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Monday, July 13, 2015

#97- The Capitol Reef 50 Miler That Turned Into a 50K!

In preparation for the Arkansas Traveller 100, one of the races I was going to run was the El Scorcho 50k in Fort Worth, Texas. Unfortunately, my credit card could not handle two airline tickets a week apart and I REALLY wanted to get some overnight time on the AT100 course before the big show in October. The Full Moon 50k would give me that opportunity, so given the choice between the two, I had to go with Full Moon.

This left a race that needed to be replaced. AT100 is scheduled to be my 100th marathon/ultra and dropping El Scorcho without putting another race in it's place would leave me at 99 and that would not do!

My pal Galen graciously invited me to come and run the Capitol Reef 50 miler with him. He was driving down and told me that I was welcome to ride with him and take the spare bed in his room. The entry fee was not cheap, but it was less expensive than the airline ticket, so I took him up on his offer. This would also be great training as I wanted to get at least another 50 in before AT100.

I knew that this would be a tough run. Even living in Salt Lake City cannot prepare you for running over 20 miles at 11,000 feet and nowhere in the course description did it mention how technical the course was. Wait! Did I say technical? That would be an understatement! This was the hardest course my feet have ever touched!

Galen and I got to the packet pick up in the tiny town of Torrey, UT at 6:30pm on Friday, just in time for the course brief. I am soooo glad we didn't skip it as we would have been lost not knowing that there were 3 different markings on the trail!

The finish area was in a beautiful place!

The finish line.

I just picked up my number and my swag.

The awards. I was really hoping to walk out of there with that 50 mile finisher's bracelet! 

People gathering for the trail brief.

The RD, Matt Gunn gives us the low down!

The swag!

During the trial brief, Matt Gunn, the Race Director tells us that the report from the 100 milers is that the course is extremely technical. Because of that the aid station cutoffs would be lenient and that they added a sweeper. 

All aid stations were given instructions to stay put until the sweeper passed through. If you stayed in front of the sweeper, you were OK. The aid station cut offs did not seem unreasonable at all, so having some extra time was a plus!

This was a "no waste" event using compost toilets. Not only are they good for the environment, they didn't stink like port-a-potties!

After the trail brief, Galen and I left our drop bags for delivery to the aid stations and headed back to the Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe where we were staying and got ready for the race. We had a 4:00am wake up call and wanted to get as much sleep as possible.

At 5:00am the bus to the start left The Lodge at Red River Ranch where the finish was and headed to the turn around point of the 100 miler. It took us about 45 minutes to get there. 

Once we got off the bus a line formed at the only bathroom there was, but in literally 5 minutes, they started the race! People started scrambling to any bush they could find and took off. My thought was I go now or I go later, I would rather sit than squat! Galen, another guy and myself were the last people to leave the start. 

Me at the start feeling very optimistic! 

Judging from the elevation chart (as shown earlier in this post), we had most of our elevation gain in the first 10 miles (approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain). Galen told me he was bringing his trekking poles and asked me if I was taking any. I have never run with trekking poles, so it had never crossed my mind, but thought with all that climbing the first 10 miles, it would not be a bad idea. They fit perfectly on the back of my vest and I thought I could just leave them in my drop bag at the first aid station. I was so glad I took them! They saved me many times.   

According to the elevation chart, I thought the first few miles were the toughest and that we would just have a few rolling hills until about mile 37, where we would just cruise downhill. As difficult as those first miles were, they were actually the easiest to run. 

Beautiful single track trails at the beginning of the race.

Going uphill, but fairly runnable trail.

Galen coming up the trail!

The scenery was beautiful!

Many times I would be surrounded by trees and all of the sudden I would find myself in the middle of a beautiful meadow.

The trail started getting a little more rocky.

Long Lake! Home of the first aid station around mile 8.5.

A few miles in, I found myself running all alone. We were seriously in the deep woods and as you all know I am afraid of being eaten by some trail critter, but I sucked it up and made it to the first aid station feeling good.

Being so high up can bring on some unpredictable weather. It would be hot and sunny one minute and a minute later it would be cloudy and raining. It was raining when I got to the first aid station, at Long Lake. I was layered up pretty good so I left my arm warmers in my drop bag and continued on.Thank goodness I decided to hang on to my trekking poles for what was to come. 

As I left the aid station I headed towards what looked like a pretty rocky climb. I had run into the aid station with a guy named John. He left the aid station while I was dropping my stuff. When I saw him heading up the rocks, I thought 2 things: 1) I am glad I have these trekking poles; and 2) This sucks, but at least it's not that long (or so I thought).

John heading up the first of what would be my interpretation of Hell on Earth! 

This section of the trail was not only steep, it was nothing but rocks. I on my best day could not figure out how to actually run this kind of trail. It hurt just to hike this never-ending hill! It felt like miles of switchbacks. Every time I thought I was getting closer to the top, I would turn the corner and see another rocky hill to climb!   

I think this was the remains of another runner who just couldn't make it!

Half way up I stopped to enjoy the view for a second.

I was so happy to get off that stock trail! Once I hit the Great Western Trail. The course was marked 3 ways: Flags/ribbons, cairns, and tree blazes. While I was finally getting some nice running in on this part of the trail, the course was so twisty, I had to stop at every marker to make sure I saw the next marker. Very few people have been where we were running and I can get lost in a box. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost up there! I did pretty well and kind of made a game of find the marker to pass the time.

The Great Western Trail! 

The views were breathtaking! OK, maybe it was the lack of oxygen! 

I was in the clouds!

Had to get a selfie at the top!

One of the flags marking the trail.

Do you see the flag marking the trail? For that matter, do you see a trail?

It was not long before the trail either got really rocky or you were climbing a mountain. I felt like I was only running about 100 feet at a time, then hiking over rocks or up hills.

I think this course could use a few more rocks! Ha Ha!

Here is just a little taste of the what was going on. This was the runnable part of the course!

The second aid station was Pleasant Lake around mile 16.5. I got there, grabbed my drop bag, changed my socks and taped my feet. The rocks were already creating hot spots and I did not want any issues. There was another man at the aid station and when I asked how he was, he said he was not going to continue and he dropped. I grabbed some food and booked out of the aid station with another girl I had passed earlier named Jodi. As we headed up the hill we saw Galen coming into the aid station. 

Jodi and I started running together, but somehow we lost the markings, got turned around and started following the flags that led us back to the aid station. Another runner named Beiyi ran into us and told us we were going the wrong way and we finally found our way back on the right path.

At this point Galen (who went the right way) was ahead of us. We caught him and we all stuck together. It helped to have 3 sets of eyes to look for the markers (Beiyi had fallen back behind us).

Beautiful wild flowers all over the course!

Again, I think this course is a little tough! 

Galen, Jodi and I made it to the Chokecherry aid station at around mile 21.5. We just grabbed some food and water and was out of there quick.

Jodi, Galen and I stop for a quick selfie!

There was a little waterfall here.

The original spreadsheet that I had had the Fish Creek aid station at mile 27. When we got to mile 30, I started getting a little worried that we had taken a wrong turn and missed it. We had been following all the markers and with 3 sets of eyes, we knew that was impossible.

When we got to mile 31, we saw a truck pulling slowly down the road loaded up. I asked the driver where the aid station was and he said "in the truck"! We were all flabbergasted! "What do you mean in the truck?" I asked the man. "You are not supposed to leave until the sweeper gets to you! How are we supposed to get food and water and how is anyone supposed to know where we are if you pick up and leave before we get to the aid station?" 

The volunteers were very sweet and apologetic, but they had no idea they were supposed to wait for the sweeper. It was their first time running an aid station and I guess they just didn't understand the huge safety issue involved with leaving runners unaccounted for out on the course. We told them we were fine to continue (we had until 11:00pm to finish, which was plenty of time), if they could just give us some water. They said they dumped all the water and they didn't have radios or cell service to let the next aid station know we were there.

At that point Galen said he was done as he had no water left. I had very little, but thought if we could make it to the next aid station we would be OK, so Jodi and I carried on for another mile.

It wasn't long before we saw Beiyi and then the sweeper behind us due to the fact that we spent a good 20 minutes talking to the guy in the truck. The fear was that the last manned aid station at Donkey Reservoir would not have understood the instructions and closed up shop too. That aid station was so remote it would be harder for them to help us if we were in trouble (it would take 3 hours by ATV to get to us).

By this time, the head of the aid stations drove up on his ATV and we explained the situation. He was furious that the aid station people left, but they determined that without water he had no choice but to pull us for safety reasons. Jodi, Beiyi and I were in shock. Jodi and I have never had a DNF and could not fathom getting one now! We were strong runners! We had plenty of time to finish! How could this happen?

All I could think of was now I was going to have to find another marathon to replace this with so AT100 will still be my 100th. We did the hardest part of the course, had plenty of time and energy to finish, but were forced to drop. We were devastated. 

I was desperate. Since the race had a 50k and we had already run over 50k, I asked if they could at least find it in their hearts to give us a 50k result? 

After we took the drive of shame back to the finish, they took our bibs and we felt defeated and pissed off! The head of the aid stations went over and talked to Matt, the RD and because of the mix up, they agreed to drop us to the 50k and give us a result, which I am grateful for.

After we got a BBQ pizza at the finish, we hung out a bit licking our wounded egos and headed back to the hotel with no bracelet, no 50k mug and no bib to show for our efforts. 

With that said, this is a great race. It is the most challenging race I have ever done. If you are not a very seasoned back country trail runner, the 50k or the half might be the race for you.

I would love to comeback next year to try and tackle it again, but only if they fix and extend the aid station cutoffs and try to get more experienced volunteers. I greatly appreciate every volunteer that gave their time for us, but leaving the aid station before every runner is accounted for is extremely dangerous.

The vibe is great at this race, the people are friendly and the scenery is awesome. I will give this race another shot even if it is just the 50k. Who am I kidding? I gotta tackle that 50 miler again!  

 Running this plateau was incredible!

Since we didn't get a 50k mug, we bought our own!


David said...

I've done a couple races that had rocky sections like that. I don't do well on that type of terrain. I'm glad you got credit for your 50K. An aid station packing up prematurely is not cool.

Jessica I said...

Everything looked soooooo beautiful!!! That is a major bummer that you didn't get to finish. Really you should get a free entry next year in my opinion. At least you got some credit though. The logistics for an ultra seems like a lot. 😬