Le Grizz 2010.
The time had come. Now I had to prove myself worthy of qualifying for the daunting yet alluring WS100. Paul, his girlfriend Jeanne, and my friend Aaron (who was catching a ride to a nearby town in Montana) left super early. By the amount of food and camping gear, one would have thought we were going to be gone for more than one night. It is about an 8-9 hour drive to Kicking Horse, Montana, which is the nearest town to the Le Grizz. We finally made it to a campsite as the sun was starting to set. The weather that year was mild. I found out last year it was below freezing with most of the course covered in ice. For us, we had evening/morning temperatures around 40F and misty. That meant trying to cook all the food we brought was going to be a challenge. What felt like hours were spent scavenging for dry wood that did not exist. I remembered how I used to need to think I needed a comfortable night’s rest before a race. WR50 taught me otherwise. At about 9 pm we finally had a fire going. Paul’s relentlessness in searching for wood proved fruitful! We quickly began to gorge ourselves on the vegetables coming off the fire. We opted out on cooking the salmon since, after all, this was bear country. It is not called Le Grizz for nothing.
Morning. We woke up around 5:30. The race started at 8 but we still had to get to the starting line, check in, etc. I started to eat my 10-grain blueberry pancakes with almond butter and honey as we prepared coffee and began to pack up our camp. Somehow time began to quickly slip away and it was after 7 as we were finishing packing up the car. I decided to use the restroom before checking in. And the time began to tick away. It was 7:40 and I was still in line. At 7:50 I got my race packet which had my race bib (#1726). I ran back to the car to get everything ready for drop bags. As I approached the table, I realized that each bag had to be specified to which mile marker location it was to be taken. I began to freak. I had no idea which things I would want in advance. I quickly divided everything. 7:58. “Runners, line up!” I thought, “Oh no! I don’t have a marker!” I ran around trying to find something to write on these bags. Nothing. “30 seconds!” Ah, a marker. “15 seconds!” Crap. “Jeanne, can you write random numbers on these?” “Sure, what do you need?” “10-9-8-7…” “These are my drop bags, just write a number on each, from 1 to 8. Oh and my bib number!” “K, what is it?” “…5-4-3-2-1” I said, “1726.” “BANG!” Jeanne could not hear me because of the gun and the following cheering. I told her again and that I had to go. I did a quick mental checklist: shoes, water, music. Ok, let’s start running.
I had never felt so rushed, but the excitement of my second 50-miler was taking over me. This race should be easier than WR50 since it is mainly fire roads and only about 2000 ft elevation gain. However all of that gain is in the first half. So essentially it is like running a marathon that is uphill, followed by mostly downhill and flat for another marathon. It was harder than I thought. Because of the length of the race, I was not able to use the GPS function on my watch, so I had no idea what my pace was. I ended up crossing mile marker 26 a full hour ahead of my projected time for a qualifying WS100 run. Even though I had just finished an uphill marathon, I was not tired. I felt amazingly energetic. At about mile 28, I see my car driving towards me. It was Jeanne coming to check on me! We were both shocked to see me this far along so quickly. One of the neat things about Le Grizz was seeing the support crews. The crews would drive, set up out of their trunks and wait for their runner(s) to come by. Then, they would pack up and start all over. So over the course, you ended up seeing the same crew multiple times over. They would cheer for me as I made my way passed them. They became my close friends that day, encouraging me in ways they probably did not even know. One crew had a screaming rubber chicken. It was a sound I looked forward to whenever I saw I was coming up to their car. It made me laugh, every single time.
The race course is designed where you come up a fairly steep incline to see the finish line. Only you have to keep running to go down the bushwhack (a quick steep hill through trees), then 6 miles to the dam, across the dam, come back, run up the bushwhack, and then cross the finish line. The run to the dam was the most brutal part of the whole race. At this point, everything is hurting and you have to stay between the white line and the edge of the asphalt on a twisty, up and down mountain highway. My mental fatigue was starting to become aware to me, as my iPod ran out of battery. Now the true test of perseverance began.
The running brochure, which warns you about encounters with bears, also encourages you to “enjoy the whole dam mile.” The dam is 1/2 mile across, and you have to run it twice (“DOUBLE DAM!”). It was on the way back to the bushwhack that Austin and I ran together. We had been passing each other the whole course. His buddies from the air force base would get out of their truck and run with him. I could tell Austin was emotional. He told me it was his first 50-miler and he had just gotten off the phone with his family, telling them he was about to finish soon, and while on the phone began bawling. My legs were taking a beating and I was struggling to stay running. But I was at the too familiar point where running was less painful than walking. Austin was great at encouraging me to keep on, but I had to let him go ahead. I ended up finishing 3 minutes after him.
I came made it back up the bushwhack and no idea where to go. The volunteers cheered “This way! Just run down the hill and around that curve is the finish line!” I began to feel no pain. I sprinted, full to the brim on excitement and knowing I had reached my goal of qualifying for WS100. As I came around the bend I saw the clock. 8:54. I freaked! Not only had I reached my goal, I shattered it by 2 hours! I quickly found my car in the parking lot and as I approached it, I stunned Paul and Jeanne who were not expecting me for another 1.5-2 hours. I got changed, a massage, some fried chicken, and my finisher ‘medal’ (see below). I finished 17th in my division. Paul finished 2nd in his division with a time of 7:19:59. The crews that I had seen the whole race began to make their way over to congratulate me on my finish. They were shocked that it was only my 2nd 5o miler. One lady said, “You looked like you were having so much fun out there!” “Yeah, did you even break a sweat? You make it look so easy,” exclaimed another guy! I was stunned to hear this mainly because I was currently in a lot of pain and am normally too focused running to smile or acknowledge much around me.
Paul and I were dam stoked for our times. But we were hobbling around like never before, letting out groans when the pain became too dam much. The drive home was rough, arriving at about 4:30 am. I thought on the way how crazy this year was. I had wanted to run a 50-miler, and in a mere 3 months, I had run 2 (Double Dam!). Where were my legs going to take me next? I did not know but I was ready for the adventure.
(Finish line photo, with some photoshop.)
(Le Grizz finisher wooden plaque.)