Monday, October 17, 2011

Lessons Learned at the 2011 Wasatch 100

Wow- It's been more than a month since running Wasatch and I think I've finally found enough time to sit down and write a report and a few thoughts on my experience. I hope that I remember all the important aspects of the race, as much for my own record to look back upon as for anybody reading this to gain from, or scoff at.

Lesson 1: Training
Back in 2007 I attempted my second Wasatch and second 100 mile run. I had two years ultra experience under my belt and thought I had it figured out. I had some good races earlier in the year, I trained hard, and I was ready. Turns out I probably trained a little too hard, burned the candle at both ends trying to fit it all in, didn't recover enough, got a horrible cold 8 days out and didn't feel like I had kicked it until the day before. 20 miles into my race I started cramping and throwing up, and after 62 miles on the way up to Dog Lake, threw up a silver dollar size clot of blood. Time to call it a day. It took me a few years to understand it a little better, but I've now figured out that for me, with the demands of a 5 day a week job, a young family, and the other responsibilities life requires, training has to be about Quality rather than Quantity. AND, I need to rest. this year, from Mid June to September, I had 3-4 big mileage weeks (75-90 miles) with lots of 40 and 50 mile weeks in between. Probably the least ever in mileage, but the best in quality runs.

Lesson 2: Patience
Apparently, I still haven't really figured this one out. I started the race feeling great, running what I felt was a manageable pace. In fact, in some ways I felt better than in years past, and that I was holding back a bit. With that being said, I rolled into Francis Peak in 4th or 5th place in 3 hours 30 minutes, my fastest split so far by 2 minutes. And then people started to pass me as my left glute started to cramp up and climbing became laborious. Then my groin started to cramp, my right MCL was strained and within 5-10 miles I was really slowing down. At one point, I got passed with my pants down (literally) by a group of about 5 runners. About the time I made it to Swallow Rocks (mile 32) I had convinced myself that my race was over. Sitting in a chair feeling sorry for myself is how Christian and Greg found me. They convinced me to walk with them, and sucking on a grape popsicle, that's what I did. After a couple miles of this, and many internal debates to be discussed in a couple paragraphs, I was satisfied with the idea that I would be finishing the race sometime in the afternoon on Saturday. I moved slowly to Big Mountain, picked up my pacer Bryce Hopkin, and we went for a long walk to Lambs Canyon. Patience.

Bryce has been at Big Mountain spectating and cheering me on during my previous 4 Wasatch's and I was excited to have him run with me this year. Unfortunately for him, I was in a foul mood and he was subjected to more whining, petulance and self-pity than anyone should have to endure. He was patient, told me incredible and sometimes incredulous stories of fishing and High Uinta Sasquatch sightings and amazingly, we arrived at Lambs Canyon feeling a little better, albeit 1 1/2 hours behind schedule. This is where the whole patience thing comes in.

My next pacer, the fantastic Dr. Drew Cooper, asked a few questions about what was bugging me, made his diagnosis, stretched a few tight muscles, dug his fist in my left glute, convinced me to down 400 mg of ibuprofen, and 5 minutes later I was a new man. WOW!! I never thought I'd feel that good again, ever. We headed up the road towards Bear Ass Pass, with Drew forcing me to eat and drink. We hit the trail, and I started to feel better and soon was in a full, feeling really good, power hike. Unfortunately, it was through here that we passed Christian, who was not looking so good. We assured him that it would soon pass, and I was sad to have to leave him behind. All the way to Upper Big Water, I was feeling better and better, with Drew reminding me to eat and drink, stay a little bit conservative, and stretching me out every time something started to tighten up. We moved along so well, that I almost beat Brooke up the canyon as she was putting up her traditional, motivational posters on the Millcreek Canyon Road. Thanks Brooke!!

Me and Jesse

I picked up my next pacer, Jesse Harding, who has run this section with me a bunch of times. Patience. Jesse knew just what to do to keep me moving at a good pace and most importantly, kept me eating and drinking. Amazingly, as I kept reflecting back on the day, I was feeling better and better, where not too long ago, I was convinced my race was done. The only "rough spot" through this section was when a PB and J at Scott's Pass made with heavy duty whole grain bread caused me to gag mid stride and I lost my cookies for the first time that day. Give me ultra processed white bread any day (race day) of the week!! I scraped out the PB and J to eat and Jesse kept me moving to Brighton. At Brighton, I spent about 10 minutes too long at the aid station, but it was hard to pass up a seat in a chair, a toothbrush, and a hug from my kids. A 10:22 departure from Brighton was the latest I had ever been, and I knew it would take a big effort to still make it sub 24. Patience.

Al Matteson, Brooke's cousin from St Louis, was running the last 25 with me, and I was stoked for him to be with me. Al paced me last year for about 30 miles, and we had a great time together. In fact, he had such a good time that he came back to Utah in March to run the Buffalo Run 50 miler, his first ultra, with a stellar top 10, 7:56 finish. My master plan for Al is to pace him as he runs Wasatch one of these next few years. I felt very fortunate to have him along. Patience. The short of it is that I felt incredible for 95% of the last 25 miles. I kept a good, yet moderate, pace to Rock Springs. About every hour, my stomach would start to turn a little and rather than try and fight it like I always do, I decided to embrace the nausea, open my mouth wide and get it all out. I think this happened 4-5 times, and each time Jesse Crowne and his pacer and good friend Stu Gleason would pass me. After Rock Springs, I was tired
of playing Leap Frog and decided it was time to nail down 24 hours for good. The game of patience was over. I hit the Dive and the Plunge and let my legs go. Irv's torture chamber was indeed torturous, but I ran it as hard as I could. At Pot Bottom, 3 runner's had left within 3 minutes of me, and there is no better incentive to run hard than to chase someone down with 7 miles togo. Patience!! We hiked the 1.3 mile road up to Lime Canyon as hard as I could while trying to save just a little for the last 5 miles, knowing that they were steep, rocky and FUN!! Once I hit Lime Canyon, I again let my legs go, and figured I could push through anything for the last 5 miles if need be. Fortunately, I felt great!! There is an exhilarating, unexplainable feeling that comes from pushing your body to it's limits, then past, and finding that you haven't yet tapped it. There is still more. Where does it come from? Those last 5 miles I was in a constant state of shock and wonder that my legs and body were responding as they were. During the last 25 miles, Al had said more than once that we would be sprinting to catch someone on the last mile of road to the finish. I scoffed at that idea for many reasons. But, as we came out of the trees and hit the road at Wasatch Mountain State Park, sure enough, there was a pair of lights a couple hundred yards ahead of us. Al pointed this out, and told me it was time to sprint. I gave it a half hearted effort at first and the gap started to slowly close. Then, I saw a pacer headlamp turn back to see what the commotion was, and all the sudden, the gap started to widen. Damn, I forgot to turn my headlamp off to mount a sneak attack in the dark! Al was yelling at me to run, I was grunting in reply and the gap started to close again, v e r y slowly. I felt like I was running a 5:30 pace and in reality it was more like 10's, but I was running. As we approached the last small hill with 500 meters to go, I figured it was now or never, so somehow, I found another gear, and from somewhere outside of myself, was again amazed that my legs could respond. The gap was closer, and I caught up to Al. We hit the last 150 meters of grass and I swear to you, it was the fastest I have ever run 100 meters (which, if you've ever seen me in a 100 meter dash, isn't really that impressive). 20 meters, 15, 10- the gap was smaller and smaller. I could hear and see my family but couldn't get an extra breath to let them know it was me. And that was as close as it gets. I sprinted as Al said I would, Eric Wickland held me off by 10 meters, and it was the most fantastic finish I have ever had. Not my fastest finish, but definitely the most satisfying. 23:32:50.
It all started with taking a long walk with Bryce to Lambs Canyon. Although I didn't know it at the time, that was the beginning of my recovery and rebound. I drank and ate, then drank some more, recharging depleted resources. With Drew, I started to feel better, but he held me back just enough to make good time, but still recharge. Jesse was superb in this respect as well, and then, at Brighton, when my race against the clock really started, Al was able to help me harness all that stored energy and unload it at the right times for my most satisfying, and most memorable finish. Patience is a lesson I learned and will try and remember for races to come.
Which brings me to the 3rd and most valuable lesson I learned.

Lesson 3:What gives me the right to drop out just because I feel kind of crappy, feel sorry for myself, am having a "bad" race, but am otherwise healthy?

As I sat in the chair at Swallow Rocks feeling sorry for myself because my whole body hurt, it was difficult to run and hike and I didn't feel like going any further, I started to think of all my friends, and every other runner, that signed up for the 2011 Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run with no expectations other than to finish. They would be running through 2 sun rises, two hot afternoons, feeling as bad or worse than I was, and they were happy to be there, happy to have the chance to experience such an amazing event. What right did I have to drop out just because things weren't going as I had planned. Was I any better than anyone else, giving me the right to drop because my hip was sore and it was tough to climb? Hadn't I told everyone that asked me about the race that my first, and most important goal going into the race was to finish. Not to finish sub-24, or anything beyond that. Simply, finish. So, as Christian and Greg trotted into the aid station, and pulled me out of my chair with a grape popsicle, I decided then and there that barring a medical necessity (as in 2007), I was finishing. If it took me until 4:59:59 on Saturday afternoon, I was finishing. I figured I could walk 65 more miles if I needed to, but I was finishing. Luckily, with the help of an amazing support crew of friends and family, a little patience, and a lot of luck, I was able to finish, finish sub-24, and finish feeling the best I have ever felt.


I have an amazing wife and beautiful kids who encourage and inspire me. I have incredible friends to run with who push me beyond what I feel I am capable of. I can claim the spectacular Wasatch Mountains as my backyard training ground. I am blessed with a healthy body, and a sound (somewhat debatable) mind that allows me to take myself to the edge and beyond.

I can't wait for next year.

The Newton/Matteson Support Crew


Christian said...

Outstanding run and report. I was super stoked to see you crush the last third of the race.
I can totally relate to the idea of not dropping simply because you are uncomfortable...Doesn't make finishing any easier though.

Anonymous said...

Erik your post reminds me of a great Ironman from Germany a few years back who had a bad day in Kona and refused to drop. He finished somewhere around 850th (3rd the following year. After the race when asked why he didn't drop he replied "if I dropped because I was having a bad day it you be an insult to all the others just fighting to finish the race". Thank you from a back of the packer it is always great to see you on the trails and congratulations on a great race.


Anonymous said...

Erik - nice work. Always in inspiration.

Derek Ward