Sunday, August 4, 2013

Grand Mesa Ultra - 2013

What an adventure! Grand Mesa Ultra (my 3rd 50 miler in the past 4 weeks).

Projected time – 9:00
Actual time – 9:40

The whole family went to Grand Mesa (the largest flat topped mountain in the world) and we camped out at Cobbett Lake.

We got there right around 5:00 on Friday and I was able to check in with a few minutes to spare before the pre-race meeting. Weather report – 2 inches of snow the week before, highs in the low 70’s and 60% chance of rain in the afternoon for race day. Wildlife report – over the past few days, 2 black bears and a mountain lion, in addition to the typical herds of cattle. They raffled off a few bottles of wine and bags of coffee. The whole feel was that of a small, cozy, local race, though it was very well managed. There were 31 registered for the 50, and less than 100 total for all 3 distances.

The girls were elated when the talking was over and the dinner began - pasta salad, corn on the cob, very good cookies (of which I had about a dozen (carbo-loading)), and lemonade to wash it down with. After dinner, we made the short drive down to our campsite. I set up the tent while Brenda and the girls went exploring. When I was done, Amy took me out for a walk so Brenda and Kirstyn could prep for my pre-birthday festivities. When we got back, the tent was decorated with store-bought and home-made banners and in the middle was a loaf of pumpkin bread, with a candle. It was awesome!

The forecast called for lows around 50 and it felt pretty chilly. I had to get up 3 times due to my great job of pre-hydrating. Brenda kept piling layers on top of her, and right before I got up, Kirstyn came over and snuggled in with Brenda to warm up.

I woke up before the alarm went off. Getting ready in a tent, trying not to wake the family was a little different. I did all right, except I was a bit lite with the runners lube in some of the private areas (I paid for that mistake after the race). Given all their support and sacrifices, I didn’t want to wake them up at 4:00 AM to drive me, so I walked the 1.25 miles to the start. The moon was out and there was no traffic on the road other than a dozen or so cars that were also headed to the race.

Having a single port-a-potty at the start of a race would normally be a huge problem, but due to the small number of runners, I didn’t even have to wait, and the line never got more than three people. I was going to start out with a long sleeve jersey and gloves, but despite shivering in the tent ½ an hour earlier, at the last minute I decided to ditch them. That turned out to be a good decision as I would have been overheating pretty quickly.

The gun went off, and we started under the stars at 5:00 AM. Within a mile, we had spread out somewhat and I was running with about a half dozen others when we missed a turn. We only went down the wrong trail a couple of hundred yards, ducking under a fallen tree and stopping at another trail intersection before we realized our mistake. We quickly turned around and headed back up the trail but unfortunately, the young gal in front of me forgot to duck when going back under the fallen tree. Whack! Her head hit the tree, her knee popped backwards, her ankle rolled under her, and she was sprawled out on the ground. One guy volunteered to run back to the parking lot we just ran through to get help. I volunteered to stay with the gal and the others continued on with their race.

She didn’t appear to have a concussion and after a few minutes, I helped her up. Despite wincing in pain, she was able to hobble on up to the main trail with my assistance. Once we got there, she was limping reasonable well and insisted I could leave her, so I did, figuring I had gained some good karma by helping. By that time, I was DFL (Dead F’n Last). I slowly wove my way through much of the pack as the sun made its way up over the horizon. Ultra runners, even more so than other runners, are a collegial, gracious bunch. This morning was the first time I had ever run into an ultra jerk. Most runners stepped out of the way and allowed me to pass when they noticed me catch up. With a few, I very politely asked them if I could get by when it was convenient. This one guy, with a wide brimmed hat, responded by pointing down at the tall grass and rocks alongside the narrow trail and grumpily stating “go whenever you want”. I hopped off the trail, around him, and back on, thinking “wow, what an ass”.

We climbed up to the Crag Crest, an incredible (and narrow) volcanic rock ridge that we ran along for a number of miles. Most of the ridge was just“visually” narrow, but there were a few sections where a fall off the trail would have meant a long, vertical fall, to the valley below. The views were spectacular. The Columbine and other wildflowers were amazing. I didn’t care much about the time I had lost earlier and was just enjoying the moment. Between the darkness, the climb, and the rocky trail along the top, this section turned out to be much slower than I had anticipated. Sometimes the topo profile can be very deceiving.

Surprisingly, I made it back to the start/finish only 17 minutes behind my goal time. That gave me a bit of a boost, so I downed a can of Coke and headed on out.

The next 3.5 miles were more difficult than I had anticipated. The course followed a snowmobile trail, which is smooth and gently rolling when there’s 5’ of snow on it. Today, the rocky terrain was covered with tall grasses and shrubbery, yet I kept having to take my eyes off the ground to see where the next marker was. Despite all of this, I made up 5 minutes by the time I got to the Mesa Top aid station, which I would have missed altogether if there wasn’t a teenager standing out there, pointing me in the right direction.

Once out of Mesa Top, I got onto an actual trail. It was awesome. Smooth, soft dirt under the feet, meandering through pine forest and out through giant fields of magnificent wildflowers. If that wasn’t enough, the trail eventually made its way over to the Mesa edge. Wow! It looked like I was on the edge of the earth. This section took about 1:30, and for all but the last 15 minutes, I was absolutely alone. I kept waiting to run upon a bear or moose and was coming up with colorful stories I could recount, assuming I survived the encounter.

I made it through the Flowing Park aid station after guzzling down a can of Coke, filling the bottles, and taking two cookies for the road. This was an even longer section of solitude through more incredible fields, aspens, and Mesa edge views. The Flowing Park loop was awesome, except that the pink ribbon course markers were gone for about 8 miles and the limited aid station was WAY further out than the course write-up had noted. I knew I was on the right trail for most of the way, but after a while, I started to have some doubts, especially as my bottles were running low. Luckily there were 3 mountain bikers out there, rolling along at a slow enough pace that I was able to catch up to them. This is where that good karma I had banked in the morning came in handy. They filled up one of my bottles with water, gave me a gel, and pointed me in the right direction at a trail intersection that would have taken me some time to figure out due to the lack of course markings.

After paring ways at the trail junction, I soon caught up to another runner. I started out with “how’d you like the lack of course markings” question, but unfortunately, the only word the guy could utter was “France”. Apparently, he didn’t speak a single word of English.

Pretty soon, we came across the limited aid station that I was expecting miles back. The two gals apologized but they were limited to where they had trees to shade their horses, as everything was packed in. I filled the bottles, and quickly moved on as I was feeling much better now that I knew where I was. I passed a couple of more runners before getting back to the Flowing Park aid station. As there were still runners heading into the loop, I stopped a few times to warn them to fill up on fluids and expect a lack of course markings.

The aid station had ice! I got a cup full and proceeded to down a full can of Coke in addition to a club soda. Boy did that feel good after the long stretch in the hot sun. I felt great as I headed out and was told I was in 5th or 6th place. However, the sun and miles at 10,000’+ had taken their toll and I slowed down considerably before reaching the last aid station at Mesa Top. I did a good bit of walking on even the most minor inclines. I was pretty worn by the time I stumbled into the last aid station. I was enjoying some very refreshing club soda on ice when the volunteers informed me that I was actually in 3rd place! What a great surprise. But the elation I felt quickly melted away as I looked back and saw number 4 come out of the woods and towards the aid station. I quickly downed the rest of the drink, poured the remaining ice down the front of my shorts and shot out of there like a bat out of hell (assuming a bat out of hell stumbles along at a wimpy 4 mph).

Over those last 3.5 miles, the adrenaline rush kept me going, as I picked my way through grass, rocks and shrubs, constantly looking up for the next marker, and occasionally looking back over my shoulder, certain that I would be overtaken at any moment.

Number 4 never caught up. After what seemed like an eternity, I came upon the finish line and best of all, Brenda and the girls were a hundred feet ahead of the line, so I got to cross with both girls running alongside of me. 3rdplace on my birthday! It doesn’t get much better than that. My first ever podium finish. I felt a little cheated in that they didn’t have an actual podium for me to stand on, but then again, after 50 miles, it would have had to have been an ADA accessible podium for me to get up.

The Grand Mesa Ultra is by far the most spectacular race course I’ve run yet. I would definitely do it again, especially as a last hard training race, 3 weeks before Leadville. Having done the course once (I hope they don’t change it next year) would really help. It’s quite different than the Silver Rush, where there were 20 times more finishers and I was never alone for more than a few minutes. Normally, I wouldn’t like that much solitude, but the course was so beautiful and downright interesting that it was worth it.

Garmin Connect (partial course)

No comments:

Post a Comment