was amazed. She did great and was so excited to just finish.

My essay in September of 2006 ended this way:
The ultramarathon culture is fascinating. My research has given me graphic insight into the elements necessary to train for and run ultramarathons. Here I sit, in front of the television, thinking that I want to be, that I should be out running. So why, when I can hardly muster the gusto to shuffle three miles, do I dream about running 30-plus miles? The short answer: I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I have to start somewhere.

I start slowly. I escape the house without my kids and run three miles, winning a small victory when I can do it without walking. And it’s a treat to run alone. The extra exertion required to push a jogging stroller is amazing. Recently, I ran a 5k (3.1 mile) “race” in Boise with my son and daughter. From this experience, I determined that pushing 60 pounds of stroller and kid three miles is a really good workout, and I have a long way to go before I will be able to run 10 miles, let alone an ultramarathon.


For me, though, running an ultramarathon isn’t the goal. My mind conjures much less grandiose requirements for my body and my time. Run today, just today. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t even think about the next mile. Put one foot in front of the other and simply run.
So, in January of 2007, six-months postpartum, I started running. I completed a marathon in October 2008 on my 30th birthday and the Big Horn 50k two and a half years later in June of 2009. However, my ultra-journey doesn’t end here. It’s only just beginning. I knew even as I struggled to the finish that I would enter another of these, and then another. Which one would it be? I was planning even before I finished. The conclusion of that race was merely a door opening to a huge new world of personal challenge and adventure. It wasn’t really a finish line. It was a portal. It was just the beginning.

FOOTNOTE

What’s next: I want to challenge any of you reading this to join me May 29, 2010 in Pocatello, Idaho for the Pocatello 50. I plan to make this my first 50-miler. The race also offers 2- or 3-person relay events that cover the same 50-mile course, with legs from 16-19 miles each. Signup starts January 1, 2010.

PROLOGUE

The Pocatello 50 was indeed the first 50 miler at which I toed the line. But it wasn’t my first finish. Read a report of the race in which I have some comments by iRunfar.com here.
Margaret Heaphy finished her 10th Hardrock a year later in 2010 (and it was Mark Heaphy’s 11th)! Wow.