Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Quad Rock 50 and the Highway to Hell

I was standing in the midday sun staring into my car. Sweat was dripping down my face and my eyes were heavy when a little devil popped up on my shoulder.

“Just stop Tim. You are tired, beat up and it’s hotter than hell out here. Just get a 25 mile finisher time and take a nap in the shade. This was not an “A” race for you anyway”
-------------

Rewinding the clock 5 hours, I was ironically shivering from the cold awaiting sunrise as I stood next to 200 other ultrarunners. The sun was just beginning to light up the sky as the race director made his final announcements about the race.

Early morning view

The Quad Rock 50 would consist of a clockwise, 25-mile loop followed by a reverse run of the same loop. Each lap has three major climbs and about 5,500 feet of vertical gain per lap for a grand total of 50ish miles and 11,000 feet of elevation gain. “Follow the pink flags,” the race director said. This piece of advice would come in handy later in the day as I slogged my way through solo mile after solo mile lost in the misery of my thoughts.

In typical trail race fashion, there was an uneventful countdown to 5:30 AM and the race was on.

Coming off a new 50K PR and top 10 finish at the Rattler 50K in April, I started off the 2017 race season stronger than I could have expected. I feel that I am learning more about my body and what it is capable of as I gain more experience in in this ultrarunning thing. I ran my first ultra in 2015 and keep progressing in my knowledge of the sport.

Even given the success in my 50K, I was extremely nervous for this 50 miler.  Quad Rock is arguably one of the harder 50 milers in the country with a total vertical gain of close to 11,000 feet and my furthest run all year was 32 miles. Even though Quad Rock was more of a training race for me on my calendar, I still always want to do well, and hopefully not totally die.

I started out towards the middle back of the pack with the intention of going out slow. Even this early in the race I was struggling a bit to breathe and I felt off my game and not into it mentally. I told myself to get my head into a better space and tried not to think negative thoughts. I started to chat it up with some other runners in an effort to take my mind off things.

Looking to my left, we were greeted with one of the most incredible sunrises I’ve seen in a while. Lory State Park was lit up in all sorts of colors and we were all taking about the beauty. I stopped to take a quick photo and rejoined the train of runners heading out into the horizon.
Awesome sunrise

I settled in behind some other runners and slowly began to clock off the miles. The first aid station was 6 miles in and that would signify the top of the first of six major climbs. Methodically hiking the ups and jogging the flats, mile 6 came and went. My breathing was a still a bit more labored than normal but I knew I wasn’t going out too fast. Dropping down into the valley below towards horsetooth aid, I let my legs open up a bit and let gravity carry me down the mountain.
Settling in..

The next climb of 1,500 or so feet was where I started to feel more like myself. I was able to jog some sections and mix in a fast hike from time to time. It is beautiful through this section with trees around and plenty of single track. Your mind relaxes a bit as the variety in terrain keeps you on your toes. Cresting the summit I blazed through the aid station and started down the steep descent into the valley below.
Climb up to Arthur's Aid
The descent to Arthur’s Aid is brutal. The grade topples 40% and it is hard to run without feeling like you are going to crash and burn. Your legs are feeling the weight of the previous miles and your quads are taking a thrashing no matter how slow you go. “This is why they call it Quad Rock” I told myself.

With legs on fire, lungs burning and attitude still so-so, I made it to Arthur’s aid and drank some coke before making my way up the third major climb of the first loop.

“This is where it gets real” a runner next to me said. It was starting to get a little warm and I could feel the sweat building up under my cooling arm sleeves. I was still hydrating pretty well which was a good sign. “No doubt” I panted back, making my way up the steep rocks.

This section seemed to go on for a while. I was actually feeling okay at this part of the race. My heartrate was starting to come into check and I could finally get a breath. I stayed steady on the uphill hike and didn’t let the runners up the trail dictate my own personal pace. This was my race and I was not out to break any records on the day...
A friend I made along the way

The trail finally punches out onto a fire road for a while and eventually turns into a descent that takes runners through some gentle rollers and down towards the finish. The faster runners were already starting to pass me on their return loop. It’s kind of demoralizing to be 4 miles from the turn and see runners flying by you the other direction. Was there some sort of chairlift I didn’t know of that allowed them to get 8 miles ahead of me?

The final 4 to the turn is a fast section, but you have to be careful and not completely thrash your quads on the way down. I paid attention to the trail because I knew in a little while I’d be heading straight back up the hill. It was really heating up outside as we broke out of the trees onto a totally exposed hillside.
Exposed hillside. Photo Credit: TrainingforUltra.com
I cruised gently down the hill and could see the turnaround start-finish in the valley below. It was encouraging to know I’d come close to ½ way.

Eventually I made to the ½ way mark and I fueled up on some bananas, watermelon and salty snacks. The heat was taking its toll on me and I really wanted to call it a day. I went to my car to get supplies for the second lap and I stood there for what felt like an eternity.

That’s when that little devil popped up cartoon style on my shoulder.

“Just get a 25 mile finisher time and take a nap in the shade”

I wouldn’t call it an angel as much as my stubbornness that chimed back. “Get your head out of your butt and get back out there.”

I slammed the hatchback on my car and started walking back out onto the course for my CCW lap.

“This is going to suck”

Like a wounded soldier I started heading up the 1,700 foot four-mile climb. One slogging step after another I watched my car get further out into the distance and the top of the climb was still impossibly far away.

I was still in direct sun and blazing heat holding just below a 20:00 mile on the hike up the hill. I lightly jogged when I could but I was spent. I was completely alone this whole section and I started singing songs to try and pass the time. Songs like “Everything Sucks Today” and “Highway to Hell.”

Every few minutes or so a runner would pass me still making their way to the turn around. “Great work man” I’d huff and puff out of my lungs. “You too” they would say in exhaustion. It was pitiful the shape most of us were in.

Soon after, the bouncy-eyed 25 milers were starting to make their way past me excited they were close to the finish. I saw my buddy Travis.

“This sucks” I told him. “I’m in bad shape, and I think I’m going to quit ultrarunning after this. I’ve almost thrown in the towel 5 times already today”

“Remind me why we pay money for this sh*t?” he replied.

We both laughed a bit and continued on.

The death march that would become my reality for the next 20 miles was pitiful. After Arthurs Aid, I began to climb up the steepest climb of the day. I started crying. Like a ball of yarn strewn across the floor, I was completely unraveled. I texted Julie and Junko just so they would feel bad for me and give me some sort of virtual hug even though I knew Junko would probably tell me to quit being a baby, and Julie would just tell me to take it easy and take a step at a time.

Climbing the hill that felt like Everest, they posted signs to make light of the fact we would all be dying at this point. Ironically one of the signs quoted my ACDC song, “You’re on the Highway to Hell”. Another said “You’re a long way from the top”.

All of a sudden my stomach turned for the worse and I started dry heaving on the side of the trail. Just awesome. None of my nutrition was staying down.

A little while later, I did the impossible and crested the summit and made my way to the next aid station. I must have looked like I felt because the volunteers there started feeding me watermelon, salt, sprite and whatever else they could get down me. They told me to get into the shade for a bit. I was at that aid station for about 10 minutes trying to get my act together, but it seemed to work. My stomach felt better and the sodium did the trick.

Leaving that aid station, I cruised the next section. The downhill felt easier than before, and I relaxed a bit to take in the scenery. I stopped at the 40 mile aid station briefly and drank some coke, refilled water and headed back up the last climb.
Views back towards Horsetooth Aid
My second wind was still with me and I passed three runners on the climb back to Towers. The valley was so pretty and there was an occasional cloud overhead giving me a short break from the heat.

I hit the final major aid station and the major climbing was done. I had about 7 miles left to the finish and I decided to try and run the whole thing. I ran downhill at a good clip and looked up to take in the view of the valley below.

BAM!

I stubbed my toe and crashed hard.

Slowly getting up, I took inventory. Bloody knee, bloody wrist, bruised arm. Nothing seemed broken.
More scenery
I started running again and could see the finish which still looked impossibly far away. I decided to focus on a runner ahead of me and see if I could push hard enough to pass him before the finish. He was ¼ mile up the trail and I could see him walking up the slight uphills. I ran the hills at a slow cadence and made up ground. About 500 yards to the finish, I passed him and told him to stay with me. “Let’s finish this thing man! One more push to the finish. You can do this!”

He didn’t quite have enough to stay with me, so I made my way up the final hill to the finish solo.

Crossing the finish line I didn’t have that elation that typically comes from a finish line. It was more like an “I’m so freaking happy this is over” type of feeling followed by an “I’m done with this sport” feeling.

The funny thing about it all is that I set out to race a 5 hour first half and a 6 hour second half earlier in the week. My finish time was 11:10 which was almost right on target for my goal. Despite all the pain and mental suffering, I stuck to my race plan and stayed close to my goal. The race only had a 53.9% finisher rate so all finishers should feel some pride for the accomplishment.


I have some mental work and training to do to get ready for Never Summer 100K in 8 weeks, but I checked another 50 miler off my list in the meantime. 

No comments:

Post a Comment