Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wasatch 100 - 2011 Race Report - Christian

I've been thinking about this post for quite a while now and how I wanted to characterize my race. I suppose it has taken this long because up until a few days ago I still didn't know how I felt about it. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my mother back in '05 before the biggest road cycling race of my life, Elite Nationals.

Elite Nats is reserved for the top amateur cyclists in the country, Category 1 racers. Normally Cat 1's race with Pro's and Cat 2's for the majority of races throughout the year, but once a year the top amateurs get their chance to race for the stars and bars (National Championship jersey). If the winner is young enough (early 20's) they will often score a pro contract. I had no illusions of winning or scoring a pro contract but I did want to get a top placing, perhaps even a top 10. A few days before the race I was telling my mom about it and some of the concerns I had. Mainly the competition and the distance of the course. At 125 miles it was about 30 to 40 miles longer than we would normally race and when I told her this she tried to calm my nerves by telling me that she "was sure I could finish". I just sat there speechless for a few seconds. She clearly didn't understand. All the years I had spent preparing for this race was not to simply see if I could finish, I already knew that was possible. I wanted more. I wanted a great result.
That's me on the front of a breakaway mid-race, 2005 Elite Nats
Elite Nationals was probably one of the toughest one day races I ever took part in (including LotoJa) and I gave it everything to get a good result, including getting into a breakaway. In the end I finished anonymously in 65th several minutes down, but satisfied with my effort.

What does this have to do with Wasatch? Well, I'm at the point where I know I can finish and now I want more. The trouble with this kind of mentality and 100 milers is that if you "go for it" and blow up trying you can jeopardize a finish. If you don't finish, you risk not getting into the next edition now that we're in the era of lotteries for the best races (assuming one does not have "X" amount of finishes to guarantee entry). The bottom line is that suffering is not optional even on a good day, blow up in the middle of the race and you will not only be suffering, you will be spending a great deal of time deep inside the pain cave. A place I have become all too familiar with lately. So that's the way I decided to approach Wasatch this year, go for it or blow up trying.

I took off from the start at a pretty good pace wanting to stay out of the dust storm on the early part of the course. I settled in somewhere in the back half of the top ten. I could see all the guys vying for the win in front of me, including Storheim when I started the real climbing. Upon reaching Chinscraper I saw my friend Erich Peitzsch and Troy Howard coming up from behind. We enjoyed a few easy miles along the ridge together before Troy took off on the long dirt road before Francis Peak. I reached the aid station in a little over 3.5 hours slightly ahead of schedule but feeling great. Besides stopping for a bio break a short time after leaving Francis Peak I felt great all the way to Sessions at mile 28. I had been eating clif bloks and GU chomps making a conscious effort to stay away from gels for at least the first half of the race. At Sessions my stomach felt a little tight so I just backed off a bit and saw Greg a little bit behind me.

Shortly before Swallow Rocks at mile 35 Greg caught me and told me about the knee trouble Peter was having. It sounded like an IT band issue and I was genuinely concerned. Then we rolled into Swallow Rocks and found Erik in a chair. Greg and I dragged him out of the chair with a popsicle in hand as we made our way to Big Mountain. I was concerned for my friends and in retrospect I probably lost a little focus on my race through this section.
At Big Mountain with Betsy

The trail from Big Mountain to Lambs canyon has always been my achilles heel in past Wasatch 100's and I ended up giving the section a lot of thought as I drew closer. Greg, Erik and myself all hit Big Mountain at mile 39 within seconds of each other. Betsy had everything ready for me but I still took my time making sure everything was perfect for the section from hell. Greg got out a minute ahead of Erik and I, which was probably a good thing as I took it slow with Erik and his pacer. He needed some time to put his stomach together and I needed to keep a lid on it while traversing the hot, exposed ridge line. I kept sight of Greg in front and eventually I saw Peter catching up to us which was a welcome relief. As Peter and Scott Dickey (his pacer) caught up to me I just latched on and kept going. I was so stoked to have made it across the ridge I was already celebrating even though I had several miles until I reached Alexander Aid Station at mile 47.

Peter turned on the jets on the last little descent to the aid station and I just cruised it in. I was so happy I raised my arms above my head and threw my water bottles on the ground proclaiming victory. The aid station staff looked at me kind of funny then one of them said "this isn't the finish". "Yes, yes, I know" I replied, "but you have no idea how great it feels to complete that section without feeling like I want to die". "Still a long way to go" one of them said as they filled my bottles and watched Peter run down the trail. "Thanks, I know it all too well" and off I went.

Slowly things started to unravel as I climbed the pipeline right of way just a couple miles out of the aid station. The effort required to move forward became harder and harder, my legs suddenly felt like I was at mile 75 not mile 50. The realization of what was in front of me crystallized in my mind and the black hole of the cave opened in front of me. I begrudgingly stepped inside and accepted my fate.

The railroad grade down to the Lambs Canyon aid station felt incredibly slow no matter how hard I tried to quicken my pace. Upon reaching the aid station I spent 20 minutes trying to put things back together. Between Betsy and my friend Drew (Erik's next pacer) they did their best to get my overheated body cooled down and I did my best to put on a brave face.
Lambs Canyon aid station. (Photo: Brooke Storheim) 

I left Lambs feeling a bit better than when I arrived but I was not completely convinced things were going to get better anytime soon. Soon after hitting the trail up to Bear Ass pass I lost my stomach when I tried to eat a gel. Just at that same moment Erik and Drew caught up to me. They both encouraged me to stick with it and that I would feel better soon, but I knew inside that even if my stomach came around my legs were shot.  This became even more apparent on the descent into Millcreek where I had trouble coaxing anything more than a stumble out of my legs.

Once I hit the road in Millcreek I grew ornery and on the climb up I decided I would stop at Big Water. Before reaching the aid station Betsy crewed me at the lower parking lot where I had the full attention of everyone else's crew and pacers including Marge, Jessica, Brooke, Drew and John McGuire. I announced I was done, but it was as if no one heard me. Betsy simply put some miso soup in my hand before getting my nighttime supplies out. "Just go to the next aid station" she said. "That's just a trick, I really need to go 3 more aid stations since I can't drop at Deso or Scott's" I snapped back. "Then it's settled, I'll see you at Brighton".
Sitting at Big Water. No wonder they won't let me drop, I don't look nearly as awful as I feel.

After getting geared up and popping a blister on one of my toes I hit the trail once again. The legs were still unresponsive but on the bright side I had a big climb ahead of me to get them back in shape. Shortly before reaching Dog Lake I switched on my headlamp and just as I could see the lake another runner was coming back toward me. He was quite flustered and saying something about a couple of moose on the trail. I continued down the trail and saw the glowing eyes looking back at us. "Didn't you hear me? Those are moose" he said. "They'll move" I replied as I kept moving toward them. I was secretly hoping I might get kicked so I would have a real excuse to drop, but they moved just as I had predicted. Damn.

The Desolation Lake aid at mile 67 was a welcome sight where I sat down with a cup of soup for 15 minutes. I was sitting there being angry with myself when a teenage boy working the aid station sat down next to me. "Man I wish I could do this race" he told me. "Really? Why?" I asked. "Well I run cross-country for my high school, but I really like the trails so much more and I think it would such an awesome experience". As crummy as I was feeling I just smiled back and told him he was right, then gave him a little advice, "Just do me a favor and wait until you're a few years older and have some experience before attempting this one". "Sure thing. Keep up the great effort, you're doing great" he told me. That statement humbled me a bit as I thanked him and checked out of the aid station.

The conversation I had with the teenager got me thinking about a lot of things, including the cross-country team I was helping coach at West High. They all knew I was taking part in the race, in fact I was meeting them at Soldier Hollow immediately following the race at 8:30 am for a scheduled meet. What would I tell them if I didn't finish? What kind of example would I be if I dropped out? And that's when I made up my mind to walk, shuffle, stumble or whatever it would take to get to the finish.

The rest of the race was a practice in patience. I picked up my friend Jon Schofield at Brighton for company over the last 25 miles but warned him it was going to be a long night since the legs were now hollow. No matter he said, let's get after it. Over the next 8 hours or so I had the pleasure of sharing the trail with many of my friends and realizing why the Wasatch 100 is such a special race. I drew inspiration from "Uncle" Dave Hunt, Carter Williams, Sarah Evans, Jason Berry and Brian Kamm all dealing with their own issues, but never once talking about quitting. Who was I to quit because my legs were empty and the race wasn't going as planned?

Once the finish line came into view a smile came to my face and the pain faded. I missed all the goals I set beforehand except for one. Finish. It really wasn't a goal I set for the race because it is just expected at this point, but that didn't take anything away from the satisfaction of crossing that line and embracing my friends and family after the journey. That felt good and it still does. 27th place in 26:54.
Thanks to a great organization, volunteers, and the best friends anyone could ask for motivating me and special thanks to my best friend and wife Betsy for kicking me out of the chair and down the trail. I'll be back and I'll have goals...
Jon (my friend and pacer) at the finish.
Betsy and I at the finish


Erik said...


Great report and race! Only 305 days until the next edition. Can't you feel the anticipation building already?

Jay said...

Fabulous post! You so eloquently captured that internal stress and tension of wanting to do more (go faster) yet knowing that the effort comes with significant risks (going up in flames and DNF'ing or being reduced to a painful crawl). What makes all of this so fun is trying to dance on that very fine line between a fabulous performance and a disastrous day. Good stuff!!