Spring Desert Ultra Trail Running Festival 50 mile / 10 mile
On January 1st of this year I started my training for this race with a 3 mile run. I look back on that and just shake my head. It was a pretty ambitious undertaking to get from there, to doing a 50 mile race in the desert in April. In the middle of January, I did a 12 miler and was thrilled with my longest ever run. It took me 4 days to recover…
I kept at it though, and had the crazy idea of running a marathon on a treadmill while watching the entire Super Bowl from start to finish. The last hour of that was a death march, but I made it in 4 1/2 hours. That is a looong time to be on a treadmill.
Fast-forwarding through Feb/March, I did a run of between 20 – 30 miles every weekend for 8 weeks in a row. Then I backed off for a couple of weeks in preparation for this race. I was really excited to do this particular race, because I knew almost every inch of the trail from having mountain biked on it several times. It also caused a little distress for the same reason. I knew how hard it was going to be! I read everything I could get my hands on, including reports (like this one) from people that had run similar races. I was an information sponge, and really tried to prepare as carefully as I could. I hoped to finish in under 12 hours as a conservative estimate, and I found the results from the previous years and plotted key split times based off of runners that finished in just over 12 hours.
Left to my own devices, I knew I would start out too fast and then slow to a crawl later on. I wanted to do everything I could to prevent that. It was tough. There were 200 runners that started the race together, but only 60 of us were doing the 50 miler. The rest were just doing 1 lap (25 miles). You had to be really vigilant not to get caught up running with people that were only in it to the halfway point. We started out with a big climb, and alternated between power hiking the really steep stuff and running the rest. I was feeling comfortable, and in awe of my surroundings, and the runners around me. For several miles, I followed right in this guy’s footsteps. Thinking to myself how cool it was to be able to run with a legend. There aren’t many sports where the average guy gets to go step for step with someone at the top of the food chain like Marshall. He was running very much at ease before finally opening the throttle and passing about 20 people before I had a chance to even blink.
The weather was cool and overcast. With a threat of rain that never really materialized. I pulled into the first aid station at mile 6, sucked down a gel, refilled my bottles, and was on my way in about 90 seconds. I checked my time against my times that I had taped to my water bottle. I was 4 minutes behind at this point – dang! I wasn’t pushing hard at all, but I guess I was secretly hoping that I would be running this comfortably and be ahead of the game. Instead, I was already lagging behind my most conservative estimate.
The trail leveled out a bit and I picked up the pace. I eventually hooked up with a guy that had flown in from California to do this race. He was doing the 50 miler, and had been running ultra marathons for 10 years, so I stuck to him like glue. Figuring that he would know how to run an even pace over such a huge distance. That worked well for about 20 miles or so, and I was very glad to have hooked up with him. It was so much better running with someone that I could hold a comfortable pace with. I really enjoyed it because all of my training had been solo. I was feeling super and having a lot of fun.
There were a few mountain bikers out on the trail and one guy yelled – ‘hey, you look like a cyclist!’ as I passed because he could see my tan lines peeking out from my shorts. I yelled back with positive confirmation, and asked if he wanted to trade – that got a good laugh.
I hit the 20 mile aid station and was now 7 minutes behind the projected times I had taped to my bottle. I was even more bummed because while I still wasn’t killing myself, I thought for sure I was going fast enough to make up some time. I started to mentally and physically fade a little after this point, and sunk a little further into despair when the leaders started passing me going the other way. I was still 4 miles from the turnaround when they came by. Meaning that while I was on mile 21, they were on mile 29. Ouch, that was depressing.
I wasn’t hurting at all, but my get-up-and-go had got up and went. Just felt kind of ‘blah’. I hit the finish line (5:22) to a lot of cheering and went straight to my bag that I had waiting there to take on a new supply of snacks and grab my ipod before heading out on my second lap. It was cool to hear the cheers get even louder when the announcer called my name and said that I was a 50 miler heading out for more. That gave me a boost for about a quarter of a mile then I was back to feeling flat again…
Up and over the mountain I went, then I hit the 30 mile aid station and was STILL several minutes behind my goal. That routine was getting old. I took a slightly longer stop (2.5 minutes) and really chowed down on everything I could get my hands on. M&M’s, potato chips, cookies – I could get used to this kind of racing! It worked, because within about 2 miles I was feeling like myself again and crusing along. I crested a hill just as the sun broke out of the clouds and a song I really like started playing on my ipod. I could see several miles of gently rolling singletrack stretched out below, and took off with a smile on my face. Life was good!
The terrain was incredible. One section in particular was really neat, the narrow singletrack trail went right along a canyon rim with a substantial drop below.
It was at this point, mile 35 or so, that I was shaken out of my own little world by the sound of metal scraping and banging on rock. I looked across the canyon from me (only about 50 yards at this point) just in time to see a girl going over the handlebars of her mountain bike. The trail she was on was sloped steeply towards the edge of an overhanging cliff only 5 feet away. She tumbled and started sliding towards the lip of the canyon with her feet still locked into the pedals and the bike dragging behind her. I thought for a second that I was hallucinating after being out on the trail for so long, but her screaming shook me out of that state. She ended up laying on her side facing the edge with her back arched as far as she could. Her stomach ended up right ON the lip of a 70 foot overhang with nothing but rocks below. She couldn’t move because her legs were still tangled up with the bike. Another rider got to her before I could and held on to her while she got her legs free and could climb up and over him to get to safety. Wow! That got my adrenaline going for sure. That was one lucky girl, I’m so glad it turned out ok. She was definitely in over her head on that trail.
After I settled back into a decent pace again, I was shaken out of my bliss when I tripped and nearly faceplanted in the trail. It was one of those saves where you end up taking 4-5 huuuge steps to try and regain your balance and keep from going down. I made it, but then all the muscles surrounding my ribcage cramped up from being overextended. I must have been quite a sight – all twisted in pain, yet still trying to run. Must. Go. Forward!!
I finally reached the last aid station and only had 6 miles to go. I didn’t even bother to look at my watch, because I couldn’t stand the thought of still being behind and would rather not know. Just a bit of a hill to climb as well… This is a picture of Malcolm on a hike we took in this area last November. It shows the view from the 44 mile point – he’s pointing to the peak you have to go over to get to the finish (which is actually about twice as high as the one on the right in the foreground) – and this will be the 4th crossing of these mountains during the race. Up, up, and away.
I had a terrible blister on the ball of my right foot that was really slowing me down, but I didn’t want to take the time to mess with it so I forged ahead. When the finish line came into sight, I squinted at the clock and could just make out 11:3… – whew! I had made up some time and was 1/2 hour ahead of my goal. I ended up with an 11:37 finish, and was very pleased with my first ultramarathon attempt. I was 40th out of 60 finishers, but my time would have been good enough for 15th the year before – I guess a bunch of speedy folks showed up for this one.
I ate some food and drove back to my hotel. It felt soooooooooooooooooooooooo good to just sit down. I gingerly took a shower, then went and sat in the hot tub for 15-20 minutes, swam a few laps in the cool water of the pool, and took another shower. I was pretty wasted, but eventually hobbled over to the awards ceremony and picked up my finisher’s award (piece of sandstone with the race logo on it). Marshall Ulrich gave a presentation about some of his adventures and focused mostly on his Everest climb with some really cool pictures and video. I really enjoyed seeing that.
Now I just had the decision hanging over me about racing the next day. There was a 10 miler that I had already registered for with the intent of running it if I was able to. After shuffling back to my room from the awards ceremony I just shook my head and said ‘no way’. I didn’t set any alarms and figured I would get a good night’s sleep and then drive home the next day.
Lo and behold, my eyes snapped open at 5:40 – which is the exact time I would have set my alarm for. Weird how that happens sometimes… I stood up, and felt ok. Not great, but good enough. The blister was still by far the worst pain to deal with. I finally gave it the attention it was screaming for by draining it and patching it up the best I could. I drove out to the start line (same place as the day before) and got ready to run again.
I didn’t do any sort of warm-up, or even try to jog to see how things felt. I just figured it would be all or nothing when the gun went off, knowing that it could end up being a very short race if I wasn’t able to run at all. We started and I was pleased after a few hundred yards to see that I was running pretty well. I charged up a few hills and had a blast bombing down the other side while dancing through the rocks. The sun was just coming up and we had a great view of the Colorado River below us. What an awesome sight that was!
I felt great through the first 5 miles, then I really started to struggle. Every step became a real chore, but I kept grinding away. The race brought out a lot of Grand Junction locals that hadn’t run the day before, and after not getting passed for quite a while, more and more people started to overtake me. I felt like they should have given us 50-mile runners a ‘have mercy’ sign or something to put on our backs…
I asked for some morphine at the last aid station and got a pretty good laugh out of the guys there. Anyway, I survived it, and was glad for having been able to participate. That sunrise view of the river was definitely a highlight of the trip. Then I hopped in the car for the 4 hour drive home. Getting out of the car proved difficult – I think I’ve had better mobility coming out of the ER following some of my high speed bike crashes.