Wednesday, March 26, 2014

24 Hours of Utah 100K

This was going to be a long drive, so I decided to make a really quick trip out of it on my own, instead of dragging the family along and having them suffer in the car.  I wasn’t even sure I was going to run the 24 Hours of Utah 100K until a few days earlier.  I waited to see how I would do at the Run Through Time Marathon the previous weekend; adequate – not as well as I would have liked, but no shin, hip, or other physical issues.  I then carefully broached the subject with my wife and she approved.  I always feel guilty deserting my family, but at least this time Spring Break was just a few days later and we would spend some quality time together then.

So I left work a little early on Friday afternoon and hit the road, hoping that I could make it to the start area before it got too dark.  I normally wouldn’t care, but having never been to that specific area, I had no idea how easy it would be to find.  Turns out, it would have been easy enough even if I had arrived in the middle of the night.  It’s a huge, obvious parking lot, and there were at least a couple of dozen vehicles there overnight.

I ate on the drive, listened to an audio book about the next 100 years of advancements in physics, made one very quick potty stop, and got to the start just as the sun was setting at 7:30.  There was no check-in, or anything else to be done.  I chatted for a few minutes with a guy named Ray.  I later found out that he was the infamous “Hawaiian shirt Ray”, who I have seen at a few races, including the previous weekend’s Run Through Time in Salida.

Before it got too dark, I took a quick picture looking out towards the course and posted it on my Facebook page, surprised at the good cellular reception I was getting.  A short while later, as I was settling in to the back of my car for a night of much needed sleep, I did a quick Facebook check.  Rachel StClaire posted “Looks a lot like my view”, with the same view of the course, from a slightly different spot in the parking lot.  Turns out that on a last-minute whim, she decided to come out to this race, squeezed between two 50 mile weekends, and registered for the 100 miler!  How funny.  Though she didn’t finish the 100 miler, racing 50, 37, and 50 miles, three weekends in a row is pretty darn impressive.  It was great to see her at the start and at various times throughout the day.

With some morning cloud-cover, start time temperatures were not nearly as cold as I had expected.  I started out with a light weight long sleeve top, which I ditched after the first partial lap.  The 100K course consisted of a 1.46 mile out, then back to the start, then 11 laps of 5.37 miles.  Each lap alternated directions, like a washing machine, making the repetition quite bearable.  Given the alternating directions, individuals loosing track of the “correct” direction, combination of distances (50K, 100K, 100M, 24 hours), and solo’s and teams, it was absolutely impossible to tell one’s position.

During the first partial lap, I started running with “Hawaiian shirt Ray”, who I had chatted with the previous night, except that since he was then dressed in street clothes, it took quite a few minutes to figure out it was the same guy.  I also ran and chatted a bit with Junko Kazukawa.  The three of us wound up alternating positions repeatedly over the first few laps as we were running close to the same pace, but taking varied amounts of time back at the start area.

Turns out Junko was also from the Denver area and is going to run Leadville this summer as part of the Leadwoman series.  She was using this race as a warm up for the Mount Fuji 100 miler next month.

Though a short-loop course like this is clearly repetitive, the scenery was absolutely stunning.  We ran around two beautiful buttes, with magnificent views of sandstone creations (both up-close, and many in the far off distance), and the snow-covered La Salle Mountains on the horizon.  There was plenty of diversity for the feet also; some sections of sandy road, rocky trail, and soft, sandy areas that really kept the feet and the body well occupied.  But more than half of the distance was on slick rock; though hard as concrete, the unevenness of the surface reduced the overall impact on the body.  I did notice the following day that my lower back was a bit tighter than usual, probably due to a bit of pounding from running the downhill sections on the hard slick rock.

Cloud-cover the whole morning kept the temperature perfect – I was able to run shirtless, but needed gloves to keep my hands warm.  By noon, the clouds parted and the sky quickly cleared.  The light brought out the spectacular colors of the sandstone, but sunny with temps in the mid 60’s is warmer than I prefer.  The constant breeze throughout the day kept things comfortable, but also covered all my gear back at base camp in a fine layer of sand.  I had to dust everything off on each return, and the shopping bag that had some of the smaller items in it was just full of sand by the end.

It took a bit of mental concentration to go out in the correct direction on each lap and pretty much on every lap there was some section where I almost went off course.  Everything just looked so different each time around; the lighting changed, my pace, people I was running with, etc.  Running another 7 laps for the 100 miler might have been too much, but the 100K was just fine.  It was definitely convenient to have the aid station with all my gear every hour or so.  I only needed a single bottle, which was a good thing since right before the start I realized that the second bottle I brought had a defective valve and would have splashed all over me while running.

As with the last 100K, I wound up eating much less than I had anticipated.  I started out pretty much on schedule, but as fatigue and dehydration caused some nausea and general loss of appetite, it became harder and harder to eat.  I used a couple of peanut butter packs, Honey Stinger wafers, gels and Perpetuem tablets.  I also indulged in quite a few donut holes at the aid station; simple, store-bought, powdered donut holes, but they tasted marvelous.  I must have eaten half the box they had.  I later found out that one of the volunteers actually bought more when he went into town just because I had raved about them.  They also had some great baked potatoes sprinkled with salty spices and lots of handfuls of Doritos and other chips.  I used up quite a few salt capsules and for the first time, tried a pickle; anything to increase the salt intake.

With about 1½ laps to go, this runner coming in the opposite direction says to me “Hey, I think you’re in the lead for the 100K”.  “No way” I respond.  “You better not be getting me excited for nothing”.  As I went into the start for the penultimate time, this gal was coming out, who I had seen a few times already and always seemed to be just a few minutes ahead.  I asked her if she was running the 100K and she said yes.  I started thinking quickly.  If I spent less than a minute at the aid station and pushed the whole way through the last lap, I might have a chance to catch her.  Given how I had been feeling for the past couple of hours (combination of nausea and fatigue), I quickly decided against it.  I had also been planning to rush over to my car and grab my phone so that I could take some pictures of this last lap, as the sun was getting low and the light was perfect.

I hadn’t kept track of my lap times until the previous one, so I now knew that a sub-24 hour finish was almost in the bag – as long as I didn’t completely blow up.  I took a couple of minutes at the aid station to rehydrate, munch on some salty chips, and grab my phone.  Then I headed out, figuring that 1st place male, 2nd overall, wouldn’t be all too bad.  I pushed as much as my body would take by this point in the race, but I also snapped a few shots during the uphill walk breaks.  It was tough, and I was thoroughly exhausted, but it was also pretty cool being cheered on by Ray and Junko, as they were running in the opposite direction.

I made my way around the loop and managed to sprint the final ½ mile at a sub 9 minute pace, crossing the finish line in 11:48:24 – a 100K PR by over 21 minutes!  There were lots of congratulations from the race staff, volunteers and spectators.  After a minute of catching my breath, I asked about my placement.  With a few re-reads of their computer screens, they declared “I think you came in first”.  “No way” I responded.  “What about the gal who came in a few minutes ahead of me?”  They looked around quizzically.  Apparently, she was part of a relay team.  The only other solo 100K woman was Junko who was still out on the course, and would ultimately finish 2nd overall.

I did it – First Place!  Granted, there were only 9 solo runners in the 100K, and only 7 finishers, but hey, I’m not going to lessen the occasion with details like that.  I also felt good about running relatively consistent laps, varying by a maximum of 13 minutes.  The first full lap was the fastest, at 56 minutes and the second to last lap was the slowest, at 1:09.  And much of that variation was due to varying times spent at the aid station, refueling, or visiting the port-a-potty.

The sun was setting, the temperature was in the 50’s and windy, so within a minute of finishing, I put on a long sleeve jersey.  A couple of minutes after that, I went to my car and put on pants and a thick, hooded sweatshirt, before returning to the aid station to start the refueling process.  My body shut down so quickly once I stopped running that by the time I grabbed a drink and some pasta, less than 10 minutes after finishing and despite the fact that I was now well clothed (including the hood over my head), I started to shiver uncontrollably.  I went into the tent by the finish line to get out of the wind, but that didn’t help much.  A woman soon took pity on my declining state and draped a blanket around my shoulders as someone else brought me a chair and then covered me up with a sleeping bag.  Just then, they also got the propane heater lit in the tent and within a few minutes the shivering stopped.  It took a few more minutes for the nausea to dissipate.  I slowly drank Ginger Ale and munched on chips before I dared any real food.

I really wanted to stick around and cheer on my new running friends, Ray and Junko, but I was also feeling guilty about being away from my family for so long.  I said many thank you’s to all those who helped during and after the race and climbed in my car for the long drive towards home.  Getting back out of the car, 5½ hours later was less than pleasant, as the muscles seized up considerably.

This was my first race with Gemini Adventures and I think they put on a great event.  They could make some minor improvements.  Posting a map of the course and the start area would be helpful for new comers.  Posting live standings as you come through the start on each lap would be pretty cool.  One of their guys had a four-prop helicopter drone with a camera.  He didn’t get to use it much due to the high winds, but I think that’s an awesome idea.  Having free photos and an aerial video would be much cooler than just another race shirt to fill up the closet.  I would also vote for a buckle for the 100K and above.

These are pretty minor suggestions, though.  Overall it was an excellent race.  Great job, Gemini.

Garmin file: