Friday, July 23, 2010

Devils Backbone 50 - 2010 Race Report

For those that are in a hurry here is a brief synopsis of the Devil’s Backbone 50 miler that took place on July 17th, 2010.  Jay ran a fantastic race turning a negative split on the out and back course to take the win and miss the course record by a mere 4 minutes!  I ended up coming in 4th with a slower time than I ran 3 years ago and Peter followed with a very solid 5th.

Now for the longer version.
The evening before the race we all met up at RD Tom Hayes’ house for some last minute instructions, a cool raffle, and catching up with some familiar faces.  Leland Barker was there  and I promptly went over to say hi and introduced him to Jay.  I knew he would figure in the mix during the race, as he always does.
Once the meeting was over we headed off to dinner with our families, and decided on an Italian spot with both pizza and pasta on the menu.  I opted to share a pizza with everyone, which in hindsight may not have been the best decision I made all weekend, more on that later.
Morning came sooner than I wanted but Peter and I were out the door on time just as we had planned the night before.  I have only been to Hyalite canyon one other time and that was three years ago.  So my memory of the drive from back then was a little fuzzy, but still good enough to know that Peter and I had driven past our turn by a good 5 minutes or so.  I immediately flipped the car around and we started searching desperately for the sign indicating the turn in the beam of the headlights.  We found it soon enough and then I started growing a little nervous all the way up knowing that we were cutting it close.  Sure enough we made it with about 5 minutes to spare before the start.  I had barely finished rubbing in some sunscreen when Tom sent us on our way.  Thankfully Jay had checked us in ahead of time so we were ready to go.
Once we took off I felt a huge relief and Jay and I settled in behind a couple of local runners, Don and Dewey (who were doing the relay portion).  I had been waiting for this moment since last November.  Not only was this my first race of 2010, it was my first ultra since having knee surgery back in April.  It felt great to finally be running in an event again.  I never get tired of that feeling I get from finally getting to the task I’ve been building toward for months and weeks on end.
The first ~5 miles or so are spent ascending within the confines of the canyon and crossing the main drainage on multiple occasions.  It’s all very runnable and that’s just what we did, all the way until the canyon opens into a broad alpine meadow. The scene was really quite spectacular with the sun just peeking over the eastern ridge and illuminating our next objective; Hyalite Peak.  
Just as the canyon opens up, Hyalite Peak in the middle, Photo credit: Darcomatic

Jay and I found ourselves in the lead at this point and scrambled around a large debris field leftover from an early season avalanche.  The cirque still contained a fair amount of snow and we pushed straight up through the middle of it to the ridge and hung a left to climb still more snow all the way to the summit.  
Last push to Hyalite Peak, Photo credit: Darcomatic
Jay grabbed my poker chip (a requirement to prove you were there) for me while I re-tightened my waterlogged shoe.  A third runner, Mathieu Brown, hit the summit just as we were leaving.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Tom and Dewey already heading down the trail in front of us since they weren’t required to bag the peak as part of the relay.
As we started down from the peak I felt my stomach tighten up just a bit.  I had also felt it a few times on the climb up, but the discomfort wasn’t constant so I just put it in the back of my mind.  It could have been the pace or maybe even the pizza, but at this point I was still too excited to give it any real attention, plus these things always sort themselves out, right?
Dropping further down off the peak Jay and I were cruising comfortably, running the little climbs and being conservative on the descents.  From time to time we could see the two relay runners in front of us and we slowly reeled them in on our way to the next big ascent.  At about the 11 mile mark the trail briefly leaves the ridge to avoid a band of cliffs.  I refer to this section as the “bowl”.  The trail snakes its way down  a gradual descent before turning sharply on to a steep climb back up to the ridge.  We had caught one of the relay runners before this section and caught up to the other just as we crested the ridge.  We were now just a little over 2.5 hours in and I started to feel the fatigue setting in.  Still though, Jay and I pressed on at the same pace, while my stomach continued to grumble from time to time.
Running along the ridge the rest of the way to the turnaround is a bit like a roller coaster with smaller 500’ to 800’ ups and downs.  I continued to push through the fatigue and ornery  stomach, but every time we hit one of the climbs Jay would pull ahead slightly.  The descents weren’t long enough for me to recover for the next climb and it was starting to take its toll.  I was having a great time running with Jay but I knew my time was limited at our current pace so I told him to just go on without me.  Finally, just when I thought he might go an ahead without me he stopped on top of one of the climbs and motioned for me to hurry up.  I muttered something under my breath before hearing a low rumble in the background.  I ran the last little bit to the top just in time to see a large herd of elk crossing the ridge a mere 20 yards in front of us.  It was simply incredible.  Jay had a grin from ear to ear and for the moment so did I.  I quietly thanked the elk for the small respite and listened to them bugle as we made our way along the ridge.
We were now roughly ~5 miles from the turnaround at Windy Pass.  It’s also at this point where the character of the ridge began to change.  The rocky, narrow backbone gradually gave way to  broad green meadows, trimmed with yellow, purple, white and red wildflowers by the thousands.  Looking ahead on the wide rolling ridge the ribbon of trail, barely a foot wide, would disappear from time to time in the ankle high palette of colors.
Beautiful singletrack, Photo credit: Darcomatic
If there was anytime during the race where I was able to go into auto-pilot this was it.  Jay had eased off the pace a bit and I felt slightly better, but the stomach was really starting to become an issue.  Soon I recognized the area a few miles from the turnaround and knew we were getting close.  The final approach to Windy Pass with the one and only aid station, is a long gradual descent with a good line of sight.  I glanced back over my shoulder to verify what I already knew, we were a long way out in front of our nearest competitor.  About a 1/2 mile from the turnaround we spotted three women coming up the trail.  I was sure they were relay runners, but it seemed quite late for them to be starting if they were going that direction.  Just as I recognized Nikki Kimball all three of them started yelling words of encouragement to us and ringing a cowbell.  While it seemed out of place at the time I really did enjoy hearing something else other than the wind for once and I noticed our pace increased ever so slightly.
The Windy Pass aid station utilizes a Forest Service cabin situated 2 miles up from the nearest dirt road.  All the supplies, including drop bags, are carried in by Tom and the relay runners that are heading back to Hyalite Canyon.  Tom was a little surprised to see Jay and I, but had us on the move with full bottles in no time at all.  Tom asked me if I knew Leland and I just laughed a little before telling him I knew Leland very well and expected him anytime.
Windy Pass aid station, Photo credit: Darcomatic
Jay and I jogged and power hiked all the way back up to the ridge.  My guess was confirmed when I saw Leland coming down the trail well ahead of Mathieu who was previously in 3rd.  Mathieu was next followed by Peter.  It was the first time I had seen Peter all day since we had pulled in parking lot.  I made a remark to Peter that Jay was killing me and he thought I said he was killing it.  It didn’t matter, both statements were right, Jay was flying and I was dying.  Right after we saw Peter we ran into Nikki and her friends once again for another round of encouragement, complete with the cowbell.  This time around there was a noticeable increase in pace as we gently climbed back through the big wide meadows and my stomach was definitely objecting the idea.  I gamely hung on for another mile or so before I watched Jay run up the ridge as I slowed to a walk.  
Initially I was disappointed, but then I began to reason with myself as I took in the view.  I decided I should be happy.  My knee was feeling great, my legs felt solid despite the lack of miles this year, plus, this is a damn hard race.  What should I expect?  I am my own worst enemy.  I’m very goal oriented but once and a while those goals are just too unreasonable at the time.  I suppose it’s just my nature to want to see continual improvement.
Up ahead I continued to watch Jay run effortlessly along the ridge, until he was eventually out of sight.  I had no doubt he was going to win, I just wondered by how much.  It was almost in the same moment that I decided to make an aid station of my own.  I needed a time out.  Just a little break to put things back together.  So I sat down on a rock next to the trail and took in the stunning view that included Big Sky.  I was only there a minute or so before Emily and Steve came down the trail, sweeping the course heading toward Windy Pass.  I explained the rocky relationship I have with my stomach and wondered quietly if there were counselors for such things.  Meanwhile Emily dug around in her pack and pulled out some Tums.  I had never tried them before during a run but figured it couldn’t get any worse so I popped a couple down and started off down the trail.
By now the midday sun was warming things up in a hurry.  The heat was especially noticeable when we would dip down on the wind sheltered east side of the ridge.  As soon as I found some snow I stuffed it under my hat for a little relief.  Gradually my stomach started feeling better and with about 12 miles to go I was able to run as I approached the bowl.  I was careful not to overdo it but after the climb out of the bowl my stomach was revolting once again.  
All this time I kept looking over my shoulder, sure that Leland and Mathieu would be coming but I still couldn’t see anyone.  Another mile or so and I could finally see the trail leading to Hyalite Pass and the long descent to the finish.  It wasn’t long after that I heard a noise behind me and saw Leland making his way toward me.  We had a friendly exchange and then he was gone.  Mathieu caught up to me probably a 1/2 mile from the pass.  I made an effort to stay near him but I was experiencing a serious bonk by this point and just plodded along at my own pace.  A few more minutes though and the climb gave way to the part I had been looking forward to all day long, the glissade off the pass.  I made it there just in time to see Mathieu sitting on the going down on his butt.  At first I thought this was a bad idea, but after I stood on the precipice and considered going on my feet I thought differently.  It was steep enough and long enough that I could just imagine myself building up speed then tripping and going ass over tea kettle.  Not exactly what I needed at this point, so sitting it was and it was a blast.
The fun was soon over and it was back to business.  The six mile descent to the finish wouldn’t seem near as long if it were only a little steeper.  This descent requires some work because the grade isn’t quite steep enough to just coast down.  I ended up mixing my running in with small walking breaks and cruised in to the final half mile where my family was waiting for me.  I was in one of my walk breaks when they encouraged me to run through to the finish and as ornery as I was it was harder to disappoint them than it was to run.  I crossed the line in 4th place stopping the clock at 10:55.  A far cry from the 9:30 I was hoping for but you know what they say, sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.
Jay was waiting there at the finish and I immediately asked him his finishing time, 8:59 he replied.  Only four minutes off the course record!  He explained to me that he was gunning for it when he took a digger a couple of miles out and decided to throttle it down the rest of the way.  Very impressive.  Peter came through just six minutes behind me in 11:01 looking strong and happy.  Leland finished a strong 2nd in front of Mathieu.  Full results can be found here.
Thanks to RD Tom Hayes and Liz McGoff for putting on a great event that is truly a classic run.


Jay said...

Christian - you have no idea how I savored every minute of being out in front with you on this course. What a rush to be in the lead with such great company. It was fun working together to reel in the relay runners and gap our friend Mathieu. Definitely good times I will remember and recollect!!

FastED said...

Great report Christian. And even better to see you back at it! I think back to March when you were hobbling around and now to run a 50 mile race less than 5 months later is certainly what I call "continual improvement". Both you and Peter. This looks like a beautiful race and one I will put on the list.

"ass over tea kettle" - I love it!
"sometimes your the hammer and sometimes your the nail" - Amen brother.

Talk soon

Missy B. said...

congrats on your great results, Jay and Christian! (and a near course record too!)

on a side note--thank you SO much for resurrecting the Brighton Marathon--my group of friends and i had a spectacular time and appreciated your parents and daughter and her friend aiding us. what a great spread at the finish, too! we definitely owe you some $ for the spread. it was delicious.

can't wait 'til next year.

Manners said...

Congrats Christian- pretty amazing actually! Great run by Jay and Peter as well. It is great to see you running with no knee issues. Hope to see you on the trails soon- even though I will see you from far behind in the distance...

Jared said...

Where can I get a plaid shirt?

Jay said...

Grasshopper – do not seek the plaid, the paisley or even the polka dot. Search beneath the pattern for the true spirit and power of the cotton button down shirt. Until you discover the essence of a cotton button down – you will only see a pattern that distracts you from your greater potential and inner happiness. Master Po