Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Salt Flats 100 - A Celebration of Friends

Salt Flats 100 Starting Line - M. Lebowitz

I'm a believer that we are born to run. And, over the years I have come to believe that a life lived asking the question, "where can I run next?" can be rewarding and enjoyable. Sometimes it can be as simple as a run combining errands, perhaps running to or from work, or maybe a trot to explore vacation sites seldom frequented by most tourists who just walk (or even fail to get out of their cars or off the bus), or maybe it is the unplanned race - where the date and location somehow align with one's plans and obligations.

I recently experienced the later, where I was able to pass through Salt Lake City for a combination of work and personal matters over the weekend of the 2013 Salt Flats 100. I was giddy with the excitement of running 100 miles, being in the west desert, and seeing old friends. While my training over the last several months has been modest, I felt optimistic that I could have a strong run in that I finally seem to have a handle on the nasty piriformis that has been plaguing me the last 9 months.

It felt like a family reunion checking-in and receiving encouraging words from RD Vince Romney and his wife Chriss, seeing numerous running acquaintances, and having photographer Michael Lebowitz share some of his recently published work with me.

Synchronized Running - "Bryon, lift your left foot higher would you?" M. Lebowitz
From the beginning Bryon Powell and I took the lead. While the pace was a bit brisk for the first 10 miles across the Salt Flats, I didn't care in that it was fun to be out front, It felt good to be moving quickly, and I was enjoying Byron's company. We chatted about Meghan's Marathon des Sables win, his preparations for Western States, and my work. Time passed quickly and effortlessly as I allowed Bryon to displace some of my anxiety as to when Scott Dickey would go flying past me at a pace I would not be able to keep.

During the first climb at about mile 23 it was a "Houston, we have a problem" moment. I was struggling. I was climbing slowly and expending more energy that usual. Reality hit, living at sea level and having the only vertical in my life being the stairs to my office on the third floor wasn't cutting it. I laughed to myself as I repeated in my head over and over, "vert matters." Then I laughed at the irony of my office being moved to the first floor next month and my daily vertical training being reduced even more. "So screwed," I thought to myself.

Crater Island - M. Lebowitz
Bryon and I were ahead of the aid station at mile 31 which created some concern given the next 20 miles were desolate, exposed, and the day was warming. Fortunately Adrienne was there and was able to fill our bottles and replace our gels. We were then off on my favorite part of the course. I love the climbs and descents on Crater Island. It feels otherworldly to me. While I'm not a geologist I can just tell the rock is old. I treasure the vistas in all directions with no visible human presence. I cherish the loneliness I feel on this section. I went to that other place and was running well.

Bryon slowly pulled away. He had indicated that he intended to drop at 50 miles so I was able to let him go without stressing about when and where I might reel him back. It felt good to be alone. Many people find the mud flats, or the "moonscape" as I call it from mile 40-50 the hardest section of the course. I quite enjoy it since there is nothing else quite like it. For some reason this year it was unusually slow. The crust seemed softer and deeper than past years and I struggled to stay under a 10-minute mile, yet I was working as if I was running 8-minute miles. The soft alkaline soil just sucked the energy out of every foot strike. While I still felt good, I knew I was exerting energy that I should be saving for later. I tried to forget that I was able to run at an 8:30 pace through the "moonscape" last year.

Where's the gas? - M. Lebowitz
My hope was to head out of the 50 mile AS and start opening it up over the next 11 miles which are flat. As I pushed on the throttle, I found that there was nothing there. While I felt reasonably good - nothing hurt and my head was in a good place - I just didn't have any gas. I plodded along running 9-minute miles thinking how weird is this, “I feel just fine but I just can't move.” I decided not to fight it and just lumber along believing that a second wind would be coming shortly.

At 62 miles as I started the eastward climb over Silver Island I still had no gas. I struggled on the gradual climb, continually looking back to see when Joachim Kempf from Germany would be reeling me in. I couldn't see him and secretly hoped that the heat, the moonscape, and the likelihood that he hadn't been able to attach a tractor beam onto me had him feeling no better than I felt.

The aid station volunteers at the Salt Flats 100 were amazing - many of them addressing me by my name. The effort of looking at an entrant list and knowing the names of the runners based their numbers is pretty remarkable. The welcome that I received at the mile 67 AS lifted my spirits.

The westward climb over Silver Island was no better than the previous climb. Where was my energy? How could I find some gas? What would get me moving at a faster pace? I was hopeful that once I connected with my pacer Peter Lindgren somewhere near mile 75 that I would pull it together. My spirits lifted as I saw Peter running towards me!

It was great to see Peter. He did a quick assessment and knew that calories might be the answer. In went the calories - a couple of gels and a Coke, but still no gas. Even though we weren't moving quickly, I was enjoying listening to him update me on life in SLC. At about mile 78 a figure was running towards us, I was pleased to see that it was Dennis Ahern running out to meet me from the mile 81 AS. It was good to catch-up with Dennis.

Mile 81 AS was a special treat, a hug from Emily Berriochoa, a hello and a big smile from Mike Place, flat Coke and a ripe banana waiting just for me. My spirits were lifted. Maybe this would be the turning point. I changed shirts and put on my lights, and headed out with Peter on the 7-mile climb to the summit of our final crossing of Silver Island. I felt better for several miles, then again the energy wasn't there. I asked Peter to just talk so that I could listen and have his words pull me along.

Near the summit I believed I saw lights behind us. It was the inevitable. Joachim had finally reeled me in and having seen our lights would be going for the kill. I dug deep and tried to move faster. We picked up the pace, but I could tell I was running on fumes and that this plane was likely going to crash in the English Channel having burned every last ounce of fuel before reaching the coast of England.

At the 90 mile AS I knew I needed fuel. I drank a can of Coke while trying to remain steady on my feet. I had trouble keeping my balance. "Wow" I thought to myself, "I have never been this spent. "And, "it's weird how I don't even hurt." It was good to say a quick hello to speedsters Robert. Mueller and Amie Blackham.

I was quickly on my way believing Joachim was less than a mile behind me. On the descent back to the lake bed Peter and I chatted about what might a model for evaluating the quality of a pacer look like. While engaged in the present conversation with Peter, my mind reflected on what a talented pacer Peter is. Peter knew not to say trite words like "your doing great," since we both knew that was not true. He also knew not to play with my head about the need to push harder to hold onto my lead. He knew that motivation needed to come from me. He also knew that there was no point in encouraging me to go faster and utilize the tricks good pacers know to coax a little more speed out of their runner. He just knew that what I needed was his presence. That simply being there was what I needed most for this race. I felt honored to have both a good friend, and someone with such a honed talent for pacing with me on these final miles.

Paislee, Vince's daughter put a smile on my face when she welcomed me to the final AS at mile 90 with "we've been waiting for you and we have a flat Coke waiting because we know that is what you like." Wow, it doesn't get any better than this.

Resting at the Finish - M. Lebowitz
The lights that I had seen earlier were imaginary. Nobody was behind me and I just needed to finish for the win. I plodded onward knowing the last 5 miles were going to take me more than an hour. I tried not to think about how slow I was moving and rather focused on the beauty of the evening, the full moon, the still and crisp desert air, the company. I could see what I believed to be the finish lights off in the distance. But I knew from last year that the distance was deceptive and that I just needed to keep running and try to avoid the discouragement of the lights never seeming to get any closer. Once we had the finish clearly in sight and could see figures moving in the dark, Peter finally did some ass chewing and told me to pick it up so we could go under 18. Perfect timing and just what I needed as we were able to cross the finish in 17:59:30.

While it wasn't a good day in terms of my time, I celebrated that it had been a great day with friends, that I was again healthy, and I could run without pain and feeling broken. And, that any disappointment in my day had been offset by the sheer joy of being out in the desert with these friends doing what we all enjoy so much - running.


LongRun said...

Gutsy run, well done re-cap. I like that you noted the AS folks-it is such a valuable thing they do. I enjoyed seeing and hope to see you later in the year. Gas up, the vertical is coming!

all the best

peter said...

I have had this theory that if you spend your energy reserve at any point in a hundred miler, you pay a penalty, sort of like making an early withdrawal from your 401K. For most people that lands them in a chair spent, in some sort of distress, in debt that is hard to recover from. You amazingly ran the entire last climb, spent no more than a minute or two in the aid stations, and continued to jog when most would have walked. That was inspiring to see, and leads me to think that the great hundred mile runners have strong minds and strong stomachs. Congrats on a great run.

Danny Widerburg said...

I am always amazed to see your results Jay ! I watched last year as you pulled away from the rest of us @ ZION 100 , and I became a instant fan ! Great job on the Salt !

Cory Reese said...

Your race reports are some of the best I read throughout the year. I love your writing.

Congrats on another great race. I'm excited if I can finish 10 HOURS after that time. Way to keep it together even with no gas in the tank.

jun said...

Fantastic report Jay. I had no idea you moved away. Sad to see you go, for sure. I know how you feel as I went through the exact same experience at Buffalo Run 100 this year. It sucks. Yet you gutted it out and still got the win. Congrats, it is well earned.

Victor said...

This is cool!