The ultra that would never ends - by Mike Burke.
As the title implies Wasatch would just not go away for me and Olga. At least Olga had trained. All I had done was sign up and whine about my knee. I am here to tell ya that was a bad start. At one time we were pretty good runners but Wasatch was not to be our greatest hour. It wasn't until the Friday before race day that we decided to pace each other. It turned out to be the only smart thing we did to get us to the finish line. Olga's shot at the Grand Slam was already in the toilet at Leadville three weeks before. Altitude induced breathing problems proved to be too much for our little Russian Wild Flower.
Race day started off cool and misty, just perfect for a NW runner. It never really got warm until late the next day. The climbs were just moderate with really nice trail. Even the famous Chin scrapper was no big climb. There are lots of lightly slopping meadows to traverse with Aid Stations every 5 to 7 miles. Don't me wrong Wasatch is one endless hill after the other with some really rocky sections. As Curt Ringstad reminded me, it's the hardest 50 miler you will even do and still have 50 miles to go.
Our real problems began after the 20 mile mark when Olga's breathing problems came into play. From then on all the uphill were very slow. I was OK with this development as I was there for a finish with the least amount of damage. We made it into Lamb's Canyon (mile 53) in 14 hours, way too fast. I couldn't get my feet comfortable. The blisters were popping up like voles in a NW wheat field. We had both stashed some nite running clothing here but not enough. The long climb out to Big Water (63 miles) was probably one of the coldest I will ever do. When we finally made it and I was handed my drop bag it had frost on it, bring on the soup and cocoa. There were nice fires at all the Aid Stations after that. We were both looking forward to the Brighten Aid Station. Heated building with real toilets and someplace to lay down, a very dangerous place to aspiring finishers. When we hit the paved road, 2 ½ miles to Brighten, Olga started to get hypothermic. Too little food and too many miles had taken their toll. Brighten shined like a starry beacon below us so on we went. Maybe a quick 15 minute nap would get us back on the trail. It was a very long couple of miles and I was getting worried. It took us 40 minutes to get back out of brighten but to Olga's credit we left with renewed energy on up the toughest climb on the course at mile 75.
This was the only place on the course where we had trouble following the course marking. It was nite time what did I expect. We never actually lost the trail so it was OK. Shortly after coming across Catherine Pass the sun came up and so did our spirits.
The further we went the more we questioned our sanity. The quote of the Day was "We have to finish so we never have to come back again."
After that the trails and Aid Stations just started to run together. Between the last two Aid Stations there was an endless section thru aspen groves which would have been beautiful under any other conditions but not with these feet. From the last Aid Station on we slowed and the crowd speed up. We must have been passed by 50 runners in those last 5 miles. I developed the mother of all heel blisters and had to crush the back of my shoe down and wear it like a sandal for 4 miles. As one guy observed "Hey dude, you got a flat."
Olga observed that the finish was slightly lessened by the almost fact that we were finished 20 miles back but we did finish together in 34:04. We walked in backwards and of course I lost my shoe before the line. The question was raised by one offensive James Varner, do you get an official finish if you cross without both shoes.
In summary, I would only do this Ultra with lots of training and well stocked drop bags. The Aid Stations are well manned and stocked. There were pancakes, cheese sandwiches, soups, French toast, potatoes and plenty more but it is very tough and doesn't let up until the end. Whatever you do don't do like Olga and I did. Remember "Pain is inevitable but Suffering is optional"
My view on how things went.
Perfect name, I couldn't have come up with myself:)
Just an addition to a great description of suffering:
-14 hrs to Lambs was perfectly on plan, but not on this particular day. Should have slowed down when realized we have problems and not fit for sub-30 run. It did take a toll later.
-We started to get hypothermic on the way to Big Water, and personally I never recovered, just got worse due to stopped eating (duh, very smart). If Mike hasn't dragged me to the Morgue, I would have frozen on the side trail as I really wanted to lay down and sleep. Or at least in that warm covered restroom at the trailhead:)
-Second day was hot and long, and never done anything so long in my life before, I lost all the excitement of doing a trail ultra. So it really dragged. Not that much because of being tired, but mostly because I didn't care anymore. You want to finish, but you don't want to move any faster - that how it went for the last 15 miles for me. Lesson - either enter events trained enough to finish in less than 34 hrs, or learn to enjoy all of those hours. Aha, I'll take the first option!
-Aid stations were wonderful, couldn't better them. But to do a long event, I'd prefer to have a crew for the future. It just takes forever to get drop back, get the stuff out, explain to wonderful people what in the world I want when I myself have no idea about...No pacer is OK, no crew is not.
-Thank you, Mike, for committing to see us through to the finish. I think, I'll take a couple of years at least to rethink if I dare to come back.
All this said, I was asked yesterday on a run of what my lesson learned were from my unsuccessful attempt at Grand Slam. Now that it's over, that I've told the story of my failure to many and made peace with it, here what I came up with - take it with lots of caution, as I am very new, doing ultras for 2.5 years and running in general for a bit over 4, so I am a toddler at best.
1.You have to treat every 100 as an individual 100 and not as a part of a Slam. I went into it thinking I could ride a wave of WS fitness into all 4 of them. Physically, you may be capable doing it. But every one of them has its own beast. I wasn't ready for humidity at VT, altitude at LT and altitude, cold and relentless climbs at WF, and I paid every time. My legs were never shuttered, so I was in shape. But I didn't take elements into account.
2. You have to really be smart in-between the 100s, what NOT to do is only a part of it (and I did this part as wrong as it gets, being oblivious to reasoning and having way too much fun), you also need to know what you actually DO have to do, like tempo/intervals/hills? Long runs or not? Hikes or flats? Fast or slow?Just because Krissy and Scott are blessed with speed, doesn't mean we can't learn from them, just need to adapt. I would talk not to just other regular slammer (bless their hearts), but those who did well. You want to feel like you're alive, not sloshing through.
3. It surely helps to have a good crew. Knowledge of 100 and you personally important.
4. Emotional stability - not something you can count for at any given point.
OK, just my take-home message. I wasn't ready for it, and I won't be next year. Every person decides for him/her self. I need more work put into this, more knowledge, more suffering vs good runs etc. And I need to feel I do it because I love it, not for delusional target. If I struggle too much, I stop enjoying it, and I found out for me it shuts down body response.