Sunday, August 30, 2015

Beaverhead Endurance Run 100k: Idaho on the Left, Montana on the Right!

Idaho on the left, Montana on the right!
This race was probably one of the most remote I have run and, for a few miles at least, one that felt both exhilarating and reckless.  

The day before the race Lisa and I took advantage of the (tame) two-hour float trip down the Salmon River organized by the race directors since the area has a reputation for world-class rafting.  For obvious reasons, the float trip didn't feature any rapids of consequence but it was, as advertised, scenic and relaxing.  The race briefing and pre-race meal followed.  Supper consisted of green salad, pasta salad, and a brownie for dessert since the main was chicken.  I was a little concerned I wasn't eating enough but I think the modest, simple food the night before greatly benefited me (and my bowels) the next day.  I also had a beer when we returned to the hotel room but we didn't stay up late:  the race began at 5am and the start line was over an hour away.  I set my alarm for 2:30am and we left the hotel about an hour later.  

The race directors mentioned at the pre-race briefing the ridge was much cooler than down in the valley but I was surprised by how cold it actually was.  I generally start a race with the least amount of clothing possible but this race I put on my Salomon windbreaker and zipped up to stay warm.  After the singing of the National Anthem and a few quick pictures with Lisa, the 54 of us registered for the 100k set off.  

I settled into a comfortable pace behind a male-female pair and although I had my hand-held flashlight I didn't need it since the fellow in front of me had a blazing headlamp.  

When I arrived at the first aid station (six miles) I stopped to refill my pack and snagged a few pieces of fruit since I was concerned about the altitude, dry heat, and the risk of dehydration --- I didn't want to derail my race by not drinking enough!  We were running on the Continental Divide Trail but were not yet straddling the ridge so the views were mostly looking down into Salmon.  
Salmon, ID way off in the distance
At some point I caught up to a female runner named Fran and when we rolled into an aid station at about mile 15 or 20 the volunteers announced that Fran was first woman.  I was surprised because the male-female pair I began the race with took off after the first aid station and I thought they were much further ahead of me.  Fran's reaction to the news was unexpected:  "Well, that's pathetic."  Her and I ran together for several miles but my right knee was starting to tighten up so I slowed down a bit.  Fran arrived into the mile 27 aid station --- the only aid station accessible to crew --- a minute ahead of me and she didn't waste too much time topping off her liquids, greeting her crew, then setting off again.  Lisa was waiting for me and, as usual, had the items I needed:  the TigerTail, a Starbucks Frappucino, and some Perpeteum.  I massaged my legs for a few minutes then set off for the mostly four miles of uphill to the next aid station.  

About a mile away from the next aid station it started to rain then lightly hail.  I wasn't too alarmed since we had been warned about the possibility of precipitation but when I rolled into the aid station the sky opened up, I forced a smile, threw up my hands, and decided to hang out under the aid station tent until it let up.  Another runner from Montana, Hayden Janssen, was already sitting at the aid station shivering under an aid station volunteer's coat so we commiserated for a while until he fashioned a rain coat from a garbage bag then set off on the rain-drenched trail.  I hung out for a bit longer but after a gaggle of four or so runners showed up and it appeared the rain was slowing some I took off with the gaggle behind me.  

Somewhat to my surprise -- and in spite of the rain and muddy trail -- I was moving quite well on the gentle uphill with a runner from Boulder, CO (Brad Olwin) settling in behind me.  On a steeper incline he pulled away from me and eventually out of sight.  I kept on and eventually caught up to Hayden who was moving about the same speed I was so we settled in together.  

When we finally rolled into Goldstone Aid Station (mile ~46.5) we were well-ahead of the cut-off but close enough for me to notice, and remark to the aid station volunteers, that covering the first 46.5 miles of the course in 13 hours isn't trivial, given the terrain and altitude.  They agreed and reminded us this is a difficult race.  After sitting for a few minutes, eating some potato chips, and bumming a couple of Ibuprofen off an aid station volunteer, Hayden and I set off again.  At this point the gray skies and precipitation had long since departed and we were running under beautiful blue skies.  

Hayden and I chatted easily about running, our backgrounds, and politics until the next aid station.  I arrived at Janke Lake a couple of minutes ahead of Hayden and I'm not sure if it was the Ibuprofen but I was feeling strong.  Hayden noticed the remnants of dill pickles on the aid station table and asked if they had anymore dill pickle juice left.  They did and offered some to both Hayden and me.  I had never eaten a dill pickle during a race, much less drank the juice, but the saltiness sounded appetizing so I took a swig.  It tasted good and my body didn't immediately object.  After taking a few pictures of Janke Lake down on the Montana side, Hayden and I left then began the slog to the scree field.   

Janke Lake on the Montana side of the CDT
The highest point on the course is along the scree field -- an exposed expanse of shoe-sized to couch-sized loose rocks -- so it was cold and windy.  The race directors went to great lengths to prepare the runners for the scree field -- they even posted videos to the race website of the terrain -- but not even that can prepare you for the unstable rock you are traversing with a vertical drop into Montana immediately to your right.  If you stayed as far right as possible the trail was, at times, runnable but if you are at all skiddish about heights and being exposed (like I am) you hug the left.  This made for some slow sections jumping from rock to rock.  This section also featured several false summits so there were a few times where I was *certain* I was approaching the end of the scree field only to look up and see another climb.  It was slow-going and, at times, frustrating.  There were moments of exhilaration and awe followed by a few curse words mumbled under my breath about the recklessness and craziness of what I was doing.  

When I finally reached the end of the screen field and began the descent down to the last aid station -- Bohannon Creek -- I caught back up to Fran and Brad.  Both were quite surprised to see me, especially since I last saw Fran >25 miles ago and Brad 15 or so miles back.  I fell in behind Brad and we began the steep and technical descent into Bohannon.  We passed a few 50k back-of-the-packers, chatted amiably, and marveled at the technicality as well as the scenery that abounded from the Continental Divide Trail and scree field.  

We only spent a few minutes in the Bohannon Creek aid station (mile 56) -- long enough for me to splash some water on my eye since my contact was pretty dry and my vision was blurry out of my right eye -- then Brad and I took off for the last six miles of the course.  I was feeling even better at this point and I remember thinking to myself, "OK, wheels up, let's get this done."  Most of the descent was on a jeep road and included two creek crossings and when I approached the creek both times I plowed through -- no hesitation -- and just kept on.  It seemed as if the faster I ran the better I felt.  The last mile or so wound through pasture and it was unclear how far the finish line was but when it finally came into view I sped up and crossed the finish line in 15h:45m:44s.  Among 41 finishers, I was 20th and just 15 minutes behind the first woman (Fran was 2nd woman).  I was quite pleased with my race:  my feet held up well, I didn't have any problems taking in and retaining food and drink, and the scenery, course, and aid station volunteers were spectacular (many thanks to the volunteer at Goldstone who gave me some Ibuprofen!).  I had my iPod with me since I was anticipating running quite a few miles solo but I never removed it from my pocket...I chatted away quite a few miles with Fran, Brad, and Hayden (good company indeed!).  

This is a great race that combines difficulty (12,700' of ascent, 15,100' of descent) with uniqueness (running on the CDT!) and one I hope remains on the ultra circuit.  I certainly hope to return again some day!    
Lisa (crew-extraordinaire!) and me at the finish area