June 19, 2009
This post is late in coming and I'm still working on Cascade, Hundred in the Hood, and Sisters Poker Run.
I did this race in 2007 and practically had to walk the last 30 miles. A combination of a pulled hip flexor at mile 68 and asthma slowed me to a crawl. I finished in 31:49 but wanted to return and have a stronger and faster race. I thought I could complete it under 30 hours and with a 24 hour race and a 150 mile race under my belt earlier in the year, I felt ready. I even skipped a weekend of racing as part of a taper. Unfortunately, the days leading up to the race left me feeling tired and poorly rested at the starting line.
My husband and I planned a 12-day road trip and car camping with my race in the first part and rock climbing to follow. We wanted to leave early Wednesday to have a relaxing 2-day drive down to Dayton, WY. But the CD player in our Pathfinder crapped out a few days before leaving. We were able to order a replacement but the earliest it was due to arrive was Wednesday between 10-noon. We had planned on leaving about 7-8am. It did arrive at 10:30am, but wouldn’t you know it, it was defective. So we left at 11am without a player and already behind schedule.
We drove for most of the day Wednesday and set up camp in St. Regis, just past the Montana border after making a stop in Spokane to pick up climbing supplies. There were 3 sites, but I didn’t feel safe about the location, especially with the stories of crazy people out there. I called my brother-in-law, Cliff, and told him where we were, aware of the fact that it was not really remote since I was able to get cell reception. Still, I didn’t like the look of our neighbors. We set up camp around 8pm, which was close to the road it came off and under a train tressel. So needless to say, sleep was fitful and everyone knows that your sleep the two nights before the race is the most important, not the night before.
Thursday was another long day of driving. There was quite a bit of road construction on 1-90 that slowed us down and I was worried we were not going to make it in time for the packet pick up and mandatory weigh in. We arrived in Sheridan with 20 minutes to spare. We were not able to make it to the pasta feed because we had a little more driving to do to get to our camp site at Burgess Junction at 8’000 feet. The drive up was incredible with many rock formations which were labeled with their age, with the oldest dated 2 billion years old. We again set up camp around 8pm. I had soup and a ¼ bagel for dinner, but should have stopped and gotten something more substantial, but we were running out of daylight. I got some sleep. I knew I was dehydrated because I did not pee much overnight. I did have breakfast, but the race did not start until 11am and we had a briefing to go to at 9am in Dayton. I did have another bagel and a Boost before the start but overall, I felt like I was dehydrated, poorly rested, poorly fueled, and deoxygenated from sleeping at 8’000 feet. Plus, at 11am, it was already hot. I was not heat or altitude trained. I was already behind the eight ball.
My plan was to start out slow and pick it up in the second half. That didn’t happen. I slowed quite a bit in the second half, again because of my asthma, which was aggravated by the altitude. In 2007, I had a faster start and had plenty of time to finish when I slowed, but this time, I started out slow and was running out of time as the race went on. I was feeling okay until about mile 40 when darkness came and it started to get cold. The dry air and cold made my asthma really noticeable by then, but I was having trouble breathing after the 50K mark. I felt I was hydrating and taking salt well initially, but as sometimes happens, I became less religious about it in the later hours of the race and I think that also contributed to more problems with my breathing. Because of my slower pace, my muscles were not that taxed and I had no cramping issues or joint pain. But I did have hot spots in both of my feet from stream and mud crossings. I really struggled on the uphill parts with my breathing, and even though running downhill was better, it still taxed me, feeling as if was I was getting the wind knocked out of me with the pounding. I encountered the front runners on their return trip earlier than in 2007, indicating to me that I was behind that year’s schedule by quite a bit. We were running into a headwind and I was glad that I decided to take my windproof pants from the 30 mile aid station. I also had 2 shirts on, a shell, two hats, and gloves and was still cold. The cold and my struggle with breathing were draining my calories faster than I could replace them.
We started the race along part of the Tongue River, already thrashing and beautiful. There's a bit of climbing early on but with large rock cliffs on both sides opening up into flowered covered hills, the climb was breathtaking. At the first aid station, I sampled the shrimp cocktail that I declined a couple years ago. It was okay (I'm not a big dill fan but it didn't really affect my running). I felt pretty good coming into the second aid station at Dry Fork where I first saw Ken about 13 miles in. The next time I would see would be at the turn around point halfway. I was already behind schedule but feeling good. We adjusted my arrival time there. The next section involved some service road before getting back into single track which was nice running. The next major aid station at the Footbridge of the Tongue River (about 50K) after a steep descent was where I readied myself for the night. There was still light when I went through and I was amazed at the huge boulders that I was running along, the size of houses. Night time came and I slowed down, not just from the darkness, but from the cold as well. I was passed by a bunch of runners and thought I was one of the last stragglers to get to the turn around.
I arrived at the almost halfway mark (49 miles) at Porcupine aid station at almost 9,000 feet exhausted but had no intentions of quitting. Ken was there to make sure I had some solid food. He had been waiting for me for a while and gets very worried when I arrive much later than when I told him I would. I had originally told him 12 hours but saw him at 13 miles and told him probably more like 13 hours. I arrived at 15 hours. I had some protein and a cup of noodles. In an effort to make conversation with me, the aid station worker told me how the lead male runner, Karl Meltzer, had been attacked by a moose. Ken was thinking that was the last thing she should have told me. Sure enough, I left there very scared but was able to catch up with another runner, Dennis Aslett, whose brisk walk was faster than my slow run. He stayed with me until it got light and I enjoyed his company. Here was a veteran Ultrarunner who has run the Bear 100, which is just as difficult as Bighorn, which he had done several times, and had even run Hardrock but had to drop at 95 miles! I thought I was moving along pretty well but kept getting passed by men with gray beards. This was pretty discouraging. But we ran together as the sun was coming up and we were in a valleywith massive rock cliffs on both sides at a distance with a full moon. Again, breathtaking and calming at the same time. It was getting warm as the sun rose higher and higher. I shed most of my clothes except for my windproof black pants. I didn’t want to stop to take them off and fortunately we were in and out of shady areas. But by the time I got to The Footbridge aid station at 66 miles, I was very glad to get rid of my night clothes, which were weighing down my hydration pack. I had a sleeveless shirt on and my arms got fried. One of the other runners was gracious enough to give me some sunscreen.
I left The Footbridge knowing that I had a long and steep hike up. The first 50 mile runner coming from Porcupine passed me as I started out. Then another and another…I thought, this sucks! In 2007, I was passed by them further in the race and on a road, so there was plenty of room. Stepping off the trail constantly on an uphill, muddy, single track just sucked! This is the worst part of the trail in the race with shoe sucking mud and nowhere to step off at times it seems. It started me thinking and gaining a greater appreciation for early starters at races that have that option. (As you probably have guessed, there is no early start at 100 mile races, just cut-off times. More on that later.) But with races that have a shorter distance sharing the same trail, it is quite a hassle! Getting up 3 miles in just under 3000 feet of elevation stressed my lungs quite a bit. It took me a while to recover from that effort, forcing to me to walk even slight inclines. The day was getting hotter and hotter and it was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier, I was freezing. The hot spots in my feet had long since developed into blisters. I kept thinking that I would need to change shoes at Dry Fork at about 82 miles, but kept going back and forth since that would take time, and I was starting to worry about the cutoffs.
So, about the cut-offs. I have been fairly lucky that I run well enough that I have never had to worry about cut-off times. For the first time, I was asking at the aid stations that had cut-offs how much cushion I had there, and when did I need to get to the next one? The climb out of Footbridge decreased my cushion from 2 ½ hours to 2 hours. So in addition to being passed by guys with gray beards and by a constant stream of 50 milers, my running ego was taking a beating. I developed another appreciation. First it was for early starters, now it was for back of the packers. Actually, they are often one in the same. I know 2 hours seems to be a pretty good cushion, but everyone knows that can change quickly with a trip and fall, poor nutrition causing nausea and vomiting, dehydration, or heat exhaustion. For me, it was my asthma. I had it in my head that we only had 4 miles from the next aid station to Dry Fork at 82 miles, but it was actually 6 miles. I just could not do the math right. Once I realized that, I took off as fast as I could on the downhills, and ran as much as I could on the uphills. Those 6 miles are a never ending up and down of dirt road with the last bit straight up to the aid station. Everyone looks terrible going into this aid station and it is a common place to quit. I had my last weigh in and for the entire race never fluctuated more than 2 pounds. Ken was there with a Boost and tried to force me to eat a ham and cheese tortilla wrap and a small slice of pizza. I decided not to change shoes. At that point, my asthma was slowing me more than my feet, and the longer I stopped, the worse my asthma got. Anyone who has asthma knows that if one is to continue, it is better to get moving since the adrenaline that is pumping in your system actually dilates the air tubes in your lungs. Sure it was very painful in my feet to get moving again, but eventually, the blisters settled in their place and unless I stepped on a rock just wrong or stubbed my toe, the pain was manageable. I stopped long enough that my asthma got pretty bad again to the point that I was burning calories very rapidly just trying to breathe. This forced me to slow down and I could not keep up with Vinny, a guy I had been running with for a while. I kept downing gels, but they took several to get me out of that empty, bonking feeling. I let Vinny go. There was one last steep climb, and I knew there was no way I could do it without stopping several times to catch my breath. Sure enough, on that climb, I was passed by three guys. I couldn’t keep track of the 100 or 50 milers at that point. Once on top of the climb, it was a treacherous and long downhill 5 miles or so. Ray Gruenweld said that this was the kind of race where the trails were difficult enough that you had to pay attention to every step you make, even on the dirt roads. This adds to the effort involved just to move forward. I couldn’t agree with him more.
I let gravity carry me down the trail but had to brake quite a bit because of the steepness and technical trail. Breathing was better on the downhill. Somehow I caught Dennis and then he and I caught Vinny. I passed one guy on an uphill who was tripping and cursing. I said to him, "I'm so ready to be done." He was "f--cking this and f--cking that!" We all finally arrived at the last aid station with 5+ miles to go on a flat, never ending road back to the park in Dayton. I stopped in the outhouse, "lightened" my load, and started making my way to the finish. I started out running with Vinny, but found the pace to be too slow. Dennis was challenged by another runner to catch that guy who was tripping and cursing and took off. I would pick a tree or a fence or another runner to run to. It still took forever to cover that last bit. I looked back and saw a girl coming on fast. I wasn't sure if she was a 50 or 100 miler. So what? I knew I was going to finish over 33 hours but just didn't want to be the last girl in the 100. So against my wishes, I pushed myself. Dennis did catch that tripping and cursing guy but they finished pretty close in time. I came in not long after, having caught another 100 miler but ran in with him, didn't want to pass him in the last 100 yards.
Immediately on finishing, my breathing got worse and I was coughing. I got some extra attention from the EMTs, who were shaking their heads that I had just finished 100 miles. I think it was more amazing that it took me 33 hours, 14 more hours than Karl Meltzer and 9 more hours than the first woman. They gave me an albuterol treatment. We headed back to the car and Ken got me some food while I got off my dirty running clothes and put on some dry clean clothes with the heat blasting. I was depleted of energy and was cold. I ate some of the food Ken brought me but overall just didn't want to move anymore, not even to chew. The wind was picking up outside. In the last 5 miles, it was thundering and lightning was striking in the distance. A ton of pollen was blowing all over the park, one reason we didn't stay at the camping ground next to the park like we did in 2007. We decided to head back to our camp and left our folding chairs there. The drive back was amazing with lightning across the valley. We got back to our tent and just crashed. Ken was just as tired as me and seemed to zonk out. I tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable position but mostly just hacked and coughed most of the night. I think I got some sleep towards the morning.
We got moving in the morning and headed to the awards ceremony, which included a pancake breakfast. We arrived just in time to catch Karl giving his account of his moose attack. He got lots of laughs from the audience. I don't know him personally, but he has a reputation of being a nice, shy, but approachable guy. Then the 100 milers were awarded their belt buckles (in order of finishing time), finisher's jacket, and age group awards. Gwen Scott, a good running buddy of mine and runner extraordinaire, came in second woman and won her age group. The 40-49 women spanked the 30-39 women, which I came in first. Actually, I was the only 30-39 woman to finish. The other girls had a rougher day than me. I got a pretty cool shaped rock with engravings of the race, mountains, and my place. I was estatic and my WA cheering section went crazy!
After we left, Ken and I hiked back up the trail that I ran down just hours before. So we still had not showered. It had been 5 days and 100 miles ago. Yet here we were hiking up a trail in the heat of the day with packs on our backs. The Tongue River Canyon is just gorgeous. We found the sport climbing routes above the trail and Ken climbed two routes. I did not have the desire to stuff my swollen feet into tight climbing shoes. So more sweating and getting dirty. We had been invited to visit Gwen and her crew to one of her crew's relative's home in Story, WY. We were treated with great hospitality by a stranger with food, drinks, and a SHOWER! We hung out on her patio, played with Dyno, and looked out on her many acred property.
The next morning we headed to Tensleep, WY, a climber's destination. I had not seen any wildlife the entire trip but on our drive out, we saw a Mama moose with her baby moose, who looked like it was just learning to walk the way it was wobbling about. Ken had seen a group of them at our race camp site while I was running. We arrived our next destination with enough time to set up camp and find some climbing routes. Our camping spot was clearly a climber's campground. It was at 5000 feet and off an old dirt highway opened only several months of the year. Ours was a little off the road with 3 sites. There was a fire pit right up against a boulder in a site that looked pretty permanently occupied. And there was someone's camper at the other site but no one around. We set up then loaded up our packs. We parked off the main highway through the canyon and hiked up to the climbing site. Immediately, I had trouble breathing and coughed my way up. It was not a long way but still had switchbacks and several times I had to lean on my hiking poles. It took us 30 minutes to get to the base of the climbs. I can't remember if I climbed, don't think so, but Ken did two routes. The routes were long and ratings a little stiffer than we're used to. It got cold and we called it a day.
We awoke the next morning and headed out climbing. Again, I struggled up the trail. We did a warm up route, but it was hard for me. It was already hot with sun beating on the rock. We found a route Ken wanted to do where the first bolt was pretty high up. It was a challenge for him to get to it. The next bolt was even more challenging. He made a dyno move for a hold but it was not as positive as he thought it was going to be and popped off the hold. Next thing I know, he dropped 20 feet to the ground and rolled to the trail just below me. What happened? Climbing involves a belayer (me) who is supposed to catch the climber if he falls. I was using a new belay device called a Cinch that is supposed to be idiot proof and will catch the climber without me having to use my braking hand. I had already belayed Ken with this device few times and we always tested it before he started climbing. The only thing I could think of was that something caught the release button and let the rope run through. I really don't know! All I knew was that I was so scared. I immediately ran to him and said, "Are you okay?" He said, "What happened?" "I don't know!" I said. "Somehow the rope didn't catch." Ken touched his head to see if there was any blood. There was none. I looked in his ears to see if any blood or fluid was coming out. (He wasn't wearing a helmut-I know-bad bad!) Ken said that he couldn't remember what happened. I asked him if he knew what month it was. He didn't know. What state are we in. "Don't know." Do you know what year it is? "2007?" Who is the president? "The black guy?" he said with a quizzical look on his face. He said his head was ringing a little but denied any headaches everytime I asked him. I said we needed to get him in the shade and have him drink some fluids, since we had been bad about hydrating all morning. After about 20 minutes, he was able to tell me what state we were in. He still could not remember what happened right before he hit the ground. He did remember that the hold he was going for was not as good as he thought and not hitting the end of the rope. Next thing he knew was that he was on the ground with a ringing in his head. I was worried about him and he was worried about the two pieces of gear still left on the route. But he was in no condition to climb. He belayed me on top rope off the second quickdraw (a type of climbing gear with carabiners where the rope runs through) and somehow I got to the first quickdraw and retrieved it. Then I had to climb up to the second one with Ken's help pulling me up because the difficulty of the route was beyond me. I got to the second quickdraw but had to replace it with a carabiner that I put the rope through to lower off of and retrieve the second piece of gear. So the only thing we lost was an old carabiner.
Amazingly, Ken wanted to keep climbing, but I urged him to hike down because he still looked a little razzled. Instead of going back to our camp and sitting around, we decided to drive to Buffalo, WY. We had a nice semi-fancy early dinner. There was an emergency room there and I asked Ken if he was willing to be checked out. Nothing doing. I was worried that something bad was going to happen because recently in the news, Liam Neelson's wife died hours after having hit her head skiing. Turns out he had a concussion after he told his doctor climber friend George Wiggins what happened. We headed back to the camp with me constantly asking him how he felt and if he had a new headache. No, fine. Even so, while we were sleeping, I made sure I could hear him breathing. When we arrived back at camp earlier, the occupant of the camper was there. He had three ferocious dogs that jumped on our car and barked constantly and through the night. He made what we felt were pretty feeble attempts to control his dogs.
Ken got in a good day of climbing the next day, doing many of the classics. He had great fun. There were very few easier routes, so I don't think I climbed much or if all. We came back to our camp and decided to move over to another area, which gave us great views of the rock formations and got us away from those terrible dogs. It was a much better site and would be the spot we would go back to if we ever return. I can't remember if we climbed another day. We headed back west and visited friends at Priest Lake, Idaho. We got to see their new home, had another shower, and stayed in their guest house. Again we encountered a Mama and young moose on our drive out, this time much closer up. I enjoyed it in the comfort and safety of our car. Then we stopped at another's friends new home in Twisp, WA. We had a nice dinner, slept well in their guest bedroom, and went climbing in Mazama the next day before heading home. I actually did some good climbing there. The drive through the North Cascades was beautiful.
Well, pretty full vacation. 100 miles, good times with friends, days without a shower, exploring a new climbing area, a concussion. What more can you ask for?