Thursday, July 14, 2011

Western States 100 mile: Escarpment to Talbot Aid Station

Running up Emigrant Pass I found a super nice lady who was willing to run alongside me snapping many pictures.

The course was really beautiful but snow covered for the vast majority of the first 15 miles or so.

It was challenging to run on and I know many runners including myself struggled to stay on their feet.

But the course was very lovely and we were so lucky to have perfect weather including a very sunny blue sky, and delightful temperatures.

What you will notice here is my full outfit including gloves, pants and of course sparkely my fanny pack, my flower hat as well as lots of random stuff.

Here is one of the many river crossings we had to do.

This picture includes my friend Don who ran many of the first sections with me. He was excellent company and a seasoned ultramarathoner with many 100 miler completions.

This river was one of the larger ones and in fact had a rope to assist runners in the crossing.

As you can see there is snow right along the side of the stream. I would guess the temperature of the water was just above freezing. By the end of the river crossing my feet and lower legs (from thigh below) were numb from the cold.

As you can see by this time I had taken off my long sleeve shirt and jacket so the day was warming up. So I did thaw out pretty quickly.

Climbing Escarpment (continued)

As we continue on, we are on a snow slope that is not too steep. Others seem out of breath but I am happy that alttitude or hills are not really impacting me greatly. I continuing moving at a modest clip. Along the slope I am able to get a very nice young lady to get my picture. She even gets a few action shots which is nice. The final climb to Emigrant Pass is a bit treacherous. But I make it. I am thrilled to be at the top of the pass. I will only be going downhill from here. But alas going downhills is my weakness. I go really slowly, get nervous and would actually go many, many, many extra miles to avoid downhill. Alas the WS100 course is a net downhill.

Near Watson Monument at the top of the pass I find another spectator to take my picture. I know I may be wasting valuable time but I rationalize that this is giving me a break, giving me some joy and I need to savor and document my experience. It is really beautiful with snow covered mountains all around.

After Emigrant Pass

The first few hundred meters down the mountain I am excited to see no snow. We are on a dirt/rock trail with stubby bushes and wildflowers. It is very pretty. Unfortunately after about a half mile or so we get onto the snow. We will not get off the snow for nearly 10 miles. (ten miserable miles in my world!). I am glad I invested in a pair of trail shoes when I visited my friend Jamie. My new pink trail shoes (which I have only run in 2 times for less than 25 miles!) are very comfortable and grip pretty well. It does seem that others are sliding quite a bit more than I. But I also am taking this section very, very slowly because I really do not want to fall! In fact every so often we get to a fairly steep area in which it is obvious others have fallen. I sit down and slide on my but. Finally my overdressing pays of!!! My pants protect my butt from the snow. Others are mentioning the burn and snow up their shorts. But I am having a blast each time I sit down and slide. Next time I think I might pack a bag but in all honesty the pants work out very well. My gloves also were a wise decision although with the bitten finger and the fact that they are not even remotely waterproof make them a little soggy. But the weather is very pleasant and it is not too bad the few moments they are wet and cold.

I run with a pack of runners during this segment. My friends from other races: Jose SG and Wilson L are really close to me. Chris (aka the guy who will be writing a book about a serial killer ultrarunner!) who I met at the WS100 memorial day training weekend is in this pack. Shannon FG from moeben is in this same group. And I get to meet several new runners. Don from Atlanta ends up being closest to my pace and we end up running very closely for the first ~30 miles. He is really good company and has done a bunch of ultra’s.

Pretty soon disaster occurs.

Running along in the snow, slipping and sliding I am really anxious about falling. I see others falling and I sort of stumble a bunch of times. As I round a bend there is a group of three runners with red shirts on. One is down obviously in a lot of pain. The other two are looking concerned. It is safety patrol. They do not seem to have any rescue equipment and I do not believe a cell phone. I realize I may be the only one who has any way to get help quick. And people mock me for my carrying of excessive stuff. I can say that I will not starve or be too thirsty for several days or even be very cold or wet if I ever go off course in an ultra. That 15 lbs I carry includes lots of useful stuff!

After determining that this lady’s ankle is in really bad shape and there is no way she is getting off the snow slope without assistance, I set off my SPOT rescue beacon. Now I am in a quandary. If I keep going the pinging will follow me (and will actually probably make it so they do not send help since clearly I would be mobile).

I now have to give up my lifeline. I am really hesistant. I really do not want to die on the course and I know there will be more snow slopes, lots of sheer cliffs and of course potentially rattlesnakes, cougars, bears and other animals ready to make me a happy meal! I hand off my rescue beacon, wish the lady luck and ask them to get this back to me ASAP. I am optimistic “SPOT” will catch up to me mid-afternoon. In fact they take down my number wrong and never alert my family that I am okay. But the SPOT rescue beacon folks do alert my family. This actually creates some confusion because when the SPOT folks call my husband (who is on my emergency call list) he is unsure about my whereabouts but suggests they should rescue me. He should have stated unequivocally, “GO GET MY WIFE SHE’S IN TROUBLE!!!” He has been reprimanded.

They apparently do send a helicopter to rescue the lady. In fact I think I heard it as we were running along a while later. I kept my fingers crossed she was okay and hoped that this gesture of goodwill gets me some good karma (both in not dying but also in finishing the race:-).

This episode takes about 10 minutes. Finally I bid farewell to the safety patrol and am back to running. This time I am running scared. One should never run scared. But it makes me really cautious.

I also realize my friends who are following my SPOT tracking will have no idea what has happened to me. All they will notice is that I was moving along, then I abruptly stopped and sent out an “SOS”. In fact in my gmail account after the race I get pinged with a bunch of SOS please send help. I am not sure why I put my gmail on my contact list. If I need help I don’t think I will be able to access gmail to see that I need help, duh!

Running along, I catch up to my friend Don. He and I seem to have a very similar pace (particularly on the snow). He is good company and helps makes the miles flow by. We chat about ultra’s, life in general and how tough the snow is. Sporadically we have to stop and look very hard for the yellow flags and ribbons. This actually becomes very challenging and we end up forming a cluster of about 8 runners as we all struggle to find the course. Jose, Wilson, Brian, Shannon, Don and several others end up in a pack for a while. We sort of randomly have runners lead or follow looking for the yellow trail markings. They are hard to spot since the glare of the snow and the yellow ribbons and flags seem to blend together. This gets to be very tedious and slow going. Unfortunately knowing how easy it is to get off course I refuse to follow footprints but only go where I can see yellow ribbons. I really do not want bonus miles. I already did that at the training run going straight up a hill I had to promptly go down when I realized I had missed my turn!

As we ran along there sporadically was chatter but a lot of energy was spent paying close attention to the course markings as well as our footings. I think most of us fell several times, stumbled and slipped around. And we had to be cautious of tree wells where you could see the snow was up to 20 feet deep. And occasionally you could hear a river of water under the snow so you had to be careful to not step in the wrong place and fall into tunnel of water. It was very disconcerting.

The course slowly descends but the snow does not seem to go away. During the pre-race briefing it was suggested with the recent heat wave the snow might be patchy in sections. I have not seen terra firma for many miles except for small few feet patches (which I get really excited about only to realize the brief respite is just that…very brief!).

As the trail descends our pack seems to disband and I am back to running with Don. We get to a stream crossing and see my friend Chris finish crossing it. It is actually a bit deep (thigh high) and moderately long (about 50 –75 feet). And the water is REALLY cold (although it does take me a few moments to gather my courage to get in to start crossing). Before spring 2011 I had never purposely gotten my feet wet crossing a stream or river. But upon realizing I was going to do WS100 with multiple stream crossings I started my stream crossing ways back in March while a trail sweep for the Seneca Greenway 50km race. I was pretty proud of myself because I have really matured as a runner and have refused to let perceived challenges stop me. Partway through the stream I get my camera and take a few pictures of Don and I. This is a bit tricky as we have a rope we are holding onto. I in fact am using a death grip on it holding on for dear life. This means during each picture I am standing thigh deep in freezing cold water. It takes my breath away! But alas it also chills my knees and ankles which are a bit bothersome from the snow running (actually each time I fell on the snow I also rationalized that I was pre-icing from any injury I might get!). Finally I get to the other side. I can barely feel my feet. The water was really cold!!!

Jogging along my feet and legs seem to thaw out. I wonder how many more stream crossings we will do. A few minutes later we have another stream but this one is only about 10 feet wide. But getting to the stream is a bit more treacherous with a very steep slope going into it. I am glad in my hydration pack I have a pair of pants and a jacket I can change into if my stream crossing goes horribly awry! But I do successfully get into the stream and cross it. I am feeling pretty happy that so far no obstacle has been insurmountable.

I know from my Garmin we have traveled well over 10 miles and should be getting close to the first aid station. I am excited just to have a moment or two off the snow. And of course I am looking forward to some treats. Because I have a 20 oz bottle and a 100 oz hydration pack I am very well set for beverages and I do have treats in my pockets. But aid stations have so much energy.

Soon we are entering the Talbot Aid Station, WAHOO! As with all the aid stations, the volunteers take great care of us making sure we are well hydrated and fed and ensure all our needs are met. I am getting excited because I know we have only a few more miles of snow to run along. I was definitely over snow-running after about 1 step!

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