Wasatch Race Report-Desiree Cowie

September 23, 2011 admin News

I’m not sure why I’ve been putting off writing this race report, maybe I’m nervous of the emotions that it will conjure up as I’m sure one cannot run this race and walk away with no emotional ties. I read a blog the day before that said something along the lines of “Wasatch is a race you will never forget. Never ever ever.” I laughed, at the time of reading it, I had no idea how correct that statement would prove to be.

A few days prior to the race, well into taper time, Kevin Green posted about the 27000 feet of elevation that he was getting ready for. Kevin had just completed 3 of the 4 100 races for the
grandslam and was getting ready for Wasatch, the final epic run. 27000 Feet? What? I hadnt seen that, I knew it was in the mountains, and I’d heard a few of Wild Bill Wagner’s stories, but somehow that had missed my attention and anyway what does 27000 feet mean, I couldnt visualise that kind of elevation despite the charts and the flyover videos . I knew that I trusted Howards training plan and surely HE had looked at the race profile in detail, besides it was too late to do anything about it. I was afterall, tapering and pre race panic is normal, isn’t it?

Glenn and I travelled to Salt Lake City early on Wednesday morning arriving at 10 am we quickly picked up our car, checked into the hotel and went out to scout the route. We were able to visit all of the “crew accessible” aid stations, key them into the sattelite navigation and even had a little run at Big Mountain before sun set.

Sue and Mel, my pacers arrived on Thursday morning and after we picked them up we headed out to registration. You have to attend a weigh in the day before the race. I opted to be weighed before I ate anything on Thursday – just in case, so as soon as I’d weighed myself, dropped off my drop bags and done a bit of shopping we headed out for lunch, a quick visit of the Mormon tabernacle and a lazy afternoon playing Scrabble in a coffee lounge. SLC is so clean and has an amazing feeling about it, just a very comfortable city so despite the nerves we did have a good day. Pre race meeting was short and sweet and we were able to head back to our hotel and dinner quite early. Once your supplies are packed it doesnt take a lot of time to get ready for a 100 miler.

The weather forecast for the weekend was gloomy with thundershowers and intense heat, but the morning was surprising cool enough for a light jacket. The race started promptly at 5am with very little pomp and ceremony, just a good luck and quick count down.

The dirt road soon thins out to single track and small gaps started to form between those who knew the way and were comfortable to speed along to those of us hoping to just complete the day within the permitted 36 hours. There were 2 things that worried me about the race, rattlers and the Chin Scraper. The Chinscraper was approaching, but I had only seen the odd photograph so I kept wondering as we started the first 5 mile climb and the sun was rising, is this it, have we done it now? Little did I know what was coming. This initial climb went on forever. But then there it was – The Chin Scraper. Its a very steep section of the mountain where you have to literally climb up using your hands, the rocks are loose and people above do dislodge them – fortunately I was wearing gloves and able to deflect some of the rocks that came tumbling towards my face without suffering any cuts. This was the only section of the race in which I wished I was not wearing Hokas – there isn’t much space to get secure footage on parts of the rooks and the extra wide Hokas felt cumbersome and extremely precarious, but it was all over within a few minutes and we were back on single track trail and yay running downhill. The shoes were amazing on the downhills and so many of the people that had passed me on the uphills were amazed and commented on my ability to power down the downhills. I believe that this is what saved the race for me” at the end of the very long day”. For a split second going up towards Chinscraper I had doubts about my training, had we done enough hill climbing? Again I reminded myself that there was no worth in worrying about that now.

The course leads you over a variety of surfaces, from loose rocks, thick grass, ice, creeks, bush, dirt roads, gravel, tar – wide open spaces, chest high grass and even thick bush….we did see  a moose , but thankfully no rattlers.

The first time we saw any form of aid station was a water truck near the top of Francis Peak – we then started a long steep decent onto our first major aid station – 18 miles from the start.This year due to construction no crew were allowed at Francis Peak as Farmington Road was closed so it was drop bags for everyone.I’ve never used drop bags before so probably overpacked mine. Quick clean of my feet, change of socks and restocking of gels and I was ready to go on my way. I scanned the aid station but could see nothing of any interest – so I stuck to my gels, grabbed an orange and headed out to the next steep climb. This soon became the pattern, you would run down a steep downhill to an aid station and then do a steep climb out of the station….this was repeated almost 17 times. Some of the aid stations had little more than water and minimal treats on offer, as  the volunteers had to hike up to them and they then pumped water from fresh springs to fill our bottles – other aid stations provided sausages, pancakes, soup and noodles and the usual sweet treats.
 There were no flat bits in the race except for the last mile or so on road to the finish line, you were either climbing or descending it was just the length and steepness of the “hills” that differed.

The first time I saw my crew was at just over mile 39 this was also when I would be meeting my first pacer,Sue. I was so looking forward to seeing Glenn, Mel and Sue and having some Gingerale unfortunately for me there was no Gingerale at the station and in my excitement to see everyone I forgot to drink anything extra. I had to pick up warm clothes and my headlamp here too as the next big stop was Lambs Canyon which we would reach in the dark. By the time I reached LC I was extremely nauseous and had an awful headache, fortunately they didnt realize at the weigh in that I had dropped more than the 7% allowed weight, but it did send little alarm bells ringing and I knew I would have to do some serious drinking. Nothing looked appertising enough to eat, Glenn had managed to find some chicken noodle soup which was warm and welcoming and an avocado sandwich which I promised to eat at the next aid station (which I never did) but I did finish the second bowl of soup there.  Sue and I set off warmly dressed for Big Mountain where Mel would be taking over for the last 30 odd miles. We ran strongly enjoying the beautiful scenery, chatting to people at times. It was fun and we both soaked up the atmosphere of the race.

It was warm in the woods but freezing on the open trails, so you were constantly adjusting your clothes, the nausea was getting worse but I was still able to force in my drinks, the eating was difficult,it felt as though I was mixing cement in my mouth. Mel was ready to go, the poor girl was freezing, as although we were still 3 hours ahead, they had been waiting awhile and I needed a bathroom stop at the aid station, futher delaying our departure. I changed into warmer clothes, had a few cups of noodle soup and tried to get in some solids, it was worth the delay as I felt refreshed leaving there, by now my Garmin’s battery had died so I was totally in Mels reliable hands for timing, pace; eating and drinking reminders. She was amazing and everything one could wish for in a pacer at this stage of a 100 and we soon reached Brighton. Everyone warns you about Brighton, its the only indoor aidstation and its warm. Its run by a dentist so there are toothbrushes and fannels. Another quick change of clothes and we were on our way. But it was as if a switch had been flicked, I started to experience shortness of breath and my spare 3 hours started to dwindle away. I could not climb for more than 3 steps without having to stop to get my breath. We knew that I was in trouble and that things were only going to get better when we started to descend but we still had to climb. At this stage we were at almost 10 000 feet altitude, the highest point in the race. Whilst I concentrated on breathing, Mel concentrated on nutrition and electrolytes, she made sure I took something in every half hour and this is how we slowly but surely knocked off the last 26 miles of the race. She would lead up the uphills, sometimes I wouldn’t even look up but just put my head down, put my hands on her back and she led the way up the hills, we would get to a downhill and we would swop positions….Fortunately I was still able to run down the downhills despite sore feet, but this soreness was nothing compared to the difficulty climbing with no air and the joy of being able to move with a little bit of speed overshadowed everything else. I felt as though I was truly flying in my Hokas. The air was dry and very dusty and at times we had to share the trail with off rode bikers, the dust was terrible and seemed to settle on your larynx.

Mel was confident that despite our slow progress we would still make the cutoff. No time was wasted in any of the aidstations, we grabbed fuel, had anything that looked okay to eat and set off again. The last 7 miles of the race is roughly downhill all the way so we knew we could do it as long as we kept moving forward, we would pass the same   people on the downhills and they would pass me on the uphills. It became a game of cat and mouse, each of us just pushing to reach the finish line in time. The last turn on the course was marked differently and we would’ve missed it, but a kind runner came back to find us to make sure we knew where to go. Had we got lost we possibly wouldn’t have made it in time.

We crossed the finish line at 16H40 with just 20 minutes to spare absolutely elated. Glenn and Sue were waiting at the finish line, they had watched my predicted time grow longer and longer since they left us at Brighton and werent sure that we were going to make it. You can imagine their sheer relief when we ran into the finish, they had no way of knowing whether it was an injury or altitude sickness that had slowed me down so considerably. I could now breathe as we were back to 5720 feet – no longer having visions of Hillary and Tenzing’s climb to the top of Everest or hearing Darcy my yoga instructor saying “Find your breath, see your breath….this too shall pass.”

People had been texting me throughout the race and I sat down to read them whilst waiting for the award ceremony. I was too nervous to read them during the race as I couldnt imagine trying to cry and breathe at the same time in my condition.
You arent handed medals as you cross the line, Claude Grant, the race director is there to shake your hand as you finish, you then wait for the awards and are given your belt buckle and a wall plaque.
Once again the food didnt look too appertising and I told the girls that I would see them for dinner after a quick shower and 1 hour nap, needless to say I didnt make dinner, but I do sort of remember devouring a take away hamburger sometime during the evening.

I woke up at 5.30 in the morning completely elated, saying that I was going to do the race again, the mountain had almost won and I felt that it owed me 3 hours. I was cross with myself for not taking altitude sickness prevention medication, I thought I would be fine. Wasatch had got under my skin, I could understand why people had done the race over and over again, something I had never felt before.

We gate crashed Sarah and Demetri’s wedding party on Sunday night. They had got married straight after they completed the race on Saturday.  We danced to DJ Tiesto, no blisters or sore feet, just swollen ankles and happy hearts. Howard’s training plan had been perfect.

It was with a sad but proud heart that I left Salt Lake City – I felt that although I had gained so much knowledge on that mountain of how deep I can really dig Id also lost a bit of my heart up there. It iis the most beautiful course and one can not come away without marvelling at this creation of sheer splendour. The race is a tough one, and its a simple one, there is no hype around it, but there is a feeling of a strong community, almost of family amongst its volunteers – you feel safe and nurtured at all times, yet its not about rah rah, its about the basics, you against the mountain, giving the mountain the respect it deserves and even if you complete the race, the mountain still wins. I only realised this when I went to yoga a few days later and spent so much time in the humble childs pose fighting tears, Wasatch is an experience I will never ever forget.  It gives you so much but at the same time it takes something from you and puts you right back in your place, that of being a mere mortal.

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