Monday, May 31, 2010
Pocatello 50--Mother Nature had Her Way
it started out innocently enough. a friendly 50 mile race, admittedly one of the toughest in the country, among friends in Idaho. the weather was slated to be a little foul, as rain showers were forecast and it had been raining for the previous few days so the trails were a bit muddy. but most of us had shown up optimistic.
the morning of the race, o'dark thirty, we showed up and checked in. some people were doing 2 and 3 man relays, each with about 16 mile legs. i was signed up for the full 50 mile run. i am, admittedly, a "back of the middle of the pack runner", or a "front of the back of the pack runner", and i was doing this run as a training run for Wasatch 100 in September. my nausea issues were minimal this race, in stark contrast to other races, as i obtained prescription medication prior to coming, not because i was any less nervous.
and the weather started out pretty perfect for an all day running affair. i estimated 14-15 hours of being on the course. it was 40 degrees and drizzling at 6am when we all started. the trails were wet, but the mud was not unbearable. the first climb and descent were enjoyable, and my friend Brendan and i cruised into the aid station at mile 8.3 ahead of our estimated time.
then we started the ascent up the muddy trail from Gibson Jack, and it started to get a little greasy. then we started the off-trail section through the sagebrush, straight up, through the rocks and crags, and all hell broke loose. we joked at first, "this is getting all too real". the hail and freezing rain was coming at us sideways. i thought my left ear was going to freeze off. i had a running skirt on, and was wishing i had tights. Brendan did not have a jacket, just a thermal long-sleeve top. we almost took a wrong turn at the top of the climb, and later found out that about 20 runners had taken that wrong turn. the course markers had been blown away in the 40 mph wind gusts. i got knocked off my feet several times by the wind. we were shivering. my hands were so frozen i could hardly manage to take the few pictures that i did. but i wanted evidence of our epic.
after cresting the climb and searching several minutes for the true route, we started down a slicker-than-snot logging road. it was pretty much all we could do to stay upright. a jaunty sing-along run in the light rain had turned into an epic adventure. i had serious doubts about continuing after reaching the City Creek aid station at mile 17, a little over 4 hours into the run.
my crew, my friend Suzy, met me with dry clothes. i saw Karl and Cheryl under the tent and they read my expression on my face, "holy sh*t. what was that?" is what i think i said. i got my game face on and rallied. changed my clothes, changed my socks, put on a rain jacket, grabbed a banana, and got the heck outta there before i could change my mind. getting out of that aid station was an even bigger mental hurdle than getting over the donner-pass like climb earlier.
going up the City Creek trail, it was greasy. there were times when i had to bush-whack up through the brush on the side of the trail because the mud was so slick, you would have slipped and laid it out flat on your stomach.
after almost 3 miles, a runner came up behind me. i had not seen anyone since leaving the aid station. "they're calling the race". i responded, "i kinda want to keep going." what was i saying? did i really want to keep going in this? "you're welcome to keep going if you want, " he said. but then reality really started to hit me. if the race directors were calling the race to a stop, there was a very good reason for it. i didn't want to be the lone runner out there whom they were all wondering if i was going to make it or worse, get lost. i couldn't even guarantee that there would be anyone at the aid stations if i kept going. i saw Jared, on of the race directors coming down a dirt road in his truck, giving several runners a ride back to City Creek aid station. "can i run back down this section and maybe catch a ride with you to the start/finish area to meet my friends?" "No problem," he replied.
i ran back down to City Creek, laying down a very nice slide at one point that was worthy of a "safe" call into third base, and spinning around and surfing the trail backwards at another point. i caught a ride with a girl named Lucinda back to Mink Creek start/finish area. then the cold wait began. Brendan had cruised past me at City Creek and was still on the course, as no one had caught him to tell him the race was called to a stop. also out on the course were Cheryl and Brett. i hung out with Sean Meissner, Jay Aldous, and Matt Hart among others (who had finished the 50k) in the tent for a while. I hung out with Jill, Roger, and Karl in the car for a while. after 2 hours of waiting, all of our runners were accounted for. search and rescue was called to locate missing runners, and HAM radio operators coordinated efforts between SAR and the race directors. by the end of the day, everyone was accounted for.
i overcame several hurdles in this race, the mental ones being bigger hurdles than the physical. i'm physically a lot stronger than i give myself credit for. i've been doing some reading about how much physical reserve (20-30%) you still have, even though your mind is telling your body to quit. although i only got 23 miles done, it was in 5h 45min which was a faster pace than i had originally estimated for this course (i did 4 miles per hour, and i was thinking i'd average 3 to 3.5 mph). i had enough strength to go out for a 9 mile run on the Shoreline back in Salt Lake the next day when i got home.
the most impressive thing i was reminded of at Pocatello 50 this year was the comaraderie of the trail running community. guys who were in it to win slowed down to help others who were becoming hypothermic. Brendan stopped on the wintery ridge to make sure i was making it up the climb. people fell down and people asked if they were okay. volunteers stayed out in the weather to provide warm food and hospitality to those in need. race directors doubled back on the course to make sure people on the crags were safe and not falling off the mountain. SAR and HAM radio pulled together a last-minute search effort to locate lost and unaccounted for runners. it was an epic day in so many ways. i'll go back next year. i will, however, hope for better weather.