Sunday, April 29, 2012

Salt Flats 100, 2012

There is a faint light of a runner behind me, and the promising, taunting, frustratingly small light of the finish line in front of me.  Legs hurting in a variety of spots, lower left anterior compartment, and both sets of quads aching with each shuffling step, I slowly work toward the finish.  After 96.2 miles, only able to maintain an 11 minute per mile pace, I have 40 plus minutes of straight running towards a light at the finish.  “Are we there yet?”  “How many more miles do you think we have to go?”  “Hold on I need to pee again.”  Erik, my pacer, I suspect, felt like a parent on a long car trip with an anxious kid in the back seat.  We had been warned to keep moving along as the last stretch would “play with our minds”.  

Photo: Greg Norrander

Peter and Jay staying warm before the start.  Photo: Greg Norrander

Waiting for the start.  Photo: Greg Norrander

At 7 AM yesterday, about 50 of us set off on the hard white compacted salt left when Lake Bonneville evaporated.  My 4th grade son recently wrote a paper on the Salt Flats.  As I started the race on the flat hard surreal surface, I tried to imagine Ab Jenkins in the Mormon Meteor speeding across this odd Pleistocene-era landscape named after a guy (Benjamin Bonneville) who probably never actually saw the Salt Flats.  Even Jay’s record-setting fast pace about 9 minutes per mile (for the full 100) is almost geologically slow compared to the Blue Flame’s record 630 miles per hour or 5.4 seconds per mile.  The Salt Flats are 12 miles long, 5 miles wide, and we were beginning a 100 miler running across them.  

Practice running on the Flats.  Photo: Greg Norrander
Probably the best lounge act at the Rainbow Casino.
Greg and I drove out the night before and stayed in West Wendover.  Despite the shifty characters, cigarette smoke, lure of a tempting lounge act, slot machines, and bar, I was well rested after a night at the Rainbow "Resort" and Casino.  At the start of the race I met up with Daryl Hultquist, another Kenyon College grad.  Daryl and I played soccer together at Kenyon, and by happenstance were both signed up for this race.  Though we had never run together, we matched a nice pace for most of the morning.  
Running with Daryl Hultquist. Photo Greg Norrander
After clearing the Salt Flats, we ended up running through some lovely mud that
added unwanted weight to our shoes.  Jay’s parents were waiting at Aid Station 2 (mile 16), kindly greeted us, and quickly sent us on our way despite instructions from Jay to strike up a long conversation to slow me down.  Daryl and I caught Kristopher Hawbaker, a Navy pilot running his first 100.  We took turns breaking wind (oops, I mean "drafting") behind each other as we ran towards the first climb.  I appreciated the drafting quite a lot, though I wasn’t sure that I was helping cut much wind for these tall guys.
Heading into Aid Station 3. Photo: Greg Norrander
Daryl and I made a quick climb of Cobb Peak Pass at mile 25.5, the first climb of the day.  As Daryl stopped to take in some calories I found myself running alone for the first time all day.  The descent made for some very fun running, followed by an unusually pleasant rolling gravel road to aid station 5.  At aid station 5, I was perfectly on pace for an 18 hour finish.  This was an arbitrary and naive target given my lack of course knowledge and training.  The 19 mile loop through and around Crater Island was amazing, worthy of a destination run itself, though it wrecked my 18 hour ambition.  After the descent from aid station 6, there is a 7 mile stretch across a perfectly flat old lake bed of intermittently forgiving mud.  Running across this in the full sun and head wind was tough. The vast expansive desolateness was beautiful, but made me feel very small, insignificant, and slow as the positions in the distance didn’t seem to get any closer no matter my speed.  Daryl caught up to me on the mud and we stayed together for the next 20 or so miles.  We alternated running and walking, over the flat sections.  I was happy for the rest, given how uncertain my fitness was for running so long on such flat terrain.  While the couple of climbs were welcome breaks,  I stressed about how the decreased pace would affect my overall time.

Aid Station 5 in the distance.  Photo: Greg Norrander
After some soup and encouragement from Carolyn Luckett who captained the aid station 10, Daryl and I split-up.  With 7 miles to the next aid station, shrinking daylight, and being far enough off my pace, the calculation to leave my headlamp at mile 74 was starting to look foolish.  The descent west into the sunset was spectacular though, and while I risked running in the dark without a light, the view on that section was worthy of the miscalculation.  

As I got close to the 11th aid station, Erik met me on the gravel road.  After his previous night of disrupted sleep, a run up Unkle in the morning, and a long day in the VA dental clinic, Erik was still ready to run a marathon with me well into the night. (One couldn't ask for better friends.)  As it became darker and darker, we left our lights off- the road was easy to follow, and we didn’t want to become a target to run after.  We weren’t going to give up second place.  Mentally the last climb went by quickly as did the descent as we exchanged stories and jokes.  
Once we hit the paved road for the last 6 miles, things got hard.  Three weeks ago I ran this section with Christian and Jay.  It was hard then because of a headwind and fast pace.  Now it was hard because of 90 + miles on my legs, the worry that there was someone tracking us down, and an inability to run faster than 11 minutes per mile with a frequent need to walk and pee.  The lights behind us didn’t seem to be close, but it was difficult to tell if any were coming with pace.  There was still a fair bit of ground to cover. 
Running the last 3.8 miles with a dim, teasing target in front is mentally challenging.  The constellations of stars were a distraction as were the cars in the distance on I-80, but the overall goal of getting to the small light at the finish was hard to ignore.  Sometimes time and distance constrict, but here time and distance seemed to exapand.  I eventually crossed the finish line in 19 hours 23 minutes, good for second place behind an amazingly fast 15:04 from Mr. Aldous.  It was windy and cold at the finish.  After a brief interview with the Park City TV crew doing a documentary on the race, Greg, Erik, and I headed back for Salt Lake City to catch the few hours of sleep left in the night.  
Photo Greg Norrander
Many thanks to Vince Romney who directed a very well run race.  The course is spectacular.  The volunteers, from fellow runners, scout troops, and parents of runners made this an even more memorable event.  A huge thanks to Erik and Greg for crew and pacing support.   Huge congratulations to Jay for running a perfect race and setting yet another record.  He made it look easy.  It was not.  I won't say that I am hooked on flat 100s, but I think I am hooked on this race.  Plan to run this unique event before it becomes so popular that you can't get in.

Photo: Greg Norrander
One post script-note: wearing a brand new pair of shoes of a model that you have never worn for a 100 mile race may seem like a bad idea, even stupid.  The Brooks Pure Grit however were flawless, silky, perhaps even stylish with bright orange uppers and lime green soles.  Certainly destined for the brotherhood of traveling shoes.


Jay said...

Peter - I felt exactly the same way about the finish. I could see this light... I wasn't sure if it was the finish... But I thought it was... Yet, I would run for what I thought was a mile or so and it appeared no closer... I began to question if I was even moving. But all the evidence available suggested I was making forward progress... It was a complete mind f*&#...

A big thanks to Vince Romney and his family for hosting a great event! And thanks to Greg, Erik and Adrienne for crewing and pacing... A super fun day!!

LEWIS said...

Great job you guys! Very impressive, and beautiful pictures.

Nick said...

Strong work peter...It must be those tree trunks for legs you have!

Scott D said...

Great job you guys! Wish I could have been there. I missed out for sure.

Christian said...

Thinking about running a flat 100 makes me feel nervous. I like the excuse to hike up hills and coast if necessary on the descents. Now that Jay has mastered the flat and Peter has thrown down the gauntlet I may have to give it a go next year.
Congratulations on a fantastic run to each of you. I wish I could have been there. I'm not thanking you for getting me to think about this type of thing...

peter said...

Christian- It's April, I am good but certainly not top form. My longest run leading up to this was our 3 hour 18 min run. Now 5 days out I am running and feeling pretty good. You shouldn't be afraid to run this or another "flat race", anyone toeing the line against you should be afraid. Put it on the schedule for next April. You will tear it up.