July 10, 2013

Pocatello 50 - A Beautiful Suffer

After countless trips to California (why does the Golden State have a monopoly on competitive races) and passing through the beautiful city of Pocatello, ID, I have had my eye on the Pocatello 50.  The mountains are beautiful and I've only seen what is visible from the highway.  In theory the 50 mile race must be incredible.  Long story short, the beginning of this year has not gone to plan.  Due to abundant rain and unseasonably warm weather the pollen levels in Missoula has been unusually high.  For the past several years I have struggled with allergies that fester and turn into sinus infections.  At the beginning of the year I signed up for Chuckanut 50k and Leona Divide 50m.  Despite being very fit I ended up racing neither due to sinus infections days before each race.  Luckily I was able to scramble and sign up for Gorge Waterfalls and Pocatello.  I didn't prepare for either but showed up with a open mind and let things play out.  Gorge went amazing Pocatello did not.

Pocatello was great, easy 9 hr drive, camping at the start line and relaxing with friends from Missoula the night before.  That is not a typical pre-race for me.  Normally we leave after work at 5pm and drive several hours into the night and then drive several more hours the next day.  Then we cruise into the campground or hotel after dark and get a couple hours of shut eye before the alarm goes off.  Unfortunately, I made a really dumb decision to sleep in the back of our Jeep instead of our spacious tent.  The Jeep is just long enough to lay down but not quite long enough to stretch all the way out.  Of course I forgot that Lisa likes to roll over, talk, elbow, punch and pull your sleeping bag away from you throughout the night.  So for most of the night I found myself shivering in the back of the Jeep, huddled in the corner in a very awkward position with no pillow and with 1/4 of my sleeping bag covering me.  Lisa on the other-hand slept like a baby with all of our  gear surrounding her!  Ultra lesson number 647 - no matter how cold it is outside do not sleep in a Jeep before races especially when Lisa is present.

Who cares - sleep the night before doesn't really matter right?  Ten second count down and we are off.  We follow the road for a short bit and then bank hard left on to the trails.  I settle in behind Mike Wolfe and prepare myself for the excitement of a long day of climbing and descending 50 miles of brand spanking new trails.  Yes!   Mike and I separate from the field and we are cruising and talking.  I had been looking forward to running with Mike for a while and was excited to see how this race would play out.  Then at mile 4 of a 52+ mile race I started feeling, what no one wants to feel this early on a mountainous 50 miles course, fatigue and hamstring tightness.  My initial thought was 'this makes no sense and wont last'.  We are running easier then my normal run pace and I'm out of breath and my hamstrings are killing me.  I had no choice but to stop, let Mike and all of my plans go, and regroup for what I knew could be a very longgggg day.  It reminded me of college when you were starting a difficult anaerobic workout and your were feeling horrible on the first of twelve intervals.  Buckle up!  You have no choice but to dive inward and prepare to suffer.  Just ignore the pain and the fact you still have 49 miles to go....  Fortunately the Pocatello mountains were in full bloom - I diverted my attention to the beautiful wild flowers and scenery that engulfed the smooth single track.  

Mike slowly faded into the distance as the wheels fell off.  The climb up Knife's ridge was insane.  I spent more time pulling cacti needles out of my foot than running.  I was warned about this climb beforehand but I have rarely experienced a climb that I could not run.  At this point Mike was still visible a few hundred feet above me.  At the summit is where things went from bad to worse.  Someone had removed the flagging and I spent the next 15 min off course following a jeep road over a steep decent.  Not only was I off course but I managed to pull a few others with me.  Eventually I regrouped with my friend Justin Angle and we spotted co-race director Jared Campbell's bright green t-shirt way off in the distance.  I figured Mike was now 20+ minutes ahead of me and the race was all but over.  Mike ended up off course here as well but I wouldn't find that out until after the finish.  The long downhill to City Creek aid station was brutal on my tight hamstrings.  Ben Lewis and Justin dusted me on this section.  RD Luke Nelson asked if I was feeling flat .  I lied and told him I felt fine - trying to convince myself that I was.  Sorry Luke!  

Shortly after Mink Creek I caught back up to Justin.  I told him I was struggling well and was trying to forget the off-course shenanigans.  He gave me the best advice of the day - "there's still a lot of wood to chop".  Honestly those words kept me going during my short stints in what Lisa and I refer to as "cranky town".  Here I was healthy, fit and with the chance to race hard with great competition on a beautiful and challenging mountain course but instead I was delicately jogging along with tight hamstrings ?#*!^@#!.  I just want to race!  When things go horribly wrong and I want to quit, I try to think about the people who are struggling to make the cutoffs.  If they are willing to continue and suffer for 12, 24, 36 hrs then i can suck it up and suffer too - so I did.

(this is ugly)

On the long descent back to Mink Creek I was very surprised that Justin, Kiefer and the rest of the field had not stormed past me yet.  With Scout Peak towering off in the distance and the mid day sun beating down I was nervous about that final loop. I kept waiting and waiting for the steep climbs to begin but they never came.  The climb up Scout was flat and relatively easy in my opinion.  At the 8,500+ ft summit you simply slide down snow packs and race back down the mountain through never ending switchbacks.  I underestimated how long it would take me to get down Scout and to the Big Fur aid station (mile 47).  My pack ran dry and I was at serious risk of bonking.  I swore I could hear voices at every switchback but the aid station never came.  Eventually I spilled out at the aid station and was surprised we only had 4 miles to the finish. 

For the first time all day I felt energized and was racing!  Somewhere on the ascent and descent of Scout my hamstrings loosened up and I was flying.  Most of those last 4 miles were clicking off at 6 min pace.  On the homestretch back to the finish line I started pushing 5:30 pace and my hamstrings seized up.  So much for racing.  I slowed her down and strolled in with a finish time of 8 hrs and 15 min.  Not bad for how tight my hamstrings were and the 15 min detour at the top of Knife's ridge.  Mike finished in an incredible 7 hrs  and 43 min! Justin and Keifer rounded out the top 4 Missoula sweep with finishing times of 8hrs 49min.

Despite the effort I am not satisfied with what unfolded. I am grateful for the opportunity to race the Pocatello 50 which had been on my radar for quite some time.  It was great to finally get off the interstate and run the trails of Pocatello.  The course was even more beautiful than I had imagined.  The flowers were in bloom and the views from the summits were incredible - endless peaks in all directions.  I look forward to coming back to the Pocatello 50 and being better prepared.  Now it is time for 100 mile training to begin!

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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.