Wow, what an amazing race! I arrived in Snowbird Utah on Wednesday, 7/16/14. The race was Saturday 7/19/14. I arrived with a bit of illness, but seemed to come around in time to race. I ran into some superstars of the ultra world including Ellie Greenwood and race director and speedgoat Karl Meltzer the day before the race.
I came to Snowbird solo, knowing no one. I met up with a wonderful group of individuals at breakfast, inlcuding Trent Beachy, creator of Elevation Tat, a temporary tattoo of race elevation profiles. I first came across his tattoos at San Juan Solstice 50 last year in Lake City, CO. It helped me keep track of where I was and what was coming next during that long race. Memorizing a mountain course is difficult, and once you get a few hours into a race things become blurry. This product is really exciting to have, and I was sooooo geeked out to meet the creator!. Here is a pic of the Speedgoat course profile as it looks on the tattoo that runs the length of your forearm. Pic credit to Elevation Tat.
He had his lovely girlfriend Abigail, and their two friends Dan and Meggie Graham with him. Dan would be racing. Our trails crossed several times (well, basically at every meal) before the race, and eventually they sort of adopted me into their little tribe and
even ended up crewing me and cheering me on during
the race. Here you see Trent on the left and Dan (racing) on the right. This was at mi 8, Hidden Peak. Obviously, the elevation had gotten to their brains!
Race morning I arrived at the start early to pick up my packet and help Trent and his crew pass out tattoos. I managed to put the first one on a young lady upside down...rookie mistake. The course does look a lot easier upside down though! Oh well, can’t fire free help. After that I opted to hand out the tattoos and let the experts affix them. I wished Dan good luck and we lined up. After making us repeat “I will not cut the switchbacks” and “I will not get in the stream” a few times he cut us loose at around 6:30 am. My goal was to race conservatively, getting to mi 14 feeling as good as possible. We climbed the dirt road about a mile and hit the single track trail that would take us 7 more miles up to Hidden Peak at mi 8 and 11,000ft. I alternated between running and hiking, keeping my effort low moderate the whole way. I was able to gradually work my way up the field as we climbed. At around mi 7 we hit the talus field. Millions of melon size, jagged edged, granite rocks. Here is one of the pics of this field...
Going up them wasn’t so bad...I knew coming down would be a challenge. We crossed a small snowfield going up, a little dicey on a 12” wide trail. This is the view from Hidden Peak looking back at the zig zag trail that leads up through the snow. It was fun with only 1 misstep taking me knee deep in snow.
I made it to the top at mi 8 feeling very good. I used a product called Tailwind for calories/electyrolytes and was taking in about 17-22oz of water with this per hour. I was doing well at getting about 200cal/hr in and my stomach was tolerating this well. Usually, at altitude, I struggle with nausea and have a really hard time getting calories in. Not today. It was also a huge charge to hear Abigail and Meggie cheer me in, it brought a huge smile to my face! I almost cried. Henry Bickerstaff was also there to greet me. He pulled my pack off and between he, Meggie, and Abigail they had me in and out in no time. I asked where Dan was, and was pleased to hear he was moving well, probably 10 or so minutes ahead. My new goal was to find Dan. was getting to them both! Photo cred to Abigail Taylor and Meggie Graham.
I passed on through this aid station, as I had filled up just 2 miles before. I continued down, then a short but steep up and then down again. The next 2 miles were very difficult. I was looking forward to the long downhill toward Pacific Mine aid station at mi 14, near the midway point of the race. I was greated with nearly 2 miles of running down a dry riverbed of again, melon sized, loose rocks that wobbled under every step. I tried to run up on the side where there was more dirt/less rock but the sides were too steep and just kept pushing me back into the rock bed. I finally gave up and just ran down the middle. The heat was cranking up as well. I expected around 80 to be the max temp….Cool by Oklahoma standards. Turns out it cranked up to 96 coming into Pacific Mine. The sun at altitude intensified the heat. I finally got off the rock field about a mile or so before Pacific Mine, starting to feel a little hot and sluggish. I determined at Pacific Mine I would dump ice water over myself and fill the spare bottle in my pack with ice water to douse myself as I ran back up out of there. I was soooo glad I stuffed an extra water bottle in the back of my pack! I grabbed a couple of popsickles and headed out of Pacific Mine, mile 15 on the course with 2 full water/electrolyte drink bottles and an extra bottle of ice water in back.
Next up was a 5 mile climb out of that aid station. I continued that moderate effort up, I sought out shade as I climbed, this section included several miles of jeep road with intermittent shade. Here I came upon Dan, he was not feeling well and had pulled over for a minute. I could tell he was a little overheated. I whipped out my magic ice water bottle and pulled his cap off and poured some ice water on him. I know how incredibly good this feels….it can bring one back from the dead. One thing I have found in ultras, it doesn’t usually take much to rejuvinate an ultra runner. Sometimes just even a kind word can turn a DNF into a finish...and ice water has super magic power. I let him rest and I continued on. I continued to move up a little in the field which felt good. I knew it meant I had been smart at the start. Time wise I was wanting to hit the turnaround before 4 hours and ideally around 3.5, I wasn’t even close, but I was very satisfied with how I was racing and how I was moving up in the field. I was also starting to see some carnage from runners who were struggling to continue.
I made it back to Larry’s hole aid station at mi 21 again feeling pretty good. There were a couple of runners contemplating quitting here. As I filled my bottles and grabbed a handful of chips, I encouraged them. We only had 2 climbs left, both shorter than any climbing sections we have done. I felt a little guilty trying to encourage them, knowing the most brutal climb lay just ahead. 2 miles up to the top of Mt. Baldy. The first mile is steep, the second is just insane. I had experienced some varying levels of discomfort up to this point, but the last mile up Baldy introduced me to a whole new level of difficulty I had not previously encountered (i.e. pain). So, the first mile up out of Larry’s hole I prepped myself mentally for what lay ahead. I also convinced myself if I got over Baldy, I would be fine, falsly convincing myself that the rest of the course would be “easy” in comparison. I was prepared for Baldy, I was not prepared for after. As we hit the seemingly 70% uphill grade of Mt Baldy, there was a gentleman in a chair directing us to the flags that led up the mountain. No trail, just flag to flag climbing. He said, “Just put your head down and climb, it’s 1 hour, you can do this”. And I did, hands and feet mostly, looking up only to see the next blue flag. I climbed some like this and some with my hands on my thighs, pushing them into the ground. My breathing was out of control, laborous, and I felt like an inchworm. I could smell the wildflowers, my face so close to the mountain. I grabbed clods of flowers and grass and the occasional rock. I thought of my mother-in-law. Newly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The day before the race we learned the extent and prognosis. Large masses fill both her lungs with numerous smaller lesions. She needs oxygen now. Is this how she would feel? ...I wondered. And then I broke down. I climbed and cried and grieved a little. I reached the top.
It took about a ¼ mile to find my legs again as I shifted back into a run. The next mile would be downhill into the Tunnel aid station. I found my legs and then some. I was flying down the dirt road into the Tunnel Aid station. There was Trent, Meggie and Abigail. I was surprised and happy to see them here. I told them Dan hit a rough patch, but would be coming soon. They filled me up and I flew out of there through the tunnel in the mountain. Trent had to chase me down to give me a couple of popsickles. It was fun to be chased. It was fun to be fast for a bit.
I descended down for another mile or more coming to the last climb back to Hidden Peak. I just knew this climb would be easy compared to Baldy. My legs felt fantastic flying down. Everyone said this climb was to be a piece of cake all things considered. It was only a mile and half climb at most. As soon as I started to climb my legs revolted. I tried to be patient thinking they would feel better. It always takes a few minutes to shift from descending to climbing and my legs to get adjusted. They never adjusted on this climb. And here’s where expectations kicked my ass. My brain “expected” this to be easy. When it wasn’t, it made it that much harder. Instead of letting go of that expectation, I clung to it for the next mile. I tried to fight the mountain, fight the fact that it wasn’t easier, force my legs to move faster. Finally, with about ½ mi to go, I finally let go. “It is what it is”. Lori, let your legs do what they can. Relax your arms, breathe, relax your legs and just climb….whatever pace that is it is...but it will be easier and faster if you quit fighting. I made it back to the top of Hidden Peak feeling pretty roughed up. I saw the time and felt a little down, I had developed a new time goal based on my halfway point time and I was past that new goal as well. I also had not peed since I left Hidden Peak the first time 6-7 hours ago. I gave my pack to a volunteer. I was glad no one I knew could see me at that moment, I looked and felt bad.
I hit the bathroom and what little urine I produced was no longer “coors light” it was “IPA”. I left the porta potty and drank a bunch of water and filled my bottles with water instead of Tailwind. I knew I only had 5ish miles left and needed to hydrate. I ate the nastiest gu gel with “2x the caffeine” for a little kick and left the aid station drinking water. I headed down...the talus field, which dictated a slower speed and more opportunity to drink. Hit the snowfield and skated awkwardly down the trail, barely managing to stay upright, but laughing as I went. I was passing people which felt good. I was nervous though. Karl had changed the course this year….making it more difficult than it already was by adding another 300ft climb at around mi 29. I was afraid of what my legs were gonna do with this last little bugger. Well, I at least knew not to expect it to be “easy”!
Sure enough, the trail markers led to a more primitive, bushwhacked trail straight up 300 more feet over a really short freaking distance. BUT, once I hit the top of that, I knew it was ALL DOWN HILL!! I also knew my descending legs were good. Real good. I took off like I had a mountain lion on my ass! I flew past 3 girls and several guys as I ran. It felt so good to open up my hips and fly! I blazed right on through the finish and immediately shook Karl’s hand and told him what an evil bastard he was….but that I meant it in the kindest way possible! He smiled knowingly. The field was completely stacked with awesome male and female ultra athletes. I was thrilled to be 5th in my age group and supposedly first from the Plains States, I haven't checked that one yet. I was the first…and last…from Oklahoma..hehe.
I found Trent, Abigail, and Meggie and we all cheered Dan as he came through. It was definitely the toughest course I have ever been on. It was also one of my best races. I came no where near to the time I had hoped for, but I raced well. I kind of see races like paintings, creating something that changes me, different hues reflecting different emotions, different segments, different efforts, as the painting is coming together. After, I get to look at it and see the colors and brush strokes individually and collectively. This painting holds a special place in my collection, as every new painting does. Thanks most especially to my husband Todd, without his encouragement and dedication to seeing me “demand the impossible” it really would be simply impossible. Thanks to my children Noah, Ethan, Avery, for being my reason “why”. Let nothing be impossible to you.