Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kat'cina Mosa 100K

Way back in 2005, before I was too ignorant to know any better, I decided I'd try my hand at an ultramarathon. I signed up for the Wasatch 100, and as part of my preparation, decided to run the Kat'cina Mosa 100k as my first "official" ultramarathon. I pulled up to the starting line just in time to see the other runners headlamps take off up the road, then took a few wrong turns, and still managed to have a good time and a decent race. What an eye-opener it was! I didn't know anything about nutrition, pacing, hydration and all the myriad little details that now seem so important. I ate Rice Krispie treats and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies, because they tasted good. I ran hard when I felt like it and slowed down if I felt like it, and I drank as much water and Coke as I could. That was my race day strategy, and I finished and felt pretty good doing it. A month later, still too dumb to know any better, I ran the Wasatch 100 and finished. I feel like running Kat'cina Mosa was a critical part of my training and only successful completion of Wasatch.
Fast forward to this year, and I'm signed up for Wasatch again. In figuring out my preparations for this year, I decided that I'd better put Kat'cina Mosa on the schedule as well. It's a great way to guage my fitness, get in a last big long run, and get some serious heat training. Last of all, Kevin Shilling told me that he had absoultely hated running it, and the only way he'd do it again was if someone broke the course record he set in 2003. If all the training factors weren't enough motivation, then forcing Kevin to run it again definitely was.

One of the lovely aspects of the race is the 3 am start. I'm not exctly sure of the rationale, I'm sure that Bozung has his reasons, but it makes for a short night. I slept in the back of my truck at the start, and with all the other campers, early starters, and late arrivers, didn't get much sleep at all.

Everyone lined up on the road, and John yelled go and off we went, a bunch of headlamps bobbing along the road. I settled into a nice pace, and right there with me was Jay Aldous, who I had run a good portion of the Speedgoat 50K with two weeks prior. Jay is an interesting story. About 25 years ago, at the age of 22 (or around there) he was part of the 4th running of the Wasatch 100. There were 41 starters and 20 finished. He hasn't run a Wasatch since, and this year he's going to give it a try, and using a training plan similar to mine, signed up for the Speedgoat 50K and Kat'cina Mosa. Jay and I started up the long dirt road to Camel Pass and kept an easy pace, stopping a couple times to walk behind the skunks that wanted to run in front of us. We arrived at Camel Pass 7 minutes ahead of my estimated pace chart. (I fed previous splits into this handy split calculator that Christian showed me, to give me a rough idea of where I should be.)

About this time, I decided to share my race strategy with Jay, which was 1)Finish, while keeping in mind that the ultimate goal was the Wasatch 100 in 5 weeks, and 2) Break Shilling's record, while keeping in mind that the ultimate goal was the Wasatch 100 in 5 weeks. Jay stated he'd be happy to run along as long as he could keep up and help slingshot me to a sub 12 hour finish if possible. A couple things I had learned about Jay up to this point is his incredible modesty and that he is a talented runner. I knew rather than him trying to keep up with me, it was likely to be the other way around.

Through the next couple of aid stations, the sun came up, we continued to keep a good pace and stayed within a couple minutes of our estimated splits. What an awesome sight it was to see the sun coming up over Lightning Ridge. We traversed an alpine bowl and got on the ridge just in time to see the sun's first rays hit the peaks around us. I was half tempted to sit down and soak it all in for a few minutes, and if I had found one of Dave Hunt's stashed Red Bull's, I probably would have. Instead, we started the gnarly descent to the Big Springs aid station.
Leaving Big Springs (mile 22), my legs started to feel a little fatigued and I worked on catching up on some nutrition during the long climb up to Windy Pass. Jay and I leap frogged a little during this section, and then I settled in behind him as he got into a steady climbing cadence.

Apparently, we were moving a little quicker than was expected. We arrived at Windy Pass to a pile of empty water jugs and a vacant aid station. I gave a shout and someone came running up from the spring and topped our bottles off from his personal water supply. Thanks!! We both left in good spirits, knowing that the last of the 3 major climbs was over, and that it was all downhill (relatively-we still had around 4000 feet of climbing over 30 miles) from here.

Then....the wheels started to come off. My stomach had been feeling a little weird all day, but nothing too bad. I couldn't quite put a handle on it, and nothing seemed to sort it out, but after leaving Windy Pass and starting the long 7 mile descent to Little Valley, it really started sloshing. I was leading the way at this point and I could feel mysef slowing little by little. Finally, I had to step aside and tell Jay to go for it. There is nothing quite as frustrating as walking downhill, but that's what I was doing. I drank what water I could, popped an endurolyte, and tried to set off on a slow, sloshy jog. Bit by bit, I could feel my stomach feeling a little better. Not great, but better. I finally got into Little Valley, filled up a bottle with ice water, and headed towards the 1.2 mile out and back to see how far ahead Jay was. It turns out he was about 1/4 mile ahead of me and I hoped I could catch up to him on the gradual climb from Little Valley(mile 39) to Bath Tub (mile 45). As I expected after feeling lousy, I was behind my estimated splits by about 15 minutes. But as I hiked along, (eventually spying Jay ahead of me and catching up to him), I tried to do some simple math in my glucose deprived brain and concluded that the pace calculator had been overly generous in the splits for the last 20 miles. I still had plenty of time to run a sub 12 hour race. Then, as we arrived at the Bath Tub station 25 minutes "behind" schedule, I realized that I had misread my split sheet. It was about 1:05, and instead of being 40 minutes behind a 12:25 arrival, we were actually 20 minutes ahead of a 1:25 arrival. Hallelujah!! I immediately sat down with a false sense of security, ate a brownie and some grapes and drank a ginger ale. That would be the last thing my stomach could handle. Jay was itching to go and we left for the final 17 miles with a 15 minute cushion.

To sum up the last 17 miles, one word will suffice. Brutal. It was hot, exposed, super dusty, and I probably tripped and fell more times in two hours than I had all year. To top it off, the only thing that would stay settled in my stomach was Ginger Ale. Luckily, I had the pleasant company of Jay to keep me from getting too grouchy. By now, it had turned into a team effort to get to the finish. Even if either of us had entertained the thought of out-kicking the other down the homestretch, neither of us had the extra Umpphhh to do it. It was all about grinding it out down that brutally hot last 6 miles of pavement. I kept finding excuses to walk, and then with about a mile to go, Jay told me he was cooked and to go ahead witout him. Are you kidding me? No way. I never would have got here this quick without Jay pulling and pushing me along, and we were going to finish together. So I lied to him. I told him that the finish was just down the road at the next big bend. Maybe 2 minutes or so. We kept plodding, it wasn't around the next bend, but much to my surprise, it was around the bend after that!!! We were done.
Crossing in 11:38 and change, we beat the old record by about 18 minutes. What an adventure it was and I couldn't have spent it in better company. Thanks Jay for keeping me in it and good luck at Wasatch! I know you've got a Cheetah in you.
After a couple bottles of ultragen, a dip in the river to cool down and a hamburger, I loaded up, drove home to pick up my kids and spent two glorious days in the Uintah's camping with my brothers and their kids. That's the best post-race recovery anyone could ask for.

Again, huge thanks go to Brooke for putting up with my addiction, thanks to John Bozung for another great race, thanks to Wasatch Running Center for their support and expertise, and a special thanks to Kevin Shilling. I don't know if I would have run this again if he wouldn't have said he'd "never run it again unless someone beats my time". I fully expect you to run it a heck of a lot faster than 11:38 next year.

Wow, that was a long post.


Brian Beckstead said...

Eric- That's an amazing feat to go under 12 hrs. Nice job...beware Wasatch! Good job and good luck.

Jay Aldous said...

Erik - Jay here. Hate to question the integrity of your memory. But, my recollection is that you pulled me up the hills and then pushed me down them, and when I completely ran out of gas - relentlessly prodded me on. It is true that you lied to me about the distance to the finish. Thanks for sharing your race strategy and letting me a part of it. And thanks for being a coach and friend. Your patience and generosity in sharing your ultra running knowledge and insight with a newcomer is sincerely appreciated…

Manners said...

Congrats Erik! Keep running strong and good luck at Wasatch!

Davy said...

Way to go Eric. It was fun to see you coming down from Lightning. I knew right away that you guys were on record pace. Well done guys on a tough course.