Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This weekend we went to Grand Junction for the Spring Desert Ultra 50 mile race. We stayed with Kirk and Keith, who just moved from Crested Butte to Grand Junction, and we took the Buffaloes along for the road trip. It's been a while since we did a family trip, since last summer.

I ran the 25 mile version of this race last year, and I remembered thinking how hard the 50 would have been. I made a note to myself to run the 50 this year as a training run for Badwater.

I made myself as tired as I could possibly get in the week before. Last week I did 40 miles before leaving for Grand Junction, including 4 Rock Repeats. Add that to 3 long days at work, one of my shifts was 14-plus hours. My one day off before the race was Friday and I packed, ran 5 miles in the morning, and then we drove to Grand Junction. I didn't sleep much the night before the race, only about 5 hours.

I woke up about 3 am because I had to use the bathroom and then I didn't get back to sleep. Keith, Kirk, and I got our stuff together and left to drive out to the race at 5:30. This race starts at 6:30 am. Dennis wasn't running, he planned to take care of the dogs in the morning and then meet us all at the halfway point of the race. Keith was running the 25 mile race so she only had to do one loop. Kirk & I were both doing the 50.

It was still dark when we parked at the starting area. There was a long line for the portapotties, and I got in line, hoping there would be enough time. But I was amazed at the speed of the line, it went so fast. I was trying to figure out why, and then I realized I was one of the oldest people there. Looking around, the race was full of 20 and 30 year olds. At most of the ultras I'm used to, the average age is more like 50 to 60, sometimes older.

I finally figured out the answer to the problem of long waits in the lines for the portapotties at ultras! Start handing out Flomax and prune juice!

I felt exceptionally good in the first few hours of the race, I took off at a decent pace and felt strong running all morning. It was clear and warm, and by the time we got over the big first climb and dropped down to the shelf above the Colorado River, the sun was coming up over the mesa.

It was completely quiet except for the vultures and hawks flying around above us. The morning light was shining on the different shades of red in the sandstone cliffs, there was a lining of spring green leaves along the both sides of the river 500 feet below us, and there were dots of dark green juniper on the sides of the mesa. The light was falling on the river between the canyons and I had to keep stopping to look.

After the third aid station there is a long stretch of the Kokopelli trail that I remembered from last year to bring extra capacity for water. I remembered it being hot and a long way. I ran out of water on this stretch but I'd been well-hydrated, I was peeing every half hour. I got to the fourth aid station and started thinking through what I'd need to get out of my drop bags at the turnaround at 25 miles. It was getting warm.

Then I remembered that Dennis would be there, maybe he would have ice in the cooler. As I approached the turnaround I started to feel tired. My legs felt fine but my head felt fuzzy, I think it was sleep deprivation. I was having a hard time concentrating and remembering what I needed.

I arrived at the turnaround at 5 hours and 27 minutes, a half hour faster than I ran the 25 last year. Dennis was there with the cooler, and he had ice and COLD gatorade! I sat down and went through my drop bag, trying to remember the mental list I'd made on the way in. Then it seemed like all these people wanted to talk to me. I was afraid I'd leave the aid station without something important for the second half.

I felt super crabby and I snapped at everyone. I need to get my stuff and get out. I can't talk to you now. I felt like the biggest bitch but I was mad, tired, and I needed to concentrate on what I was doing and here comes everyone wanting to chat, distracting me. I thought, they're finished with their race but I'm only halfway. I felt super irritable, I was thinking, get out of my face! Keith told me later that I wasn't bad at all, but I felt like I was. I did thank Dennis for bringing the stuff, that was a lifesaver. I only spent 10 minutes in the aid station but it felt like forever.

Stuffing my face with crackers at the halfway point. I was hungry, tired and mean.

I ended up taking three iced water bottles with me, which was important. I forgot my carb boom gel, which was also important. I did remember to take some magnesium capsules and salty crackers. But I forgot to bring a lightweight shirt in case I was out late and it got cool. The best thing I did was to fill my ice bandana with ice cubes and wrapped it around my neck before I took off.

I took off and and ran down the road, the ice crunching and bouncing on my shoulders. By the time I got to the first climb I realized I had forgotten my gels. Damn! The variety of hammer gel flavors available at the aid stations gets worse as the race goes on. Vanilla hammer gel tastes like liquid cardboard, and I can only deal with so much chocolate and espresso flavored gel. My poor stomach. I was eating wind-dried, dust coated bananas, pretzels, and gel.

Nothing else sounded good. I tried a PBJ on a tortilla and it gave me the chills, I spit it out. I can do PBJ all day long on bread at work, but on a warm, dried out tortilla sitting for hours in the sun and wind at the aid station, UGH! I was still mad about forgetting my gels and a shirt for the evening. I felt extremely irritable. I stayed away from the other runners, passing them and running ahead, or purposely following them at good distance so I wouldn't have to interact.

It was getting warm and windy, and the dust was picking up with little dust devils. I had my hazmat hat on which has a chinstrap, fortunately, or I would have lost my hat. Everyone on the turnaround was complaining about the heat. I felt great, plus I had that little sack of ice around my neck. The temperatures were in the mid-70 range, but the rocks and dirt were hot. The ice on my neck lasted two and a half hours. In Badwater it would have lasted 5 minutes.

My legs felt fine and I ran a good portion of the second half. After I got through the aid station after the long stretch, I started to feel less irritable and started conversations with a few runners along the middle section. The wind was getting stronger and it was hard to run against it. Walking was easier above the river. I saw a lot of lizards. There were these cool looking lizards with brown heads, turquoise green bodies, and yellow feet. I saw a big one, and I thought maybe I was hallucinating, but then I saw another one later that looked just like it, so I'm pretty sure my head was still working.

I was concerned that I wouldn't make the time cutoff of 13 hours at the finish. I had told Dennis at the turnaround not to worry about me if I was pushing the time cutoff. I told Keith not to wait for me if they were hungry, that they should go get dinner and then come back to get me at the finish.

By ten hours into the race, the sun was starting to get lower and I knew I could make it in 13 hours, but I was worried that it would start to get cool and dark. I kept moving. When I got through the last aid station just before 11 hours, it was still warm. I had a good hour's worth of climbing ahead of me before the final descent. It's about a 2000 foot climb and descent in the last 6 miles. It felt like the never ending climb.

I was strong the whole way but I started to feel grumpy again. My stomach felt funny. I wasn't nauseated, on my well-balanced diet of vanilla, banana and chocolate hammer gel. Every time I thought I was at the top, I came around a bend and there were more switchbacks. I was ready for it to be over! Finally, I hit the top and I was on top of the mesa, on the cliff, looking down over a thousand feet below to more layers of cliffs and the river, and the wind was howling, blowing me from the side. Fortunately it was blowing me into the rocks instead of over the cliff!

I was in a bad mood again and I had to run down about a thousand feet on rocky switchbacks and loose dirt. I am not the greatest trail runner to begin with, and I was tired and having a hard time concentrating. I didn't trip too many times, but I was cautious, and that made my descent slower.

I figured I'd make the 13 hour cutoff just barely, and I didn't even care at that point if I officially finished under the cutoff, I was going to finish the distance anyway. I thought about what I accomplished this week and felt good. I got what I asked for. I wanted a tough, long race to make me push through my fatigue. I ran 90 miles, got 12,000 feet each of vertical climb and descent, I worked three long shifts, and didn't get any rest before the race. I thought about how tough Badwater will be, how tired I'll be at 90 miles, and how glad I will be that I did this in training.

That was enough to snap me out of my bad mood. My friend Snakebite always said when you finish a race close to the time cutoff, you're getting your money's worth.

As it turned out the descent was really fast. I finished in 12 hours, 30 minutes, and 18 seconds. Kirk, Keith and Dennis were at the finish line, yelling TOWANDA! and doing the wave. They had more cold gatorade and pizza.

finishing in 12 and a half hours, my slowest and toughest 50 mile race ever.

A few minutes after my finish, a cold gatorade and I'm ready for another loop. Kirk (center) finished a couple of hours earlier.

I didn't take any foot pictures this time, because my feet were good. No blisters. Just a little heat rash, but I had no pain and my muscles feel good. When I got out of the car at Kirk & Keith's house in Grand Junction, I was sunburned, dusty, and exhausted, but I could easily do more miles, I just needed some sleep. This is easy, compared to Badwater.

I did get elbow pictures. I completely fried my arms, this was the first time all year I haven't had my arms covered up, and only the third time I've run in shorts all year.

I can't be in bad shape after a week like this if the only things that hurt are my elbows. I feel ready to go out and hit the road again, but I'm forcing myself to take Sunday off.

Sunday on our way back we stopped in Glenwood Springs to see Ken. He is doing well since his move there from Grand Junction in January, and he's charged up about Badwater. I called Steph when we got home and we did some strategizing on the phone. Things are falling into place, I feel like I'm where I need to be with three months to go.

In May I'll be in the sauna four days a week, I have some long runs and races planned, some fundraising-related events, and I'll be busy. Right now anything that doesn't have to do with Badwater is "A.B."

That's After Badwater.

1 comment:

chrystal said...

Your Perseverance through the 50 mile run is admirable! Best of luck Alene as you train for Badwater!