Friday, August 26, 2011

El Vacquero Loco 50k 2011 Race Report

The El Vacquero Loco 25/50k (or Ty's race as it's referred to often) was really meant to be a last tuner-upper before Wasatch for me and a tough race to close the summer for Betsy. The race took place on Saturday, August 13th in the spectacular mountains east of Afton Wyoming. The traditional route from Cottonwood Lake to Intermittent Spring and back was re-routed to the opposite direction because of damage from flooding on the access road to Cottonwood Lake. I really didn't think that our high snow year would continue to force changes this late in the year, but of course I was wrong. Then just two days before the race Ty met with the local search and rescue where they told him they would not support the race if the course went all the way to Cottonwood Lake. Ty sent out a message with the news and a new route, a double out and back for the 50k and a single out and back for the 25k. I could sense the frustration in his email but there was nothing he could do, SAR was necessary but it was pretty lame of them to back out at the last minute. They should know that rescuing an ultrarunner would be at least 3x easier than rescuing this guy, which I know they've a time or two in these same mountains.

I ran this race back in 2008 where I met Luke Nelson (who won) and finished 3rd behind Erik Storheim and just in front of the legend: Leland Barker. This time around Luke and Leland were back along with a few other fast guys so I just decided to be conservative and get a good hard training run in. Well I definitely got a good "hard" training run in with a little over 8,000' of ascent/descent covering some sweet singletrack.

Camping the night before was alright, but the older I get the harder it seems to sleep well in a sleeping bag. Morning came quick enough and Betsy and I hustled down to the road to board a school bus to the start. I was pleasantly surprised to find an open seat next Aric and I got to show him the sweet Smith Pivlock glasses I scored the night before in the prize drawing. Definitely the nicest glasses I've owned in a long time! The bus driver was quite funny as she proceeded to telling us to watch out for bears and that we might get eaten by a mountain lion, obviously we weren't from around these parts and the critters would make easy work of us. I thought about saying something, but decided to save my fight for the bears, mountain lions and the course.

Gathered at the start I gave Betsy a quick pep talk before Ty sent us off promptly at 6am. I immediately settled in at the back of the front group consisting of Luke, Micah Rush, Joe Furse, and Ryan Phillips. I was content running in 5th but then I hit the upper trail and my breathing became very labored. It was almost as if I had asthma, which I have no history of, so I backed off to try and figure things out. Turns out there were two guys on horseback right in front of us and I have a terrible allergy to horses. Once I got past them I was just fine and it really had no bearing on the outcome of the race, it just freaked me out a bit to suddenly be short of breath.

The main obstacle of the day presented itself pretty quickly and we were on the climb to the high point of the race just below 10,000'. I was steady in 5th as I crested the high spot, descended to the first lake, skipped the rock hard snow for fear of losing skin and started the steep climb to the second Lake when Luke came bounding toward me. He was already past the turnaround and I had no illusion of catching the Vo2 monster so I wished him well and hit the last descent to the turnaround as I 2nd thru 4th coming back up. I topped off my bottle at the aid station then started back the way I had came. I noticed pretty quickly the 6th place runner, Nathan Morey was quite close but I just kept it steady on the long descent back to the start/finish area and the 2nd turnaround. Along the way I was able to see the rest of the 50k field, including Betsy who was all smiles and gave me an encouraging word. As I neared the turnaround I glanced at my watch. I was was hoping to get there before the 25k started but I wouldn't even be close. Within two miles or so of the turnaround I started hitting the 25k traffic coming toward me. They started at 8:30 and I hit the turnaround at 9:05. I knew right then a sub 6 hour finish was going to be a real stretch.

Ty and Mike James helped me out as Nathan came steaming through the aid station. I took my time, fueled up and left in 6th place. Somewhere in here I saw Micah coming back at us, a bad knee had forced him out. Soon after we reached the singletrack I passed Nathan, then he caught up to me again as I was taking a nature break. After that I settled in and kept hiking and running at a comfortable pace. We chatted on the lower angle stuff, but as soon as it got steep I decided I would try and catch at least a couple guys in front of me. As I approached the 3rd turnaround point I saw Luke coming toward me and this time it was much sooner than I expected. A short while later 2nd place came by me, then I was nearly to the turnaround when 3rd place came back at me. I hit the turnaround, filled bottles and dug in for the steep hike out. Ryan was nearly to the top of the next steep climb when I passed him. One more descent and steep climb before the ~6 mile descent to the finish. I didn't really know what Nathan or Ryan were capable of on the descent so continued to push hard all the way to the finish and held on to 3rd.

Luke ended up cruising to the win in 5:34, followed by Joe Furse in 6:02, while I stopped the clock in 6:20. Nathan and Ryan followed shortly behind in 4th and 5th (Full RESULTS). Betsy came in a little bit later still smiling and happy to finish her 3rd Ultra of the year. The route seemed much harder doing the double out and back this time around even though it has slightly less vertical, 8,200' compared to 8,700'.

Thanks to Ty Draney for pulling the race together despite the obstacles thrown at him and to all the aid station help who took all the supplies in on horseback. I definitely found what I was looking for; a beautiful run in the mountains.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Christian - Congrats on a great race and superb report. This is a race that is on my "to do" list. It sounds like a spectacular course, good energy + close proximity.