18 July 2010

North Fork 50 Miler: Character Building

"Time for a gel.  What do you want?"  Steve asks

"Nothing" I reply

"I have tri-berry gu, huckleberry Hammer, or clif bloks..."

"I don't want anything, thanks."  I reply.

"How about a tri-berry and an S-Cap?"  Steve persists.

"For God's sake, fine!  I'll take the Gu and S-Cap."  I snap.

This is how poor Steve's day went from mile 35 to mile 50.

24 hours removed from the pain, cramps, dizziness, and stomach aches I appreciate the North Fork 50 mile struggle more than I thought I could admit.

Very well done event.  It started on time at 7am with the 50 milers and 50k(ers) beginning together.  I knew Bill Fanselow was running (US Mountain Running Team) and consistently strong runners, Rick Hessek and Todd Gangeloff.  Along with them was a strong women's field, probably more so than the mens.  At the start we settled into an easy pace down the footpath along the river, crossed the bridge and cracked into the first long, steep climb.  At the top of the 1,000 ft climb Bill started easing off the front and no one went with him.  It was subtle and too early for me to want to jump in with him, so he pulled away about 50 meters ahead.  We were now forming a group of 4, me, Todd, Rick, and some other guy.  They were chatting behind me, so I started pulling away like Bill had previously and no one went with me.  I hit the second aid station at 10 miles in 1:22, which I felt substantial considering the long climb at the start.  No one was behind me and Bill was within a solid kick in front of me.  I kept him in front of me but within sight until mile 20 when his climbing ability paid off and he got up 5 mins on me.

I was averaging around  8:30 pace, eating a gel every 20 mins, drinking about 30 oz and hour, and popping 200mg of salt since it wasn't yet way too hot.  Things were going so well that I began entertaining thoughts of catching a depleted Bill in the last 20 miles.  What else is there to think about running alone in the mountains when it's 90 degrees out?  At 30.5 miles I picked up Steve as my pacer.  I told him, "Okay, here's the deal.  I've been in a solid 2nd place for 30 miles and I don't want to lose that."

[caption id="attachment_390" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Picking up Steve at 30.5 miles"][/caption]

Well, we started the same climb I had done at the start just 4.5 hours before.  Now, though, I had 31 miles in me and it was in the 90's.  I started feeling a little sick and cramping at the 34.5 mile aid station.  Just as I was leaving Rick and the eventual women's winner were coming up the trail.  As we were leaving I told Steve that I didn't really care about placing and that I'd just like to finish.  That's how bad I felt.  Soon, the woman went by and looked like she had just started running.  Then Rick came up and chatted with me a bit before moving on.  Things were bad and I had no way of believing they could get worse.  But they did.

[caption id="attachment_391" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Getting started on the last 20 miles"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_392" align="aligncenter" width="209" caption="How I felt during the final stages"][/caption]

The next 15 miles were a blur of 4 hours of walk/jog/hobble, minor blackouts, and Steve's watch beeping.  If Steve hadn't been with me, I would've dropped from the race, no doubt in my mind.  He helped get me through it and retain some dignity finishing in 6th place in a staggering long time of 9:31.

As I mentioned, the event was directed perfectly.  The food was super, there was beer (that's enough to bring me back), the goodie bag was great, the best race shirt I've ever received, superior aid stations and volunteers, and a fucking hard course (excuse my language but running on gravel/sand trails up and down mountains in burned out forests exposed to the high altitude sun, warrant a curse word or two).  This is a substantial event that will challenge anyone.  Half the starting field dropped out, enough said.

Thanks Steve for being so patient and encouraging.  You have no idea how much you helped me.  Thanks to his kind wife, Kathleen for waiting (and worrying) about us for the 5 hours it took to "run" the last 20 miles.  I'm grateful to have you as my friends.

[caption id="attachment_393" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Only reason I'm smiling is from 2 beers and food"][/caption]