Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beaverhead 100K

Most of the pre-race meeting for the race the next day centered around rain, hail, lightning, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and snakes...  It was going to be a good day!

2:15AM . . . I'm already awake when my alarm does NOT go off.

Apparently my wife was awake too.  Not wanting to listen to the loud "Hot For Teacher" tunes coming from my phone, she got up and turned it off before it started.

Better sit up.  I've got to be on the bus to the start of the Beaverhead 100K at 3:15AM.  I've got 62 miles to run today!

After a low key prep talk, the race director sent us off!

The race started at 5am while it was still dark.  That said, it would only be dark for about 15 or 20 minutes, so I elected to go without my headlamp and mooch off those around me who carried lights.

I planned to start slow, and keep it that way, since I was not made confident by my lackluster training (thanks to illness, as well as general busy-ness) over the month of June.

I quickly synced up with my buddy Derek, who had also been forced to miss some training, and who also seemed to be starting intentionally slow.

Eventually we got a spectacular sunrise through the trees.

Turns out there are a lot of trees on the continental divide!

The month of June in Boise was HOT.  Record hot.  And when visualizing the course in my head prior to the event, I had pictured the Continental Divide Trail consisting of nothing but a long exposed ridgeline with no shade.  This, combined with the heat had made me nervous.  Then the week leading up to the event we had large afternoon thunderstorms every day that dropped enough rain to shatter our one-day rain record, and thunder loud enough to shake the whole house.  Add rain, hail, and lighting to the worries about exposure and heat, and I didn't know what to expect.

Fortunately, the temperatures for the race were mostly PERFECT, and the course was actually mostly run through trees in the shade!  It couldn't get more idyllic!

About an hour in I was having so much fun already that I couldn't help but snap a selfie
At the first aid station at mile 5 I stopped to fill my bottles, and Derek just kept going.  It was 9 miles to the next aid station, and I had gone pretty light with my bottle selection (20 oz total compared to most people's 40 oz), so I had to be sure to fill at every station.  That would be the last of Derek I would see on this course.

After I filled my bottles I shoved some watermelon in my mouth and rushed off.  About 1/2 mile later I realized that I had repeated my mistake from aid station #1 at Leadville and forgotten to restock my Gu supply.  Doh!

I still had one Gu from the start, plus the espresso Gu that I carried in case of emergencies.  I made the two of them last me the 9 miles.

Somewhere during that stretch I met up with my friend Drew, who I knew from many past races.  We were traveling about the same speed, so we ended up running together for the remaining 4 hours or so until the mile 28 aid station.  Good company made time fly!

All I remember from the stretch from miles 5 to 28 is that the trails were smooth and buffed out, the climbs were never too steep, and we were surrounded by green moss on the floor and green pine trees in the sky.

At the mile 28 aid station Thy and Max were there to greet me.  Seeing them in the middle of a race is always a pleasure I look forward to!

Me and Mr. Max
I took my socks off and addressed some hot spots with vaseline, and then Drew and I were off!

Apparently Max tried to run up the road and follow us after we left!

We left the mile 28 aid station at a quick jog . . . for all of 8 steps.  Then we came to our senses and realized that the road was uphill, and we had a long way to go yet, so we slowed to a power-walk.  We were both very happy that even with the fairly long aid station break we were still averaging less than 12 minute miles, a very good pace for a 100K (at least for us!).

I kept up with Drew until about mile 36, at which point the dreaded bonk began!

It started with Drew noticing that I had become more quiet, and less talkative, as I just tried to focus on moving and not on the quickly increasing pain in my thighs.

Then I suddenly dropped back, and didn't see Drew again on the course.

I stumbled through the mile 39 aid station and just tried to keep moving.

The problem was that my legs weren't working.  My quads screamed with every step like I was in the midst of my last long set of squats in the gym.  The thing was, the set never ended!

After mile 39, the next aid was mile 47.  Those 8 miles were brutal!  The course wasn't any more difficult, the climbs weren't any steeper, but I was just moving so slow!

Then, as if to accentuate how terrible I felt, an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in and unleashed a mix of heavy rain and hail on my for a full 30 minutes.  My super thin windbreaker was soaked, and I was not moving fast enough to stay warm.  I was frozen to the bone.  I couldn't work the zippers on my pockets, or the keeper straps on my water bottles because I couldn't feel my fingers.  I even ended up walking a good chunk of the downhills (the most demoralizing thing ever!).

This was stupid.  I hadn't trained enough.  I hadn't slept enough.  There was lightning in the distance.  This weather would be dangerous on the exposed ridge later in the course.  After mile 47 it would be 9 miles to the next aid station, I'd never make it at this pace!

These were all lies, but they were all the excuses I needed.  I made up my mind to quit at the next aid station.

Strangely, this seemed to help.  Suddenly I was transported to being near the finish, at least MY finish...   I picked up my pace a little to get it over with...


There was a voice in the back of my head that told me I would regret quitting.  I tried my best to ignore this voice.

When I made it to the mile 47 aid station I had all my excuses armed and ready to be deployed lest any well-meaning aid station volunteer try to convince me to continue.

"How are you doing?", asked a volunteer.

"I'm hurting", I replied.

"Any serious medical problems?"

"No, it's just that my quads really hurt..."  I conceded.

"...and it was freezing in the rain and wind!"  Aha!  What would they say to that?  I had packed far too light for this adventure!  I had to quit!

"Looks like the afternoon storm is clearing now, I bet it will be nice for the rest of your race."  The friendly volunteer said.

"How far to the next aid station?"  I asked, knowing the answer would be 9 miles.

"Only 4 miles."  came the reply.

What??? Doggonit!  My plot to quit was foiled!  I knew I could at least go the 4 more miles to the next aid station.

The nice volunteers gave me some sort of "icy-hot" goop for my quads, and a couple ibuprofin.  I followed that with food, water, and coca cola.

Somehow, the mile 47 aid station ended up reviving me!  less than 1/4 mile after the aid station the searing pain in my quads was completely gone.  In fact, my legs felt almost as good as new!

I started to run on the downhills and flats again.  I swang my arms and picked up the walking pace on the uphills.  I looked around, and for the first time in a few hours I noticed the beautiful views.

Then realized that I was actually having FUN!

At the mile 53 aid station I wanted to get in and out quick so that I could take advantage of how good I felt, while it lasted.  However, one of the aid station volunteers said, "The course heads right down that way, but Janhke Lake is right over that ridge up there," as he motioned towards the ridgeline 50 yards uphill from us.

"He really wants to show you Janhke Lake", explained another volunteer.  It was clear that this guy was very passionate about this place, and since he had gone to all the trouble of hauling a bunch of food in here just for us runners, I couldn't say no.  We hiked up to the ridge, and sure enough, the view was spectacular!

In addition to Janhke lake (which was very pretty), I had a great view of the course ahead:  A talus covered ridgeline that towered over the lake.  It looked like a pretty big mountain to ascend from where I stood.  Better get going.  I thanked the volunteer and off I went.

I believe this section of course was still considered "trail", as opposed to the talus fields which you can just see peaking over the top of this peak...
During the next section I passed a man and woman racing together who had passed me during my low point earlier.  They commented that I looked much better than last time they'd seen me.

Eventually I hit the talus, or "scree" as the race description called it.  There was nothing runnable about this 3 miles stretch.  The talus consisted of loose boulders that rolled when you stepped on them.  The flattest and most stable section of talus occurred directly above a huge cliff that dropped down to the lakes on the Montana side far below.  Crossing the field became a game of weighing the risk of a broken ankle on the loose stuff to the left, against a death fall if you tripped and fell to the right.  It was exciting to say the least!

Looking back on the initial section of talus
Over one high point on the ridge (it had a summit register that I skipped), then another, and finally a third high point.  The ridge was slow going and seemed it would never end.  Every time you gained a summit, another appeared on the other side of it.

Obligatory summit photo on one of the ridge high points
Finally I got to the spot where the caution tape marked the turn off of the ridge and onto a very steep game trail down the side of the mountain.  This was the much hyped 3,000ft per mile descent.  I paused at the top to fire up some tunes.  I didn't bring headphones, so I just cranked up the volume on my phone as loud as it would go and blasted some Pennywise.

I then started careening down the trail!  It turned out to be more like 1000ft per mile slope, but was still one of the steepest, and definitely the funnest, things I've run down!

It was steep and loose, the way I like it!  I ran and lept, and got crazy looks from the people I passed who were slowly (and sanely) picking their way down the steep trail with hiking poles.  Eventually the grade mellowed slightly, and then I was spit out onto an old logging road.

I ran right through the last aid station, thanking the volunteers as I passed.

The road was now very rocky, and at times submerged under the creek, but I picked up the pace even more, leaping over rocks and splashing through the creek.  I was somehow still feeling great and wanted to finish strong!  With a huge grin on my face I charged into the last 2 mile or so section or rolling terrain.  To hell with walking, I ran the ups, and ran faster on the downs.

My watch said 62.3 miles, and still there was no sign of the finish . . . my legs were finally starting to fade.  Where was the end???

Then I saw a few little kids.  "Where is the finish?" I asked.

"Right down that hill." came the reply.

"Woohoo!"  I picked up the pace again, charged down the hill, across the finish line, and into the arms of Thy and Max . . . who then held me up so I wouldn't collapse.

Two days later and I still can't wipe the grin off my face when I replay the race in my mind.  What a great day!