It was my third time going up to Afton, Wyoming to the El Vaquero 50k event. And I didn't regret it, not one bit.
Many of the Happy Utah Mountain Runners (HUMRs) showed up to the event this year. We had a base camp set up on Thursday before the race (thanks to Lane Farka) at the Cottonwood campground... many other potential campers I'm sure were thinking, "Sheesh... how much space do these people need?" Well, with easily 30 people in our group... a fair amount.
I got up to Cottonwood camp, the start/finish for the race, about 1pm on Friday. I hung out with Lane and ate some lunch, set up my tent, then ventured over to the neighbor who turned out to be Joe from Pocatello, whom I helped with some blister issues at the 100k back in June at the 40 mile aid station, and Jodi from Salt Lake. It was a great, relaxing afternoon.
I typically get pretty worked up before events: anxiety, low appetite, I get really quiet because on the inside my thoughts are racing and my heart is pounding. It was great to be around such a nice, positive, energetic group of people prior to the race. And I ate well at the pot-luck dinner that we had at camp.
It rained all night. I had a few drips through my tent, but ended up sleeping fairly well. Got down to the start line at 5:55 am to check in (start time 6am) and Ty Draney, the race director, said, "I didn't want to have to cuss you! [for showing up late... ]" Sorry Ty! I said some morning hellos and looked down at my wrist to start my GPS watch and dang! I had left it in the tent. Seems I would be running this race "by feel".
As it turned out, I didn't feel great for the first 12 or so miles of the course. You see, I'm not a morning person. I think it must have taken me nearly the full 4 hours to get to the half-way (turn around) point to actually wake up. I did run with my friend Ann for a lot of the first part of the course, until she ditched me a couple miles out from the aid station at the turn around. Lane was captain at that aid station at mile 15 and told me, in a nutshell, that I looked like hell. Thanks, buddy. Ann was there, too, and gave me some words of encouragement. I knew in my heart that I would have a good second half of the race, but it didn't hurt to hear confirmation from her, as well. (She ended up dropping out because of a nagging injury sustained in a race two weeks prior.)
Lane fed me and got me to drink some fluids. I took about 10 minutes to sit at the picnic table at the aid station and then decided it was time to start moseying up the road. I continued to eat a little bit as I moseyed next to the rushing Swift Creek river.
I got to the horse packers' aid station and grabbed a few chips and some "magic elixir" (Mtn Dew, mixed with water and nuun electrolyte tablet) and passed Corey, one of the HUMRs. I made it up to Corral Creek lakes and passed Jim, another HUMR. I got to the high school cross country kids at the next aid station and took some more magic elixir. Somewhere in that stretch, I passed Forrest, who said, "I thought you were already ahead of me!" Nope... just pacing myself... I passed Kember and her husband, and she took some photos of me (thanks Kember!). I got to the top of the climb above Corral Creek and knew that I only had three and a half miles to go: all downhill.
I must have run that last 3 miles in about 30 minutes. I was smelling the barn (and the cheeseburgers) and it smelled good. I got to the last creek crossing and let out a sigh of relief! Through the campground, tossed my pack on the ground, sprinted the last quarter mile to the end: cheers from the crowd.... Aaaahhhh!!!! Finished. Hugs all around. Smiles. A great race.
As I hung out with my friend Ann at the finish line, we told stories, laughed and cheered other finishers across the line. We ate cheeseburgers. We drank beers and huckleberry sodas.
Time ticked on and on: 9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours... and Ann's husband still was out on the course. It was his first 50k. Where was he? Was he ok? We decided to move up the road, start packing up camp, and wait for him to emerge from the woods. Thank goodness when he finally came, he had a smile on his face. "That was a hard race!" Yes, yes it was. And beautiful, too. We went for margaritas and Mexican food in town after the race. If you haven't been to Agave in Afton, Wyoming, I highly recommend it. The margarita pictured is the medium size. Yes, there is one even larger than that on the menu. They do not do things small in Wyoming.
Thanks, Afton. In the words of the HUMRs: Best Race Ever #BRE.
Photos by: myself, Ann Hilton, Kember Pollington, and Kolby Tyler