Sunday, October 18, 2009

Birthday Challenge 2009

The challenge I selected for my Birthday Challenge this year was to run 37 miles. I had selected a trail in Zion National Park, but considering the cost of going down there I decided maybe I should do something else. A friend of mine and fellow ultra-runner puts on a race called the Pony Express 50/100 Miler. This is a free race that follows the old Pony Express Trail out in the West Desert of Utah. It is a self-crewed race, requiring only a runner and someone to follow along in a car to provide support. This year there were 114 people running the 100 mile race and 8 people running the 50. While my primary goal was just to run 37 miles of the 50 mile race, I figured if I felt good enough I would try and keep going. As additional support I was able to get my friend Matt Ricks to join along, too. It would be his frist attempt at running 50 miles also. Matt and I met at 5:50am in Lehi and were to my mom’s (who would crew us) by 6am. 10 minutes later we were packed up and heading west to Lookout Pass along the Pony Express historic trail. There were already a number of cars there, including Davy Crockett and several we didn’t recognized. Within minutes we were out and talking with others; saying hello to those we knew and introducing ourselves to those we didn’t. I will say now that I met some truly wonderful people at this race. The sun was not yet up and we all walked around trying to stay warm. But once it rose, just before race time, it warmed up a lot and many people started to remove layers. Crockett had a few inspiring words and even more subtle insults and we were off by 8:06am. All of the cars at the starting line.
The starting line with all the crew cars.

The first couple of miles are a good downhill. I chose to hang back and run with Smooth (a friend from my running blog) for a while. I couldn’t see any reason to head out fast. While I chatted with Smooth about her birthday and her friends race, Matt was off making new friends with Olaf and Pablo. This lasted for only a mile, when Smooth realized she was running a sub-nine pace and decided to slow things down. I caught up with the other boys and joined in on the discussion. Our first aid stop was at mile 4. We didn’t feel a need to stop so we just handed over our gloves and kept going. The plan was for my mom to crew us every four miles and make stops at every major landmark to take split times. Therefore, her next planned stop was at mile 8. It was during this 4 mile section between miles 4 and 8 that a couple of interesting things happened. 1) I put some distance between Twinkies and myself while he chatted. I listened to some music, but was quickly bored of it. 2) I also realized at mile 6 that I could feel my IT Band. It didn’t hurt, but it was letting me know it was there and sensitive. I think it got into my head because I became very aware of it over the next few miles. Our first major milestone was at Government Creek, mile 9.1. By 'milestone', I mean it was a turn in the road with a dry riverbed next to it. I believe our split time at this point was around 1:26:00. Matt had caught back up and my iPod was turned off. It would be all conversation from here on out. We were leap-frogging with several runners, most of who were running the full 100 miles. We found out later that many of the 50 milers had started early, around 6am. While we weren’t crewed at this point, we did yell out our split time and continued on. At mile 12 we stopped for a bit longer to get a bite to eat and make sure that we were staying on top of our salts and electrolytes. Running past mile 12, out into the desert.
Mile 10, past Government Creek

During the next four miles until we got to our next crew stop and major milestone (Simpson Springs) we would encounter a long, gradual hill, and my ITB would start acting up a bit more. It was at Simpson Springs that I started to get a little worried and started into one of my two low points of the race. I was working hard to keep my spirits up, but I was worried all the same. A long downhill took it’s toll on my knee and by the time we hit mile 20 I was in severe pain in my right knee. We decided to take a longer break at this point, sit down, and enjoy some food and drink. It was hard to get back up. Standing on the road at mile 20, Riverbed Station.
Riverbed Station - Mile 20

Over the next 10 miles I would wage this small war in my head about how far I thought I could actually run. I thought maybe I would just finish a marathon distance of 26.2 miles, but then my own desire to finish my Birthday Challenge won out and I settled on just getting to mile 37. Between miles 20 and 30 I focused very much on my stride, my cadence, and trying not to flex my right knee. This put a ton of pressure on my left leg as it was doing the majority of the work. We hit the marathon mark in 4:40:00. By mile 33.5 (Topaz Well) I had developed a working rhythm, but one that would only allow me to run for .75 miles and then we would have to walk the next .25. Step after step we continued this way. By mile 35 we started to pass some of the early starters and at mile 36 we finally caught up to a new friend and fastrunningblogger, Leslie. She threw out a big high five and we stopped to chat for a short minute. We passed a few others in the next mile and as we came to mile 37, there was my mom with arms out-stretched, waiting to give me a hug for completing my Birthday Challenge. Not to be daunted, we told her to drive ahead to the top of Dugway Pass, our steepest and tallest climb of the race, only a mile further. At the top of the pass we sat down again, ate, and spent almost 10 minutes recovering. This stop caused my ITB to freeze up. Unlike other crew stops, I didn’t have flat road to walk and stretch it out. The drop down from Dugway Pass to the Dugway Geode Beds is steep and consistent. Even walking caused searing pain. This would be a very low point for me in the race. We juggled walking and running for the next several miles. My mom attempted to crew us again at mile 41, only 3 miles further because she could see me limping and knew how much pain I was in. But we were down to single digits now and I wasn’t going to quit. I think my ITB got the hint because after we had a proper, yet very short stop, at mile 42 I got back into my run/walk rhythm and when we hit the 10k mark to go Matt and I were as jovial as could be. We were joking with other crews and having very positive conversations. We met Crockett as he was heading back towards the start/finish at mile 47. He had positive words for us and looked good himself. Matt's wife made us Triple Chocolate Cheesecake for mile 43. It's an inside joke.
Dugway Pass - Mile 38

Mile 45 - Matt's wife made us cheese cake

We passed our last major milestone at mile 48.8, Blackrock Station. The relay team had already finished and had returned set up a tarp and food station. They were in full-on party mode. Just one more mile to go and Matt and I started to speed up a little. With 100 meters to go we increased the pace down to a 9 min/mile and finished with arms raised. A short stop for hugs with my mom and Ann Watts (she was crewing her husband Matt and someone we saw throughout the whole race) and a few photos and it was back to pick up Phil Lowry and we were headed back to the starting line. Sprinting to the finish.
Crossing the finish line

It was an amazing race. To think that my previous long run was only 31 miles and Matt's was only 28 is amazing. I have to thank Matt for literally carrying me emotionally for about 10 of the 50 miles. Without him I would not have finished. It was great to see Smooth again and to meet Leslie and others. Davy puts on a great race and it was a TON OF FUN. I can’t wait to do it again next year. Now it’s time to heal and start to rebuild. A celebratory handshake at the finish line, which was just a Children at Play sign placed along the road at mile 50.
50 Miles - Complete


Enoch Davies said...

Awesome race! I could just post comments on your running blog but I prefer the layout here better.

I suspect I will never be running that far, 13.1 miles was too much for me.

Aaron said...

Hey, thanks for the welcome on the running blog. I grew up on "pony express road" right next to the utah power and light building that is still there.

that was a cool race report, and I'm very impressed that you kept on going with that IT band injury starting in the first 1/5 of the run. I was cringing for you the entire time I read it because I know IT band pain ALL too well unfortunately. Summer of '02 I couldn't bike, run, or even swim for nearly 6 months because I ran through pain in my IT and paid severley for it. It sounds like you are already recovering which is good to hear.

If barefooting works the same for you as it does for me, I think you will be very happy running in FiveFingers. They have changed my entire perspective.