Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Friday, January 11, 2019
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
This was the inaugural year for Sean “Run Bum” Blanton’s epic Ute 100-mile trail run in the seldom-visited La Sal Range of southeast Utah. I’ve roamed the canyons and trails of SE Utah a dozen times over the last twenty years but before last weekend I’d never set foot in the La Sal’s. They beckon from Moab and Blanding and from the canyon rims across the desert—majestic, snow-covered, and promising of cool respite from the desert heat. I met Sean last summer in Moab when he was planning this race. I caught his enthusiasm for the course and told him, “I’ll run your race.”
We started at 3 AM with headlamps running up a gravel road. Stupidly I hadn’t put fresh batteries in my headlamp, so I struggled with the terrain in my low light for the three hours before dawn. I had a set of fresh batteries, but it would have taken too long to replace them in the dark.
Running alongside Will Carlton and his friend, the friend talked about breaking the run up into 33-mile segments, each about eight hours, in order to get a sub 24-hour finish. When he enthused about the possibility of picking it up at the finish I scoffed. You don’t pick it up at the finish of a 100. I was wrong. Somehow, I had too much left at the end and fairly flew over those last four miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first aide station at about 15 miles arrived about 7 AM followed by a short out and back that showed where we were in the race. Familiar faces from our small ultrarunning family. A lot of them were unknown to me though, because Sean Blanton, well-known in the East for his challenging courses and meticulous organizational skills, brought a lot of his fans out west to see this new course.
At the next aide station, 26 miles along, we picked up the first of three drop bags. Time for sun screen, hat, sunglasses, and a can of Starbucks Double-shot Espresso coffee. I was surprised to see Will Carlton sitting in a chair upon my arrival. I thought he would have been farther ahead. He left before I did, but I caught up to him again after the third aide station about 35 miles in. We ran and walked and talked the miles away leading up to crux of the race, a steep climb to the highest point on the course--Mann’s Peak at 12,272’. I remarked on the fine trail building skills of whoever made the trail up this peak—nice easy grade, water bars to get the water off the trail, and when the trail got steeper, some excellent stone stairs. I could tell that the Forest Service took great pride in their trails here. Great trails, beautiful scenery. Too many cows though, fouling up the streams and leaving their cow pies to accidentally step in. Yuck.
I struggled with the ascent of Mann’s Peak and had to let Will go on. Step by slow step I gradually got up to the top. My old nemesis, Nausea came on strong. I threw up five times on the summit. Dizzy and spent I couldn’t muster up the energy to run down. I walked the steep switchbacks down until the trail flattened out more. Only 40 miles into the run and I was toast.
I spent some time at the next aide station, resting, drinking, tried to eat something, got some crackers for the road and set off on the next segment, an infuriating mountain bike trail through scrub brush and desert that seemed like it went in circles. It was hot. So hot. I mostly walked, but was able to walk 17-minute miles. At the next unmanned water-station I came on Will again. He was in sorry shape. He had a pacer, but she couldn’t seem to get him motivated. There were popsicles though! Wow. The little things matter halfway into a 100-mile run.
Shortly after we left that aide station was the last time I saw Will. Later I found out that he dropped. I had reception on my cell phone and texted Rebekka that I was hot and spent. She texted back, “Are you done?” No, I replied. I’m going to finish.
I had seen somewhere that the next aide station was at 56 miles and I fixated on that for my goal as I slowly made my way. I thought I could make it there before 8 PM and before it got dark. Coming off the hated “Jimmy Keene” mountain bike trail onto a gravel road there was a race vehicle with a man offering water. When he said there were three miles to go to the next aide station I protested, “My watch says 1.5 miles!” The next aide station was at 57.5 miles, not 56. So hard! I decided that I was going to take a nap when I got there. I did lay down, but gave up on sleep because it was too noisy. I still spent nearly an hour in the aide station before embarking on the 6.5 mile “Miner’s Loop” that brought me back to the same aide station.
The longest climb of the day was next. 3200’ elevation gain--starting on a gravel road, followed by a seemingly endless single track. I played leap frog with two groups—one man and woman, and another group of a woman and two men. Both groups were hiking faster than me, but when they stopped for breaks I would go by them. As I passed each group I told them that I was the tortoise. We all reached the top about the same time. Relentless forward progress is the ultrarunner’s mantra. Just keep going.
Pressing on through the night at one aide station I asked what the cutoff time was. I was four hours ahead of cutoff time. Later, upon finally reaching La Sal Pass, the last full aide station at mile 80, I was a mere hour and a half ahead of the cutoff. Yikes! The good news came when the aide station captain told me I only had 15 miles to the finish line. Maybe 15.5 she hedged. It turned out to be 16 miles by my watch, but close enough!
Downhill for five miles of easy runnable trail before another very steep climb of 1500’ in a mere two miles—two 39-minute miles. Ouch. Coming down off the highpoint the trail was full of rocks and hard to run. I ran a lot of it, but was dismayed by how slow the miles were—18 or 19-minute miles downhill? Finally reached the easy gravel road to the finish line with about four miles to go. I could see someone a quarter of a mile ahead walking. What the heck? Let’s go! I started running. Feels good. Let’s let fly! I’m rolling it up! 10-minute miles. I’m passing runners. One guy was running. I passed him and he tried to track behind me. That lasted about ten seconds. I was flying! I ran my second to the last mile in 9:41, my fastest mile of the race. I recalled looking at my watch early in the race after the first mile and seeing 10:14 thinking that would be my fastest mile. Wrong.
I came in just under 37 hours. Not a fantastic time, and as Rebekka pointed out I got chicked by an “old lady” of 64. Good for her. I’m learning how to finish these things. That’s what’s important. On to the next challenge. This coming weekend is the Pikes Peak Marathon. This will be my tenth time running that iconic race if I can recover enough in time.