Saturday, April 23, 2011

When is 7.5 miles harder than a Marathon?

Today was a first for me. I ran my first ever trail race. To say that I was ill prepared would be the understatment of the year. I knew I wasn't ready going in, I mean I don't even own trail shoes, but somehow I thought having lived on the buttes for so many years and hiking them I'd be okay. Boy was I wrong! When I got there I realized I was out of my element in my old worn-down road running shoes & windbreaker. Some of these people looked like hard core trail runners. (And as I found out, some of them were. There was even at least one runner from the La Sportiva National Mountain Running team among us today.) I noticed a few differences between this and a lot of road races I'd done. First everyone seemed to know each other. They were all trading stories about past races and chatting like a big group of friends. Second there were no iPods. Seriously at a road race at least half the field will have ear buds in and no one had one out here. I had slipped mine discreetly into an inside pocket in my jacket, but I was determined to go as long as possible without plugging in the tunes. As we were milling around the parking lot waiting for the start I started talking to a few of the others. One guy told me I was brave to make this my first trail run. He's run it the last three years and said, "This course is no joke. It will chew you up and spit you out." I figured he was exaggerating. He wasn't. At the very last minute I decided to ditch my hand held water bottle. I had planned on taking it, but then the race director explained the course directions and said there would be 2 water stops. I figured that two water stops for 7.5 miles would be more than enough. That was my second mistake.

The course is daunting. I put a map below but I don't know how well you can see it. For those who don't know, the buttes are dormant volcanos. So this race is insane. It's basically 12 kilometers of climbing & descending and climbing lava rock again & again while dodging sagebrush, boulders and wildlife. There are even parts of the course that are more like rock climbing. You're literally climbing up a cliff so running isn't even a possibility. Anyway you start by running straight up the butte. There are switchbacks, but don't let that lull you into thinking it's going to be an easy back and forth. You're still scrambling straight up the side of a volcano. Once you get to the rim, you drop down into the crater and run across the floor, then it's back up the other side and you run the south rim of the thing. Then you head back down into the crater and run the floor again only to come up on the north side and run that rim. But you only make it halfway before you desced on the north side and run down under the "R" (I'll explain that later) and then you turn around and come all the way back up to the rim where you finish running it and finally hit the path back down to the parking lot and the finish line.

When we started I felt strong. The weather was perfect mid-30's and lots of sunshine, just a little breeze. But within a quarter mile my calves and quads and glutes were on fire. I'd been passed by just about everyone I thought and when I turned around I found myself dead last. I was upset at first, but finally decided just to let go of it and enjoy myself as much as possible. We were less than half a mile in when I looked up and saw that probably 3/4 of the field was walking. It was that painful! I will admit that I walked more during this race than I did in the marathon. And frankly, I worked harder during this race. I mean sure I sore and worn out toward the last six miles or so of the marathon, but in this race I was breathing hard and feeling burn within the first mile. And I wasn't even running! I decided about halfway up to break out the tunes. I just didn't know what else was going to power me the rest of the way up. Since I was in the back anyway and no one could see me I plugged in and kept pushing on.

Okay this is not the best picture of me, but this is up on the south rim and I was talking to the volunteer who was shooting pictures.

Anyway the start doesn't look as tough as it really is, but you're climbing a pretty steep grade from the first step.

This is about a quarter of the way up.

And way down there is the parking lot and the start line. This is about halfway up.

Again a little further up.

And finally up to the rim where you can see down into the crater and through to the other side.

This was the descent into the crather. Don't be fooled, it was a lot steeper than it looks. And then a wolf ran across the path directly in front of me. That was kind of cool.

From the floor of the crater.

LOTS of Sagebrush and lava rock! Some people think it's beautiful, but I think I've seen too much of it.

And up to the south rim. In the distance on the other butte you can see mom & daddy's house.

And yes, this is part of the path. See what I mean about part of it being rock climbing.

It's kind of like an alien planet up here. And while the terrain isn't as steep there's still a lot of lava rock to dodge and it's a little breezier. But the pay off is that you get to have a real "I'm King Of the World" experience because you literally do feel like you're standing on the top of the world.

Looking down across the crater to the other side. My second drop down into the crater was tough. My legs were like jello. You might think that running downhill should be easy, but every runner knows it can totally trash your quads. And my were already quivering pretty badly. It was scary knowing I still had two more steep descents before the race was over.

Hey daddy, see how high the water is already? And we've got tons of snowpack still, so they're really worried about flooding this year again.

At this point I'd just made it up and out of the crater for the second time and was now on the north end of the rim. I was completely alone in my running and decided to unplug because somehow Nickleback and Breaking Benjamin just didn't seem to fit the terrain. I ran the rest of the course with just myself and I was surprised at what popped into my head. At one point I was humming the theme song from "The Man from Snowy River" and at another I was mentally planning where I'd hide Easter eggs. It was all very random.

This is the beginning of the descent down under the "R". I passed a couple of race volunteers who were on their way up. They told me to turn around at the green gate. I figured there'd be other volunteers or markings. But once I got to the "R" I didn't see anyway so I just kept running. It felt fast and out of control because it was quite steep with lots of loose gravel. And my legs were really shaky by now.

There was only a little snow left in a few areas, so that was good at least. By this point it had warmed up to almost 40 so I was seriously wanting to ditch my jacket.

And we finally get to the "R" It was painted there for Rick's College in Rexburg. This butte looks out over onto the town. However Rick's was changed to BYU-Idaho 10 years ago. But yet we still have an "R".

By this point I was wishing I'd brought my handheld bottle. I'd already passed both water stations and I was really feeling feeling tired and thirsty. This is also where I managed to add an extra mile or so to my run. You see I was looking for a green gate. Only I kept running and running and running and there wasn't a green gate. Finally I realized there were no shoe prints on this part of the trail and there hadn't been for a long time. I hadn't even seen a course marker in ages. So I turned around and went back. Sure enough a volunteer met me on the way back up saying that he'd erroneously told me to look for a green gate when it was actually a brown gate. (Which I'd passed through a good half mile earlier.) It's okay though, I was already last so what's an extra mile?

Finally back up on top and the trail got rocky and steep again. I wouldn't recommend this race to anyone with a fear of heights. At some places along the rim you're running along the edge and it's pretty far up. I love heights I think they're exhilarating, but I know some people who would be quite nervous up there.

Finally I spot the finish. (It's the dark patch way down by the road.) I was still a couple of miles away, but it wasn't so bad from this point on. The trail down was tough though. It's so steep it's really hard to keep from falling. Not to mention my legs were already feeling like jello. But I powered it in. By the time I got to the finish the race director had heard about my extra mileage and apologized profusely. He offered to refund my entrance fee, but I told him not to worry about it because I got to run it and that's what I paid for.

All in all it was a good race. And despite finishing last and adding extra mileage I felt great. It was a lot of work and I'm going to be super sore tomorrow but that's why they make ice & ibuprophen. And the best part of the experience was after the race. The race director and several of his staff were lamenting the fact that we just had to run on the north butte because the south one is privately owned, but they've always dreamed of doing a twin buttes run. I made their year I think when I told them I could make it happen with one phone call. (It's nice to know people.)


Darryl and Cindy Cunningham said...

I love the pictures. Sorry you ran so far. We will call Barry and walk the butte when we get back.

Jacob and Cami said...

I want to run it with you next year!