Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back to badass Montana -- DB50

Found another 50mile race in the same damn Montana mountains. The Devil's Backbone. Sounds like a very interesting race. This is what the race website says:
This is a graduate level run (yes, like Hardrock). It is almost unsupported and unmarked. This CANNOT be your first 50 miler. This course is much, much harder than you expect. There are many cairns and you primarily stay on the ridge but with no ribbon it is still possible to get well off course. The "graduate" part is due to the requirement to carry what you need for 5 - 9 hours of running and once out on the course there is no easy way out until the turnaround. You are almost always above 9500 feet on a rocky (but beautiful) trail. Course starts and finishes at the Hyalite Creek Trailhead and is out and back on 100% trails with one significant climb to 10,300 feet and multiple short steep climbs totaling 11,400 feet. Though the climb is not huge, it is deceptively hard due to elevation and sometimes rocky trails. Please, experienced ultrarunners only! The course will not be marked except by FS blazes and cairns. It is generally well-worn except in meadows. Hand drawn and Topo maps available at the website. There will be nice streams multiple times in the first (and last) 7 miles. There is a murky lake at 11 miles (and 39 miles), and a very small spring a quarter mile later and lots of snow to put in your water carrier. There is a nice creek at the 25 mile turnaround point. Water has certainly been frequented by wildlife, especially the lake, so a filter is strongly recommended. Cutoff is 9 hours at the turn-around cabin. Exposure is extreme in case of a thunderstorm. Possibility of elk, mountain lions and bears (all seen in 2005) and the most beautiful views imaginable of Paradise Valley and the Absaroka and Spanish Peaks mountain ranges.

I promptly wrote to Joe about the race, and asked him myriad questions about it, and what I should do. Joe replied:
go run it...
I would!

I registered. This is on the weekend of Jul 14th. Much expectation exists albeit tempered by a modicum of trepidation.

Cornucopia of morass at the Big Horn

At the end of it all, it hurt. The truth slowly hit home -- "Don't do fartleks between miles 28 and 34, it can't ever do good to your shins!". Being pulled out at mile 34.5 sucks. It was a new experience, first brush with not meeting a cut-off time, in fact even coming close to one, Ganesh's warnings and other jinxes notwithstanding.

It started off with a sleepless night in Billings and the rest of the bloo-frat arrived the morning after. Breakfast was had at Dennys over eggs and gossip and we drove out to sleepy Sheridan soon after. Montana is beautiful. Lots of hills and large undulating grassy meadows. Soon we were checked into the hotel and started preparing the drop bags, even as Santhosh provided customary entertainment. Dano had prepared very cool tags to attach to the drop bags. Met him and Mike and Clarence at the hotel, and Renee, Brenda, and Leah at the packet pickup. The 100milers were already on the course by then. Rest of the day was spent in anticipation, pizza, and Asha emails.

The day of the race started at 2:30AM. We got to the start in Dayton and took the race bus to the Porcupine ranger station, our start line and mile 52 for the 100milers. All the 50milers gathered together for many photographs, all decked in spotless clean shoes. Little did we know the kind of muddy quagmires that awaited us.

We started promptly at 6AM. Within the first 5 minutes I was out of breath, within 10, wheezing, and by 20minutes was running downhill with side stitches. I am not sure if it was the pollen or the altitude, but I sure hope it wasnt the latter. Then there was all the mud and slush and other subsidiary morass. Over the day, my leg went into the quagmires atleast 8 times (once until the knee), and at mile 3, breaking my no-fall-ever record, I did a sideways superman and landed heavily on my side -- falling on sports beans hurts!

Aid stations along the way sucked. Nothing to eat. We are too pampered by Joe's races. Progress was slow throughout the downhill, impeded by the mud and breath. Reached the first dropbags at mile18 with 10minutes to cutoff, quickly changed socks, replenished clip2 and endurolyte, picked up a sandwich and Boost and walked out. The next stretch was a long haul, a 2000ft climb in 3miles. I recovered quite a bit on this climb, and managed to power walk parts of it. At the top of the hill, at Bear camp, the volunteers told me that it was 7miles to Cow camp, and 4 more miles from there to Dry Fork, for a cutoff at 4PM.

No excuses, but that did throw me off. I more or less dawdled my way to Cow camp with an hour and 20minutes to spare (to cover my 4 more miles) and was promptly told that Dry Fork was 6 miles away. Now that suddenly sounded very hard. There was only one way out, and I started to do fartleks, and powerwalk the hills. The darned section also had a lot of rolling hills. Pushing through the fartleks, I came around a bend where I could see the aid station. I had 8 minutes and nearly a mile long massive hill, and on top of the hill, Dry Fork aid station. At the realization that I was not going to make the cutoff, my muscles cramped, and I slowly hauled myself up the hill, dragging my feet, and came in some 5-6 minutes late. The aid station volunteers refused to let me go on, even as I fought withthem for a while. Others who had reached before me, and had yet missed the cutoff had also been pulled out.

It was awful. I had never known the feeling of being pulled out after 35miles, with the last nearly 7mi coming in fartleks. A novel experience, cant say I enjoyed it much at that point. Then I chatted with Jennifer from Boulder for a long while, while we waited for a ride back to the start/finish line. By this time, I was also concerned I had messed up my shins, could barely stand, and could hardly walk. Eventually got back, and met with Ganesh. He had been pulled at the mile 18 cutoff point with Dano. Lots of 100milers had been pulled out. Gabe had broken his ankle in two places. Mike had fallen and hurt his rib. Clarence and Renee were pulled at the same point as me. Leah got pulled at the next cutoff. In the end, 3 folks finished the 50miler and 3 finished the 100miler from Austin, while a whopper 85 were pulled out or DNF-ed in a total field of 141. The Big Horn had taken its toll.

Santhosh finished pacing Joe and Diana (the 100milers). Gaurav finished 40minutes after them. The bloo-frat was half-done. A race to remember for the persistent hollow feeling that continues to rankle.

PS: Ganesh's ankle recovered easily, and my shins are much better now. Gaurav seems to have no lasting after effects, and Santhosh who was limping the most after the race, has stubbornly avoided visiting a doctor about his foot -- hopefully thats healing fine too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Here Endeth The Hiatus

The long break after Sunmart is over. Have run little and blogged even lesser over the past six months. Allergies have taken their annual toll and have abated now. Successfully moved to Palo Alto and soon after ran the Ohlone 50K from Fremont to Livermore. This running season promises to be long and interesting. Starting with the Big Horn 50M in Wyoming, hopefully onwards to Pikes double in August to larger and longer races as the season grows.

In other news, DNF-ed for the first time in life at Rocky Hill Ranch after 6 odd miles, victim to wheezing. It sucks to DNF and sit around at the finish line pasting stickers on finisher awards, while the runners keep looping for more.

Now for the obligatory Santhosh story. In his latest avatar, Santhosh the Strict, has taken to scaring little girls over emails and phone calls. Lesser described the better.