Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Summer Adventure #1: Pocatello Window
I've been slow in getting this up, but better late than never. On 28 May I ran my first ultra of the year, the Pocatello 50K in the mountains outside of Pocatello Idaho. Awesome!
This is the third year of this race. It began as a 50 mile run. The second year it was cancelled mid-race due to a blizzard that turned it into a life-threatening ordeal. This year a 50K and 20 mile race were added. On the last day of last year I celebrated New Years eve with a bunch of ultrarunners and friends at Fran Zelenitz'. For all our ultra endurance activity, we're wimps, and the party petered out by 10:30 PM. Fran mentioned she was setting her alarm for midnight, because online signup for Pocatello began then, and she was sure it would fill up quickly. Around 7:00 AM, when we met for coffee, she told me me with some disgust "I didn't have to get up at midnight, it's still not full. You could even do it now." "OK, I will then." It was the lack of coffee speaking, I guess, but we booted up her machine and I signed up for the 50K. But why not...I was in good shape, and could only get better. Umm...
My training over the winter was poor. I entered January in great shape with high hopes of building on that, but four consecutive bouts with illness (bronchitis, ear infection, flu, common cold) plus a week without power put a kabosh on serious training for almost two months and left me a wreck. I managed to do some crash training in April, including two 17.5 mile (28K) runs, a bare minimum for me to run 50K. I also managed to bang up my knees, which have always been the one body part that never gives me trouble.
In early May I headed over to Cheyenne Wyoming and my friend Jeff Ross for some altitude training. Cheyenne is about 6,000 feet (1818 m.) above sea level, just enough to trigger altitude effects on cardiovascular performance. Nearby is Vedauwoo, the remains of an ancient mountain range, much older than the Rockies. I trained there for three days -- 2hrs40min running the first day, 4hrs hiking with Jeff and the dogs the second day, and a "fast" 2 mile run plus 2hrs hiking the third day, all at around 7,500 feet (2270 m.). Evenings included great food and plenty of Ranger IPA. Take it from me, this regime will build you up quickly.
Vedauwoo is a one of the best places in the world. Go there and wander around. You will be very glad you did. It's an astounding place -- magical, in the sense of the wonder it inspires. It's great for running, hiking, and rock climbing. And given that this year's Pocatello runs never went much above 7,000 feet, and Vedauwoo was largely snow free in May, it was exactly what I needed... as was my visit with Jeff.
After 3 plus days in Cheyenne, Chaos (canine companion) and I took off for Montana. Interstate 90 was closed from the Wyoming border to Billings MT due to horrendous flooding (any time the desert floods it is horrendous) so we took backroads via Thermopolis, Cody, and Laurel.
Once in Montana, we zipped over to our headquarters in Bozeman. In Bozeman, I joined up with five other runners -- Fran Z., Emily, Don D., Damian, and Zach, and in two vehicles we headed south to Pocatello ID for the race. We had a call from another Montana runner, Mike Foote of Missoula. It seems everyone in Missoula who had planned on racing was wimping out, save Mike...so much for his carpool. It was a bit out of our way, but Emily, Fran, and I met him in Dillon -- convenient, as the Patagonia outlet there was having its Memorial Day sale. I spent $170 on Patagucci down and fleece, stuff that a few moths before retailed for $500. Mike arrived, and after a bit we headed on to Pocatello. After a great meal in a brewpub there, we made our way to the race start/finish/campground. I pitched my NorthFace Ambition 35, and just as I got it up a torrential downpour cut loose. We stood around it the group shelter talking...cold, high winds, hellish rain, just what we needed. One runner observed..."hmm, maybe the rapture did occur after all." It certainly looked like ultrarunner hell.
I woke up at 1:00 AM; the rain had stopped and the sky was perfectly clear. I awoke again around 5 and got up. The sky -- till clear. Emily was up, making coffee. I had two thermoses of coffee already waiting and drank that -- I'm pretty cavalier about coffee, so long as it has caffeine. We watched the start of the 50 mile race -- Zach and Mike were running that one, the rest of us were in the 50K. I gulped a bit of breakfast and we loaded onto the bus that took us to the start of the 50K.
By 8:30 AM, 50K start, the sun was up and the sky nearly cloudless. One announcement that didn't delight me was that the snow course (the changes imposed by heavy snowpack in the higher country) was closer to 35 miles long. The race started, and we began running up City Creek, a nice little stream lined by willows and aspen. The trail was good, and wove back and forth across the stream, always with nice little wooden bridges. Not too steep, sure, a little steeper here, there's bridge #14, and there's another crossing that's not really a bridge, and yes it's getting a little steeper, and here's a snowbank and where's the trail and why are we running through this tangle of aspens and whoops the gal ahead of me just slid down the snow slope and I need my crampons and we're running in the stream and ice and it's a 45 degree climb and if we can just make it to that snow wall we'll be able to kick toeholds and traverse a bit... it's the first time ever I could have simultaneously used my ice ax and machete. It's 2700 foot (820 M.) climb over the first 6-7K, and most of the climb comes towards the end. Rough stuff, and I felt done in. But once atop, you're on top of the world, with fabulous views of the valley below. On top we ran a few miles, through an aid station, and into a small creek drainage. Most of this was on jeep trails. It became warm enough that I ran shirtless, until I started worrying that my hydration pack was starting to rub blisters into my back.
Another climb, then another long gradual downhill to the next aid station. I began running with a gal from Boise, Chele H. She was really tearing down the trail, and we ran together, making great time and passing people...until in the midst of commenting on how great my running was going, I tripped and slid along in the mud for two or three meters. That put the dampers on my speed for a bit, and Chele was long gone. I eventually got into the next aid station, mile 16 or so. I didn't spend too much time here, and took off on the next loop.
After a bit Chele caught me, as I'd passed her at the aid station. We ran together for quite ways -- she told me how she'd only been running for maybe four years, and if she finished this it would be her longest run ever. We talked about families, about friend, about schools (she teaches music), and about running. Great way to spend a day. after another long climb, maybe 6 miles, we hit heavy snowpack, and a one mile detour off the loop that took us to the next aid station. They gave us each a cup of hot chicken soup...Awesome stuff! I drank mine, half of Chele's, and four more besides. And then off, back through the snow, plus graupel that began falling. For a ways I ran with a young guy, Colin something, who is working on a Ph.D. in bioengineering. We talked about his research, about the economics of health care, and about ultrarunning. I was staring to get tired, and let everyone go and began walking.
Next aid station -- one loop to go -- I had been doubtful but I knew now I had it in me to complete the run. I was less excited, though, by the news that careful measurement now suggested the course was over 36 miles, instead of 50K. I set out on the last loop, again with Chele (don't spend so much time at the stations, girl!) with the end in site. This last loop wasn't bad -- a nice gradual climb that took us to the 5K point (Chele GPS'd it) and back down. At 50K I felt tired but not too bad. But that was my limit, and things started getting painful after that. I slowed considerably and dragged in, still functional and pretty happy. Everyone I had ridden down with had finished strongly, and so too the friends I'd run with. Chele hammered her finish and was in great shape after her longest run, serving cheesecake she'd brought for a friend's birthday. Me, I stuffed myself full of homemade burritos they were serving plus cup after cup of hot water, and finally wandered off to the tent and crashed. The night weather was cold but still perfect for running, and a few late runners were indeed coming in after dark. I awoke at 1:30 AM; the lights were off, last runner in, and the deluge began again. We'd threaded the needle, so to speak, and run through the one window of good weather in the week.
In the morning it was still pouring rain. After breaking camp we managed to find the one coffee shop in Pocatello open at 7:00 on Sunday, caffeinated ourselves, and headed north -- into a snowstorm around Dell MT.
Great trip! I'm pretty beat up, with a banged up right heel, but I'm also in great shape now for whatever summer activities come along. The Montana contingent preformed extremely well, placing, I believe, 2nd and 3rd in the men's 50 mile (Mike and Zach), 3rd in the women's 50K (Emily), 1st and 3rd in men's 50K (Damian and Don) and for me -- simply finishing is always a great triumph. And most importantly, it was a really fun time.
No photos, unfortunately (except the one I cadged from the race site), but I'll not let that happen again.