Sunday, May 13, 2012

Prickly Pear Land Trust Don’t Fence Me In Review

Gal at food table: ‘Did you have fun?’
Me, after having run 19.02 miles with 6092 feet of elevation gain in 3:52:29: ‘No’
Annoying blond with hipster boyfriend who doesn’t know when she’s being talked to: ‘While, I had fun.’
Me: ‘What race did you do?’
Still annoying skinny little blond, who doesn’t realize that I have zero tolerance for her kind under the best of circumstances, and these are not those circumstances (in singsong happy voice): ‘I did the 12K’
Me: ‘I did the 30K’

So, last Tuesday, I got the bright idea to scout the trail.  I know the Mount Ascension part of the run really well, along with the Rodney Ridge sections.  Rather than try to figure out the Wakina Sky part, I decide to head south and over the ridge past the Springhill Stables.  On the upside, I discovered that the Nathan Hydration pack really does work as well as advertised, and that I really do like Hammer gel.  Hammer gel is absolutely awesome, and I will say so until someone decides to send me some better gear, or until Google starts realizing that I abuse the Googlesense rankings.  I do this run in 70 degree weather (six days after it snowed) and with blisters from a run on Friday (for the record, Fila, and all associated products, are terrible and should be worn by no one.  If Fila wants to argue, send Codeine pills to deal with blisters, and I’ll try miserable Fila products again).  So, I do the run.  A good 20 klicks in three hours.  By the end, I’m falling apart.  I get home, proceed to deal with leg cramps and blisters aggravated (but not caused) but way too much effort in way too short a time.  I finally get the bight idea to hit up some Hammer Endurolytes, which slow down the cramping, and allow me to get to sleep.

I go into a Saturday morning with nasty blisters on both feet, and a left leg cramped up from too much running and not enough salt.  Water is easy for me to find, but salt is much harder, since I don’t get salty.  So, my goal, which is perfectly fine, is to finish this thing.  I know I’ll be doing an easy 26.2 next weekend in Spokane, and I’m faster than the thousands of Helenans sound asleep in their beds.  Packet pickup is race day (boo), over at the Library.  I get a cotton t-shirt, a cool mini-bay (I could put booze in it!), a Hammer gel, a Clif bar, and some ads for various events when I’ve already got plans.

So, we start over by the section 8 housing development, and run on the roads until we hit the Eagle Scout trailhead.  I’ve got a brilliant and secret plan.  First, I’m already feeling shot, so I know I’ve got no chance of qualifying for Western States on this one.  Second, I know how insanely long this course is, and that there are six major uphill sections.  Third, I’m having too much fun.  So, I lope to the trailhead, and powerhike all the way to the cutoff where we hit the North loop of Ascension.  I’m talking with the old men, letting people pass me, and have a huge smile.  I also realize that the distance markers (including 3) are not mile markers, but modern metric distance markers.  By the time of the cutoff, I manage to pass a few of the horses ahead of me, including a few on the uphill part.  As we swing onto the North slope, I get a chance to start talking with a cool couple doing the race.  By the time I hit the summit, I’m actually feeling really good, and ready to shoot through the saddle.  Nonetheless, I hold back, wait for the real summit, and then start to hammer out the downhill.

Downhill running is an art, and one that will ruin anyone unfamiliar with it.  There’s not a whole lot of technique to running uphill, but downhill requires skill, and also requires a decent amount of leg strength.  I pass about ten people on the easy downhill, and then really start flying on the lower part of the Entertainment trail.  This is actually where I nearly got into a few collisions, as there were people who weren’t letting the faster people pass, or even move aside to do a pass.  After jamming past 20 people in a series of conga lines, I finally slow it down as we approach Davis Gulch.  I be sure to tell people that they’ll be passing me on the next uphill section, and try to maintain politeness.

After we cross the road, we head over the Rodney Ridge section.  At this point, the race starts to spread out, and I start passing and being passed by the same people.  I made the very smart decision to only race with a single bud, so I could head everyone perfectly.  I powerhike up the meadow, and then fly down the trail toward Orofino Gulch.  This is a really nice section, because there is just enough angle to get moving fast and not enough to have to fight gravity.  After this, I hit Orofino Gulch, which involves running up (yes, up is a direction, and a type of hill) for a few klicks before hitting the first aid station.  I see Martin (and, yes, as in all races, the volunteers get an awesome rating.  Y’all rock!) and slam two cups of Heed, and replace the Hammer Gel that I took on the uphill.  I also do a good job of hitting those Endurolyte capsules, which is nice (when I get home, I can see the salt crusted on my face).  We head into Wakina Sky, which has always been a mystery.  There’s not a lot of car access, and it’s the most confusing patchwork of public lands, private lands, and trail easements in the south hills system.  I hit the uphill part slow and steady, and get to move out a bit more in the meadow part.  Someone thankfully left some oranges at the junction, which I parttake of.  Yeah, I’m known for eating just about anything someone hands me on the trail.  We junction out, head down far too fast for my taste, and come back before heading down and over to Grizzly Gulch.  It’s an odd part of the trail, because I actually lose eye contact on the next runner for this section, and feel entirely on my own.  That’s not a bad thing, although since the trail is windy, and I don’t know this area, I would like someone to follow.  Eventually we break through (and even get to cross a bridge) and onto Grizzly Gulch.  I go down the road (or at least less uphill, I’m convinced that Grizzly Gulch goes uphill both ways), head up the Mini Gulch trail and see the second aid station.  Yep, there are 30K and two aid stations.  Good thing that I’ve got the awesome Nathan, and at least that’s as many aid stations with gel that I encountered on the Missoula marathon.  I grab another gel to be hit on the uphill.  After about 20 minutes and 700 feet of uphill (the Garmin don’t lie), I end up on the Mount Helena Ridgeline trail.  I know exactly where I am, and a great sense finally comes over me.  22 klicks into the race, I am tired and weary, but I know how to get from here to the end, I know what is involved in that, I know where to go slow and where to go fast.  I say goodbye to the fine people I hiked uphill with, and hello to speed and familiarity.

I enjoy most of my run down the ridgeline, and get to do some more fine passing.  I enjoy it all the way until I get to the last stretch of the West End trail, where I managed to catch a rock in the trail with my right leg, and sprawl to the ground.  My hands are bleeding from the force of the impact, and my right foot is feeling it in a really bad way.  My toes feel like the nails came off.  So, I can either figure out how bad a condition I am in, or take advantage of the fact that I know that I’m close to the end of this, and just go forward.  I verify that there’s no one behind me, and start heading toward the very last part of the race.

However, before the race is over, I get to climb to the very top of Mount Helena.  It’s another few hundred feet of climb, and there’s nothing else to do.  So, I drag myself to the top of the mountain.  I then brace myself for 1300 feet of decent in two miles.  This is the worst part of the race by far.  One runner manages to fly by me on the Prospect Shafts, and I have no idea how he manages to do it.  I manage the last two miles in twenty minutes, although my knees are absolutely killing me (by the way, RD, if you want to switch to 1906 for the last leg down next year, it will be greatly welcomed).  I stagger and roll across the finish line, where I find the food tent, and one very annoying and skinny little blond, who finished 18K behind me.  I knew I was in bad shape when the gals from Hellz Bellz comment about how beat up I look.  I stagger to Taco Del Sol and enjoy an awesome extra large veggie burrito.  I check my finish time online later (nothing the Garmin didn’t tell me) and discover that I’m still in the age group of annoying sponsored college kids.  But, I did finish 18K ahead of the blond, and 30K ahead of most of Helena, so I’m not complaining.

In the end, I’m only missing the beat up end part of my big toenail.  There’s a bunch of strange black, and I’m not sure when I’ll be easily flexing them.  On the upside, I learned the following things:
I can handle long runs.  I can handle the 50K, and I can train and handle the 50 miler in October.  I’ve got the strategy to survive it.
Starting slow is a great idea.  It wasn’t the slow start that kept me from finishing faster, it’s the blisters and beat up from Tuesday.  And, for the record, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Keep an earbud out.  Your fellow runners are more interesting anyway.

So, one week of resting, and then a good run in Spokane.  I’m measuring that at 42.19 kilometers anyway.

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