22 September 2014

The mighty YT50: Burning in the sun

Race day! My first official 50-miler, point-to-point, end-to-end, start to finish. At 0530, it was a crisp 43F degrees with nary a cloud to suppress the waning starlight twinkles. I heeded the forecast weather and went with my t-shirt, calf sleeves and mid-thigh compression shorts for my race gear, with my trusty visor and glasses ready for up top. (Key to my race day outfit was the Pumpkin Noodle's fairy bracelet, which she asked me to wear on race day.)  Over the shorts, I added two more layers, both upper and lower, and my woolen cap to keep me warm as we drove up the mountain to the start. Up at the start, last check on nutrition prep and I got my number and running shoes on and configured to satisfaction. I was nervous and excited.

The start at Upper Mesa Falls, ID
Co-race director Jay gave me a huge hug and asked how I was doing. "You know me, Jay, perpetually under-trained," was my deadpan (and honest) reply. I took a look at the other runners and found that most of us were not only from out of the ID/WY/MT area, but a good chunk were from the east coast, with FL, NC, SC and NY well represented. To the last runner, everyone looked prepared with nutrition and water packs, K-tape, more than one pair of Hokas and brightly colored gear. I stripped off my outer layers, slathered sunscreen on my face, fell into the crowd and waited for the horn at 0900.

Jay is in the bright blue jacket, I am in the center with the red calf sleeves.
Before I get into the race as it unfolded, I am going to attach the elevation profile. You'll notice we start on a slight downslope, continuing down and then the remainder of the race is a net climb, with three significant climbs (in addition to the multitudes on the map), two of which were between 30-35 miles (for the 50-mi folks). Aid stations were approximately 10 miles apart and I had asked my crew to be at the interim 5-mile marks, starting at mile 15. 

0900MT: The horn sounded and we were off.....

Mile 0-10.4: A largish group went off ahead and I fell into a nice pace with about five other runners, two men and two other women. We chatted about the weather, the race course, our home states and generally wondered if we were starting too fast. The views were gorgeous and the air sweetly clean. The course dropped into the base of the falls and we had shade among the pines and aspens as we started the first of the three major ascents. The sun warmed us in a cloudless sky. 

(L-R) Ashlee, me and Mariska at about mile 6. We are all mothers of two.
Mariska went on to be 2nd female overall (after having run a 50K and a marathon
over the course of the two previous weekends - she is pretty much a badass.)
Aid station #1(~1040): I grabbed a few swigs of mint tea, refilled my handheld w/ a water/HEED mix, took some electrolyte pills, some banana and some GU chomps. Lip balm and then a quick head call. Behind the port-a-potty. Nobody noticed. 

Miles 10.4-20.8: The course took a scissoring left after a sloping downhill and up over a bridge before heading onto a soft dirt and gravel road. The clusters of runners had begun to string out and I had in sight several figures identifiable only by shirt and pack color: green, grey/white, blue/red. I followed their bobbing cadences up past farmland and up again and then another turn and up some more. The trees fell away and the sun reflected brightly on the stony road. We each took our turn in the spray of an irrigation hose as we passed it, the prior runner signaling by action to the following that here was some relief from the warmth. I passed blue on red, named Jay, who said he has some muscle aches. I told him he could use my first aid gear at the next aid station if he needed. This somehow spurred him into action and off he went. I would not see him again until about 44 miles. The road dropped into a ravine and another steep climb followed, cresting and bringing the next aid station into sight. 

Aid station #2 (~1240): My stomach was not feeling right and I didn't want much in the way of nutrition but I ate anyway. I drank some protein smoothie, a bite of PB&J, some mac'n'cheese and boiled potatoes w/salt. A refill again but I had to make another head call. This time inside the port-a-potty. 

Miles 20.8-25.5: I started gingerly, testing if my gut was stable and then turned my attention back to the course. The road again turned left and uphill, with a milepost stating 19. The sun was high and unimpeded. Ahead I saw green and grey/white and as the hill continued upward, green got bigger. I asked how he was doing as I passed and green, named Phil, said he was having a rough time of it but that he was alright. I pressed as heat began rising from the pavement. Grey/white, named John, and I ran a back and forth for a while, feeding off each other's rhythm while still running our own paces. 

An absolute dearth of shade. 
Miles 25.5-30.9: We crested another climb and turned right at Squirrel Cemetery. As the runners became dots along the course, support crews with "Runner on Road" placards leapfrogged. Then a quick crew pit-stop for more water, more Gatorade, some IcyHot and the roller on the legs and more lip balm. At this point, all pretense of single-serve crews went out the window, and all crews, including mine, began giving water refills and whatever else was needed from their runners' supplies. Then back against the relentless sun, passing scenic farmland and cresting another staggering climb. I was still running with only a few walk breaks on the hills. My stomach had recovered and I was feeling strong. The mileposts were counting down. 

Aid station #3(~1445): This appeared on the downslope and I was almost surprised. I again felt no desire to eat but did anyway, potatoes, salt, electrolytes, a handful of M&Ms and a refill. This was also the last point for my crew, who departed back to Jackson Hole after I passed through. 

Miles 30.9-36.9: John went ahead and I followed; we dropped into a series of rolling troughs, pummeling the thighs on the way down only to chew them mercilessly as we clawed our way back uphill. My right outer calf cramped. . The sun screamed from above and cast waves on the road, blurring the rolls and mocking my attempts to decipher the distance as the troughs became a steady gradual incline stretching out toward the mountains. My right hamstring cramped. I walked it out. 

Mile 36.9: Just ahead, a blue hatchback pulled up and a woman got out, setting up something on the road. John and neon yellow paused at the set-up and then continued on. It was the race doc, and she was part of a series of interim water stops now being set up all along the course to help runners combat the heat. I took several handfuls of ice, stuffing some into my bra and some in my mouth while she refilled my water. I had more electrolyte pills. 

I started back off, now doing a run from utility pole to utility pole, then a walk for the same distance, trying to stave off the persistent cramping in my right leg. Milepost 4 passed as I caught up to neon yellow, named Gordon, just as I cramped again. We chatted and worked together to keep the run/walk pattern. At milepost 2, I was reduced to a walk/run. Lisa, the other race director, drove up in her van, asking if we needed water and how we were doing. We gave a thumbs up and she sped off in search of other runners. 

Those were the only clouds seen all day.....
Aid station #4(~1710): We shuffled into the tent for more ice, more potatoes and salt, and I used my stick to try and loosen the cramps. I was feeling frustrated because I wasn't sore, with only a small ache near my right inner Achilles, but I couldn't stave off the cramping. We set off again, committed to finishing together and with Gordon on the look-out for other runners coming from the rear (we had heard that the first 100-mile runner was on his way). The sun started its downward arc, but that gave us no respite from its heat.

Miles 41.4-50: I again attempted a run/walk pattern but the muscles kept seizing and I settled for a full-on, step-it-out military march pace, head down, shoulders back and no desire to slow down. We turned onto another gravel road, lined by aspens and oaks, which steadily inclined, the trees falling away to pastures of cows and horses. The gravel was large and rocky, with edges of which could be felt through my shoes. We saw a figure in the distance; it was Jay, stopped at his support vehicle. He dipped behind the crest of the slope and disappeared. I tried to run again. I cramped. 

The gravel road lured us to an asphalt crossing, but we were cruelly directed across it, continuing on the gravel for another two miles. Gordon was the perfect companion, encouraging and understanding but also never letting me fall off pace. Just as we approached the stop sign signalling the final right turn, the first 100-miler runner passed us, Grant Maughan, on his way to break the course record by almost 30 minutes. We cheered him on and I tried to run again. 

We made the turn, heading directly into town with 2.5 miles left in the race. I couldn't hold the run and Gordon said, "Are you kidding? I have never walked this fast in my life. We are moving." The sun began its sleepy descent, casting a golden glow and throwing town lights into relief. We saw the sole town stop light, and I focused on the interim markers as it drew closer, blinking green to yellow to red. 

At about 200 yds to go, I turned to Gordon and said, "One last try?" He said, "Hell, yes, you have to run to the finish!" I picked up my legs and as soon as I strode, I felt it cramp. I kept going, keeping an off-syncopation stride but somehow "running" to the line. 

Mile 50 (~1921): Lisa and Jay were there to greet me with hugs and photos and the amazing words - FIRST WOMAN FINISHER! (7th place overall)

The finish in 10 hours, 21 minutes. 
Gordon, who got me through those last miles. 
Sunburned and happy to be done.
Fairy bracelet on the left arm above the watch. 

A HUGE thank you to Lisa & Jay Batchen, my dear friends who invited me to run this race. Thank you for a wonderfully executed race, a superb group of volunteers and race support folks and for believing in me. Thank you for letting me share my story, my fundraising efforts and my adventure with you. You guys are amazing. 


  1. As always, you are an inspiration. Wait for it… here comes the music!!!