Monday, September 20, 2010

Story Time with GSisler

4 down, none to go…
Done, 100% done, 400 miles run in 11 weeks and there isn’t another race coming up in 3 weeks. I’m done, and I’m ecstatic to be done. 400 miles is a long way. For a frame of reference, it’s the distance from San Francisco to Tahoe, and then back again. For those of you on the east coast, it’s New York to Boston and then back again. I have never finished a 100 miler and been more relieved to be done than I was at the end of the Wasatch 100. I would have been crushed if I hadn’t finished this one. Having already run 300 miles, to not finish the last of the four would have been a huge, huge blow, both physically and mentally. I would have felt like I hadn’t accomplished the goal that I had set out to do, and that would have sucked. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure at some point I would have looked back on the summer where I ran 3 – 100 milers in 8 weeks, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do the Grand Slam of Ultra Running and that meant finishing Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch. That’s what was on my mind as I tried, and failed, to fall asleep the night before Wasatch. What if I failed?
I had my A-team of crew/pacers lined up for this one (not that my other groups weren’t the A-team, but this threesome has run more miles with me than anyone else) as Jon, Shibby, and Shawna were all going to be there for the finale. Each year Shibby, Jon and I sign up for a different 100 mile run so that the other two can come and crew and then you don’t have to drag anyone else around for 24 hours (well in this case nearly 28 hours) of sleep deprivation and my complaining. It’s your own little crew/pacing team that knows you well. Shawna was there because she’s married to me, and she kind of had to be there. Plus, our anniversary was the day after the race finished and nothing says happy first anniversary like a 100 mile run! This is also the same crew that was there with me when I ran the Tahoe 100 mile race, I mean the Tahoe 76. That one didn’t end well as I managed to get hyponatremia and I actually have no recollection of the last 10 miles, or 6 hours of that race. I was hoping not to repeat the fun and games of that race.
The Wasatch 100 race is a tough, tough race. The other races of the Grand Slam allow you 30 hours to finish, this race you get 36 hours to finish. It’s not because the volunteers like to hang out for an extra 6 hours, it’s because the race is that much harder. Wasatch has 26,882 ft of climbing and 26,131 ft. of descending over technical terrain at altitudes between 4,880 ft and 10,450 ft. The race that’s the closest to this one of the four is the Western States, and that one “only” has 18,040 ft. of climbing and 21,970 ft. of decent. In other words, Wasatch is a real ass-kicker. Geoff Roes, who set the course record in the Western States 100 in 15:07, also has the course record in this race but it took him 18:30, so using him as a proxy, this race is 20% harder. That meant that I should be finishing the race close to my goal time of 29:20. Why 29:20? I really wanted to finish all 4 races with a total time of fewer than 100 hours. Why 100 hours? I have no idea. It was a total time I had picked before the Western States (and shared with a couple of people who told me I was an idiot) and now that I might actually have a chance to go sub 100 hours, I figured why not. My most important goal was to finish and I was going to run with my heart rate under 150, but at the same time, sub 100 was still bouncing around in the back of my empty head. OK, one page of your life that you can’t get back, on to the race report.
It was cold at the start, really, really cold. The type of cold where you extremities jump into places that they don’t belong to try and stay warm. With my voice a couple of octaves higher than normal, I start of running with John Catts and we begin the trudge up, up and away. We stay together for about 6 miles before he runs off at his pace, as I slowly walk up the hill, keeping my heart-rate below 150. This was the section of the race where I was the most annoyed out of any of the four races. There was a guy in front of me who was running with music. Now I don’t care if you are running with music, I run with music, but I also run with headphones. This guy was basically running with an iPod boom box and had his music blaring for everyone around him to hear. The problem is, his taste in music sucked. He had some Indian chanting song (literally Indians chanting), some country music and God Bless America going for the 15-20 minutes that I was running along behind him. I wished I was faster and could run past him, but I wasn’t, and I wished he was faster and he could run away, but he wasn’t. My thinking is if you’re going to listen to music, WEAR HEADHPHONES. No one cares what songs you like, but I don’t want to have to listen to your music, especially if (in my opinion) you have crappy taste in music. At the very least listen to something that has a fast tempo that will get me to climb faster. Not a country song about a guy raping his dog and shooting his wife. I was tempted to grab his iPod and throw it down the ravine, or if I had an extra pair of headphones, offer them to him. Alas, I did neither and just silently (well not completely) complained that he must have forgotten his headphones. It was also at this point that I realized I was old.
The start of the race is hard. You start at an elevation of 4,880 ft. and for the first 3.58 miles you have more or less rolling hills as you only pick up 400 ft. in elevation. Then, things start to get fun. From 3.58 to 9.60 miles you climb 4,000 ft in 6 miles. There’s a section called Chinscraper that got its name because it’s so steep that you can scrape your chin on the rocks above you as you go! This part of the course description warns you not to dislodge rocks and send them tumbling below onto other runners. How much would that suck? You’re 8 miles into a race and get clocked by a rock from a runner above you? This was also one of many cold points in the race as it started to snow. I don’t do well in snow or the cold. Actually now that I think about it, I also don’t really too well in the heat. I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to temperature extremes, but it also gives me a chance to complain, and I like to complain. From an adventure race in the past, I now have some “issues” in the cold and now when it gets cold, my extremities go numb. I don’t think it’s a bad thing per se; it’s just something that I have to deal with. So, here I am, 9 miles into the race and I can’t feel my feet, or my hands, despite the fact that I’m wearing gloves (and shoes). The good news is that I can kick whatever I want and not feel it, the bad news is that once my feet thaw out; I’m really, going to feel what I kicked. I hit the top of Chinscraper summit and then had a fun, long gradual 9 mile descent into Francis Peak and the fist aid station at mile 18.76. I had managed to catch up to Catts which was fun because now I had someone to run with for the next couple of miles.
Wasatch 100 is a beautiful course. Out of the four race courses that I ran it is the most beautiful. It’s also the most technical, which creates a bit of a problem because every time I tried to look around and see how pretty it was, I would trip and yell at myself for checking out the view. Then, I’d stop running to look at the view, and I’d yell at myself for stopping. It created a bit of a dilemma for me. Nothing really fun or exciting happened as I ran along from Francis Peak to Big Mountain at mile 39.4. The course is relentless, it looks like an EKG monitor where you are either going up, or down, and there isn’t really a time where you can just cruise and let the miles pass by. The sun had come up by now and I was warm, but never hot and at the Big Mountain aid station, I got my first pacer and I also got to change into my Cadillac Shoes as I moved out of the Inov8 x-Talon 212’s and into the Roclite 295s. I was now prepared to kick anything in my way.
SHIBBY!!! The last time I was supposed to run with Shibby, I had more or less passed out on my feet before I had reached him, so he was in charge of the earlier section, just to make sure he got to run. He was going to run with me from 39.4 to Lambs Canyon at 53.13. I had reached Big Mountain faster than I guessed, which meant we were going to get to do this section without a headlamp. I really like having pacers when I’m feeling good because I have someone to talk to, and I like to talk. I don’t get to see Shibby as much as I used to, so the trails is our time to catch up. I don’t know what we talked about, probably the ontological status of mathematical entities, his sex life, or the difference between Chinese and Japanese, but it’s always fun and the mileage flew by. It took me 3:13 to run the 14 miles and before I knew it, I had been handed off to Jon who was in charge of getting me through the next 8.53 miles.
I had only managed to pre-run one section of the course, and it was this section, but I was glad that I had Jon with me. The section from Lambs Canyon to Millcreek has 3,114 of climbing and 1,519 of descending, so just like the rest of the race course, it’s up, up, up, and then down. The climb out of Lamb’s Canyon gains 1,500 ft in 2.1 miles. I had grabbed a headlamp, but we were hopeful that I could get up and over the top and to Millcreek before it was dark saving me from having to run a technical section at night. Setting a good pace, we were able to get up and over the top and back down before it got dark, which was great. We then had a long walk into the aid station. Since the last 3 miles were all cement, and I was walking at a pace just over 4mph, I decided to walk it in. I still had 38 miles to go and it didn’t make sense to me to hammer my quads to run along the cement. Luckily, Jon agreed with me and I cruised into the 62 mile aid station in 15:29, or almost exactly 4mph.
Two things changed at Millcreek, my clothing and my pacer. As it was now 8:30 at night and was cooling down again, I put on a bunch of warmer clothing. I had to keep reminding myself that my goal was to finish. If I got hypothermia and dropped, I would have been pissed at myself because with a crew, there really isn’t an excuse to be too cold in a race. So, warmly bundled up, Shawna and I headed out. I love my wife. I mean seriously, who lets their husband run 100 miles the day before their first anniversary and beyond that, runs 14 of the miles with him? That’s not normal on either front and it’s probably why we’re together. (That and the fact that she has 2 majors in psychology and is able to understand what goes on in my head, scary). Granted, it helps that she runs ultras as well, but still.
We head off for our 14 mile section in the dark from Millcreek to Brighton Lodge. Man, is it cold. Shawna is dressed like we’re heading to the North Pole to tell Santa what we want for Christmas. I’m surprised she was actually able to move with all of the clothing she’s wearing. I have on a short sleeve shirt, arm warmers, a long sleeve shirt, a vest, gloves and a beanie and when the wind blows, I’m still cold. The combination of the cold, darkness and technical terrain is tough enough, but then my old, old friend the sleep monster comes to visit. I hate him, and there’s nothing that you can do to fight him unless you have caffeine, or a bed. I didn’t have any caffeine for his first visit, and I wasn’t going to go to sleep, so all that you can do is lumber along, slapping yourself in the face, pulling out nose hairs (makes your eyes water, hard to fall asleep if your eyes are watering, plus it gets rid of my longer nose hairs) and anything else you can do to stay awake. This section takes about an hour longer (the 14 miles takes 4 hours to complete) than we would have guessed as life turns into a poorly working flip book right before your eyes. You stumble along and then all the sudden, things jump ahead of where they were. Much like the flip book, you skip parts and your vision isn’t running smoothly as you start to fall asleep. The rock that was 10 ft. in front of you is now suddenly right there as you fell asleep for the last two steps. It’s not a fun feeling, but until you hit an aid station, there’s nothing you can do. You can try to talk, but it’s a one sided conversation when the other party is falling asleep, and you’d be amazed at how hard you can slap yourself and not even wake up! I make it to Desolation Lake aid station, down some coke and a Mountain Dew; feel better and continue on until we make it into the Brighton Aid station.
I had been warned about the evil, evil Brighton Aid Station where the warmth of the lodge and the beds scream at you to sit down and relax. “Come on over here, relax, take a nap, we’re friendly” they say to you. Problem is that once you sit down, you can never get up again. Many races have ended in the comfort of the Brighton Aid station. Knowing this, and knowing how sleepy I was, I tried to get in and out of the aid station as fast as I could (plus, Matt had heckled me via e-mail). I still ended up spending 12 minutes in Brighton as I changed shoes, added ANOTHER layer of clothing, ate the world’s most wonderful hash-brown (why they had hash-browns, no idea, but man, that was yummy) drank some Red Bull (it’s a lie, it doesn’t give you wings) and got out of there. Jon had taken over again and we have 25 miles left to run, but nearly 9 hours to finish, if I’m going to make my goal. Once again, stupidly, I think it’s in the bag! Back to my Oprah theory, if she can run 25 miles in 6 hours, so can I.
6 hours later, I’m thinking how much I hate Oprah and her stupid 6 hour marathon. I’ve just finished what in my mind, is the hardest 18 miles of my life and I still have 7 miles left to go. During this time, I got into a fight with the sleep monster again (fixed by a friendly pacer who had a can of Monster Energy Drink. I have no idea what is in it, but I’m pretty sure it’s not legal), lost my appetite (luckily Jon kept yelling at me to eat) and have once again climbed up and over 10,000 ft. before being subjected to the steepest, most technical descent of my life. This section was so steep; I would have felt more comfortable in skis than I did in my running shoes. Jon and I have also discussed several time if this section really sucks as much as I think it does, or, after 375 miles are my legs revolting against me. He puts this section on a par with the last 25 miles of Angeles Crest; I put this section on a par with a trip to the dentist to get a root canal. I’m not sure who is right, but I do know I’m complaining a ton and Jon keeps running further and further ahead of me so he can’t hear me complain. My motto is if I’m in pain, someone should hear about it, I think it’s a good motto, Jon doesn’t. Luckily, despite all my bitching and moaning, I’m still moving fast enough that I can walk the last 7 miles and still finish before my goal time.
Some people like to finish strong... I’m not one of them, at least not in this race. I set out with one goal in mind and that was to finish the Grand Slam of Ultra running. I didn’t care if it took me 120 hours, or 100 hours, as long as I finished. I didn’t care if I got the first, second or no buckle as long as I finished. I certainly didn’t care what place I came in and as I walked the last 7 miles, with my feet hurting, my knees hurting and just about every joint/tendon hurting in my body, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited and relieved to be done even with people running past me as I slowly meandered to the finish. Thanks to the help of (Shawna, Tony, Michelle, Dr. Callister, Bob (the human), Chip, Cary, Mark, Bob (the dog), Shawna again, Jon, and Shibby) I managed to do something that so far only 209 people have done. It was a little weird to cross the finish line as I expected to be really proud and excited by what I had done (maybe that will come later), but instead I was met with an enormous amount of gratitude for the people that helped me and an enormous amount of relief to be done. 27:53 minutes after this race started and 97:27 after it all began, I was done.

1 comment:

Cris said...

Grant, congratulations on the finish at Wasatch and such a great accomplishment with the completion of the Grand Slam. What is even more impression are the folks that supported you along the way. What's next on the horizon for you besides a lot of RnR?