I look forward to this race, like a boxer might look forward to a warm up bout with a tough opponent before the big event. It may be brutal, you are bound to take a few blows, just how many one cannot be certain, and learning never to under estimate an opponent is critical.
A few days before the race when Sam asked what to wear I joked that I would wear my Yoda jammies for the nighttime race. I don't actually have Yoda jammies, though I do have a cotton Yoda shirt, a gift from my sister. Being a silly the Yoda shirt ended up getting worn. Jeff Lamora asked if this was a Coolmax Yoda shirt, and thought as a physician that I should know better than to wear cotton for a trail run with some cold sections. Looking at my shiny new shoes Phil Lowery asked if I liked my Vasque Velocity shoes. I told him that I didn't really have an opinion as I hadn't yet worn them yet. My most questionable move was not replacing the batteries in my headlamp. I had a long day at work starting around 6:30 AM, and getting home at 7:00 PM. As I raced around gathering gels, water bottles, and finding my Yoda shirt, I seriously thought about which headlamp to take. I decided on the Petzl Myo XP, really a great light. The batteries must have been changed since I used it at Wasatch last year. I hadn't changed the batteries.
Christian and I talked a little about staying together. This is after all is a "training run", not a race. I told Christian not to let me hold him back and to go ahead and take off and win the damn thing. We ran together for the first mile, before I dropped back. I don't think he knew that I wasn't with him as David Hayes was running right behind him. It was about this time that I knew I was in trouble with lighting. Sam and Brian were running behind me, and I was running in my own shadow from their lights with a dull small disc of light in front of me. The tell-tale flash indicator on my light indicating 90% of the battery life was used up flashed. The moonlight however was intense as we came up to the Wasatch Crest, I was able to turn off my light and climb by the moonlight several times. Sam seemed to get a surge of energy and took off ahead of us as we climbed towards the Crest. We wouldn't catch-up to Sam for another 10 miles. 3 or 4 other runners caught and passed Brian and me. We kept a conservative pace knowing that this is a long course.
At Dog Lake we stopped and filled up our water bottles. I was surprised to have only consumed half a bottle by this point. Starting the race tanked up on fluids was part of my good hydration status but running in the cool of night makes a huge difference. I thought several times that running this course during the day, fighting off mountain bikers, dogs, and the heat might actually yield slower times. This is more of an adventure to be running a secretive race under the cloak of darkness. My mind began to wander a little at this point and I started to hope that running with a Yoda shirt would give me some extra sense of what lay ahead on the trail, since my light wasn't much help. Of course, anyone who has done the section from Dog Lake to Baker Pass will tell you having a bright light might not be much of a help as the vegetation overgrows the trail so severely in spots that no light will help. This is where I started my long count of trail push-ups. As Brian can attest, I alerted him to many many hidden roots, stumps, and rocks. If I have ever made fun of anyone wearing bike gloves while trail running I got my due. I no longer can say that I don't fall, nor can I say I only fall seldomly. Time after time I tested the trail with my full body. Each time I picked myself up dusted Yoda off and tried to be more careful. Brain took the lead as we headed into the last couple of miles towards Baker Pass, mercifully the trail is better in this section, and I stopped falling. We caught Sam, and we figured that he would keep pace with us, but he had just eaten 1/2 of a peanut butter sandwich, and needed to let it digest. We caught another runner who I did not recognize and started to close in on Phil with his red light as we approached the pass.
After Baker Pass Brian let me lead again, supposedly because I am a faster downhill runner, but I really think that I was physically marking the trail of trouble spots. We caught Phil, but shortly after I ran off the trail and had a cramp in my right gastrocnemius as I tried to break yet another fall. Phil passed us again, but stopped at the spring to fill a bottle. Phil made some great whooping sounds as he filled his water bottle. On this long descent I started to loosen up and feel really pretty good running down hill. This was again a time that I was reminded that being able to see what was in front of me might have been helpful, as I ran my left leg into a fallen tree branch. I felt like I had been aggressively tackled by some big defensive player. I wanted a whistle to be blown and a red card given to that damn tree. My distal vastus medialis was hit pretty hard. This is a muscle that is necessary for downhill running. As I got going again I knew that I would be perfectly fine for the night, but this was going to take a few days to heal. I started to get my confidence back, and tried to hurdle a fallen tree before the Terraces. This time my right knee didn't quite make it clear of the fallen tree and I was thwarted in mid-air. This was push-up number twelve, and luckily only left a little scrape on my patella with no muscle injury. While trying to be careful after this fall I managed to turn my ankle enough for some extra internal embarrassment.
The distance from the Terraces to Elbow Fork is 2 miles. Anyone who does this race should realize that it is virtually all up hill. Several times I said to Brian that we were near the end of the climb. I had no idea. This illustrates one of the lessons you get in trail running and for that matter life, expectation matters an awful lot. Something that is expected to be hard is never as bad as something that is hard but is expected to be easy. I was expecting one mile up and one mile down. Not so. The temperature was warmer as well, and damned if the cotton Yoda shirt might have actually been helpful in keeping me cool. We caught up to David Hayes, and stayed behind him until the aid station at Elbow Fork. He took off on the pipeline trail ahead of us.
Brian and I ran together down the pipeline trail. I asked Brian if he wanted me to pick up the pace. Usually at this point he is increasing pace and I am watching him pull away. Mercifully he said he was in no hurry. Besides I was in no shape to run any faster. The trail to the Grandeur peak climb seemed to take forever. The 3 mile climb up Grandeur took a little more than an hour. Christian was the first runner on the way back down and looked great. I passed the car key to him, and wished him well. It was about 14 minutes of climbing before we saw Matt Breo, followed by Shane Martin. Brian told me to feel free to go faster downhill when we hit the top. I was hoping to stay in one piece, but that I didn't want to get passed. We made careful process, then Phil passed us. Getting past down hill was a hard pill to swallow so I picked up the pace. I don't doubt Phil's downhill running, but I was sure that his superior light (one on his head and one in each hand) was allowing him to go down so damn fast. I was able to stay close, but not too close. I was worried about falling, and was full of memories of doing just that. I was feeling bad about leaving Brian, so I figured I had better catch Phil despite the danger of tripping on the rocks. I got pretty close, but when I got to the road leaving Church Fork, I ran into and out of several pull-up picnic sites. I totally lost Phil and wondered if I was going to find my way down at all. At the finish truck, chairs and camp stoves, I was greeted by amazingly awake folks for 4 am cooking hash browns, and telling stories from the night of running. Brian came in a few minutes later.
I made it through this time, but not without some tough knocks. Earlier I had dreamt of going out to an all-night place for an early breakfast, but when Christian and I got in the car to drive down I was longing mostly for a shower and bed. The new shoes were fine. The cotton Yoda shirt didn't give me any Jedi powers , but wasn't problematic either. The effects of the dim headlamp and my clumsiness I am still feeling. Thankfully Erik didn't have to sweep me off the course along with the glow sticks and ribbons. Many thanks to Rich and Ken for another great MC50.