Monday, September 21, 2009

Wasatch 100 2009 - Christian's Report

I stumbled into the Alexander ridge aid station at mile 47 and turned my focus on the camp chairs situated in the shade. My vision had become slightly blurred and I was seeing double. I remember thinking I had to be careful as I sat down, if I missed the chair and fell on the ground people might think there was something wrong with me. I was in bad shape. My stomach had been incapable of holding anything down for hours and I was terribly dehydrated. I slumped down in the chair, facing the ridge that was trying once again to ruin my race. Two years prior, in my first attempt at a 100 miler, I had sat in this exact spot, defeated. Again, I wanted to quit, I just didn't say it out loud.

I closed my eyes and dug deep to find the willpower just to convince myself I could finish this damn thing, but there was nothing there. When I opened my eyes I was holding a cup of sprite. I had no idea how it got there until I saw Clark, my friend and pacer peppering me with questions about what I wanted to eat. I closed my eyes again and this time I started hearing familiar voices and their encouraging, if not demanding words. Phrases such as "Don't let me down", "I'll be disappointed if you don't finish" and "Whatever you do, don't quit". Those words from my family and friends were the only thing keeping me in the race at this point.
Clark chimed in again, "What can I get you?".
"I'll try some of those grapes and cantaloupe", I replied.
I drifted off a few more times, eating and drinking in between, slowly gaining some strength back. Then I watched as a runner and his pacer walked off the ridge in the wrong direction, quitting the race, just like I had done 2 years prior. Something switched inside of me at that moment as I turned all my focus on eating and drinking. I let go of all my time goals and placing, thinking only of eating, drinking and the next aid station almost six miles away. My family was waiting for me there and I knew that seeing them would give me a big lift. For the first time in an hour I stood up.
"179 out", Clark suddenly announced to everyone at the aid station.
I turned so I was facing east, the direction of the race course and with blazing sun at my back I walked out of the aid station, bound for Lambs Canyon. As my strength slowly returned so did my confidence. By the time we reached the top of the next climb I was finally ready to run. The descent down to Lamb's Canyon is pretty easy and it felt good to get my legs turning over again. By the time we made it to the aid station all doubt of finishing had been erased. Even though I had 47 miles left, it felt like a formality to me at this point. I couldn't believe the turnaround. I owe a large part of it to Clark who had kept the fluids and calories flowing for the past several hours, along with the encouragement I received from everyone I saw along the way. Matt Connors deserves a big thanks for taking time out to give me some pickled ginger, it did wonders to calm my turbulent stomach.

Just before the wheels came off, trying to cool off at Big Mtn.
Once we got in to Lamb's it was great to see my incredibly supportive family, who immediately sat me down and presented me with every food and beverage option available. Between my family and Christy (Clark's wife) they had every base covered. I tried to apologize for keeping them waiting and explain what had happened but they were only interested in getting me going, moving me closer to the finish.

Finally feeling better at Lamb's surrounded by my awesome support crew
Clark and I left the aid station heading up the cooler confines of Lamb's Canyon and the long climb up Bear Ass Pass. My legs felt fine on the climb but my energy was still low so we just made slow, but steady progress to the top. Upon reaching the pass we were treated to a beautiful sunset which also meant I was forced to use my headlamp heading down to Elbow Fork. Once again the descent felt great as I got in a nice rhythm passing several folks in front of me. I savored the good feelings because I knew the next section would not be pleasant. The eight mile climb from Elbow Fork up to the Crest is one of the longest in the race, interrupted by the aid station at Big Water. Waiting for me was my family and next pacer, Aric, who would be along for the ride to Brighton. The paved climb to Big Water leaves little to be desired, but since it was dark it seemed to go quicker than I had anticipated.
Once again I got a big lift from seeing my family and friends at the aid station and Brian Beckstead even came over to wish me well. I changed in to a clean shirt, filled some bottles and thanked Clark for pulling me through my dark period, then Aric and I were off. I wasn't exactly moving quickly but I was steady on the climb to the Desolation Lake aid station getting there in about an hour and a half. My stomach was a little off once again, so I took my time at the remote aid and had some broth with noodles that seemed to do the trick.
I left Desolation at around 11:15pm, three and half hours over my pre-race goal of 7:45pm. My mind wandered back to the first 40 miles and how effortless it had felt. I started with Erik, Jay and Peter until midway up the 5000' climb where Peter and I parted ways with Erik and Jay who kept a faster pace on the initial climb. All the way through to Big Mountain the pace had felt conservative, but I realized now that I had only been listening to my legs and not my head. Peter left Big Mountain with Greg, who was pacing him to Brighton, just a minute or so before me. I was sure that I would catch up in mile or so but that's when my stomach backfired and I started my death march to Alexander Ridge. On my way out of Big Mountain I was in 15th place but by the time I had left Alexander I dropped down to 80th. Now I had no idea where I was placed, nor did it matter.

Aric and I reached the crest with a number of headlamps dotting the black space in front of us. I ran quite a lot on the way to Scott's pass where I learned that Geoff Roes had just finished with a new course record in 18:30! I was amazed and a little bit inspired as I decided to pick up the pace to Brighton and get some momentum going. I don't particularly enjoy the pavement leading down from the trail junction to Brighton but I figured as long as I felt good I should get it over with as quickly as possible. Betsy met me at the Brighton lodge with my friend Sandy, who would be joining me for the last 25 miles. Even though it was past 1am Betsy and Sandy were very alert, making sure I was prepared for the last section of the race. I spent 10 mins there and I suppose I kind of got sucked in to the warmth of the lodge that so many runners avoid, but with the toughest 25 miles of the race left I felt that it was time well spent. I glanced at my watch before leaving and told Betsy that I was now aiming for a sub 30 hour finish and to expect me around 10am. She just shook her head as if I was crazy. What I didn't know at the time is that I was completely incapable of performing basic math at this point and I didn't understand the pace I was maintaining. Betsy just told me to keep running and she would see me at the finish. Then I thanked Aric for his help and walked out of the lodge.

The climb from Brighton to Point Supreme (the high point of the race at an altitude of 10,450') has a few runnable sections, but I didn't bother as I shifted into power hike mode. As slow as I felt we were moving I still managed to catch a few people in front of us, partly because of Sandy's enthusiasm. Anytime a light came into view I would feel Sandy wanting to push the pace, a pattern I would get used to the rest of the night. Near the top we passed a group of four or five runners and kept the momentum going on the long descent to the Ant Knolls aid station. Before Sandy and I arrived at the aid station he made sure to get a plan together in order to get me in and out of there a little quicker. Broth and noodles seemed to go down easy but it became apparent on the Grunt (a 400' climb that feels like a wall) that I was still lacking energy to fuel my legs. From the top of the Grunt to the Point of Contention I moved at a fairly decent rate and then looking toward the Rock Springs aid station I saw another group of runners. I definitely picked up the pace a bit because I wanted to avoid a logjam at the tiny aid station on the side of the trail. A few of us all arrived in close proximity but we still got out of there in good time.

I approached the next section known as "Irv's torture chamber" with some caution. Even though I had been running downhill with ease, the Dive and Plunge are never easy. I mostly surfed both of the loose and dusty descents because that was pretty much the only way to get down. I even managed to put some distance between myself and Sandy but it was only because he was forced to drop back and wait for the dust to settle so he could see anything. Once we were back on smoother trail he caught up to me quickly and we cruised into the Pot Bottom aid station (mi. 93) just as the sky was turning pale blue. I downed a Red Bull and some water before heading up last significant climb of the race. Reaching the high point on the ridge I was able to witness my second sunrise since beginning this adventure and it definitely gave me a little boost. Sandy tried to capitalize on my increased pace by mentioning the "sweet" descent coming up but I just laughed because I always seem to curse this section in training. As much I don't like it we still ran pretty quickly passing Corbin Talley and his pacer before reaching the water tank. I caught my breath on the climb up to the water tank and told Sandy about my idea of a "sweet" descent coming up. The tight singletrack that winds down through the maples really is one of my favorite sections of the race, not just because it is so close to the finish but mostly because it is truly fun to me. As soon as I stepped off the ATV trail and on to the singletrack I was flying, or at least that's the way I felt. I think it's funny how a 7 or 8 minute mile feels like a 5 or 6 at this point in an ultra. I suppose it's all about perception. At any rate, I was really getting in a groove when I saw a flash of white in front of me. It was another runner, Matt Galland, and he tried to hold me off but I was rollin and as long I felt like it I was going to keep my pace up. Matt graciously stepped aside shortly after I caught him and for a moment I thought I had left Sandy behind. It turned out that he had stopped to pick up my long sleeve shirt that had fallen out of my waist pack. We were soon dumped out on the paved road with a little less than a mile to go and Sandy decided to keep my downhill pace going on the flat. I had a hard time keeping up and every time I would start to close the gap to him he would just pull away a little more. Once the Homestead and the finish line came into view I didn't have any trouble running with "perceived" speed as I floated on to the lawn and grabbed my kids hands to run across the finish line with me. I gave Betsy and my kids a big hug, shook John Grobben's (Race Director) hand and got a congratulations from Peter and Erik before I finally sat down without having to worry about a clock.

My final time was 27 hours and 11 minutes good for 27th place. Not exactly the race I was hoping for but a finish that I'm definitely proud of. My biggest thanks goes to my family who were so supportive and refused to give up on me. I don't know how I would have done it without them. To all my friends and family that weren't there, but willed me out of that chair and down the trail, thanks. Clark, Aric, and Sandy, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to share some time on the trail with me, your help was invaluable. And finally, thanks to John Grobben and the whole Wasatch family for all their hard work and dedication throughout the year that really makes the Wasatch 100 such a special race.


Manners said...

Great race Christian! You should definitely be proud. Thanks for letting me tag along. It was great meeting your family. Good luck at HURT.

Jay Aldous said...

Christian - we all have those days when things don't come together for us. The true test of character is how we handle these days. You exhibited grace and dignity in your completion of the WF100 this year. It is an honor to be able to run with you. Jay

peter said...

Christian, Not many people could or would have stuck it out at Alexander Ridge. You purged the demons. Next year I have a feeling we are going to see an improvement of many many hours over this year's time. Hopefully wearing an Armani shirt.

peter said...
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FastED said...

Great perseverance Christian!
Your experience, determination, and patience rose above all else to get this done. I'm really happy for you to get that Wasatch monkey off your back!

Congrats! Hope to see you soon