Thursday, April 21, 2011

Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run - race report - April 16th, 2011

Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run

As the name states, this event is not just billed as a 50 mile run or even as a 50 mile trail run, it is promoted as the toughest, roughest and most beautiful 50 mile trail run in the country, a true test of one’s endurance. On April 16, 2011 I was scheduled to put myself to the test. Come along to see if I had what it took to make the grade or if the Highline trail from Pine to Christopher Creek would be too stiff of a challenge for this daydream believer.

On the afternoon of Friday, April 17th, I hopped in my car, made a quick pit stop at McDonald’s for what else, a Sugar-Free Vanilla Iced Coffee of course, and began my journey north of the valley up to beautiful Payson, Arizona and the scenic Tonto National Forest by the Mongollon Rim, the sight of this weekend’s examination classroom, if you will. To say I wasn’t nervous would be a lie. I was, there is no denying that. Since running my first trail run a little more than a year ago I had heard tales of just how hard this Zane Grey race was suppose to be. When people spoke its name it seemed as if it was done with a certain amount of reverence. It was put right up there with the likes of Badwater and Leadville, just to name a few. It was a race of epic proportions and it was ready to push me to my limits and beyond if I would let it.

One nice thing that I had going for me in this my first attempt at conquering this latest beast was that I would not be alone as a bunch of my friends (Lori Hickernell, Manoj Nagalla, and Jay Danek, just to name a few) would be putting themselves to the test for the first time as well. In addition, we would be joined by a bunch of other trail-tested seasoned veterans (some of which who had passed the test many times in the past and some of which who had not but were brave enough to try it once again). The respect and admiration that I have for these runners, such as Honey Albright, Dan Brenden, Jody Chase, Boone Ebel, Justin Lutick and Paulette Zillmer, (again just to name a few) goes without saying. Finally, I knew that I would have a few friends out on the course to greet me at the aid stations, such as Nick & Jamil Coury, Traci Danek, Frank and Cat Cuda, and many, many others, as I hoped to keep ahead of the cutoffs along the way.

In the weeks leading up to this day, Lori, Manoj and I had made plans on staying at the Best Western in Payson the night before the race so that we could go to the packet pick up and pasta dinner and then, since this was a point-to-point race, take a car up to the finish line area so that us tired warriors would have a ride home after what we hoped would be a triumphant victory for us all. As I arrived up to Payson and got checked in, Lori made her way up north shortly thereafter and we met up at the 260/87 intersection to make the drive out to the finish line area. Along the way out to the 260 Trailhead I got my first glimpse of the Rim Country up close for the first time as the road traveled somewhat parallel along the path that we would be taking toward the finish line. It was simply spectacular. I was in awe as the thought that I would soon be back in the forest traversing through this mountain wilderness that was surrounding me. In a ride that seemed to take forever (an ominous sign of things to come) we passed the road into the Fish Hatchery and headed toward Christopher Creek and the Two Sixty Trailhead finish line area – a.k.a. God’s Country! I kept telling myself – I just want to finish…I just want to finish. Sure I had dreamed of finishing in about 15 or 16 hours, but the truth was, so long as I made it out of the last aid station in time I didn’t care about what my actual finishing time ended up to be.

Finally after making it to the finish line area, Lori and I walked around a bit and immediately took notice that the wooden sign denoted that the start of the trail was actually 51 miles away and since we knew that we would be traveling from the beginning to the end of the Highline Trail, our 50 mile run just got a bit longer. Sure it was only a mile, but that is a big difference in a race like this especially given the tight cut off times and the terrain -and this didn’t even factor in the chance of getting lost, or falling, or any run in with elk or bears or snakes – all of which we really, really hoped to avoid if at all possible.

As we got into Lori’s car and started back into town I told myself once again – I just want to finish – but this time it was followed by a deep and extended sigh as if I had just realized that in just a few short hours I was about to either keep my 165 race streak of no DNFs alive or fail miserably and let myself and everyone else down. Had I bitten of more then I could chew? Probably - but only time would tell now. I was prepared to go down in flames if it was meant to be but I knew that it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying. I knew that my biggest enemy was going to be those blasted cutoff times – the nightmare for the slow runners like me. This would truly be a test of heart and determination against the clock.

After arriving at the packet pickup at Tiny’s Restaurant we met up with Manoj and got all of the formalities out of the way - getting the bib, shirt and goodie bag. The shirt was very nice! After the 3 minute process we all headed back outside and started to meet and greet the familiar faces that were starting to gather around. Stories of nerves running rampant, prior year’s successes and failures, and tales of what to expect were flowing freely all about. As everyone continued to talk for a bit, Manoj and I headed across the tiny parking lot to the “Run, Hike, and Bike” shop to see if there were any last minute supplies that just couldn’t live without, but to our surprise the store had closed for the day. A sign on the door mentioned something about needing some time off due to having been really busy in the past few days. Boy did they pick the wrong day to close early as others joined us in disbelief outside the locked door of the shop. Having been turned away we headed back over to Lori to see what was up. As it turns out Lori was the only one of us who had pre-paid for the Pasta Dinner so we all decided that we would all see what everyone else was doing and tag along or just stick around here for supper. Just then Jay and Traci Danek mentioned that they would be heading over to an Italian Restaurant called Gerardos Italian Bistro as they had heard that it was amazing….so we invited ourselves along. We actually headed over early and got a table for eight! This surprised the greeter a bit as we didn’t have a reservation, even though the place seemed to be empty when we got there. But Lori seemed to be sweating bullets in hoping that everyone would come on over once we were seated as the place seemed to fill up in a heartbeat as if this was the only restaurant in town. Sure enough the table quickly filled as we were joined by Jay, Traci, Deb Bliss, Tony Keely and Jason Hoy (the last two whom we had met outside the packet pickup area and inducted them into our little clan of crazies!).

After a great “what we hoped wouldn’t be our last” supper, we headed out for the night. As it turns out Tony was staying at the same hotel as Lori, Manoj and myself so we all made plans to meet up at 3:30 am by Lori’s car to head out to the starting line. Manoj and I then headed to our room and did our final check of our drop bags – well, I actually did the final check of mine and Manoj had to put his together from the start as he had just thrown everything into one big bag before leaving from home. Just like his running, the natural athlete was doing this at a feverish pace, organized chaos at its best! One additional thing that I needed to do, since we only had the hotel room for one night, was to get a bag ready to put into Manoj’s car which included everything else (other than our drop bags) that I had brought up for the night so that we would have the hotel room cleared out prior to leaving for the day. In doing this we almost had the first disaster of the race occur as I threw my car keys and wallet into the bag – which would have really made for an interesting situation as my car was parked at the finish line and we would have had no keys…. Manoj and I got a little bit of a laugh out of that which I think we both needed at that point. Having diverted this disaster it was time for bed.

2:30 AM came extremely early as I, thanks to nervous energy and a grizzly bear in the room (just kidding Manoj!), couldn’t sleep that much – that and the cheese from the baked ziti at the restaurant didn’t seem to be a good choice after all. Time quickly passed and Manoj got up around 3 AM and before we knew it, it was 3:30 AM and time to roll. Tony (the only Irish guy in the world named “Tony” by the way…) met us outside and we all headed over to Lori’s vehicle and hit the road. As we started to roll I made one final check to make certain that I had my car keys and then I regaled Lori and Tony with the story – to which a grand chuckle was had by all.

It actually took a little more than a half an hour to get to the starting line from the hotel so we were glad that we had headed out when we did. Upon arrival we all immediately checked in and got our drop bags to their proper locations and then quickly all ended up back over in the car as it was freezing out! I knew I should have brought my gloves!!! As time quickly rolled down toward the 5 AM start of the race we all slowly ventured our way back out of the van and over toward the starting line. Yep it was still freezing! I could see my breath. I could see everyone’s breath! It was actually pretty cool to see it all just hovering there in the sea of light from the headlamps as I waited my turn in the porta-potty line…it reminded me of the pea soup thick fog from the Rouge Orleans 126.2 miler….ah the memories! Oh yeah, just as a plug…come on everyone and join me there next year as the race will be held at the beginning of February!!! Sorry…had to do that.

Since starting my blog for my longer races I had bought a tiny digital recorder that I had planned on using in this race, but alas that was not meant to be, especially in this race. It would have been nice to have a blow by blow account of what the course threw at me but I made the choice at the start to forego trying it this time and I am glad that I did. That being said, here is what I can remember…I am hoping that I didn’t subconsciously block out part of the nightmare that was called Zane Grey.

Pre-race meeting –

Out of 160+ runners to register for the race, only 128 brave souls (for whatever reason) toed the line for the start and the pre-race meeting.

"Be safe. Use some common sense. Have fun. GO!" – as stated by Joe Galope, Race Director. Little did we know it, but this was to be the only short and sweet occurrence to happen during the rest of the day.

And with that we were off…

Leg 1 – 8 Miles to Camp Geronimo (Cutoff time: 7:30 am – 2 ½ hours after start – Miles 0 through 8)

Like warriors charging off to ravage a village in the middle of the night we roared into the darkness ready to triumph over anything that got into our way – which in this case was an immediate climb that started mere moments after disappearing into the woods. It was amazing to see all of the head lights cutting a zig-zag path up into the evil shadows of the forest and the mountain that it protected. As I immediately started to fall into my old routine of trying to calculate what I needed to do to beat the first cut off time, I began to notice that the stream of head lights in front of me was starting to spread out quite a bit and some were really starting to pull away from the pack. This was expected as I knew that the elites would soon be totally gone from site, as is usually, ok…always the case. But what I didn’t expect was that this spacing out would really start to happen so close to the group that I was behind as a huge gap had opened up in between us and the next closest group out in front of us. What I mean by this was that the runners directly in front of me had really slowed down on the climb and they really didn’t seem to care or realize that they were holding things up as they gabbed away and took their time. It was REALLY frustrating. Part of the problem was that we had gotten to a single track portion of the climb and there was little to no room to get around them. This was killing me as climbing is one of my only strong points in a race such as this and I was boxed in behind 5 people with no passing zone in sight. My hopes were to be able to build up an early cushion on the cutoff times in case something were to happen later on in the races, but that was quickly being thrown out the window. We were going so slow that I even had the chance to quickly answer a text from Pat Reichart that had said “Run Mark Run” with a one word response of “Climb”. Then all of a sudden we came to a little clearing and I was able to scoot around the entire bunch and take off into a power climb up the side of the mountain. I let out a little “Wooohoo” as I began to put a bit of distance in between me and them and continue on into the darkness. It wasn’t long until I had started to close the gap in between myself and the rest of the runners that had pulled away significantly just minutes ago.

I was clipping along at a nice place when the sun first started coming out. It was so amazing to see the forest and the rim country come to life as the beams of light seemed to shove away the darkness like a wave of water rolling onto the shore and invading the beach. In the wake of invasion the dawn had painted a new life onto the day and restored the heartbeat of the nature that we were intruding upon. It really didn’t seem to mind as its warmth blanketed and welcomed us. It was breathtaking.

Shortly after the dawn of the new day, I was greeted by another welcome site as Lori had finally made her way free of the pack that was once in front of her and had caught up to me somewhere between mile 3 to 5. Put us together on the flats and I will be left eating her dust in no time, but this course was the perfect opportunity for me to “run” with her for a bit as I love to power climb the hills. Luckily there were a lot more inclines then declines at this point in the race (even though the course map doesn’t show this) so I was able to stay on her tail right into the first aid station and we were able to build up about a 40 minute cushion on the cutoff times as we arrived at Camp Geronimo at about 6:50 AM. Oh yeah, and I mustn’t forget to add that I made certain to step into the creek just before entering the aid station, which made Lori a bit giddy…

Leg 2 – 9 Miles to Washington Park (Cutoff time: 10 am – 5 hours after start – Miles 8 through 17)

Upon our arrival into the Camp Geronimo Aid Station I, wet shoe and all, managed to get what I needed in a hurry and was ready to roll, but Lori needed a few minutes to grab her food (bag of watermelon) and supplies, so I started a slow walk up out of the aid station and kept a move on. A few feet up the trail though I had to stop and get some rocks out of my soggy shoes, so by the time that I got set to roll again Lori had found her way out of the aid station and was as ready to go once again.

The next 3 miles had a nice steady and steep 1200 ft overall increase in elevation. It was brutal. Lori and I pushed each other on the ups and downs and made a good team. I appreciate all of the help and encouragement that Lori gives me, not only in races but at track practices as well. I am no where close to being in her league. I know that and don’t have a problem with it. It is funny because I know she gets mad at me sometimes because she knows I can do so much more at times except for the fact that I don’t always push myself like I could…but I am getting there…slowly but surely I am getting there. As we continued to run we were joined by the true trail legend Jody Chase. I always get excited about the opportunity to even run on the same course as the legends, so this was an honor for me. Jody is very personable and always full of great tales to share. In this instance we were amazed to see that she was running with a broken hand. Lori had heard that she was hurting and that it possibly was a hamstring, but nope it was her hand.

Things were going great as the 3 of us rolled along, but that all changed when I had to make a pit stop to go to the bathroom. I thought I had only taken a few seconds but that short period of time was just enough for Lori and Jody to disappear on me and as it would turn out I would never see either of them during the race again. Not to make any excuses, but part of the reason for their disappearance was the change in the course to a steady downhill section of about 200 feet over the next two miles and I am a little more cautious and in turn slower on the downhill sections as I always think that I am going to get out of control and end up falling and hurting myself, especially in cases like this when there are tons of loose rocks to trip over. This is something that I am working on and becoming more comfortable with. Another issue that I am having trouble with is getting a good pair of wide trail running shoes. I have some old Saucony and some New Balance trail shoes but they don’t have the best traction and they really don’t have a wide enough toe box. So if I get a good pair of wide shoes that fit and more confidence in my downhill running…look out Lori!!! Lol.

In getting back to the race, without my running partners I could tell that my pace had slowed a bit, but I was still booking along at a nice pace whenever possible. The course was hard to follow in some spots as I had a hard time seeing/spotting flags at points – but I can’t complain about that as I didn’t get out there to help tag the course because I was off having fun at other races. I will say though that overall everyone did one hell of a job getting the course ready for us and that it was greatly appreciated!!!!!

As I continued to progress toward the Washington Park Aid Station I was excited as I remembered that Nick, Jamil and Traci would be there waiting to help when I got in. But before I would get there I got my first taste of the Manzanita trees and the wonderful picky maze that they provided for us to run through. It never fails that if there is something that I could run into and cut myself up I will, and this day was to be no different as I seemed to punch my way through the maze. 

Before I knew it I was pulling into the aid station and just in time too as I was just about out of water. I had known that as I progressed into the race I would need to start carrying more water with me and until this point I had only carried two small 16 oz palm bottles but had planned to switch to two larger 32 oz hand held bottles from this point forward. I must add that the crews had things very well organized to the point that when a runner would come into an aid station their number would be reported to another person in charge of the drop bags and that person would quickly grab your bag for you and help get you everything that you needed. In this case Traci Danek grabbed my bag for me and helped me to do my bottle switch out without much of a delay as I was then able to route through the rest of my drop bag and grab what I needed. I had made sure to put some extra salt caps and some gu packs and shot bloks in each bag as well as some goodies like Ritz Bits crackers and some gummy worms and licorice for a little energy burst. And speaking of energy bursts I did put one energy shot in each bag to grab when I felt like I might need it. This was one of those times.

Nick and Jamil had put out a nice spread of some oranges and bananas for the runners. The oranges were a nice little treat for me! As it turns out I was in my own little world as I prepared to rush out of the aid station as my 40 minute buffer had decreased to a 29 minute buffer. In doing so I failed to recognize one of my friends from Tucson Renee Webb. So to you, sorry I missed you! One excuse that I will say is that I am so use to seeing you with Dallas that I didn’t recognize you by yourself. I don’t mean that to sound bad, instead I think that it just goes to show how the two of you are meant to be together and will have a great future ahead of you in the years to come! I am so glad that you two are getting married – you two are meant to be together! Congrats!!!!! Dallas is a lucky man!

Leg 3 – 8 Miles to Hell’s Gate Canyon (Cutoff time: Noon – 7 hours after start – Miles 17 through 25*)

As I headed out of the aid station at 9:30 AM,  I think that I recall that the Race Director was sitting there snapping photos just before we had a creek crossing…if that was you Joe…sorry I didn’t recognize you, as I had just said I was in my own little world. I did recognize Megan Powers from ARR and the Valley though as she has so much fun taking photos at the different events and she caught me with my secret weapon…a bag of JalapeƱo flavored Ritz Bitz crackers…and snapped a fun photo of me along the way.

The fun was quickly put on the back burner for a bit as the course immediately began to climb about 500ft over the next mile to mile and a half. The climb was very tough as it seemed to traverse up the side of a mountain and the temperature began to rise the further I went as well.

After topping the mountain or at least this point of it, I realized just what it meant to be on the trail to Hell’s Gate Canyon as the scenery immediately changed to more of a dark and desolate one. I felt as if I was on my way to Mordor – from the Lord of the Rings movies. Dead and burned up trees lined both sides of the path. Dried grass that was as slick as ice lined the way, hiding many jagged rocks and ankle twisters. Luckily I had been warned of these hidden treasures by my great friend Shayna Elizabeth so I was ready for them. This part of the course reminded me a lot of the 15K Gaspin’ in the Aspens in Flagstaff – another fun run through the slick grass, rocks and fallen pine cones (those are slippery little devils!).

The next part of this leg of the race was a series of climbs and plunges and both seemed to be completely covered in rocks and ruts. It was brutal and it was very laborious. Running in the ruts upheld was interesting to say the least. It was at this point in the race that I fell for the first time and yes, somehow I fell uphill. I landed flush on top of a boulder and knocked the wind out of myself. The first thing that I thought of was damn there go the ribs again. Luckily I just jarred them something fierce as I had avoided a direct blow to them. After getting up and shaking off the dust and the embarrassment I continued on…a bit slower but forward progress nonetheless!

Shortly after getting going once again was when I met up with fellow runner, Antoinette Vaughan. Well, she and the gentleman that she was running with actually met up with me as they came up from behind and powered right up alongside me and then right on by me on the downhill. They made it look so easy! Shortly thereafter when the trail switched back uphill once again I was right back on her tail! The only thing was that I had no clue who she was. I mean she looked so familiar but I just couldn’t place her. Then, out of the blue she said to me, “you’re Mark aren’t you?” I said, “yep”, because well I am…lol. Then she added, “I Antoinette Vaughan and we are Facebook friends and I have admired you from afar.” I was shocked, first off from hearing that, and second because I had admired her from afar too as she has accomplished so much herself as well. I admire her and she inspires me. To say this gave me a little bit of a pick me up to be able to run along side and behind (in most cases) someone such as her is just a great feeling! Toni it was great to meet you and I hope to see you out on the trails again soon. Oh yeah…good luck at KONA!!!!!!!!!

The Hell’s Gate Canyon aid station seemed to take forever to get to and I had damn near run out of water once again even though the station actually came about a mile and a half early. You see, the aid station was suppose to be at Mile 25, but it was actually at Mile 23.5 or so as I was told by the aid station crew. This did not bode well for me as even though I had arrived at the cutoff point early, about 25 minutes before Noon I had actually lost a few more minutes on my buffer and had I had to have gone that extra mile and a half like I should have (to mile 25) I would have really cut into my buffer quiet a bit more. What this also meant was that I would have to go an extra 1 ½ miles to the Fish Hatchery Aid Station on my two bottles of water. Had I known this would be the case I would have grabbed a 3rd bottle back at the Washington Park Aid Station to have with me because going about 10 miles in the heat of the day is a lot harder then only going 8, especially if you run out of water.

Leg 4 – 8 Miles to Fish Hatchery (Cutoff time 3 pm – 10 hours after start– Miles 25* through 33)

As I started out of the Hell’s Gate Canyon Aid Station I could see Antoinette and her friend off in the distance in front of me, she was going strong on the downhill and it would stay this way from there on out, no matter how hard I tried I just could not catch back up to her. I got close a few times, but that was about it. This leg of the course brought with it some more of the lovely Manzanita Trees…..lovely to look at but not much fun to run a maze through!!!! Painful beauty….sounds like a good name for a female professional wrestler…nope…that is what I renamed the trees! Painful beauty! There might have been a few more choice words mixed in there as well, but we won’t go there quite yet.

After the maze ended came a rough 500 foot climb and drop off over a 2 ½ mile period. Rocks were everywhere. I don’t know how many I kicked and tripped over but my feet were really starting to hurt badly. And my ankles, wow, I don’t know how many times I kicked up a rock that seemed to act like a heat-seeking missile that took aim straight for the inside on my ankles just right above the top of my shoe cushioning. It literally felt like a knife blade ripping across the skin of my ankle. Wow did that hurt. Did I mention that there were bleep, bleep, bleep, bleeping rocks (and a few choice words to go along with them) – hey I warned you! At the end of the hill, which was covered in rocks, once again, I fell and boy did I ever fall hard. This time however it was going down hill. I swear that I smacked the ground so hard that it echoed. I kid you not! This one hurt bad, I landed right on my left knee and lower leg. I could feel that it was cut open and it was throbbing. I laid there for a second and just wanted to scream out but just then I heard a voice from across the canyon yell out, “Mark are you ok?” I wasn’t, but I made my way to my feet and yelled out, “yep, I’m good.” It was then that I noticed that it was Antoinette and the gentleman that was running with her (a special thank you for checking on me, I appreciated that). I honestly didn’t know I was that close to them, but that would soon all change as I was limping bad as I got going once again.

As I have said before, forward motion is still forward progress; however at this point in time I had my first feeling as if I might not be able to make it. This feeling was short lived as I saw a tent off in the distance just across a little ridge. “Thank you Lord!” I said as I looked to the heavens and released a big sigh of relief. Things were going to be ok after all! But as I arrived at the tent I was shocked to find out that these were just spotters on the course and that their news for me was that I was only about 3 ½ miles away from the See Canyon aid station. Immediately a feeling of despair came over me as I couldn’t believe that I had that far to go yet as it seemed as if I had already gone almost 10 miles. My leg started to immediately throb once again as if to poke a little more fun at me and insult me a little bit as well. Nonetheless I moved on. I moved on without even knowing how much time I had left to go that 3 ½ miles. I honestly didn’t care. I knew that if I were going to miss the cutoff so be it, but I wasn’t going to just give up. I don’t have an ounce of give up in me, atleast not anymore.

As I continued to move away from the spotters I began to push myself harder and harder. I wasn’t going fast by any means but I was going. As I kept going I noticed the smell of fish in the air. I knew that I was close! Next up came a few creek crossings and some switchbacks with some little climbs. Then, as I came upon a clearing I saw a gate that led into a small area of buildings. At first I wasn’t sure which way to go as I didn’t see any ribbons inside of the gate, and I immediately started to head towards that building, which I assumed was the Hatchery. But for what ever reason I got a feeling that I needed to stop and turn around. It was if someone or something was helping to get me back on course and I listened and I am glad that I did because as I turned around a sudden gust of wind lifted up a ribbon off of a treat branch in the distance and waved to me as if to say…”Hello dummy…come this a way!”

After getting back on track I was surprised to see that I had a little bit of a ways to go to the aid station yet. But somehow I made it. As I pulled into the next to last aid station it was 18 minutes until 3 PM. Time and my cushion were still slipping away on me. 11 miles to go in 3 hours and 48 minutes – I didn’t think I was going to make it. This feeling was even more compounded as one of my best friends pulled into the aid station as I was ready to pull out. I was shocked to see Manoj Nagalla just coming into the aid station, especially after me. I knew that things had to be going terribly wrong for him as I had honestly thought that he must have passed me a long, long time ago when I stopped for the bathroom break. Manoj had run out of water and was badly dehydrated and cramping. He tried to put on a good face like everything was going to be alright, but his face told me the truth. I asked him if he wanted me to wait on him and he said no, go ahead I will catch up. I felt bad and wanted to stay but I just couldn’t because I knew if I sat down at that point I too would stiffen up and then that would be all she wrote for me as well. In asking him again and getting the same response I headed out – the crewman told me as I left that spotters we at Mile 40 so I would know just how far I was when I got to them.

Leg 5 – 11 Miles to See Canyon (Cutoff time 6:30 pm – 13 ½ hours after start)

Shortly after leaving the aid station I got a rude wake up call as I fell for the third time. No it wasn’t on the downhill. No it wasn’t on an uphill. It wasn’t even on a flat zone. Where then do you ask? Well, let me tell you. I fell into the damn creek!!! I was pissed off! You see, there was this single log bridge crossing that needed to be done and two steps onto the log my legs just laughed at me quivered and then buckled in a show of revolt. Backwards I went right down into the water. I landed right on my ass and fell backwards so that I was literally lying down in the water. I am so lucky that I didn’t crack my head open as it hit the water as well. I think that I scared the crap out of some people who were in that same general area. One gentleman with a black dog came back to see if I was ok (which I appreciated!). Just at that moment I hopped up out of the freezing cold water and was really, really pissed as I realized that my phone, camera, and digital recorder were in my back pack (fanny pack) which was completely submerged in the creek for who knows how long. I couldn’t believe it! I had just replaced my old phone with this new one and now I was going to have to replace another one! GEESH!!!!! One thing that I didn’t expect was that this cold bath was one of the best things that could have happened to me as it woke me up and got me going again at a better pace.

Another thing that really got me going was seeing Manoj come up behind me. At first I was embarrassed as I just knew that he must have seen my clumsy butt fall off the log but I made a joke about it and took all of the pressure off of myself (atleast in my eyes). But by his reaction I don’t think that he saw it. My thoughts of my embarrassment quickly left as I saw that he was still in rough shape. Manoj asked if I had any salt tablets, which I did so I gave him a couple and some shot bloks as well. Manoj sat down and immediately took the pills and said that he was cramping bad but hoped that the salt tabs would kick in in just a few minutes and that then he was gonna go for it as hard as he could so that he could make it to the next and final aid station before his legs gave out on him. Again he told me to go ahead and that he would get a move on in just a few. Reluctantly I agreed as I had seen him run that Javelina Jundred like a mad man! He was amazing and I knew that he had it in him to finish if he could. So I got going once again. Just then my phone rang out denoting that I had a message. I was shocked. My phone was still working!!! Hot damn my pack was water proof!!!!! Not a drop of water made it into the pack and everything was spared.

The next three miles took us up and up and up and up and up to the highest elevations of the entire race. There were so many face summits on these climbs and I honestly could not run up the sides of these mountains. There were downed trees that literally took everything I had left in me to get over. This was brutal. I secretly loved it but I was just so tired and worn out that I just felt like I wanted to be done. I didn’t say that I wanted to quit. I just wanted to be done. I hoped and prayed that I had it in me to make it to the final cutoff but I honestly didn’t think I was gonna make it because I just could not see how I was going to make up any time that I was losing as I battled up this damn mountain side which climbed nearly 800 feet in elevation but probably close to 2000-2500 ft overall if you count up all of the actually climbs in this section. It was so tiring…so, so tiring. I actually messaged Tammy and told her that I didn’t think that I was going to make it. I was dead tired and just didn’t think that I would be able to maintain a good enough pace to make the cutoff.

During part of this climb I actually came across the spotters that I had been told about – or so I thought I had, as they actually were not the spotters I was told about. This couple was actually standing at the Mile 36 area and they got a kick out of the fact that the aid station workers had forgotten about them so many times through out the day. The couple actually didn’t know if another set of spotters were actually out at the Mile 40 point or not so I didn’t know whether or not I would see anyone else or not. They did make certain to tell me to enjoy the climb and snickered as I headed out. I appreciated that as I knew that it was about to get worse before it got better and boy did it ever.

After peaking out near the 6900 ft mark I started to rapidly drop down into a canyon area that bottomed out at about 6,350 ft I thought for sure that I had to be getting close to the See Canyon Aid station as the name stated I expected the aid station to be down in a canyon. Little did I know but I hadn’t even made it to Mile 38 yet. At this point I started coming up on a runner, which reminded me that I had yet to see Manoj come flying by me like I expected him to do. I wasn’t sure who the lady was but she had a KISS shirt on so she was ok by me! Laura Nagy was also within sight and the 3 of us ran in a tight pack changing the lead position on and off for a good little while. Just then we came across the spotters I couldn’t believe that we had only made it to Mile 40 as it had seemed like we had been running forever. They then told us that we were actually at Mile 41 ½ so we were a little further than I expected them to tell us, but still not quite far enough… The next bit of news that they gave us was that we only had 32 minutes to make it that next 2 ½ miles – this meant that we somehow had to make 12 minute and 48 second per mile paces. I felt so defeated. There was just no way. 

Just then I got a text response from Tammy saying “You can do it. SI4S!!!” and so I did. Some how some way I kicked it up a notch and took over the lead of our pack of 3 for good clear into the aid station. It was just what I needed and it was just enough. Just enough indeed as I topped the last hill of the mountain (at least on this side of the canyon) and saw the final aid station down on the road below. I kicked it up a notch and started flying down that hill. I began yelling, “Here we come Frank! Here we come!” as I knew that Frank Cuda would be waiting there for us (he had actually sent me a FB message earlier in the week to let me know that he would see me there). Just then a lady yelled out, “Move your asses you’ve got 1 minute left to go! Go, go, go!!!” I was so sure that I was going to wipeout going down that hill but somehow I didn’t. As soon as I made it down onto the street they checked me in and announced that we had less then a minute to get out of the station. I flew over toward the table and Frank stood there with his hands out as if to say chuck me your bottles and I think that I actually did. Frank filled them like a man on a mission and I quickly grabbed a few chips to eat. One of the advantages that I had given to myself was the fact that I had carried a headlamp with me from the start of the race so I didn’t have to take a bit of time to dig through my bag and find one now. As soon as Frank got my bottles filled and capped he congratulated me and said, “no worries, we got you, we got you!” and with that I was off. I took off toward the exit area and said, “72 out” and the moment I did, I heard them repeat what I had just said and then add, “Ok that is it. 72 is the last one!” I was so relieved that I had made it and so thankful to Frank for all of his help. I could not have made it without him! THANKS FRANK!!!!!! Just then however as I felt so good I realized that Manoj had not come through. So that put a damper on things.

Leg 6 – 7 Miles to Finish (Cutoff time: None – so long as you made it out of See Canyon in time)

Having made it out of the final cutoff zone with only 5 seconds to spare my streak of races without a DNF was somehow still intact. I know that it will eventually come to an end and I will accept it when it does. I won’t like it, but I will accept it. This also meant that I now had as long as it would take to get to the finish! I did recall that the website had mentioned that they expected the last runner to cross the finish at about 9 PM, which meant about 2 ½ hours. As we took out of the cleared area and started on the last leg, Laura Nagy congratulated me on my kick at the end. I told her that I sure as hell didn’t know where it came from but I am glad that it did. Laura then took off and our pack of 3 was down to 2. I knew that we would be losing the sun quickly and really wanted to get as far as I could before it got dark but I honestly had nothing left at that point as I had used up everything that I had to get in and out of that last aid station. In addition to not having anything left we had a nice climb up out of the canyon we had just dropped down into. That was just pure torture but it hurt so good!

Quickly the moon started to rise and the sun started to drop and it got dark fast in the woods. Soon enough we had our headlamps on and we were walking in the dark. As we continued on in our climb I noticed that a runner, or atleast someone that I thought was a runner, came up behind me. I thought that it was someone who had made it through the aid station but had stopped for a potty break or a rest and then had started back up again and had quickly caught up to me. I thought that it would only be fair for me to move aside and let this person through as I hate holding anyone up, so I told the runner that if she wanted to pass me, just to let me know. To my surprise it was the course sweeper, Scout. I never caught Scout’s last name but she was awesome. She even joked that if I wanted to lay down and take a nap I could…lol Even though that sounded good I honestly felt bad for her for having to go so slow behind me as I really had nothing left and was not to keen on falling in the dark and not being able to make it to the finish line after everything that I had been through.

Scout kept me talking and that passed the time as we traversed through the darkness. She knew that course like the back of her hand and helped to make certain that I stayed on track as it got tough to see some of the ribbons in the dark. Scout and I exchanged stories about races and racers, weight loss and healthy living. I really enjoyed it and owe her a ton of thanks! I hope that she does in fact try this race next year – I know that she will do it without a problem. Thanks for putting up with this slow poke Scout!!!

As we made it into the finish line area I thank Scout once again and then let out a huge roaring “WOOOOOOOOHOOOOO!!!” I had made it! I was spent as this was the hardest race that I had ever done, but I had made it and was already thinking about how I might do things differently next year. Yes I will be back again for another go at it next year!!! I was glad to see Manoj, Lori and Tony there waiting on me. I apologized and said that I hoped that they hadn’t had to wait too long…


1 comment:

  1. Great job Mark. THanks for nice race report. Tough dude