Sunday, October 17, 2010

Zero to 100 in 22:46:12

When I started running in January of 2009 I had two goals in mind; set a new speed record on the Triple Crown and to eventually run in a 100 mile endurance race. I achieved my first goal in July and my second one on Friday.

The Pony Express 100 is a self-crewed (you have a support car with crews providing help along the way) race on a dirt road that follows the old Pony Express trail into the west desert of Utah. It is a brutal out and back race that is very flat and remote, yet strikingly beautiful in its own rugged way. The course starts at Lookout Pass west of Vernon, UT and runs west 58 miles to Fish Springs. Runners then turn around and return the way they came until they get back to Simpson Springs. Along the way runners have to endure many difficult situations that are very unique to this race, namely; an 18 mile stretch of road that is so straight it feels like it will never end, subtle desert heat that creeps up like a ninja, and a mountain pass that just seems to rise out of nowhere. In all, while it may seem like an easy race on paper, in actuality it is very challenging.

I had been planning to run the 100 a year ago after finishing the 50 miler on the same course. I enjoyed the mental challenge the race brought and the stark beauty of the landscape. I have spent all year preparing for this one race. Over the last 10 months I've run more marathon length or further distances than I can count, competed in my first 50k trail race, and also completed my first 100k trail race. Along with a good final long run (32 miles three weeks ago) and a nice taper I felt like I was coming into the race very prepared. However, whether from nerves or my wife being sick, just days before the race I felt 'off'. It was as thought I had a cold, but without the chest congestion. I didn't have any energy and couldn't think straight. While I was worried about the impact it would have on my race I also knew that as long as my lungs felt healthy that I could continue to go on and compete.

I got a great night's sleep two days before the race and was even able to muster a solid 5 hours the night before while my wife and I stayed at my parents in Lehi. I was crewed by my wife, my mom, and my step-dad. We drove out to the starting line and arrived about 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the race. I handed over the trophies (I was on the race committee and designed the Champions trophies), said a few hellos, and then went right back to the car to stay warm. I was not my usual giddy self and that bothered me. With only a couple of minutes before the start I got out and prepared to go. There would be 21 people running the 100 miler and about 19 running the 50. There were staggered start times for the race; early starters for the 100 began at 5am, early starters for the 50 began at 6am, normal starters for the 100 began at 7am, and finally, the normal starters for the 50 began at 8am. Of the 21 100 milers only six of us would start at the normal time.
  5 min before start
In typical fashion, when the race began the race director and good friend, Davy Crockett, shot out like a rocket. Someone forgot to tell him that this was a long distance endurance race and not a 10k. We all knew what he was doing though, this is what he did at every race. The remaining five of us lingered back and chatted and got to know each other. We had Troy - who is a local runner from Salt Lake, Frank - who is from NC, and Ed and John, both from southern California. Ed would have to hurry as he had a 6am flight the next morning out to Boulder, CO to run in another 100 mile race. That's right, he was doing back-to-back 100s. Now that's crazy.

After dropping nearly a thousand vertical feet in just a couple of miles the road flattens and then has a very small hill to another long downhill. On the uphill I was feeling strong and kept my good pace, dropping the other four runners. I didn't intend to drop them, nor was I trying to push the pace, it just happened. I would spend the next 30 miles running relatively alone. At mile 14 I came across Maurine Lee, a friend who was attempting to finish her first 50 miler. She was running with another strong local runner and they were both looking great. When I caught up I put my arm around Maurine and we chatted for a bit. Then I continued on all the way to Simpson Springs, mile 16. The mile preceding Simpson Springs is a long, easy uphill that I had to walk part of last year. I was determined to run it this year. However, when I got to the monument I was more tired than I had hoped and I just felt a bit off of my game. I had had some doubts at my ability to finish all the way back at mile 8, but pushed through it (I always seem to have doubts at mile 8). This time I was feeling it physically. I thought that I should have felt much stronger at this point in the race. But I continued on. Not long after leaving Simpson Springs Ed and John passed me running strong. Within 4 miles I could barely see them any more.
Simpson Springs, mile 16
The next six miles are the beginning of the very long straight section of the race. They were also downhill, so it wasn't bad to continue at a good pace. I had already passed many of 50 mile early starters, but now I was in a gap all alone. at mile 20 my step-dad, Curt, hopped out and got on his bike to ride beside me. We talked and that helped to pass the time as I continued to drop into a further slump. By the time I hit Riverbed Station, mile 24, I was very tired and in a bad mood. My crew did their best to take care of me, but I just wasn't feeling it and was having some serious doubts. I kept telling myself that I just needed to settle in to the misery and that it would get better. It was at mile 28 that I ate my first real food, some watermelon. WOW. That changed my whole game. Within minutes of leaving the car after eating I felt a million times better. Curt and I was laughing and talking and having a great time. While the road was ridiculously straight and long and even starting to go uphill we were having fun and I came into Dugway Topaz Well, mile 33.3 feeling awesome. I yelled out, "I'm back!". My crew responded with screams of excitement and we all knew this was a turning point. I had completed a 50k in 5:50:00, not bad.
 Pretty miserable at mile 28
At this stop my wife Emily switched with Curt and rode along side me. What she didn't know was that we were heading up to Dugway Pass, the highest point on the course. She did awesome though and we had a TON of fun chatting and talking about other runners. She was able to keep up on the bike, even on the first hill, and then had to hop off about a mile from the top when it started to get really steep. She dropped back a little, but told me to go on ahead. It was at this point that I saw Scott Wesemann for the first time. He was running the 50 and took the early start hoping I would catch up to him so that we could finish his race out together. We laughed and joked all the way up Dugway Pass. Emily was still behind, but Curt had seen her hop off and drove back down to trade her spots. He rode the bike the rest of the way up while she drove the car. Even though Scott and I walked a fair amount of the big climb we still felt it was appropriate to summit the climb running and did so looking fresh. Dugway Pass is mile 38 and I got there in 6:45:00. Last year I had to walk down the other side of the pass because my ITB hurt so bad. This year Scott and I bombed it passing more runners than I can count.
Scott and I after Dugway Pass
Scott's crew was stopping every mile to hand him water and fuel. At about mile 45 he stopped to restock and get his legs rubbed out. We agreed he would just catch up. However, he stayed longer than expected and I just couldn't wait any longer so I pushed on. He was moving well and I knew that he would finish strong. Scott ended up having a great race and finished in 10:30:00. About 2 miles after leaving Scott I saw two other runners ahead. I couldn't tell who they were until they were closer, but they turned out to be Ed and John. How in the world did I catch these two very experienced and strong runners? They were shocked when they saw me and I cruised by. Both commented on how strong I was running. We would leap frog each other for the next several miles.

At the 50 mile mark I stopped to use the bathroom and record my time. My 50 mile time was 9:04:50, something I was extremely pleased with. It was nearly an hour and 40 minute PR. I also needed to find a bush and took some TP and wet wipes with me. When I returned I thought wiping my face down with a wet wipe would feel nice, so I cleaned up a little. Just as my crew took off my nose started to itch and run and I was sneezing. Then my eyes swelled up and were red and itchy. I was having a pretty severe allergic reaction to the wipes, something that has never happened before. For the moment the best I could do was spray water on my eyes and shirt and try and wipe them down. Feeling horrible I send Curt ahead on bike to bring the crew back. I was still leap frogging Ed and John and both commented on my looks and were concerned. I told them my breathing was fine and that I would be fine in the end. My crew returned and I got cleaned up with a wet towel.

Shortly after, at mile 54, Emily asked if I wanted some company and she hopped out to run with me for the next 4.5 miles. The few miles preceding Fish Springs is really cool. It is literally an oasis in the desert. There were large bodies of water and reeds everywhere. We could hear ducks and other water creatures. I could hear a car coming quickly behind us and it turned out to be my dad and step-mom, who were there to run the finish line aid station. It was so much fun to see them along the course. They also commented on how stronly I was running. After they left Em and I continued on. The sun was just beginning to set and we were within a mile of Fish Springs. I commented to her that I was surprised that we hadn't seen Davy, John, or Ed coming back at us. I thought for sure that they were miles ahead of me, but based on where I was in relation to the turn-around there was no way they could be further than a mile or two. Within a half mile of the turn-around I came across Davy who was really struggling in the remaining heat. Minutes behind him was Ed who was now running strong and looking good. Both had nice things to say about my running. As I approached the turn-around John was just stopping and getting ready to come back. I planned to make this my longest stop, so I knew they would get more of a lead on me, but the stop helped to re-energize me and I think it was worth it.
The pumpkin on top lit up so we could see the car afar off.
Emily hopped back in the car and Curt joined me again. The sun had now set and the temps were awesome. We had fun running back towards Black Rock Station (the 50 mile finish) and as it got darker started to try and find where people and crews were along the route. We had been passed by two relay teams and a 100 miler early start (he was running strong). In fact, Emily nick-named him 'Woodwork' because he literally came out of nowhere (the woodwork) to run strong and pass me. As we approached Black Rock Station we turned our lights off so that we could sneak up and scare everyone. It was a lot of fun to see the looks on people's faces as we got there because they couldn't see any lights approach. We arrived at the 68 mile mark at 13:47:00 (8:47pm). I went and sat down at the aid station and there was John. I thought for sure he'd be miles ahead. We both enjoyed some chicken broth and chatted for a minute and then headed out. I got out before he did and was able to stay about a mile ahead of him heading back towards Dugway Pass. I could tell where he was based on his crew car. It would drive a mile ahead each time and park to wait for him. Most times it would pull just ahead of us and stop. As we reached the Dugway Geode Beds I could tell he was within a half mile so we pushed the hills up towards the pass a little quicker. I was amazingly still able to run a lot of these hills, hills that Curt was having a hard time riding his bike up. By the time I hit the pass, mile 78, I was about a mile and a half ahead of John.
Awesome volunteer manning Dugway Pass
I stopped a little longer again here to refuel. Woodwork didn't stay long at all and by the time I started running he was well down the pass. Curt and I started out. I had tender legs running down the steeper sections, but once the grade eased up I was able to press and we caught Woodwork and his pacer within a couple of miles. We all moved together and talked for a while. Woodwork is from Texas and ended up taking 5th overall, a real accomplishment considering he started early, which meant he had to have beaten John by more than 2 hours (with John only a couple miles back that would be tough with about 20 miles left). At mile 81 I stopped for a break and the wheels fell off.

I hadn't been fueling properly and I was sleepy beyond belief. After sitting on the bumper for a couple of minutes I decided to just lay down in the dirt for a minute. I laid down right in the road and stretched my legs and hips. I tried to fight off sleep while Curt handed me an energy gel. I forced myself to get up and eat the gel and take a few hits of Rockstarr. I then set off again. I told my crew to now only go ahead two miles. Curt stayed with me on the bike to keep my company, even though we didn't talk much. I was walking like I was asleep. I had tunnel vision and was just stumbling forward. Then, at the snap of your fingers, the gel and caffeine kicked in and everything cleared up. I started walking straight, then running, then talking and laughing. I was back again!!!

This method of refueling every two miles was the ticket to my last 20 miles. Every two miles we'd creep up to the car and I'd take a gel (or shot blocks or sport beans) and take a hit of Coke or Rockstarr and I'd be off again. Most every stop (except one to fix my hammered pinky toe) was less than 1 minute at the car and I was off again. At mile 88 a car pulled up and it was the guy who had manned the 50 mile aid station. He said that I was currently the only person on the entire course (and he had driven by them all except the two in front of me) still running. He was amazing. Geez, I was amazed. How was I doing this? I knew I was still on target to go sub-23 hours, something I could really only have dreamed of. I was back on the super long, straight road and I could see the two racers ahead of me (Davy and Ed), as well as many of the racers behind me. I was comfortably in 3rd, but because you can't tell how far away people are I always had it in my head to keep moving forward. No matter who it was I didn't want to get caught. With 8 miles left my dad (Steve) showed up in his car to give me some motivation. And then with just 2.4 miles left he and my step-mom (Marie) showed up again to tell me I was almost there. It was awesome.

At just before 5am on Saturday, October 16th I ran (yes, ran, not jogged) through the finish line of my first 100 mile endurance run. I ran into the arms of my wife, my mom, my step-dad, my dad, and my step-mom. I had the people I loved most (minus my three kids) there to be a part of this amazing experience. I can't express my gratitude enough to each of them for the role they played in this race. Even my dad and step-mom who manned the aid station. While I didn't see them often, the few times I did was an amazing inspiration. I love all of them so much for sacrificing for my selfish endeavor.

It is now a day and a half later and I can finally find time to write this. I reflect back on everything I went through and am still amazed I finished . . . and so well. Thank you to Davy Crockett for putting on an amazing race and to my family for providing me with the support and inspiration to finish. I can't wait to do it again.
Here are some photos from the finish line:
My wonderful crew-wife, Emily

This guy road 74 miles on a bike to keep me company!

Crew parents rock!

Aid station parents who drove all over the desert to support me.
And cook wicked-good pancakes.

100 mile finisher. FINALLY.


Davy said...

Hey, my first three miles were only 6:50 pace. I thought this was a 5K but couldn't find the finish line there, so I kept going. My 50K split was 4:45, so I was more than an hour ahead, yet you almost caught up at mile 58. You guys must have really blasted that downhill. I figured your crew was doing 3-mile stops, so when I started seeing them, I knew you were closing in. Congrats on the great finish and nice race report.

Maurine Lee said...

Awesome job, Craig! You did a great job on your race. Love the title of your post.

What's next?

Susanna said...

CONGRATULATIONS Craig! WOW!!! What an awesome accomplishment! LOVE LOVE LOVE how supportive your family was/is in your endeavor! Very inspiring report!

Jessica Arevalo said...

Wow Craigy! Sorry about your litte wet wipe experience. Poor little eyes! You are amazing! Em is also amazing for doing what she did after just having the flu. You guys are awesome!