Thursday, July 16, 2015

Capitol Reef 50K: Adventures in DNF

It started out innocently enough. It was a gorgeous day down in Capitol Reef. We arrived to a scene of lovely red rock cliffs and puffy clouds.
The back drop for the finish line. Not too shabby.
I got my sweet race swag and settled in for the pre-race briefing. As the briefing went on, I became more and more concerned about getting lost. It turns out that was a valid concern.
Sweet swag! I have no problem wearing it, even if I DNFd.
After the race briefing, we went out for dinner. We ordered quite a bit of pizza, because we wanted to have leftovers for the rest of the weekend. There was some other runners there having dinner and when the second large pizza was brought out, we heard one of them say "Wow. Trail runners sure love their pizza,". Yes. Yes we do.

I slept fairly well, having only one pre-race dream about what was to come. I arrived at the Red River Ranch to await the shuttle and lo and behold, I met someone who reads this very blog! Hi Adriana! It was pretty neat to meet someone that reads my ramblings! (Besides my mom, best friends Krista and Geof, and kick-ass running buddy Jamie, that is. You guys are great!) We swapped stories and shared our anxieties about what we were about to do. All of the runners waiting with the shuttle were friendly and easy to talk to. I find this is more common with trail races than road races... I'm still trying to figure out why that is.

The shuttle was late but when it arrived, it was a pretty neat old school bus. It slowly climbed up the mountain, gears grinding as we lurched towards our fate. I talked the ride away with the gentleman next to me and before we knew it, we were at the start line. We only had a few minutes to compose ourselves before the starting shout was issued (it really was a shout, from the race director's cute little girl).

We were off like a shot! Well, we were off like we were about to climb to 11,000 feet. I knew the first 5 miles were going to be incredibly difficult. And I was right.
There we go, winding our way up the Aquarius Plateau.

Getting steeper.

At least this part still looked kind of like a trail. That would change.
We climbed and climbed. And then we climbed some more. It was utterly relentless. I just did my best to keep moving forward. It really was gorgeous, which is why this blog is going to be jam packed with pictures.
This is where I am! Thank you, signs. 

This may have been my favorite view from the course. 

It was a bit rocky where we were...
I finally made it to the top of the biggest chunk of the climbing we would do and I had to just stop and stare for a moment. The view was stunning. The air was thin. It was the perfect excuse to stand still for a bit and take it all in.
The pictures don't do it justice.

I lived through the hardest part! Which is why I have no problem wearing that shirt and hat.

The sweeping expanse of the American West. 
After gathering myself and a snapping more than a few pictures, I continued along the plateau, enjoying the little bit of runnable trail I would encounter that day.
This part was heavenly. Soft dirt and pine needles. Glorious.

It was pretty great...
It didn't stay runnable for long though. I finally made it to the first aid station and was greeted by Kelly Agnew, local ultra runner extraordinaire (I read his blog, he does crazy stuff. Like win the Jackpot 24 hour race with 140 miles). He got me some Coke and provided some words of encouragement as I headed back out onto the course.
The first of many lakes I would see. 

Another excuse to stop and catch my breath.

Dun dun dun! I'm just happy I didn't end up this way.
After the aid station the trail turned into a meadow.  A meadow with no visible trail. Also, lots of mounds and holes to watch out for, hidden by the tall grass. I tried to keep up a quick hiking pace because running just wasn't working. Plus, the markers were tricky to see in the grass. The cairns they had put up were a bit better. Then all of the sudden, the meadow left and I found myself scrambling down rocks and trying not to lose my balance and topple into the stream below.
There's a trail here somewhere...

Whatever you do, don't trip and fall!

So pretty though.
This is the part of the race where the trail started going through this pretty little stream. The flags marking the course were planted in little piles of rocks in the middle of the water. Fun! And it really was fun. I was starting to get nervous about making the cutoff at mile 19 though. I was moving along the best that I could, given the conditions. Then the intense downhill reared its head. The trail got so steep and scary. Every step I took had me slipping down the mountain, slightly out of control.

I finally arrived at the second aid station and filled up my hydration pack. It's a good thing I did, because I would get lost shortly thereafter. Anyway, the aid station was manned by a great older gentleman who was whipping up flapjacks and quesadillas. Delicious! I ate some fruit and had some ginger-ale too. As I was leaving the aid station, two guys were coming in. One of them asked if there was a nurse at the aid station while his friend was carrying a deer antler rack with part of the skull attached. Being the comedic genius that I am, I told them that it was probably too late for a nurse to save that deer. I AM SO FUNNY. And they just kind of glared at me. Fine, dudes. Sure, you're running the 50 miler and you're at mile 31 and your sense of humor is lying dead on the trail somewhere, fine.

I made my way out of the aid station and around the shore of another lovely lake. Then the climbing started again, It was starting to really wear on me. I was only a little over 12 miles in at this point and I was feeling pretty beat up. I had to keep stopping and resting on the way up. I finally made it past the brutal section of trail and got to start going down again. This time, the down hill was pretty runnable. And thus began my downfall.

While the grade was very conducive to making up time, it was still a minefield of rocks and roots. I was so busy watching my feet and running a decent pace, I stopped watching for the trail markers. I just zoned out and followed the trail that was in front of me. I have no idea how far I had gone before I finally noticed that I hadn't seen a marker in awhile.

Now, at the race briefing, they stressed the fact that if you didn't make a cutoff, the aid stations wouldn't be there when you got there. I was flirting with the cutoff time as it was, and since I had no idea how many miles I had gone off course, trying to back track seemed like a very bad idea. The trail I was on was fairly wide and looked to be well used. My gut told me to stay on that trail instead of trying to fight my way back on course. Sometimes, you just need to listen to your instincts.

I kept heading down the trail and eventually it widened out to a road, I even found a trail head with a "you are here" map. That damn map didn't help me at all. This is the point where I started crying. But I knew that I had to keep moving. Roads are where people are, plus, it was leading me down the mountain, towards town. I kept my pace the best that I could and when I had hit 19.23 miles, a savior in a red truck appeared. It was Turd'l, one of the race staff, He had the funniest look on his face when he rolled down the window.
"What are you doing out here?!" 
"I can see that. Get in the truck."

It turns out that he was headed up to pick up the 50 milers who didn't make the cutoff time for the Fish Creek aid station. By the time we were headed back down the mountain, the truck was full of weary runners. The DNF rate for all the race distances was very high. We all agreed that this course was the most brutal any of us had encountered. Slow clap to you, Ultra Adventures. A few of the people were pretty darn upset that they weren't allowed to finish the race. Me? I was just so happy to not be lost anymore. It took most of the sting out of getting my first DNF(did not finish, for those who don't know).

When I got back to the finish line, my mom was waiting for me. I ate my finish line pizza and shared my harrowing experience with her. One of the other runners, a successful finisher, brought his chair over to chat with me about the race. Seriously, trail runners are the nicest people. Nothing but smiles and kind words were there for me through the day (excluding the humorless deer head people). My mom thought that I knew the guy who came over to talk to me, since we were able to just fall easily into a conversation. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Runners are some of the nicest people on this earth. I was wearing my hat from the race the next day as we were going around town and through the park and other people who had run made sure to come over and talk to me about it.

I handled the non-finish pretty well, until Sunday night. When I tried to get some sleep, I just tossed and turned. My mind was starting to rebel. And when I did manage to nod off, I would have awful dreams about it. I was in a pretty bad mood about the whole thing all through Monday. Things are feeling better now, and I am bound and determined to get that finish next year.

August is going to be a busy racing month, and that always help to lift my spirits. So stay tuned for many more race reports, and of course, pictures. Until then, happy running!