26 July 2011

Grand Mesa 100 Race Report: Part 2 of 2

At the finish with race directer, Phil (yes, I wanted to ask him to sing "Sharp dressed man")
(continued from part 1 here)

While I sat at the Kannah Creek aid station at 6,000 feet at around mile 51 of the Grand Mesa 100, I pondered the task of climbing back up to over 10,000 feet.  The climb alone was significant and I had this image in my mind of the trail, envisioning something akin to dry, rocky, open switchbacks.  I like to spend time creating races in my mind before they take place.  I announced to the aid workers that I was heading out.  Amidst cowbells and cheers of encouragement, I gave a limp wave and half-turned to smile and then I trotted up the road to the trailhead.

Quickly, I realized this trail was not going to bend or morph into the vision of it that I had created.  It was 95 degrees with the mid afternoon sun boring into my skin.  I was already sucking water from my hydration tube and was barely 100 meters onto the trail.  This was going to be tough.  I started running the numbers through my head, "Hell, at one mile per hour it'll take me SIX hours to get to the top; 9:30pm!"  I shoved that thought process aside and came up with a plan that I would allow myself to sit on a rock (in shade if I could find it) every 1,000 feet climbed.  I looked at my altimeter - 6,041.  It was agonizingly slow going.  The "trail" basically just follows a deep "V" cut by water runoff into the side of the mountain, so the footing is never level but at a 45 degree angle twisting the feet sideways with each step.  It goes through a burn area, so it's open and exposed.  The undergrowth is thick though and filled with spiny tall plants with needles that caused me to yelp every couple of minutes.  It was miserable, no footing, crawling through vegetation that was prickly, stiff, harsh, hotter than a two peckered billy goat stapled to blacktop.  I felt like I was suffering through the Barkley race, only hotter.  I look at my altimeter - 6,272 feet… Oh My GOD!  I thought about turning around but the only thing keeping going was the faint knowledge that it would be nearly 30 degrees cooler at the top.  I quit looking at my watch and just suffered through the climb, not even talking to myself anymore, just slogging one slow step at a time with my head down.  

Amazingly, the top finally came and there was a rustic aid station, just water, really, set up.  I sat on the road at the top and gulped water, ate a gel and chatted with the two folks there.  They advised me that the two guys who had been sort of working together behind me were at the aid station at the bottom just 25 mins after I was there.  They were gaining on me but now I was back to realistic running ground and made up for the 2.5 hour, 5 mile slog to the top.  I ran the whole 3 miles to the next real aid station (Lands End), spent just enough time there to empty my shoes of the thousand pickers, burrs, bugs, and rocks I picked up on the climb and was off down the road headed to Anderson Lake aid station at mile 65.  

From Anderson Lake, it's a ten mile out and back to Mesa Lakes aid station.  On the run out we go through marsh with sections of water up to my calves.  It got dark while I was running to Mesa Lakes.  I grabbed some soup there and headed back.  I checked the time so I could gage my lead over the two guys behind me and was a little startled to cross with them just eight mins after I left Mesa.  16 min lead.  The adrenaline kicked in and I ran every step back to Anderson aid station (mile 75 now).  I just yelled out my number and kept going.

I entered another marsh field.  There was one reflective marker, so I ran to it through the calf-deep marsh/mud/reeds.  I scanned the perimeter with both my headlamp and shitty handheld light on full beams, nothing there.  Then I caught a glimpse of flash from a reflector twisting in the light breeze and ran to that one.  And that was it.  There was no other markers for as far as my beams could pick up.  I could see the black shadow of the tree line around the marsh and scanned that whole line 360 degrees, nothing.  I looked back at the last and only two markers and tried to determine a logical line they created and I moved forward in that line constantly scanning the horizon.  I started getting cold, especially walking through the water, teeth chattering.  This was bad.  My race was probably over due to something stupid like no markers.  Since I was in first place, there was no trail, no indication of where to go.  I just wandered around for over an hour.  I found places where grass and weeds were bent over and followed that.  Then I felt my shorts rip and realized I ran into a marker holding rod sticking up out of the ground with no marker on it (it caught my bib number and ripped it off my shorts but I didn't notice the missing bib).  I wandered over a ridge and saw three markers in a row across a dirt road and ran to them.  I said "thank you, thank you, thank you" out loud.  I was getting concerned with not only being hopelessly lost but also freezing, so I was happy, to say the least, to be on the course running to get warmer and knowing I'd be at Carson Lake aid station soon.

When I reached Carson they knew I'd been lost due to the extreme duration since I left Anderson Lakes.  I told them about the markers an that they needed to contact the race director to get out there.  I ate some soup, borrowed a long sleeve shirt and headed out for the last 20 miles.  I reached Flowing Park aid station at mile 86.  You have to run all the way around a lake to get to it, so you can see far behind you if anyone is close.  I saw no headlights while I gulped down soup at the station.  I borrowed duct tape and taped my ankle where my shoes had dug through the skin and taped my toe that was hurting and then headed back out.  The last 14 miles were sadistic 4x4 "roads" with half buried rocks and boulders lining the entire way, so I couldn't get into any sort of rhythm.  I just sort of scampered up and around rocks, constantly climbing all the way to the finish.  I kept looking over my shoulder for anyone sneaking up but never saw anything.  It was pretty miserable the last couple hours but I knew the finish would come soon.  I had been off course at least four times throughout the race, adding at least 9 miles on, so I focused and took my time to make sure every turn was correct to the finish.

I finished in 25:06, fell asleep in the back of my car for an hour, took a photo with Phil at the finish line, and drove home.  The end.
These are your shoes.

These are your shoes on ultras.

The shirt and ceramic finisher's medal.  Pretty nice goodies for just 33% of the entry fee at Western States


  1. Awesome... as always. "hotter than a two peckered billy goat stapled to blacktop" I'm from Kansas farm country and that one got me. Well done.

  2. It is easy to gloss over the various problem solving that you do here when reading this. Lost for an hour, duct taped feet ... sheesh.

  3. Has anyone ever worn Hokas and had good luck during a race?

  4. Thanks men.
    Brownie. Getting lost was part of everyone's race. No luck involved (though I'll be wearing different shoes at Leadville, only because my hokas are worn out!)

  5. You'll need some kind of Usain Bolt track spikes for the second half of Leadville.

  6. Oh, I'm going all tarahumara - barefoot with just silver speedos. You better just hang on for the blistering 12 min/mile pace.

  7. Or you could run 100 miles barefoot:

  8. Nice one! Maybe you should pick some less than sadistic hell races for next year??? No way to "train" for that heat effect - at least you weren't the poor billy goat stapled to the blacktop ;-)

    BTW, if you come into the aid station at PB in a silver speedo, we're crewing Darren :-Q

  9. Steve and Kathleen, you haven't seen what I'm going to wear yet!

  10. Fantastic race and another awesome recap, thanks! Congratulations on another super achievement. You are a huge inspiration to me.

  11. Superb Tim! That race has vague interest for me, but I'm not sure I'd like to be lost that long! Way to stick it out and get the W!

  12. Awesome job, Tim. Great report.

    I did the 50 (54) there last year, which was brutal enough. Lumpy trails, aid stations not set up (we had to wait for the horses and riders to arrive, then unload water), marking issues, and worst of all, the dropoff and climb back up 7 miles from the finish. Picture the Kannah dropoff and climb, just not near as long and not quite as extreme. That sure is a tough, memorable race. Just remember- mosquitos are your friends.